As a rule, businesses can't expect to survive without a solid sales and marketing strategy. MSPs are no different. MSP marketing aims to generate interest in the company's services through focused methods, investing in the proper channels and persistence.
The MSP industry is expanding: Statista forecast the market to grow from $152 billion in 2020 to $274.2 billion in 2026. But that doesn't mean that all MSPs are fully equipped to market their services in the most efficient ways.
"This space has traditionally been bad at [sales and marketing], and they don't spend a lot of time thinking and planning for it," said Dave Sobel, host of The Business of Tech podcast and a former MSP owner. "A large portion of the industry comes from a technical background or is not an entrepreneur as their default starting place. They come at it almost accidentally."
Here are five ways MSPs can improve their sales and marketing strategies:
1. Recognize managed service as a different kind of sale
One of the issues MSPs run into when trying to sell and market their services is using sales professionals from other industries and expecting them to sell managed services with little to no expertise.
"Don't think that your legacy salespeople and approaches are going to work for managed services because they almost definitely will not," said Charles Weaver, CEO at MSP Alliance, a managed services industry association based in Chapel Hill, N.C. "I think that's a fairly proven fact at this point -- how you sell hardware or software has nothing to do with how you sell managed services."
2. Provide a well-defined service catalog
Weaver said having a narrowly tailored and defined service catalog can be incredibly beneficial to all parties when creating a successful sales strategy. He pointed to backup as a service as an example of paring down MSP offerings. Instead of having several backup service options, companies should focus on just a couple, such as on-site backup and cloud backup, and, possibly, a hybrid backup that includes both.
"For every service you have, you have to go through that litany of, 'What's the cost? How do I do it? How do I describe it? What are the legal ramifications?'" Weaver explained.
In addition to having a service catalog, an MSP should clearly define pricing and ensure the sales and marketing team is up to speed on its offerings.
"Last, but not least, is an assumption that the sales and the marketing machine of that MSP understands the role of the contract and how that sales relationship is going to be articulated in a service contract," Weaver added.
3. Develop a scalable sales process
For smaller MSPs looking to grow their businesses, investing in the proper marketing and sales strategies cannot be underestimated.
One of the biggest mistakes an MSP can make in its sales and marketing strategy is thinking there is a silver bullet to targeting customers. MSP marketing strategies can run the gamut of traditional and internet strategies -- all of which will depend on the MSP's ideal customer as determined by business type, size or vertical. While many MSPs may find the most success in customer referrals, ignoring other methods of marketing can be detrimental.
Charles WeaverCEO, MSP Alliance
"Particularly in smaller MSP organizations, it tends to be the case where the business owner was the person who was chiefly responsible for sales," Weaver said. "And that works really well up to a point where the business owner wants to start scaling. So, any MSP organization that wants to achieve some sort of scale, meaning that they want to have sales revenue growth that goes beyond just what the business owner can do, then they must have a sales process that is repeatable and scalable."
The critical question for MSP owners, Weaver noted, is whether they have the necessary people in place to build a scalable sales engine.
"A lot of MSP business owners, especially the ones who are more technical, really get uncomfortable talking about this because they don't come from a business or a sales background," Weaver said.
The nature of the sales process will depend on the size of the MSP, the types of services on offer and its customer base. "Are you selling into regulated industries or non-regulated industries?" Weaver asked. "All those things will have some impact. But, largely, looking at the sales process as repeatable, and the service itself, will really help [MSPs] conceptualize what they need to do and put the people in place."
4. Don't neglect e-commerce
MSPs aren't using the many tools available to them to market their businesses and make them more efficient, according to Sobel. Those tools include online sales.
"I think that the MSP space is kind of missing out on e-commerce," he said. "Think about all the different ways that you can digitally engage in the marketplace now: You can buy insurance, you can buy real estate, you can buy tax services, legal services. But if you go to most IT service providers' websites, you probably just can only fill out a contact form. ... That's not very digital. There should be a whole lot more digitally available as a services company than I think is available."
According to a 2020 Statista study, 39% of B2B buyers want self-serve options. Sobel said that something as simple as the ability to book an appointment to speak with an MSP online can set a provider apart from the competition.
5. Be able to discuss your data privacy/security approach
MSP sales and marketing is all about building trust. Potential customers don't just need to know what a provider can offer; they need to be educated on what a successful MSP can do and how it can help their business.
Weaver said the biggest trend affecting MSPs is the focus on data privacy, data security and compliance. Sales and marketing teams are typically the MSP personnel who first encounter those types of questions from customers. "That is really tripping up a lot of MSP organizations," he noted.
It comes down to service providers' ability to explain how they protect data.
"The MSP basically has to, in the sales process, be anticipating the inevitable question, 'How do you protect yourself?'" Weaver said.
Service providers must be prepared to thoroughly describe their methods. "Because we're now at that point where the customers are more than wise, more than well-informed, they see all this information out there, and they're just saying, 'I want to see proof, so show me how you are doing this,'" Weaver said.
A service provider lacking a comprehensive answer to that question is at a competitive disadvantage. "There are plenty of MSPs who already have really good responses," Weaver said.
Additional reporting by John Moore.