MSPs Adapt or Die: Darwinism is Apparent in the Channel

In part one of this blog, we talked about how the law of Natural Selection is a force in the MSP world at this time. We also mention two of the five key points you’ll need to address as you evolve your MSP marketing.

Now, let’s look at points three through five for an evolved MSP marketing strategy, according to two sources: Your Sales Energy and MSP Ignition!

Five Key Points on Evolved MSP Marketing: Continued

3. Do you have the right marketing mindset?

There will come a time when you can’t handle your own marketing. For many MSPs, that time came and went years ago, but they’re still trying to do it all themselves. Having the right marketing mindset means understanding how important your marketing is to the success of your business and then budgeting accordingly.

Simply put, the DIY marketers are getting edged out in most cases. The channel has evolved beyond what they’re capable of doing in their spare time. Those who hire quality in-house marketing staff, leverage the vendors they use for marketing materials and support, outsource to professionals, and invest wisely in their marketing are projecting a much more professional brand image, reaching their ideal prospects more effectively, and landing the contracts.

4. Are you measuring the effectiveness of your current marketing?

It seems like the answer to this question is always “no”. Sometimes it’s accompanied by a “well, but, uh, sometimes…”, but the answer is still not ideal.

I’m not just talking about reports showing how many people opened your emails or how you’re ranking on select keywords. I’m talking overall efficacy of your marketing machine as a whole. There should be constant evaluation here.

This is critical because a lot of popular marketing methods either won’t work for everyone or won’t work at all. You could very easily be paying thousands of dollars for marketing services, SEO, website upkeep, canned blogs, or any number of other things that are doing absolutely nothing to grow your business.

Make sure you’re not wasting money!

5. Are you using custom content?

The heyday of canned content is over for MSPs. Templated marketing materials, websites that all look the same, syndicated blog posts — these are relics from the “any marketing is better than nothing” era.

Do you regularly update your website to reflect your offerings, news and regular blog posts?  Do you have an updated logo?  Do you contribute online with posts, video and other types of content?

All of these things are really just a step up from DIY, and they’re more effective at taking work off of your plate than they will ever be at growing your business. Most templated marketing material is not that good, simply because it’s impossible to make really great marketing that works well for 500 different businesses.

There’s another reason why templates and canned copy is obsolete: pricing. When we examined what most MSPs are paying for mass-produced, canned marketing materials, we discovered that they could have been getting custom-created content for the same amount of money or even less. The only advantage that canned marketing offers is convenience, and that dog won’t hunt in a competitive market.

Bringing It All Together

The above are very fundamental marketing questions, not next-level concepts. The fact that so many MSP owners are lacking in the above means that they’re operating on very shaky foundations. If a business is not doing well with the basics, the entirety of the marketing machine is going to suffer.

This brings to light a different sort of challenge, and something we’ve identified as a unifying thread between most MSPs who come to us because they’re struggling with their marketing and their growth.

They’re trying to do too much of it themselves. This effect is even amplified in cases where the MSP outsourced various aspects of their marketing to different third parties.

What we’ve seen is that when an owner hires Company A to design their website, Company B to handle their SEO, and Company C to handle their email marketing, they’re just creating more balls for themselves to juggle.

They inevitably lose track of what’s going on, and there’s usually no integration between separate parts of their marketing machine that should be working in unison. And who among those isolated third-party companies is actually working with them to create a functioning marketing strategy?

Let’s not even mention the countless MSPs that are paying for canned content and not even using it because they don’t have the time.

Effective marketing requires a solid strategic approach, and it takes a cohesion to execute such a strategy. The website must work with the email marketing. Social media must work with the blog posts. Everything must be tracked, measured, weighed, and adjusted. It’s all one, big organism — and it needs one brain to run the show.

Are You Ready to Swim with the Sharks?

Where does your MSP stand in the evolutionary scale of marketing?

If you haven’t given your sales and marketing engine a good, hard look in a while, now is the time. We’re about to head into a new year, and I can’t think of a better resolution to commit to than this one: I will not be eaten by the sharks.

For more MSP Ignition! Click here to register and join us on January 22, 2019. The topic: MSP Ignition! 20: Identify and Target Your Ideal Prospects – with Your Sales Energy

By J.P. Roe of Your Sales Energy and Tom Watson of Axcient’s MSP Ignition! Read more Axcient blogs here.

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    Jason Nelson:

    The SMB MSP market is saturated and well on its way to being commoditized. Except for the already dominant players in each local market, substantial year over year growth will be difficult. The business/risk management model of the MSP playbook of services is no longer unique, like it was 10 years or even 5 years ago. Nearly all MSPs are making the same promises right now, and few are really delivering on said promises, and interestingly the clients not receiving all they signed for are none-the-wiser. Those MSPs that do manage to truly differentiate themselves in the sales/brand/positioning arena will have an edge with client acquisition, but it’s unlikely thousands of MSPs will be able to do that. MSPs may as well be doctors at this point – people stay with the one they like because they will only trust what they know. M&A in this market will only accelerate as organic growth becomes more costly and difficult, and the costs/complexity/risk growth of running an MSP accelerate. Similar to doctors, many will throw in the towel, partner together, exit, or simply stick their head in the ground.

