From The Expert Feature Article
June 06, 2013

For Many MSPs, M Should Stand for Marketing

You could have the greatest service in the history of the managed world, but if no one knows about it, it’s all for nothing.

Marketing can make that awesome service a force to be reckoned with.

Unfortunately, some MSPs, in many cases having grown from small VARs, are experts in technology but dunces in getting the word out.

Just as IT turns to MSPs for expert guidance and services, so too should MSPs reach out for marketing help.

At the recent Interop (News - Alert) show in Las Vegas, I met with over two-dozen MSPs and vendors that sell to MSPs, and asked quite a few what they did for marketing. While talk of technology tripped off the tongue, questions about marketing tripped up a few of these vendors.

In too many cases, marketing amounted to word of mouth, or asking current partners to help find potential partners.

And since there are so many aspects to marketing, those interested in the MSP space may want to use multiple partners.

What are you good at?

Step one: Be honest with yourself. What are you good at? Do you already have good relationships with key journalists? Then maybe you can play a nice hand in public relations. Just don’t assume that because you know a scribe or two, you can go it entirely alone. PR is a profession that takes years to master.

Step two: Ask for help. Some companies are specifically designed to help. Take Ulistic, which offers marketing services specifically for MSPs, for example.

Ulistic was founded by Stuart Crawford, who also founded MSP IT Matters and built it into a $5.4 million company with over 30 workers. Ulistic now offers sales coaching, business consulting and marketing help.

Much marketing happens on the Web, and Ulistic has SEO services, Web and content development, social media and blogging.

Plus, the company can write case studies and testimonials and other articles, as well as e-mail marketing.

“With more IT Managed Service Providers (MSPs) entering the marketplace, established MSPs are facing slowing sales and growth; some are even going out of business. This is due to the fact that many don’t market themselves effectively, or at all,” said Ulistic. “In years past, MSPs could grow their business through word-of-mouth referrals.  With an abundance of new MSPs selling services today, this is no longer the case.  The competition is fierce. Today, marketing is the lifeline for MSPs.”

Step three: Seek out vendor advice. GFI sells remote monitoring and management (RMM) tools to MSPs along with other wares. The software company is also trying to help these same partners make more money with its Web site that offers MSP marketing tips and tricks.

MSP Business Management, from the GFI MAX team, includes resources, tip and perhaps a bit of inspiration for MSPs looking to master marketing.

“We’ve created this space to share ideas collected from our customers and colleagues who have set-up, run and managed sales and marketing programs for their own IT support and managed service companies. We hope their experiences help you avoid some of the common pitfalls that come with growing a business,” GFI said.

What makes GFI so credible? It already does business with more than 4,200 MSPs and IT companies. In fact, GFI MAX, which can do remote monitoring and management, as well as security and now cloud storage, is aimed specifically at MSPs.

The GFI MAX team also put together a white paper offering MSP marketing advice.

GFI starts with the problem, pointing out that more than half of all VARs recently surveyed struggled to demonstrate the value of managed services. And some 40 percent described managed service as time-consuming and difficult to implement.

The paper describes GFI’s approach as Building Blocks, and it “is all about making Managed Services easy, practical and fast. We don’t believe implementing and selling Managed Services should involve lengthy and time-consuming training, or complex business models and complex software to implement,” the company said.

Building Blocks offers MSPs sample text for their website, pricing and cost calculators, sales materials and implementation guides.

Like GFI, Continuum, Inc. wants its partners to succeed with the help of good marketing. So the hosted managed services provider recently built Marketing Advantage. This program provides sales tools and materials.

“We heard loud and clear that existing approaches to partner marketing support fall short of truly enabling MSPs to produce better marketing and sales results – mostly because the onus has been on MSPs to devote extra time, resources and expertise to marketing that they do not have,” said Mark Zahar, vice president of Continuum’s Channel Marketing and Community Development. “Marketing Advantage’s turnkey approach redefines partner marketing and reflects our continued commitment to deliver high-value partner programs that produce measurable results.”

There is apparently much more to the program. “It’s an automated marketing services bureau intended to make marketing simpler and more effective for even resource-constrained MSPs. It gives MSPs e-mail marketing platform, a dashboard for tracking leads statuses, custom content, social media automation, mobile applications, sales and website analytics. Participating MSPs receive a custom video brochure and 100 prequalified leads to seed the system,” Continuum said.

One Continuum partner helped build the program and also now uses it. “We’ve been building an MSP practice for years, and we looked at various vendor marketing programs. Continuum Marketing Advantage isn’t just different; it’s the only complete marketing solution purpose-built for MSPs that need a methodical and proven means to increase their marketing and sales effectiveness,” said Dan Adams, president of New England Network Solutions (News - Alert).

The independenceIT approach

independenceIT (iIT) works with a lot of MSP partners, and saw the same problems as GFI and Continuum – MSPs needed a serious marketing leg-up. To give them that boost, the vendor formed  iIT University (iIT U).

Partners are automatically signed up in the program.

While there are three parts to the program, much of it revolves around marketing, including marketing materials such as case studies, all of which can be customized for specific partner situations.

“Rather than simply dropping off some training packets or holding a webinar with multiple partners, independenceIT created a customized presentation that gives our sales, support and technical teams insights into effectively selling and managing cloud services,” said masterIT CEO Michael Drake. “The extended session we attended allowed our staff to quickly expand their knowledge and troubleshoot potential sales road blocks. iIT helped us crystallize our go-to-market strategy and identify new markets we could address with this offering.”

One partner is already using the new program. “The sales and marketing templates that independenceIT provided saved us thousands of dollars in development and legal costs,” said Connecting Point President Ted Warner. “Working with independenceIT is a strategic advantage because we not only receive a sophisticated technology delivered within an elegant interface, but also the training and materials necessary to sell it effectively.”

Edited by Alisen Downey