Guest Post

MSPs can't ignore the e-commerce trend

E-commerce has made it possible to buy practically anything online, but MSPs have shied away from this sales and marketing strategy. Dave Sobel says it's time to embrace the trend.

Dave Sobel is the host of the podcast The Business of Tech and co-host of the podcast Killing IT. In addition, he wrote Virtualization: Defined. Sobel is regarded as a leading expert in the delivery of technology services, with broad experience in both technology and business.

In this video, Sobel talks about how e-commerce has made it possible to buy practically anything online -- anything but IT services. Why are MSPs bucking the e-commerce trend? Sobel explains why MSPs must change with the times and sell IT services online.

Transcript follows below.

I've been thinking a lot about marketing again. I didn't really want to, but a Patreon [subscriber] asked, and look, that's the best way to get my attention. Ask a question, and I can't stop thinking about it.

Here's the basic premise: If IT services has been talking about 'sucking' at sales and marketing for 15, 20 years now, how come no one has fixed this?

Plus, let's say, there are a ton of organizations serving this space. And while all perfectly competent, they're essentially all the same. In fact, I did a video called 'This Video is the Complete and Total Answer to Your Sales and Marketing Questions,' and my basic premise is you just need a system and to work it.

I think that is both right and probably completely wrong -- because if it was right, that you could just pick up the system, why isn't that happening?

A world of online purchasing options

Let's think about buying for a moment. Now, there are tons of material about the buyer's journey and all that. Sure. That's actually good stuff, but I don't think we have to get that complicated. Let's just look around a moment.

As I put this together, I remembered I needed coffee, as the pot I made this morning was close to the end of the beans. Click, click, click, and my coffee is on its way.

I can buy a lot of stuff online. Some really big-ticket items. Complex stuff, too. What can you buy online? How about a car? I could spend some seriously big bucks right now and have a sweet ride; $68K gets me a Corvette. A new Z4 for $52K. In fact, for that Corvette, I could be picking that up curbside, like, today. CarMax has it ready for me.

And you know what? I got my current car entirely online. I picked the model I wanted out entirely online, emailed the dealership and had everything sorted. The first time I met with anyone was the day I drove it home.

How about a house? There's a six-bedroom, 11-bath house just up the road from me for a cool $4.2 million. I can tour it online. And there it is, a big button to see my buying options, and I can buy this home with or without an agent. No person required. Thanks, Redfin.

So, I have the cool car to drive to my new house, and I need a plumber for this. Yup, I can get that online, too. Pick a plumber. Sorted.

But, you know, I got sick during the move, so I need to see a doctor about that. Sure thing. I can book that [for] tomorrow morning. No problem. I have several options.

The doctor makes a mistake, so now I need a lawyer. Yeah, same thing: Click, click, click. That's good.

So, that's real estate, car dealerships, shopping, medical, legal and home services, all available to me within clicks.  

MSPs buck the e-commerce trend

But now I need help with IT services. Website after website: 'Call for a quote.' 'Call for a quote.'  'Fill out my contact form, and I'll get back to you.' 'Call for a quote.'

I can hear you all screaming: 'Oh, my services are so special! They're custom! [You] can't possibly buy them online!'

I just spent $4.2 million on a house, and you're telling me your IT service is so unique it can't possibly be bought online?

OK, boomer.

Let's get with the program. Where's my e-commerce for your IT services?

But on the other hand, you're complaining you can't get any new sales. Your marketing isn't working. You hire lead generators. You get calling services. You want to build marketing programs. You buy marketing programs. You spend money on everyone's systems. You hire consultants. You sign up for peer groups. But I can't buy a damn thing from you on my own.

Are you seeing the disconnect here?  

I can't go to your website; I can't put it in my cart and just buy it from you.

How about an assessment? I want you to look at my environment and tell me what's wrong. Oh, I have to call you? I have to quibble with you? You just won't take my credit card?

How about I buy from you just your best service? Sell me everything for, say, $500 per unit and just everything. I'm a business owner, and I don't want to deal with this. Take my credit card, sign me up, and I'm done. I want my technology problems to go away, and I want to just hire you to do it. I just want you to do it.

Oh, everything is special order, huh? Really?

None of the IT services companies I look at let me do any actual buying. Oh, sure, you'll sell to me. Your website tells me how great you are, your list of services, how special your people are. And for most of you, I can't even talk to you on your website. No chat feature. I certainly can't book you. I have my business credit card, I know what I need -- someone to run my technology -- but I cannot buy from you. I have to be sold to.

Engaging customers online

Let's observe those marketing experts out there. Not only is the answer with them, I can buy from them on their website. [They have] big 'click here to buy' buttons. One has a $5,000 package right there.

But they aren't telling you to put e-commerce on your site. Huh.

I did an interview with Kevin Urrutia, who has a tech background and launched a home cleaning service.   The video is on Youtube and the audio on the podcast. What struck me during the interview was how natural it all was to him. He saw the problem with getting cleaning services in New York City and specifically cited how everyone wanted to come out and survey the place, count the rooms, give a specific quote. So, he just built a service to do it, let you pick what you wanted on e-commerce, boom and done.

Yeah, and he went from $0 to $3 million in 18 months.   

And telling me that story, all I could think of was, 'Why are we doing all this crazy stuff, when for a lot of problems, I know what the solution is?' I could even sell a bundled assessment for those whose jobs are complicated. I know what my best endpoint configuration is. I can have that drop shipped to you. I know what my best service solution is. There's definitely a price I can spin you up at. 

And in every one of those cases, from the house to the car to the doctor to the plumber, there is a vast array of ways to communicate online with those agencies to get my questions answered.    

This is particularly striking now because we shifted so fast. Citing NYU professor Scott Galloway, we had years of acceleration in eight weeks in 2020. Just like the frog in the boiling pot of water, your lack of e-commerce wasn't a problem -- until the heat got turned up all the way.

It's time to embrace e-commerce

Now, here's the trick. Most of you are going to scoff at me. 'Oh, I can't possibly.' 'This won't work.' 'It's too hard.' 'That's not what the experts say.' 'I've been doing it this way and it works.'

OK, boomer.

The meme is spot on because that's old thinking. A select few of you are going to take this, consider it, and realize yes, you can. The tools are there to build an e-commerce presence in a few short clicks. You can bundle this all up. You can take your stuff to market. You'll actually invest in driving your digital funnel and leads to your website, to your cart and 'cha-ching.'

Now, most of you won't. A few of you will. But more importantly, your new competition will. Because the obvious piece I've been missing here so far is that in my new MSP, I'll take a customer's credit card online, and I'll have them as my customer before you even have time to get them on the phone.

Click, click, click.   

About the author
Dave Sobel is the host of the podcast The Business of Tech, co-host of the podcast Killing IT and authored the book Virtualization: Defined. Sobel is regarded as a leading expert in the delivery of technology services, with broad experience in both technology and business. He owned and operated an IT solution provider and MSP for more than a decade, and has worked for vendors such as Level Platforms, GFI, LOGICnow and SolarWinds, leading community, event, marketing and product strategies, as well as M&A activities. Sobel has received multiple industry recognitions, including CRN Channel Chief, CRN UK A-List, Channel Futures Circle of Excellence winner, Channel Pro's 20/20 Visionaries and MSPmentor 250.

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