    Stuart Crawford:

    Jason, at the end of the day, businesses just want someone they can trust and who is responsive and can help them as the company grows. That’s it, there’s no secret sauce. If you take care of your clients, you have it made in the shade. Most businesses we see now are ripping and replacing, fed up with their current IT company…the 2019 recession that will happen soon will separate the winners from the losers.

    Stuart Crawford
    MSP Marketing Consultant
    Ulistic LP

    J.P. Roe:

    That’s right, Jason. The MSP space itself is evolving through the industry cluster life cycle, just like any other.

    Looking at aggregate growth trends in the channel, it’s safe to say that we’re in the stage of “Maturity”, wherein you see widespread slowing of growth and expansion curves that are tied to the overall economy far more than they’re tied to the minor actions of individuals within the sector.

    This is the point of our discussion, in fact. When an industry hits maturity, the gap between industry leaders and laggards starts to widen. Eventually, that gap gets wide enough that most of the laggards will be run out of the market.

    This is why it’s more important than ever to take marketing seriously — and we’re not just talking promotion. We mean pricing, positioning, processes… everything that makes the company functional and distinct. The way an MSP positions themselves to face a mature market will determine their future, and now is the time to make those decisions.

    It’s important to remember this: Once we crossed over the dateline into a new stage of the industry life cycle, the old ways became largely obsolete. You can’t look at what an MSP did to succeed ten years ago and assume that those methods will work — the changes within the market are too significant.

    Common sense should dictate as much, right? It’s easier to win a race when there are fewer people running AND everyone is fumbling around trying to figure out what to do. It’s not like that any more. Industry leaders have footholds and well-defined strategies. Players with experience expanding in this type of market are coming in and knocking aside laggards like they’re nothing.

    It’s “eat or be eaten” time. If you want to ascend the food chain, your strategies should be based around proven, clearly-defined trajectories that leverage innovative disruption and efficient execution. This is NOT the time to fall back on homespun wisdom, decade-old marketing strategies, or (gasp!) guesswork and knee-jerk reactions.

    Jason Nelson:

    Stuart and J.P. – I think we’re on the same page, mostly. Your comments resonate with and make sense to me.

    I think the challenges MSPs are facing now and in the near future are rooted in something more fundamental than sales/marketing/positioning. Addressing complexity, risk, and security in meaningful ways and not just outsourcing them to one or two more MSP-oriented platforms will be imperative to sustainable and compounding MRR growth over 5-10 years. I think many MSPs are being run by people who are inherently short sighted at the moment and expect to exit/retire before the market is seriously disrupted or the larger economy takes another hit to the nose – they will be in for a world of disappointment if both happen sooner than later. I think we agree on this.

    There is indeed blue ocean out there, we may just see different parts of it. I’m taking Allixo towards a different way of doing things, one that recognizes and deals with shifts we’ve seen in the marketplace. These shifts look like:

    1) The increasing need for meaningful digital risk management on behalf of our clients, on numerous fronts. More security is only one aspect of digital risk management.
    2) Millennial shadow IT techs and influencers who frankly deserve a seat at the table, given their intimate knowledge of the business and its processes, and their passion for making things better. Instead of managing them, they need to be leveraged.
    3) The need for helpdesk service that’s build on relationships and said intimate knowledge of how workflows and the business operate, a kind of helpdesk quality that is hard to provide from the outside (unless it’s a vertical we know intimately)
    4) Following on the above two, the increasing importance of application/data/workflow management chops, usually in the form of focusing on verticals and building related institutional knowledge
    5) The need for modular managed services which allow buyers to pick and choose what they need for their business, vs having the typical one-size-fits-all-per-user model with the heavy hand it requires to be profitable.

    I’m excited to launch our refreshed brand, messaging, and products in February. Wishing you guys a great new year!

    J.P. Roe:

    You make a lot of valid points, Jason! You’re taking a very in-depth, strategic approach to your marketing*, which is what we always advocate.

    *Let’s not forget that “marketing” involves a lot more than advertising or lead generation. The complete marketing mix incorporates everything involved in bringing what you have to the market — including pricing and product, which you addressed in several of your points.

    Part of thorough marketing research (and the resulting strategies) is determining the need, crafting the best offer, and connecting that offering to the end-user. This means things like finding the blue oceans, determining how team composition affects the product/value perception, and even adjusting the entire business model to fit the demands of the chosen niche if necessary.

    Marketing — as a department or a service — should be integral to all of this. If they’re not, then they’re not really helping with your marketing, only with your promotion (advertising). There are massive differences between an advertising company and a marketing company, although many people use the terms interchangeably now.

    Good luck with your initiatives in the new year!

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