Demand for outsourced IT services and solutions from specialists like MSPs is surging. More companies are choosing to focus their attention on transforming their business through cloud infrastructure and keeping their bottom line and critical data secure with advanced cybersecurity strategies. While this is great news for IT specialists, it’s still not a time to sit back, relax, and expect potential clients to come to you.
The truth is that the IT industry is flooded with specialists providing similar, if not the same, services and solutions as you, so if you want to do well and stay competitive, you need to create a qualified sales funnel by engaging with your desired client base through regular sales and marketing ventures.
Whether you are a managed service provider (MSP), cybersecurity consultancy, Microsoft specialist, or cloud service provider, growing a sales funnel that benefits your business is an artform that takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight, and it definitely won’t happen if you’re not proactive. Creating a qualified sales funnel is an investment, and one that will definitely pay off if done correctly.
No matter what type of IT services or solutions your organisation offers, by deploying an effective sales and marketing strategy and combining lead generation activities to bring in new clients, your business will benefit from a steady flow of qualified enquiries.
What is a ‘lead’?
In the sales and marketing industry, we classify a lead as an individual or organisation that shows interest in your services, solutions, and/or products. As a consumer, a lead passes through different stages in their buying journey, and it’s important to understand these stages in order to target them at exactly the right moment.
Lead stages can be broken down into 4 categories – attention/awareness, interest, desire, action – and these categories make up your sales funnel. Not all leads will continue through the sales funnel in its entirety, and some may skip the first 2 stages or so before they make their next move, but knowledge is power, and when you ‘know’ your lead stages, you are ready to start targeting them specifically.
Stage 1: Attention/awareness
We all have to start somewhere, and the first place to start for your buyer is becoming aware that they have a problem that needs to be solved. It is the human condition to seek out ways to fix the problems we have, so it is at this stage that you must make your prospect aware of your brand’s existence and how you can help them with their issue, but it has to be targeted at them in the right way.
Simply offering services and creating a website which details those services isn’t enough. Put yourself in your target audience’s shoes and imagine the following scenario:
You have started a business and now have 10 employees, but it’s early days, so you are moonlighting as more than just the owner/managing director. You are also an accountant, IT guy, and HR, so you’re a Jack of all trades, but not necessarily a master of them. You learn on the fly, though, and Google is a godsend.
You’ve recently invested in some new technology and purchased a business subscription of Microsoft 365 directly from the Microsoft website. Although you aren’t a tech expert, you’ve installed the software and set everything up, and you are ready to go as far as you’re concerned. Everything seems to be working well with the platform, and your business is thriving. Then, the news breaks that there has been a major overhaul in government regulations pertaining to cybersecurity requirements, and as a business owner, you need to be clear of what you need to do, and how you need to do it. So, you google it.
In this case, there are 2 things that you are most likely going to search for: what the regulation changes are, and how you can make your IT environment more secure and compliant.
As an MSSP or MSP, in order to grab the attention of this Stage 1 prospect, you need to have something they want, something they are searching for. You’ve already predicted what they want, though, so you are well prepared, and you have created optimised content, like blog posts, that addresses the problems of this prospect and thousands of more just like them. You’ve successfully grabbed their attention; they are now aware of your brand.
Stage 2: Interest
The next step in the buyer’s journey is interest. They already know they have a problem, and they have done what they can to solve it, but when it comes to information technology, their problems can be bigger than Ben Hur. To them, it can feel like they have been tasked with conquering the Empire with a stick they found in the back garden. It is now obvious that their problem is bigger than they first thought, so they may need to seek out expert help. They are researching more about their situation, thinking over their options, and comparing service providers.
Now, you’re an expert, right? Of course, you are! But there are also hundreds, if not thousands, of experts that can do the same job, so you need to give them a reason to pick you.
A prospect choosing you, though, is not as easy as you think. You can’t just create a website and expect to dominate the industry from day one. You also can’t create a mishmash of blast advertising campaigns that shove your services and offerings down the throats of your prospective clients; it’s a waste of time and money and has an adverse effect on your prospects. Instead, you need to hit them with a secret weapon – killer content.
Like an apple that is ripe and ready to drop from the tree, prospects in this stage are almost ready – but not quite! If you attempt to rip it from its place of comfort too early, you are at risk of miscalculating their readiness, which will ultimately destroy your chances entirely.
The key here is, then, to create optimised content that appeals to stage 2 prospects regarding subject matter, relatability, conciseness, and easy readability. Your sole job is to SHOW them why you are an expert and how you can help them – DON’T TELL THEM!
In this content, you are selling, but you are not selling your services and offerings, you are selling yourself and building authority in such a way that your prospect can trust you – trust that you know what you’re talking about and, more importantly, trust that you are not going to give them the hard sell on things they don’t want or need.
