Many small businesses start with an idea, a product or service, and a willing market. Many managed service providers have assembled their client list from friends, family, and business contacts allowing them to quickly build revenue flow with relatively little effort.
But what happens when an MSP’s network of friends and associates dries up? Or they’re no longer able to build a new business based on referrals? Even worse, what happens when something like a pandemic rolls in and denies them the ability to attend local networking events or even schedule in-person sales meetings?
These are all questions that every MSP ends up asking at some point in their trajectory. Eventually, the easy leads taper off, and -- like every other business -- the IT provider has to start figuring out how to fill their sales pipeline.
In this article, we’ll explore some of the basics of MSP marketing, how to get started, and how to ask the right questions.
What this article will cover:
- Why is MSP marketing important?
- What are lead generation, promotion, and digital marketing?
- How are MSP sales and MSP marketing different?
- Tips and strategies for MSP growth
- Outsourcing MSP marketing and lead generation
Why is MSP Marketing Important?
This answer is fairly simple: a business that isn’t growing will generally have a hard time staying in business. Quite a few MSPs have learned this the hard way after becoming complacent with their growth trajectory and then losing a client or two. This isn’t always a huge problem -- unless you don’t have a way to replace them.
The realization that new clients aren’t going to beat down the door often comes as a surprise, although it really shouldn’t. Marketing is an integral part of every business on the planet. Without marketing, there is no business.
Is it possible to coast along without giving marketing its proper dues? Certainly, but that’s almost always a short trip. In a world where “grow bigger or be devoured” is an accepted reality, victory is awarded to those who are aggressive, thoughtful, and realistic about growth.
Now it’s important to also realize that marketing is a very diverse and complex idea. There’s no single tool or approach that can possibly touch all of the important aspects of MSP growth. A proper marketing strategy begins with a holistic appreciation of these varied elements -- and that appreciation begins with an understanding of their purposes.
Let’s take a closer look at a few of the important aspects of marketing an MSP:
The Role of Lead Generation in MSP Marketing?
“Lead generation” and “marketing” are not interchangeable terms, despite what you might have seen or heard. Lead gen is only part of the bigger picture, and it focuses entirely on sending prospects through a journey that eventually ends with them setting a meeting.
While that might sound like marketing as a whole, it’s more of a mechanical look at driving new leads through various marketing steps. Lead generation often includes topics like “funnels” or “content marketing”, themselves only small dots on the marketing landscape.
The Role of Promotion?
The idea of “promotion” comes closer to the broader definition of marketing as a whole -- and it’s what many people think of when they hear the term “marketing”. Promotion, to explain it as simply as possible, is advertising. Inbound marketing, outbound marketing, ideas shared at live events, sales letters, videos, blog posts -- if it’s communicating to the consumer, it falls under promotion.
As such, promotion also includes broader (and critically important) concepts like messaging, differentiation, value perception, and brand. We’ll take a deeper dive into these concepts shortly.
Defining Digital Marketing for MSPs?
We feel it’s important to clearly define digital marketing so that you can avoid future confusion around where it fits into the marketing puzzle. As a general rule, digital marketing only refers to the aspects of a marketing strategy that are carried out online -- i.e. promotional marketing that takes place on social media, email, and your website.
Again, this is a bit of an umbrella term that includes things like email lead generation, lead gen funnels, and SEO. The important distinction to make is that it includes marketing-related activity that takes place digitally, but it is not a digital replacement for all things marketing. This is largely because the key metric of digital marketing (or at least the metric that’s used in sales pitches) is typically reach, not efficacy. The goal is to make you loud, but not necessarily understood. That falls under a completely different set of skills and specializations.
In other words, digital marketing does not innately address all aspects of marketing that are important, such as brand development, positioning, and the crafting of effective marketing materials and messaging.
What's the line between Sales and Marketing for MSPs?
Contrary to popular belief, there are just as many similarities between sales and marketing as there are differences. On even the most surface level, sales and marketing share the same goal: business growth. And it’s not necessarily a difference in how these two departments operate that separates them as much as it is a difference in where they appear within the buyer’s journey.
Typically, marketing engages the consumer at the beginning of their journey, while sales steps in toward the end to execute discovery meetings, show slide decks, and draw up agreements.
That said, there is a popular trend among large enterprises to blend their sales and marketing departments more so than ever before. Realization that overlap in purpose is more important than differences in roles has spurred the trend and the benefits of sales and marketing departments that work very closely together are coming to the surface.
At the very least, experience has shown that your sales and marketing teams should not operate in independent silos. Marketing shouldn’t be considered an outside task that exists only to feed leads into the sales team. There should be a consistency between sales and marketing, particularly in what they are communicating to the consumer. These departments should inform each other, collaborate, and their activities should be tracked within one unified CRM to provide the most usable data.
4 Common MSP Marketing Methods
As you begin to explore ways to promote your MSP, you will find a few terms, techniques, and methodologies appearing frequently. Some of the most widely-used include:
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) - You’d be hard-pressed to find an MSP that doesn’t express at least a passing interest in their search rankings. SEO is the practice of optimizing a website and its on-page content to rank high in (search engine result pages (SERPs). The idea is that the first few MSPs that show up when a potential customer Googles IT companies are the most likely to get their business. Not a bad assumption, since research shows that the first page of Google captures between 71-92% of search traffic.
