Channel, MSP

What Is the Sales Process for An MSP?

You can spin up a server with your eyes closed, but one of the real challenges of being a managed services provider (MSP) is acquiring and retaining new business. Sales doesn't always come easily to people with technical backgrounds, and IT solutions providers often think you have to be born with sales skills to be successful. My colleague, Ray Vrabel, Continuum's Senior Director of Strategic Planning, and I hear this all the time. With the right strategies and training, however, all MSPs can master the art of the close. To help you reach more competitive levels of revenue and profitability, we're introducing a new MSP Sales Success blog series, in which we'll dive deep into the sales journey and answer what you've been asking for some time: "How do I sell managed services?"

In this first post, we begin with a high-level overview of the client acquisition process for an MSP, analyzing the Sales and Marketing funnel from the moment a lead is generated to the customer onboarding period.

1. Marketing and Lead Generation

Wait, this post is supposed to be about the sales process! What does marketing have to do with that?! The answer: everything. Any sales team needs leads to work, and it's your marketing team's job to provide those contacts. Now, I understand that managed IT services businesses come in all shapes and sizes, and either you or a portion of your employees wear both the Marketing and the Sales hats. The sales funnel still applies, however. In this case, don't make more work for Sales by not generating enough high-quality leads. A contributing factor to poor sales in any organization is not receiving enough support. Sales people burn out when burdened with the responsibility of having to do it all. Likewise, don't leave Marketing hanging by failing to follow-up on the leads they have generated. This makes Marketing feel less valued, and you need them as much as they need you to grow your business. When your efforts are aligned, you'll be able to close more leads and determine what does and doesn't work in nurturing the leads you hand off to Sales.

In SMarketing: Why Sales & Marketing Is a Team Sport, our CMO and SVP, Jeanne Hopkins, describes this symbiotic relationship perfectly, stating that "if you’re using all the intel at your disposal to identify what’s most important – for your sales team and for your prospects – you’ll be able to overcome challenges and move on to increasing conversions and, ultimately, increasing growth and profitability."

So how exactly can Sales and Marketing assist one another?

How Sales Can Help Marketing 

Think about all of the conversations and email engagements you have with prospects. Are there any questions that continually pop up? We'll be covering the anatomy of a sales call and addressing specific questions to ask in a later blog post in this series, but at a high level, recall the frustrations you've heard from decision makers. That's incredibly valuable information to feed Marketing. Copy or content can then be created around these pain points in your blog posts, website content, etc. Marketing can even use this feedback to develop sales talk tracks, or approved messaging to hand off to sales representatives to streamline the sales conversation in a way that hits all the key, "close-worthy" points. Consistent messaging across various mediums - web and dialogue, alike - establishes your organization's credibility and trustworthiness.

How Marketing Can Help Sales

From a lead generation perspective, Marketing can take all of the information gathered from Sales to create content that draws leads in. That's inbound marketing at work! There are countless ways you can accomplish this. One way is by targeting your web content for keyword phrases your target audience will likely be searching, such as "my network keeps shutting down" or "how do I know my data is backed up?" Again, these could be complaints your sales team hears in their phone calls. You can also use your social media channels to share third party material and content from your own website.Increasing your brand visibility helps get more eyeballs on your website. Then, there's the matter of converting that website visit into a workable lead. Embed forms on your website so you can capture contact information and company details. It could be something as simple as "Contact Us." Once the contact record is created, it's your sales team's responsibility to follow-up. Don't let your funnel get clogged by not having a workflow in place. Marketing follows up by nurturing that lead with additional content that moves the prospect further down the funnel, qualifying the lead for an easier close. Why waste your sales rep's time with accounts that either won't be a good fit or aren't seriously interested in doing business with you? One of the biggest ways Marketing assists Sales, however, is through helpful collateral, such as product data sheets, pricing sheets, and tech quick tips. These resources help you convince prospects they need your managed IT services when conducting onsite visits and appointments.

2. Discovery

Alright, Marketing has done its job and you've got a bevy of desirable leads to start working. Once you've done your due diligence by researching each company and crafting your sales strategy, it's time to get to know each of these leads more. Remember that you also have to determine whether they're worth pitching your services to. You don't want to declare yourself, and make a proposal just yet. Think about speed dating. You start with a carefully crafted collection of suitors, likely grouped by a common interest (hint: qualified), but you're not going to want to ask all of them out. You take the time to ask each bachelor or bachelorette a series of questions that will determine your level of compatibility.

