Like their counterparts, smaller managed service providers (MSPs) and other IT providers are always looking to get maximum bang for their marketing buck. However, a smaller size typically means a smaller budget—along with less time and fewer resources to create and implement a sophisticated, impactful marketing program. Still, there is a silver lining to this cloud: MSPs can make a marketing splash without needing a fat wallet to back it up. Follow this six-step roadmap to maximizing your marketing spend, whatever the total of that spend may be.
1. Identify Your Target Customer
Higher-value customers—those that generate more revenue and profit—should be the focus of MSPs’ marketing efforts. These customers not only spend more than others; they also increase their spending with their MSP each year and pay their bills promptly. It doesn’t cost much to sell to them because it is unnecessary to re-pitch for their business year after year; they are firmly in the fold. In some cases, industry analysts, the trade press, or another third-party source has acknowledged their excellence.
There may also be an important subset of your best customers to identify and that is those customers that are in the one or more vertical markets in which you specialize. Specialization is a must for MSPs in today’s competitive climate, and if you specialize in a customer’s market, the greater the chances they will come to you for all of their MSP-related needs.
Don’t know enough about your customers to decide which are the best ones? Find out by building customer profiles. You can approach this task in numerous ways, including—but not limited to—surveying companies in your portfolio about their operations and technology needs, inviting local customers to educational events, and exploring customers’ social media postings. Don’t stop there; dig deeper by participating in industry associations and determining which prospects your close competitors are serving. Competitors’ online customer forums and blogs are a goldmine of information about the latter. So are industry and vendor-sponsored publications and websites, where you can likely find case studies and other competitor intelligence.
It’s equally important to determine customers’ motivation to buy, which could be anything from financial (a need to curtail expenditures or increase sales) and practical (a manufacturer wants to boost process efficiencies), to futuristic (a need to support growth). A handle on all of this will shine the spotlight on who your “best customers” are and allow you to tailor your marketing efforts to their needs—in turn making the best use of your marketing dollars.
2. Check Out Your Competitors (Often)
MSPs can get a lot of marketing mileage from emphasizing what they do better than their competitors. So, when you win an engagement, it’s important to find out why things turned out the way they did. Do you bring to the table a product the competitor just didn’t offer? For instance, if you specialize in the retail vertical, do you offer hardware to help merchants capitalize on the mobile point of sale (POS) craze? Or was it service—for example, again, looking at the retail market, does your services roster include help with standards like the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS)? Or maybe it’s price.
When you hit the “check out competitors” mile marker, look also at what the competition is doing right, that you could be doing wrong (and caused you to lose potential business to the MSP down the street). Rectify it and spin it in your marketing.
One last point here: Evaluate competitors often—at least once every quarter. Your business is changing, and so is theirs. They may, since the last time you looked, have made significant changes that will impact their ability to win business and put you in the loser’s corner if you don’t take proactive action.
3. Take Control of Your Message
Think about how you react when companies are trying to convey their message to you. How much time do you give them? Fifteen seconds? Thirty seconds? Most likely, a couple of seconds at best—and that is all the time you, as an MSP, have to capture customers’ interest and explain why they should work with you rather than with your competitors.
Given this short time frame, it is essential to master your message. This means speaking customers’ language and using it to demonstrate that you understand who they are and what their pain points may be, leveraging all the information you gathered in the first step.
The first messaging element you create should be your value proposition—a brief statement in “lay” language that highlights your operation’s unique value to its customers rather than encouraging them to buy technology services. Pick one to three value points—and illustrate them with examples to build on your key message. Without examples, your value proposition will have no value.
4. Set Objectives—And Metrics for Managing Them
Okay, so you have a value proposition with proof points… now it’s time to define what you want your marketing efforts to accomplish. Maybe you’ve looked at your customer portfolio and decided you don’t have enough of a clientele or enough of a clientele in a particular vertical you’re emphasizing. Or perhaps you’re fine with your existing customer count, but want to upsell and cross-sell more? Or is stealing customers from competitors the objective? The more specific you can be about your goals, the more effective your marketing tactics will be and the bigger that bang for the buck we discussed earlier.
You should also decide how to measure your progress in attaining your goal, because as the old saying goes, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”—and, of course, metrics are the foundation of successful marketing. To decide what you should be measuring, you first need to define what a lead is for your particular company so that marketing and sales align. Determine how much you are willing to pay per lead and what your conversion rates are for various types of marketing.
5. Don’t Forget the Call to Action
Calls to action (CTAs) come in two flavors: primary and secondary. A primary call to action comprises what you want people to do—sign up for a webinar, download a case study or white paper, or take a free trial. Your CTA needs to be compelling and appeal to prospects by focusing on the pressing business problems that compel them to seek our MSPs, help them solve their problems, and purchase their products and services. Think ebooks, white papers, infographics, webinars and customer testimonials. Promote these not only via traditional channels, such as your web page, but through social media and other media outlets as well.
A secondary call to action is a follow-up to a primary call to action—and can have as much impact as one. Case in point: Let’s say 200 retailer prospects open an emailed invitation (primary call to action) inviting them to tune in to an upcoming webinar on cloud-based point of sale. Suppose 100 retailers register, and 75 “tune in” on the day of the event. You might send out a secondary call to action to the 25 registrants who failed to “show up” for the webinar, thanking them for registering, and offering them a link to the recorded webinar. Who knows? You might get more qualified leads—or as many—from the secondary call to action than from the first.
6. Start With the Basics
While it takes hard work and sharp focus to generate quality leads and to close business, you don’t always have to spend a significant chunk of change to get the job done. There are many simple, low-cost marketing tactics MSPs can leverage, including list-building, database marketing, social media marketing, surveys, search engine optimization (SEO), and webinars.
By following this roadmap, you’ll not only drive more and better leads; you’ll have arrived at a place where your results justify your year-round marketing expenditures. Even better, you won’t find yourself caught in the feast-or-famine marketing cycle that can plague smaller MSPs.
Learn more about marketing in this article: “Guide to Content Marketing for MSPs and IT Solution Providers”
Julie Ritzer Ross has been covering technology and its application in multiple vertical markets for more than 25 years. Her work has appeared in a variety of vertically focused publications including Transaction Trends, Hospitality Technology, Consumer Goods Technology, Integrated Solutions, Integrated Solutions for Retailers, Government Technology, RIS News and Vertical Systems Reseller (formerly Retail Systems Reseller).
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