Your best bet is to establish your authority on products or services with well-written and SEO optimised content which gives your prospects the information they need while letting them know that you are here to help at any time. It’s a delicate balance but one that will result in amazing payoffs if done correctly.
Stage 3: Decision
We are now getting to the bottom of the funnel, and your prospect is getting ready to make a decision. They have narrowed down their options to just 2 or 3 choices, and, hopefully, your business is one of them! This is not a time to get cocky, though. Nurturing your prospects through the sales funnel stages is like an elaborate dance – it takes continued focus, attention, and dedication. You should not take your eyes off your partner for a second because although you’ve made it this far, you haven’t sealed the deal yet. You’re just one of 2 or 3 choices.
The ‘decision’ phase is the time to hit it home. This is where you give them an offer they simply can’t refuse – an offer that puts you that cut above the rest. It might be something small like a ‘free consultation’ or ‘complimentary systems analysis’, no matter what your offer is, it has to be something that your competitors aren’t offering.
At the decision stage, your prospect is down to what they consider to be the best 3 options and the race is close. If the race weren’t close, then they would have jumped directly from the interest stage to the action stage (stage 4) without hesitation, but they didn’t, so you still have time to set yourself apart.
Stage 4: Action
We are on the home stretch now! Your prospect is coming to the end of their buying process. They understand their problem; they’ve done the legwork; they’ve compared their top 3 options and are now in the final stages. They’ve chosen you (NICE!), bought your product or service and have become part of your business’s ecosystem, but that doesn’t mean that your job is done.
They’ve only bought one thing, and that is hardly going to make your business successful or help you pay the bills. So, now you have to try and turn that one purchase into 10 purchases, 20, or even a hundred!
That is not the purpose of this article, however, so let’s take a look at the end-to-end marketing process in more detail.
Lead Generation Phase
So, you’ve identified your ideal client, and you’ve written killer content that informs and assists them while building your authority on the subject, and you’ve got loads of people visiting your site regularly. You see a lot of buyers in stage 1 but not many that are converting to actual customers. Amazing content alone is not enough to keep your prospects engaged in the sales funnel, so you also need to make sure you deploy a range of lead generation tactics to ensure your funnel stays stocked with good-quality leads.
Deploying a range of marketing tactics to promote your services and thought leadership to your target buying personas will keep prospects in the sales funnel by nurturing them through each step. You can use a combination of email marketing, content, social media, SEO, Google Ads, events, and more. But again, just because your sales funnel is chock full of potential leads, it doesn’t mean that every lead will journey with you all the way to stage 4 in the funnel, so it’s a good idea to learn how to identify a qualified lead.
No two leads are the same. So, the next stage of the lead funnel is to create rigorous processes to qualify your leads. This ensures your pipeline is accurately weighted, and you do not expend unnecessary energy on the wrong leads.
The reality is that only a tiny portion of your leads will bear fruit. This is entirely normal, and a well-designed sales funnel will help you prioritise the ones that matter.
Practical lead qualification helps you efficiently prioritise those hotter leads. These will be from the best-fit organisations with the right buying influence. By applying lead scoring and running an efficient lead queue, your sales team can handle multiple leads simultaneously.
When they make the initial qualification call, they should aim to capture as much information as possible about the prospect’s pain point. By doing so, you can ascertain whether there is a budget available for the services, a timescale for the project to be implemented, authority to make a decision, and a fundamental need for what your MSP has to offer.
This first call should also be used to obtain other information that could be useful later in the buying cycle. Key questions to ask could include whether a request for proposal (RFP) process will be required, who will need to sign off on the project from the prospect’s side, and their expectations regarding payment or contractual terms.
Salespeople can also take this opportunity to find out about the prospect’s current IT infrastructure and their plans to scale in the future. Finding out background about the organisation and its growth plans can also be helpful to make targeted recommendations to support this strategy.
Scaling the process
If your marketing process is going well and many new leads are coming in at the top of the funnel, it can be tricky for your salespeople to manage, but there are ways that you can make your lead management more streamlined.
Automated nurturing emails are one of the ways you can achieve the balance between keeping your leads hot while making the salesperson’s job a realistic one. You can create nurturing flows based on a prospect’s area of interest and set them up to be sent regularly over a few weeks to keep the interest level going.
To do this, you can obtain prospects’ email addresses by gating your content. This means asking people to leave an email address in return for downloading content such as infographics, buyers’ guides, or whitepapers. Opt-in forms can also be used to proactively capture prospects that want to sign up for newsletters and bulletins.
Nurturing emails are best kept short and sweet. Keep them personalised to provide a smooth customer journey. The content should focus on a particular message and focus the reader on a single call to action to find out more.
You can also use A/B testing, which is a comparative analysis to see when your nurture emails perform at their best. Even minor tweaks to subject lines can also make significant differences to your read rates and engagement.
Track the results of your emails. From there, salespeople can prioritise the prospects with the highest engagement scores to optimise their time.