The same applies in the Discovery phase of the MSP sales process - only instead of asking about previous dating history, you might ask a prospect what managed IT services solution(s) they're currently using or have used in the past. Look out for a follow-up blog post that will offer a more in-depth review of the Discovery phase (and all subsequent phases), but essentially, we advise you to use your initial sales conversations to get more background information on leads. Build a profile of what their IT environment looks like. Ask what their biggest IT frustrations are at the moment (sound familiar?) or have them describe what keeps them from doing what they need to do. Then, get a gauge for how many hurdles you'll have to jump over in landing their business. Who are the key decision makers? There are tons of other questions we'll detail later in this series. Ultimately, consider the Cost per Lead (CPL) and budget your time accordingly. Is someone more work than they're worth? That's something you have to ask yourself.

3. Presentation and Proposal

By this time in the sales journey, you've had several conversations with a given prospect and have begun to establish a personal connection. They believe you're trustworthy and see the value in learning more about the managed IT services you have to offer. At the same time, you've qualified them enough to know you have the IT services they need to meet their business goals, maintain uptime and grow profitability. As premier IT marketing consultant, Robin Robins, teaches us, you have to diagnose the patient before you can prescribe the medication. Simply put, use a solution like RapidFire Tools to conduct a network audit to fully assess their IT environment to see what's missing or what could be improved. It differs for each prospect. Once you know what to offer, you can perfect your presentation and tailor it to resonate with each decision maker you pitch it to (if multiple).

For the presentation, be sure to express the business value of adopting each of the services you suggest. Too often, MSPs make the mistake of selling features, but this won't sway your prospects. It will dilute your message and value proposition. Instead, clearly communicate the benefits of each service. Along the same lines, using IT jargon will also turn prospects off and decrease the likelihood of the sale. 

  • What to Say: "With our BDR solution, you'll be able to recover all necessary data without delay, in the event of a breach or service disruption."
  • What NOT to Say: "With our BDR solution, you'll receive AES-256 Disk Safe Encryption"

Back up all of your findings with the printed (or digital if in a PowerPoint) results from your network audit. Showing the prospect that their current backup solution has been repeatedly failing, causing them to lose data, is a lot more compelling than simply telling them they need a new BDR approach and pitching yours.

Keep in mind that people like having lots of options. Always be flexible. Leading with the "take it or leave it" ultimatum rarely works. You may have to go back to the drawing board or rework your vision for their company. They may ask questions you're not prepared to answer in the moment. Maintain consistent contact and follow-up with them with the information they've asked for, either by telephone or email.

Ironing out your presentation and getting an estimate of how much your prospects are willing to spend is necessary before introducing the proposal. By this point, you'll have already discussed your prices with them. If it seems like they're still interested, have no objections and a high probability of closing, then - and only then - make your proposal.

4. Negotiation

This is the phase that stands between you and one of your worked leads signing on the dotted line. Ideally, it's not a very long threshold because you were proactive and put in the preparatory work prior, but people may still be hesitant to commit to you. That's fine. As we outline in our tips to mastering the MSP proposal process, the key here is ensuring the proposal isn't left unanswered for too long before you reach back out. Either by phone or email, verify that the proposal was received and ask if there's any additional information you may have left out and still need to provide. If there are kinks to work out, be open to it and resolve them before inquiring about a signing timeline.

5. Close

Congratulations! You now have successfully secured a new client. You're done, right? On to the next prospect to close? Not exactly. The work is just beginning! You can't only focus on customer acquisition. After the close, you must evaluate what the new client experience is. That's why training employees to be account managers pays off. Perhaps you need to improve your client onboarding process. Have you tapped Marketing to request materials to ease this transition. This could include collateral that explains how clients can get in touch with you should they require immediate assistance or a recurring series of cybersecurity tips they can distribute amongst staff. You never want to lose that loving feeling! You've got their business. Now, you have to keep it. Continue to build the relationship, be your clients' trusted IT advisor, routinely revisit your Service Level Agreements (SLAs), hold Quarterly Business Reviews (QBRs) and more, and you may find cross-sell and upsell opportunities unfold in no time! Are they so pleased with your services, after 3, 6 and/or 12 months they’ll recommend you to their peers?



Did you find this post helpful? Do you have any additional questions for either Ray or myself? Leave a comment below, and stay tuned as we bring you more in-depth lessons and best practices for selling your managed services!

Frank Bauer is senior channel development manager for ContinuumRead more Continuum blogs here.