The managed service market is booming, with service providers predicted to bring in global revenues of over $350 billion by 2025.
There is clearly a market for outsourced IT services as firms look to change ways of working and capitalize on a more flexible workforce. However, the fiercely competitive marketplace has pros and cons for MSPs. While the demand is clearly there for their services, competition is high. Therefore, sales and marketing take on even more importance to stand out from the competition to win new business.
This article shows how to build effective marketing strategies and tactics for MSPs to capitalize on this booming market.
The challenges of marketing for managed service providers
New and established MSPs need to be dynamic with marketing. In a highly competitive industry with highly tech-savvy buyers, deploying cutting-edge digital tactics is essential.
Some aspects of B2B marketing are similar to whichever industry a firm is operating in, while others are unique to a particular sector. For managed IT service providers, the challenge is twofold. First, good marketing will tell potential customers what services are on offer.
Perhaps more importantly, they will reinforce why their firm should be trusted with a critical part of a customer’s business. After all, MSP services involve safeguarding their customers’ critical business data, applications, devices, and user productivity. With the potential financial and reputational damage of a regulatory compliance breach, trusting another firm with such important tasks involves a lot of trust.
MSP marketing should therefore focus on selling potential customers on the benefits of using your services. At the same time, it should also provide confidence by promoting customer testimonials, references, accreditations, and other credentials.
Buyers are also doing a lot of research before even picking up the phone. Hubspot found that 41% of buyers view at least 3-5 pieces of content before even making their interest known to a firm. This means MSPs need to be creating a variety of content to guide buyers through their buying journey smoothly. To create this, detailed knowledge is required of the target personas of the potential customers.
The parallel challenge is using the right mixture of tactics to ensure the right people can find this content ahead of your competitors. For this, a blended mix of activities is required, including website, events, webinars, social media, paid advertising, search optimization, and email marketing.
The key aspects to marketing your MSP
Well-rounded MSP marketing strategies need to incorporate some main pillars.
This is the process for creating a constant production line of engaging, informative content to entice potential buyers to find out more about your services.
The other aspect of inbound marketing is utilizing various platforms to amplify the content to the targeted personas most likely interested in your services. Examples of inbound platforms include IT trade publications, content syndication, and specific LinkedIn groups.
Outbound is similar to inbound, only more ‘broad-brush.’ This means that the services are promoted more widely, not only to the most tightly-considered potential buyers. Examples of outbound platforms include paid advertising or cold calling.
Building a database of opted-in email subscribers is an effective way of engaging with an audience that has proactively expressed an interest in your services. In addition, this platform can be used to promote new services, special offers, and thought leadership content.
Key terms of MSP marketing
Applying some industry-defined marketing terms to your demand generation efforts ensures you can get marketers and salespeople on the same page.
- Lead generation activities: The cycle of defining target audiences, nurturing them, and working on converting them into trading customers.
- Leads: An individual that expresses an interest in your services via an inbound phone call or contact request.
- Landing page: Web pages dedicated to a particular topic guide the reader into taking a positive next step. These are effective for Google Ads click-throughs to encourage the reader to request a trial or download a resource.
- Call to action: This is the ‘next step’ you are trying to get the reader to take. For example, “Request a Free Trial” is a clear, bold call to action.
MSP marketing plan
Building an MSP marketing plan is about two things: Strategy and tactical elements.
Strategy is all about getting to know your customers, potential new buyers and how you’re going to attract them. To do this, a strategy should aim to answer:
- What is your marketing budget?
- What is working, and what isn’t?
- What is the perfect customer for your services?
- What problems are they facing that you can help solve?
- How do your services solve your ideal customers issues?
- Who are the people from within a company that will make decisions on your services?
- What makes your firm unique from your competitors? How will you draw this out in your marketing?
There are many different tactics MSPs can take advantage of in digital marketing. Utilize as many of them as possible to create integrated digital campaigns that complement one another.
A good website is the bread and butter of digital marketing. Creating a responsive, fast-loading design is fundamental to impressing tech-savvy buyers. You should also signpost your website with clear calls to action to generate leads.
Keep jargon out of your website. Well-versed contacts do not want to see it, and they will not be impressed by it. Short, clear sentences and well-crafted calls to action are much more likely to work than jargon-filled fluff. Also, note that your website should not attempt to show off as much as possible about technical terms. Instead, focus on informing your readers how you go about solving the problems they are facing.
Make your contact details clearly on your website. Do not just bury them on the ‘contact us page; ensure an email address and phone number are visible on every page of your site. Lastly, make sure your site is SEO optimized (more on that later). To do so, you can use one of many plugin choices to rank each page and optimize its searchability.
If you are serious about your marketing strategy, establishing marketing automation from an early stage is advisable. Implementing this enables you to practice what you preach in terms of being ‘data-driven. Automation also helps follow-up to give contacts relevant information through nurturing programs based on their center of interest.
It is much easier to establish automation from the outset and build your marketing strategy around it, rather than trying to bring it in at a later stage when everything is already established.