Connect on LinkedIn
If your salespeople have LinkedIn Sales Navigator, they can also request connections with inbound leads. This will help your prospects put a face to a name, and it adds that human touch to their buying journey.
Building these connections also enables salespeople to build more knowledge of an organisation. You can build out organisational charts and lists of stakeholders to reduce dependency on a single individual.
Leads lists can also help to keep track of prospects by organisation. You can also sign up for company alerts to be aware of any changes in prospects’ development.
Even with standard LinkedIn accounts, these activities are still possible, but the process will be slightly manual.
Pick up the phone
Even with automated digital technology at our fingertips, though, nothing quite beats the tried-and-trusted approach of picking up the phone. Both your automated processes and the old school way of picking up the phone can work well when used in tandem by using phone calls on leads that have already been optimised using automation.
For the hottest leads, salespeople will still need to pick up the phone to make your lead funnel as effective as possible. However, unlike old times when cold calling involved churning through hundreds of lines on a spreadsheet, calls can be reserved only for the hottest, most engaged prospects.
The key to optimising these calls is to use them to showcase your business while finding out as much as possible about the prospect.
Design a phone script to enable you to capture information in a particular format to suit your lead funnel. This makes your process more standardised and keeps your lead funnel consistent.
Before your salespeople pick up the phone, it is also important that they research the prospect. The phone call should focus on finding information that cannot be found online rather than asking for information that is publicly available. Doing so also helps the caller structure questions and initiate topical discussions based on recent events or strategies.
Furthermore, if the salesperson can display a little knowledge about a prospect’s firm, this can go a long way when it comes to making a great impression.
The call should begin with an introduction to your firm’s offerings and credentials. Make this brief at this stage before asking the prospect to tell you about their needs or pain points. Then, depending on how they approach this, you can tell them about the specific services that would solve those challenges.
Set up CRM software, or at the very least a shared Excel sheet or Google sheet to capture this information consistently. This will help you get the most value from your customer, identify upsell opportunities, and avoid asking them the same question more than once.
Even the most positive phone call can be followed by periods of silence from a potential lead. This may be because the salesperson experienced ‘happy ears’ about the possible scale of the prospect or their willingness to engage. However, it can also simply be because people are busy and will come back to you when they are ready.
This is why it is important to follow up with your prospect consistently. Within a maximum of 48 hours after the initial phone call, follow up with some personalised information. Make your follow-ups clear, concise, and relevant to the conversation you had. At this stage, sending generic information could do more harm than good as it could imply you did not listen thoroughly to the prospect’s initial requirements.
If you do not receive a reply, by all means, follow up again – the prospect will expect nothing less – avoid coming across as too pushy or desperate, though, this could be counterproductive.
Working down the sales funnel
If the prospect continues to exhibit good signs of engagement as they progress through the sales funnel, it is time to draft a tailored proposal. This will detail your understanding of the customer’s requirements and the services you propose to help solve them
With the information you have compiled up to this point, it should be pretty straightforward to gather at this stage of the process. You can provide modular options to strike a balance between not putting the prospect off with an ambitious price, while informing them of everything you can do. At the very least, this can open the door for upsell opportunities later down the line once you have developed a trusted relationship with your new customer.
It’s a great idea at this stage to create a proposal template to avoid reinventing the wheel with each new prospect. First, the document should provide an overview of the services that would solve the prospect’s problems. Then, use this opportunity to go into detail about how they would be implemented and deployed.
You may have different tiers or levels of service that you can propose to the customer; do so at this stage and include the pricing implications of each option. More importantly, focus on the additional business benefits they can expect from paying for your premium offerings.
Now, the devil is in the details. Do not cut corners or assume things are apparent. The prospect has come this far with you, so now is the time to fully convince them that your firm is the right choice to provide them with the IT services and solutions they need both now and in the future.
When you have sent the proposal, give the prospect some time to review it at their leisure before following up. Also, make your technical team and directors available should any further reassurance be required.
The final hurdle
The harsh reality, unfortunately, is that not every prospect will agree to your proposal. For one, there is the possibility that they have been getting quotes from other MSPs during your journey together, or it may just be that they get cold feet at the last minute.
Nevertheless, by following the lead funnel process, you will know that you have done everything possible. You can also follow up again in the future to see if the prospect is still happy with their choice or if they would entertain another proposal from you.
If you win the business – well done! In lead funnel terms, a newly signed customer is known as a successful conversion.
The IT services market is a competitive one – it doesn’t matter if you’re selling Managed IT Services, Modern Workplace, Cloud Computing or Cybersecurity. Give yourself the best chance to win new clients by adopting a rigorous lead funnel process.
By implementing these processes, you will be well-positioned to keep your client happy in the long term. Happy clients mean renewed services, as well as upsell and cross-sell opportunities. You should also ask satisfied clients to leave you positive customer reviews or provide a video case study, which will give you new content to help you repeat the process successfully!