Email Marketing - There are dozens of tools that can be used for email marketing -- Infusionsoft, Hubspot, and MailChimp to name a few -- and even more ways to actually leverage those emails toward growth. Automated email campaigns are often used to nurture consumers over time in hopes that they will eventually convert into a hot lead for the sales team. More aggressive email campaigns try to set meetings by catching warm leads at just the right time. Some MSPs also use email for regular newsletters, press releases, and other timely announcements.
Social Media Marketing - Social media is still considered a hit-or-miss channel among MSPs. Some swear by it, while others say that they’ve invested considerable time and money without seeing a single lead. If anything, this proves the rule that marketing is not a one-size-fits-all challenge, and that results will always vary depending on location, execution, audience, and creativity.
Direct Mail - Now considered outdated in the wake of digital marketing, many MSPs have actually found success with old-fashioned sales letters or postcards sent via snail mail. When used creatively, direct mail can be a great way to stand apart from other IT providers and leave a lasting impression.
The Most Important Marketing You’re Not Doing: Tips & Strategies
When it comes to marketing, the most important thing is not what everyone else is doing, it’s what you should be doing. After all, complaints about spam and over-advertising usually stem from too many companies executing the exact same strategies within the same markets. Marketing is a dynamic beast, and it tends to reward those who think outside the box -- or at least think a few steps ahead.
Here are a few tips from NinjaOne to help you get ahead with marketing your MSP:
Think competitively - There’s only so much that can be accomplished by informing the consumer and raising awareness. At some point, every end-user has to make a decision about which MSP to sign with -- and the most competitive IT company will win. It’s important not to think of marketing as a means to “get your name out there”, but as a means to communicate value. Highlight the reasons why consumers should choose you over your competitors at every turn.
Build a brand - This doesn’t mean running out to hire a graphic designer. Brand strategy is about far more than logos and slogans. Brand strategy lays the groundwork for communicating value to your audience -- it’s the part of marketing that digital marketers tend to leave out. Whereas most marketing talk focuses on how and where to deliver your message, MSP brand strategy focuses on what that message actually needs to be to resonate with your audience and drive new business.
Be fearless - Let’s be honest…most MSP marketing tends to be pretty bland and generic. If you have a hard time telling MSP websites and emails apart, imagine how dull it all must seem to the people you’re trying to reach. Don’t be afraid to present your MSP with some personality and attitude. Stand out and be noticed. Far too many IT providers use the idea of “professionalism” as a cloak for being mundane and forgettable. Don’t be one of them!
Market consistently - One of the biggest marketing mistakes MSPs make is to treat marketing like a yo-yo diet. They’ll try some kind of marketing for a couple of weeks, maybe months, and then stop. Then they try something else a few months later. This works just about as well as leaping from one fad diet to the next while taking breaks to eat cake between each attempt. A marketing strategy is just that -- a long-term plan involving iterative steps to produce results over time. Commit, follow-through, and put in the resources and work…or you will likely never realize the results you’re hoping for.
Practice due diligence - There are more marketing tools, gurus, tricks, peer groups, and workshops vying for your money than stars in the sky. Be cautious about where you invest your time and money because gimmicks rarely pay off. Learn the textbook fundamentals of marketing first to better calibrate your “baloney detector”. Once you know the basic ins and outs of marketing from a traditional standpoint, you will be far better equipped to spot snake oil before opening your checkbook.
Should I Outsource My IT Company’s Marketing?
Before asking this question, ask yourself this: should most business owners outsource their IT?
The answers to both questions should be similar:
“Yes, especially if they are trying to see a certain level of performance and return on their investment.”
Sure, small start-ups can probably manage their own IT. One-person operations don’t need an MSP. They’re able to plod along getting just as much as they need from minimal IT resources, and they just handle their own troubleshooting as necessary.
The same can be said for marketing. The average person off the street can figure out how to send a few emails and build a website from a WordPress template. These things aren’t hard, and maybe a one-person MSP can’t afford any other option. But the return on investment will be fully in alignment with that approach.
The thing to consider is the threshold that every growing business crosses at some point -- the point where the DIY method just can’t keep up with the reality of the situation. As an MSP, you see it all the time. Businesses try to keep their IT in-house for far too long, knowing full well that it’s cobbled together with bubblegum and duct tape. They deal with the hassles, lost productivity, and unnecessary costs because it seems easier than farming the whole ordeal out to experts.
Ironically, this is often the exact same mindset MSPs themselves have around marketing.
The error in this logic is as simple as comparing your business model to that of a marketing agency. MSPs exist because most SMBs don’t have techs, engineers, and cybersecurity experts in their own ranks. Marketing agencies exist because MSPs don’t have brand strategists, trained copywriters, advertising creatives, and analysts in their ranks. It isn’t about the labor or the tools -- it’s about the skills and expertise.
When it comes to asking about outsourced marketing, the entrepreneurial maxim of “do what you do best and outsource the rest,” is one of the most applicable sayings around.
Marketing Defines Your Business
Marketing leads to successful businesses. Not because of what it does, but because of what it truly is. Marketing is the foundation of all business because it’s the bond that ties a product or service to a consumer with money in hand. The concepts of marketing make up who you are as an MSP, where you stand in the market, and why you matter (or don’t matter) in the eyes of the consumer. Marketing defines your business's place in the broader world of technology, and when leveraged correctly, it gives you a competitive edge that just can’t be obtained anywhere else.
There are more ways to market an MSP than could be possibly covered in one article. We’ve explored the most popular methods, as well as some next-level advice for standing apart from the crowd. As you forge ahead to explore your options, we hope that you keep a competitive, strategic mindset toward marketing that allows you to reap the greatest rewards.
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