Pay-per-click (PPC) is paid advertising through Google or other major search engines. These are the sponsored ads that appear at the top of search results.
PPC is an effective way of targeting buyers that already know they require your services. Putting your firm front and center of their search results is a time-tested way of achieving high-converting leads.
The best advice is to focus on Google AdWords to get started. The expected return on investment is as high as 100%, with every dollar you invest generating a $2 return. Another major advantage of AdWords is that they can be tweaked mid-campaign and a maximum budget established.
Search engine optimization (SEO) focuses on getting your content as highly ranked as possible in organic search results.
This is vital because PPC is good for awareness, but organic search is where most of the action is. In fact, 70% of clicked links from Google are organic links. In other words, only 30% of searchers will click on a paid ad. Moreover, with over 90% of buyers beginning their purchase process on Google, getting ahead of the SEO game is essential.
SEO is all about generating good quality content and optimizing it.
Confusingly, Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is different to PPC and SEO. This is the approach of using PPC and SEO efforts together. SEM places advertisements according to buyers’ search behavior and pain points to maximize the content.
This brings us to…
Content marketing is about showing your expertise to your target personas and convincing them you have the know-how to solve their problem. This is achieved by producing valuable quality content that adds value to the reader.
Blogs, whitepapers, and infographics all build trust with new leads and existing customers. The beauty of content marketing? It can create up to three times the amount of leads than other methods. It is also more cost-efficient than other marketing channels.
Get your content published on other relevant sites and then backlinks back to your own for real results. Also, work with guest bloggers and industry experts to bring a fresh, independent perspective to your readers.
Email marketing remains a powerful way of engaging and nurturing prospects. Well-executed email marketing programs are a great way of reaching opted-in subscribers with new services, news, tips, and promotions.
LinkedIn and Twitter are the social media marketing staples for MSPs. However, other platforms such as Facebook can also play a role. These channels can all be harnessed for brand awareness. Particularly well-executed posts will also convert to new website traffic.
Social media marketing is not just about posts. Automation enables you to harness the power of LinkedIn to build prospecting lists to gather intelligence and build contacts. In addition, LinkedIn automation gives you another way of contacting prospects by using InMails
Build online reviews to get your brand known and build confidence in it. Ask your existing customers nicely if they will get you started.
Make it as simple as possible by sending them a link and any instructions if needed. You could even go one step further and offer to write it to edit as they see fit before posting.
Responding to reviews is also good practice. If any negative reviews pop up, politely respond to them with practical solutions to the problem.
No MSP marketing plan should be complete without a clearly defined lead nurturing and management process. This helps you to personalize follow-ups to your contacts based on what pain points they have expressed.
You can create proper lead funnels by using automation to build a repository of information on your leads.
This involves a 3-stage process as prospects pass through the nurturing funnel:
- Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs): Contacts that have interacted with your content and can be nurtured further.
- Sales Accepted Leads (SALs): Hotter prospects that salespeople identify as a serious potential buyers. This can be based on lead scoring, a follow-up conversation, or important news about the prospect company (cyber attack, regulatory fine, etc.).
- Sales Qualified Lead (SQL): Prospects that are ready for the next stage of the process. For example, this could be following a successful demo, confirmation of budget and timeline, or an invitation to an RFP/RFI by the prospect.
Lead magnets are an effective but often overlooked part of the MSP marketing portfolio. A lead magnet is a piece of content about a hot topic. In the MSP world, this could be a topic like ransomware, backup, or application management.
The lead magnet serves two purposes. 1)To get people interested in your firm; 2) Encourages people to give details such as their email address and job title in return for downloading it. You can use this information as a warm lead for that topic and add it to your database for future nurturing emails
Retargeting, or remarketing, works in a similar way to lead magnets, only for online adverts
This activity displays selected adverts to prospects that have already visited your website but have not yet left their email address or made any contact. These contacts obviously knew about your company or had an interest in what you do. Retargeting is a way of capitalizing on this knowledge and encouraging people to come back to find out more
Industry-focused events are still a surefire way of building new contacts and potentially some hot leads. Large trade shows, conferences or smaller workshops, and seminar-style events are all potential ways of finding new prospects
Even in the digital age, being able to look someone in the eye as you talk to them about your firm still counts for a lot. Do not make the mistake of trying to attend everything – focus on a smaller number of events, but take full advantage of each one.
A solid event plan should include marketing your presence before, during, and after the event. Try to book 1-to-1 appointments for when you are there. Before the live event, tell your customers and prospects you will be there. This not only looks good to demonstrate you are a leader in your field but is a great opportunity to showcase a new service or skill you have to offer.
Ask the event organizers to put your logo and a link back to your website on the event site, and if possible, ask for the opportunity to write a guest article. You may even be able to organize an interview with a trade magazine or local newspaper for some coverage. You can also take the opportunity to create some buzz on social media by including the event hashtags.
At the event, do not just turn up and hope people come to see you. If permitted, post some flyers and posters around the venue to advertise your presence. Try to speak at a keynote presentation or seminar, as this is a perfect opportunity to showcase expertise. Offering some cool branded goodies and having a fun activity or competition is also a good idea as a talking point to attract people to your booth. You can even use the opportunity to produce some new video content. Recording a demo at your trade stand is always good content for YouTube.
