An aspiring managed service provider recently sent me an email, asking me the following question: What is the best way to plan a face-to-face event, where you can educate potential customers about the value of your managed services? I mulled the question a bit, and also forwarded it Erick Simpson, co-founder of MSP University.
Erick and I offered the reader slightly different advice. Here's a look at our thoughts on the value -- and challenges -- related to face-to-face events designed for customer recruitment.
Generally speaking, I'm wary of VARs and MSPs trying to produce their own events (breakfast seminars, luncheons, roundtables, etc.). I spent two years touring the world, moderating more than 200 CIO-related events for a major media company. It was a big company with a big database -- lots of readers who would seemingly be interested in events. Yet the show rate for a face-to-face event can vary greatly because of variables like weather, timing, location, speaker quality, traffic... and the list goes on.
Still, there's high value in face-to-face events. It's a chance to meet prospects in a professional setting, listen to their challenges, and explain your unique selling proposition. All it takes is one great face-to-face event to find one or two new clients that become paying, long-term customers.
Strategies for SuccessRather than pull together an event on your own, I recommend that MSPs piggyback third-party events. Perhaps you can be a guest speaker at a media company's technology expo, or maybe there's a chance to speak at a technology vendor's road show. Check in with your favorite small business magazine and web site, see what events are coming to town, and jump on that bandwagon. (Or, if you target larger companies, check in with major corporate IT publications for their event lists.)
If you land on the dais, don't come empty handed. Offer a random give-away -- perhaps a Best Buy gift card -- in order to collect business cards from attendees for a live drawing. Get the event host's permission to have the drawing. You don't want to look as if you're trying to hijack the event. And don't be pushy about it, since some event attendees are tired of handing over their contact info.
Back to SchoolErick Simpson's guidance was slightly different and full of good tips. After putting the final polish on the new MSP University web site, Simpson jumped over to our dialog and recommended putting together events by leveraging a local chamber of commerce for help.
Simpson also recommended reaching out to the Microsoft Across America (MSAM) Connections Events team, to bring the "Microsoft Truck" out for a technology event that you can advertise in your local market for business leaders. Simpson noted:
We have several MSPU Members who we’ve taught how to market an “Extreme Office Makeover,” where they involve numerous technology vendors who donate equipment and licensing, along with local businesses like the office supply store, janitorial company, office furniture store, etc. and receive applications from needy businesses to win this great makeover, which includes service.Only one word of caution from me: Whether you build an event on your own or piggyback a third-party event, make sure your own corporate brand is well represented. You want attendees to remember your expertise, rather than your vendor certifications and affiliations.
This is a great media event involving the chamber of commerce, and these Members receive hundreds of applications. They then visit these businesses for a “qualification meeting” – read needs analysis.
This entire process generates immediate work, as well as leads for the entire year, while generating tremendous community goodwill. The winning business is awarded the grand prize, and there are runners-up who win some prizes as well.
Face-to-face events remain high-risk, high-reward engagements. Mitigate your risk by partnering up.