Tune Your MSP Marketing Strategies and Tactics

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.

Four Sure-fire MSP Marketing Strategies

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 good news is you don’t have to avail yourself of every option, and great marketing can be done for little or no cost.

In fact, it’s more important to identify one or two tactics and invest in them consistently (both in terms of money and time) than to invest for a short period of time, then do nothing, then invest, etc.

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 have outsourced marketing or a dedicated staff for this function. Ulistic, an MSP marketing consultancy, believes spreading the word is a ‘do or die’ activity.  “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’ TechnologyMarketingToolkit.com, a marketing and sales consultancy and set of tools, and Mindmatrix, which sells sales and marketing enablement software for the channel.

A Dozen Content Tips and Techniques

Content is a critical way to spread your message, and this includes your web site, blog, white papers and thought leadership articles. Here are ways to make your content efforts shine.

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, if not go viral, then at least get more exposure.

Have a professional web site. These days, your website is your identity – this is not a place to do it yourself without expert help.  The good news is that there is an abundance of inexpensive resources available today to help you set up a clean, well-designed website quickly and easily.

The more labor intensive side of the project is to take the time to clearly describe your 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 website.

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 quickly that way. 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

20 minutes to your key selling points. Write down the top three benefits you deliver that clients say are the reasons they selected you. Under each benefit, list the top three ways your company is better than anyone else at delivering this benefit.  Then, under each of these items, list the three to five tactics or actions you and your team do to make this happen.  There you go ─ benefits, features and functionality on one piece of paper.

Write to one person. Whenever you start to write an article or blog, picture your favorite client – the smart one who gets it and is a joy to work with. Then ask yourself:  will he care about this post?  If the answer is no, stop writing. The point of creating content isn’t just to fill up a page.  It’s to create a blog or post that delivers value to your reader.  So, instead of just writing till you feel like stopping, think about what angle on this topic would make him care. Then, write about that. This trick will save you time, since you’ll 1) stop writing generic, me-too content that gets you nothing for your effort and 2) write your posts faster.  Once you’ve tightened up your focus, you’ll know when you’ve made your point(s) and can stop writing.

Prime the pump for good content ideas. Tools like Buzzsumo and Google Trends can help you see the relative trending of different terms and keywords. Even better, the results may spark ideas for new content in the future.

Don’t bury the lede. Your reader may take five seconds on your content, so make sure they count. As someone with a technical, non-marketing background, you might  tend to build an argument in your writing point by point, so that the main conclusions come at the end ─ which is opposite of where they should be.  So, after finishing your blog, go back and put the concluding points right up at the top.  Then, list the supporting materials. Sometimes, the best way to do this is to walk away from your writing for at least a day to get a fresh perspective.

Craft clickable and sharable headlines. For fun, try TweetYourBiz or Portent.  For more serious feedback, check out CoSchedule’s headline analyzer.

After you write a good blog, don’t drop the mic and walk away. Instead, think how many OTHER content items you can produce from this blog. Perhaps what you really have is a three-part blog that can be turned into a longer whitepaper.  If you create a killer Powerpoint, share it via SlideShare; then write a blog about it, then post updates on your Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter properties.

Be clear on next steps. What do you want a prospect to do after reading your collateral or blog?  Great idea!  Have you clearly told the reader what that is?  They aren’t mind readers, after all.  Make the buttons big and clear and the text something to drive action, such as Get My Free eBook.

Simplify design. The best design hack is similar to the best writing hack. Simplify. Do less than you think you need. Don’t pretend you’re a good designer when chances are you’re not.  Two colors and a font. That’s all you need and all you should use unless you’ve been trained.  Remember, if you try to give emphasis to everything on the page, then nothing on the page has any emphasis. Make it simple, clean and, when in doubt, use lots of white space.

Remember to have fun. Marketing is important, but it’s also the place to have a little fun.  For example, business cards are an overlooked venue for reinforcing the essential components of your brand and content. Moo.com offers business cards that can have a different photo or design on every card in a pack. Create your own ― but if you don’t have the time or money to spend on your own design, you can explore the ready-made designs and see if any of them are right for your company.

Learn More

For more in-depth advice on MSP best practices, check out our three eBooks.

A Winning Hand: 21 Cards to Play for Total MSP Success – Part I

This includes:

  • Lessons on Achieving Managed Services Growth
  • The Dynamic and Influential Role of the MSP
  • Formulating the Right High-Level Strategy
  • MSP Business Planning for Business Growth
  • Vertical Strategies and Top Vertical Markets
  • Creating and Building a Strong MSP Brand
  • MSP Marketing Strategies and Tactics
  • Choosing the Right Technologies For Your MSP

A Winning Hand: 21 Cards to Play for Total MSP Success – Part 2

This includes:

  • MSPs: Making Sure the Price is Right
  • Building Effective Service Bundles
  • 22 Critical Metrics and KPIs for MSPs
  • Finding and Keeping the Best Employees Chapter 12 Contracts, SLAs and Master Services Agreements for MSPs
  • Making Statements of Work, Work For You
  • Mastering the Complexities of Successful Customer Onboarding

A Winning Hand: 21 Cards to Play for Total MSP Success – Part 3

This includes:

  • Building and Tuning a High-powered Sales Engine
  • Creating the Most Helpful Service Desk Possible
  • What You Need to Know About Offering NOC Services
  • What is a vCIO? It’s More Than What You Think It Is
  • Security is an MSP’s Job One
  • Customer Management
  • How to Have the Conversation on Cross Sell New Services

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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