How MSPs Can Stop Worrying and Learn to Love Marketing

Managed Service Providers (MSPs) are great with technology, but not always so marketing savvy. Still, how can you expand a business when no one knows who you are?

Sure, much of your business may be develop by word of mouth, based on great customer referrals. But if that is all you do to market yourself, you are leaving money on the table. And you are  seriously curtailing your ability to expand, especially geographically.

The good news is that MSPs tend to be very (okay, very very) smart, so learning a thing or two about marketing isn’t that tough.

The real question is: are you committed to stepping up your marketing efforts?

If you are, we have some advice to get you jazzed up, fine tune your existing marketing, or maybe just get you started.

Of course, there are challenges. An MSP is not Procter & Gamble with millions to spend on every form of advertising, promotion and marketing.

Many MSPs are small or medium-size businesses, and have to be nimble and ready to engage in a little guerilla marketing warfare.

Are You Local?

If your business is local, and you want it to stay that way, most of your marketing can be word of mouth, boosted by client referrals, and good old-fashioned meet and greets – the original form of social networking. While you should keep working this like the devil, chances are your ambitions go beyond this.

It’s All About Your Brand

Part of marketing is building a brand, and that requires that you know who and what you are. BMW knows it builds ‘driving machines,’ which simply defines what these cars are made to do.

Is there a simple way to describe what makes your company stand out? Are you hip to HIPAA, down with DRaaS, or the greatest thing to defense since General Patton? If so, say it, say it loud, and say it often.

Seven Sure-Fire MSP Marketing Tips and Tricks

Tip one. The Internet is both good and bad for marketers. The bad side, ironically, is that digital marketing can seem complex, given all the choices available. the. The good news is you don’t have to avail yourself of every option, and great marketing can be done for little or no cost. Just a bit of elbow grease and choosing which options work for you.

Tip two. Decide who you are and who you want to be. There are two aspects to this exercise. First, ’who you are’ drives what brand you want to promote. What words or phrases should one conjure when they think about your company? Can you condense it into a simple message that is easy to repeat and remember – so that your brand message more easily spreads?

‘Who you want to be’  drives how much and what kind of marketing you need. And it drives your brand which should be broadened to account for future plans.

On the marketing execution side, if you want to be a trusted local shop catering to a small number of clients, far fewer dollars are needed than if your eyes are on being regional powerhouse. If you want explosive growth and to expand geographically, you need a deep and rich marketing plan which include social media, Google AdWords and all forms of lead generation and content marketing.

Tip three:  Decide what you know about marketing, and what you don’t. Do you or your staff have knowledge of marketing or PR? Do you like this work? Do you really have time to do it?

If you think you are good at these functions and enjoy them, still do a cost/benefit analysis.  Your technical and management time is valuable, likely far more valuable than you spending that time tinkering with marketing.

This is clearly more of an issue for small and mid-size MSPs, since larger ones usually already  have outsourced marketing or have a dedicated staff for this function. Ulistic, an MSP marketing consultancy, believes spreading the word is a do or die.  “With more IT Managed Service Providers (MSPs) entering the marketplace, established MSPs are facing slowing sales and growth; some are even going out of business. This is due to the fact that many don’t market themselves effectively, or at all,” argues Ulistic. “In years past, MSPs could grow their business through word-of-mouth referrals.  With an abundance of new MSPs selling services today, this is no longer the case.  The competition is fierce. Today, marketing is the lifeline for MSPs.”

Tip four: Vendors are a great source of marketing assistance. And there are consulting firms such as Ulistic which sells MSP marketing services, as well as sales coaching and business consulting.

Others to consider include Robin Roberts’, a marketing and sales consultancy and set of tools, and Mindmatrix, which sells sales and marketing enablement software for the channel.

Tip five. Content is your friend.  As an MSP you are selling expertise, not used cars. You need to convince prospects that you know what you are doing and define what it is you are especially good at. Content is a great way to do this. Having a rich blog on your web site shows what you know, how you are unique, and what you have to offer. Tagged right, it is also great for SEO – you can draw prospects into your website. Video is also great for SEO, and lets visitors see directly what you are about. Even a smartphone can let you do short, high quality videos you can post on your site.

Make sure you spread these on social media, and if there is a hook, some humor or something else compelling, they could go viral.

Tip six: Have a professional  web site. These days, your Web site is your identity. Clearly describe you offerings and the technical, strategic and economic value they represent. Make sure it is compelling, informative, represents who you are, and is SEO-optimized. It should have a blog, some customer examples, perhaps a newsletters prospects and customers can subscribe to, and most important of all – communicates your value in a compelling way.

Tip seven. Keep them coming back for more. The more often you interact with a prospect, the better the chance of closing the deal. One great technique is to get web visitors to subscribe to your blog or to an e-newsletter. This way you have their contact info and a steady line of communication has been opened. Here’s the trick. Don’t look at this as a pure sales opportunity. You can turn prospects off tout de suite. Instead engage them with useful information so they’ll trust you more and more. You can dangle the occasional carrot but you’d much rather have them come to YOU once they have faith in your company.

However, before you can keep them coming back for more, you have to get them in the first place. E-mail and other forms of outbound marketing are effective at enticing prospects to visit your web page, offer their e-mail address, or pick up the phone and give you a call.

Posted by Doug Barney
Doug Barney was the founding editor of Redmond Magazine, Redmond Channel Partner, Redmond Developer News and Virtualization Review. Doug also served as Executive Editor of Network World, Editor in Chief of AmigaWorld, and Editor in Chief of Network Computing.
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