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Memo to MSPs: Take Vertical Action

If you haven’t seen the movie “The Martian”, rent it during your Shelter at Home time – it is the perfect movie to help you not feel sorry for yourself during your isolation. I watched it for the first time with the team from Mailprotector several years ago. Great team-building movie about overcoming enormous odds. Also, a great movie about how expertise matters. OK, no spoilers. Watch it yourself and enjoy.

Author: Ted Roller, virtual channel chief, Mailprotector

Without a lot to do and minus the normal travel routine, I have been on the phone and on the occasional Zoom meeting with lots of MSPs, and I am noticing a trend. Those who have a strong vertical focus seem to be weathering the storm fairly well. Those who are generalists or territory focused MSPs, not so much. That confused me a bit at first. I figured the vertical probably mattered more than the focus, but so far, I have been proven wrong. Doesn’t seem to matter whether your vertical is dental (down quite a bit) or police and fire (remarkably busy), if they have a strong vertical presence they seem to be doing well.

The difference seems to be the perception the customer has about the MSP. Generalists are replaceable; specialists are necessary. I don’t have any hard numbers to back this up, but it makes sense to me. That having been said, I have talked to numerous partners over the years who claim that they cannot verticalize because their market is just too small for them to survive within a single vertical.

MSPs: Steps to Vertical Success

Icon Growth PlanLet’s challenge that assumption on every level and see if we can’t come up with a plan to add vertical stability to your MSP. Next steps include:

  1. Figure out what vertical skills you have within your company. Previous employers, long term engagement with a vertically aligned customer, and life experience should all be taken into consideration. I have never met an MSP who doesn’t have deep knowledge in at least one type of vertical. I am sure they exist, but they are rare.
  2. Find out what your effective range is for the vertical. Might be 10 miles or it might be 3000 miles. With that knowledge in hand, do a quick assessment of how many customers exist in that area, what the average monthly billable needs to be in order to go win business, and make a business decision about attacking that vertical. Pro tip – you don’t have to have only one vertical specialty, and it is often better to have more than one.
  3. Research what vendors you need to have in place to solve the business problem for that vertical and build those relationships.
  4. Design a marketing and sales strategy. This is different for many generalists. You need to go find your new customers; they aren’t going to find you. At least not at first.
  5. Finally, take on one vertical at a time. Master it, build your base, hire or promote a business unit manager to make sure all the trains run on time, and move on to the next vertical.
  6. Wash, rinse, repeat.

In “The Martian”, Matt Damon does an amazing job of leveraging his highly verticalized skills to his advantage. Then he took those skills, rolled up his sleeves, and went to work, solving problem after problem as they got in his way. In the end, it saved his life. If you do the same with your MSP, it may one day save your business.


Ted Roller is virtual channel chief at Mailprotector, which develops email protection services delivered via MSPs and resellers. Read more Mailprotector guest blogs here.

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