After the event, follow up promptly with your leads. Focus on the hottest conversations, but ensure all the contacts you met to get further information and nurturing. Write a summary blog with some photos from the event and post them out on social media too
By using these techniques, you can get several weeks of coverage out of an event instead of just turning up on the day and seeing what happens.
Webinars can be approached in a similar way to events. Keep in mind that there is a lot of competition for people to sign up to webinars right now. But following some best practices means that you can stand out and attract some quality registrations.
The first step is to produce compelling content. The trick is to provide value to the attendees. If they think it is a sales pitch in disguise, the chances are they will not attend. So instead, pick a hot topic that your customers are thinking about. A good example could be “Protecting your business from ransomware,” featuring 10 ways small businesses can do so.
Get your partners on board to share their expertise and provide another voice. This will also mean they are invested in the webinar and can promote it in their marketing tactics. You can then share the leads list afterward to follow up. Of course, getting a customer to present how your services have helped them is a huge advantage.
Before the event, use the registration process to gather a little data on your prospects. For example, ask them how many users they have or how many devices they need to secure. If people are serious about attending your webinar, they will not mind a couple of high-level questions like this
Capturing a registration is key. Do not get too hung up on how many people attend a live session. An average MSP webinar will attract a 40% attendance rate for the live event, but the remaining 60% are valuable. You can send these people the link to the recorded session and try to arrange 1-to-1 follow-up calls.
A simple registration formula works best. Promote this in a series of 2-3 emails to your database and social media channels. You can also utilize a paid Google Ads and LinkedIn campaign to maximize returns.
In your webinar content, inform your audience of what they will get out of the webinar, why they should attend, and what the key takeaways will be. You should also highlight the speakers with photos and bios to underline their credentials as industry experts.
Your webinar content should flow something like this
- Have a host introduce the presenters and their firms (if you have partners or customers presenting too).
- What problem you can solve.
- Why your customers must solve this problem (securing against ransom attacks, de-duplicating storage, etc.)
- An overview of the proposed solution and how it changes the current state.
- How you and your partners work with customers to add value.
Webinars can also be used for brand awareness as well as lead generation. To enhance brand awareness, you could pick higher-level topics to help in the community. Topics such as online safety, secure home WiFi networks, getting the most from Office 365 are certain to be interesting to large sections of your local community.
This kind of webinar series can be a great way of getting people talking about your firm and is a longer-term way of building a referral network and contacts.
Make your content interactive too. “Death by PowerPoint is an oft-repeated phrase, but it is amazing how many firms continue to fall into this trap. Most webinar software has a variety of interaction and collaboration tools built-in. Use these to engage your audience with quick surveys, polls, whiteboards, promotions, giveaways, and sharing documents.
To encourage questions and collaboration, you should also pre-prepare a couple of questions to get the conversation started. Also, offer people the ability to speak up in the main room or type a question. Some people will not be comfortable coming off mute to speak, or may not be able to because of background noise. Providing options ensures you do not miss anyone’s question.
Effective marketing for managed service providers is about conducting a series of well-orchestrated activities and using them to complement each other. But, alone, none of these are a surefire way of bringing in new leads.
Sure, some may work better than others, but the key to a mature MSP marketing plan is to amplify your content with a balance across multiple platforms. Doing so increases your chances of bringing in more leads will make your firm stand out and punch above its weight in its marketing.
An integrated marketing plan also helps generate more bang for your buck. The best example of this is a new contact that has arrived at your website from Google Ads. They look at a few pages but do not leave contact details. Without retargeting in place, you rely on that contact returning to your site off their own back. Instead, they will see relevant ads about your services that encourage them to visit again until they are ready to take the next step
The best practice is to use as many of them as possible with your resources and budget to capture new contacts in various ways. Seeing new leads coming in from multiple sources can generate a real buzz throughout the entire business. It also creates an ecosystem of content and gets it in front of target buyers differently.
You can even mature your plan by turning down your Google Ads budget during busy periods or if you have an event on, for example. Making sure you have the resources in place to follow up leads promptly is vital.
Another important aspect is to analyze your data. Look for which channels are working and which need some attention. Do not be tempted just to switch things off – analyze them and work out what is going wrong. If optimized, every tactic on this list works well
Make sure everyone in the business knows about your marketing plan and the results from it. If salespeople and technical colleagues know what campaigns are running, they know what to expect and prepare for follow-ups. They will also appreciate knowing some of the back-end details and KPIs that measure success
Above all, listen to your customers. Ask some of your most loyal customers what they think about your marketing campaigns. Find out from new prospects how they first found out about you – although automation will track this, it can still be good to ask if there was a key moment or piece of content that turned a person’s head.
Setting up this kind of marketing plan may sound daunting if you only have a small team. But doing so with the help of an expert agency can bring you big gains in business growth. You can simply sit back and watch leads come in through an organized, effective process.