By their very nature MSPs are disruptors in the cloud computing market. So growth hacking MSPs are a logical extension of that concept encompassing the use of clever, ingenious and typically technology-based methods to push the envelope of marketing—usually beyond the limits of what is expected, according to experienced marketers. As a coined term growth hacking dates back only to 2010, when noted startup business consultant Sean Ellis defined the growth hacker “as a person whose true north is growth.”
“While inbound marketers use content—seeded through multiple channels to drive inbound consideration to their website—growth hackers use their knowledge of the product and the distribution channel,” says Jason Burrows, head of strategy, Creation Agency, a digital marketing agency that helps support MSP sales and marketing efforts. “MSPs challenge not only the established legacy suppliers but also the way customers buy and consume the service. Disrupting the user and the traditional supplier needs a different form of marketing. Otherwise, how can an MSP compete with the media buys of the larger guys?”
For example, Burrows says he recently met a CEO of a UK-based MSP that was paying £34 per Google search click with virtually zero conversion rate. In that situation, he feels that MSPs cannot disrupt the market using the same tactics as their competitors.
Growth Hacking MSPs Stay Aligned with their Customers
Successful cloud startups, of which MSPs are a subset, take a customer-first view and provide managed services that align with application SLA outcomes, according to some enterprise product managers. In their opinion, growth hacking MSPs constantly focus on optimizing total cost of ownership for the customer through ever increasing use of automation and machine learning technologies.
“With Oracle, cloud MSPs use a rich set of APIs to automate provisioning/orchestration, migration, DevOps, monitoring, backup, provide security/compliance and manage cloud costs, weed out inefficiencies and auto-scale IT infrastructure,” says Shishir Agarwal, vice president, product management, Oracle Cloud Platform. “Cloud MSPs leverage Oracle Cloud Platform APIs to build out tools and software assets to deliver consistent SLAs and lower total costs to their customers. These tools and software assets help cloud MSPs scale their business—and hack growth.”
For example, administrators can take advantage of a solution’s interactive dashboards and reports to explore, analyze and gain insight from this data to build and publish custom dashboards to key stakeholders such as line of business (LOB) executives or heads of infrastructure or operations.
“An important, crucial service for MSPs is to perform ad hoc analytics on IT operational data to identify trends or patterns specific to the LOB or across business process,” Agarwal says. “Understanding historical trends, correlation between performance and events helps MSPs determine the top consumers of resources, sources of cost inefficiencies or quickly diagnose a problem applying machine learning algorithms on large log data sets.”
Growth Hacking MSPs Build Synergy with Inbound Marketing
While there has always been a perceived division between growth hacking MSPs and those who use more traditional marketing techniques, some see this as an artificial separation. These content marketers and other online professional communicators see a case to be made for using the two approaches to create a symbiosis of promotional activities.
“Growth hacking and inbound are synergistic,” says Joshua Oakes, content writer, IT Glue, provider of IT documentation software designed for MSPs. “We’ve run an inbound program for about a year now, and in doing that we’ve created a lot of amazing thought leadership pieces. Growth hacking is really the application of technology that comes next.”
For example, rather than run a full email campaign A/B test, IT Glue will run the control and experimental ad subject lines on social media. Or the company will repurpose content into a new format to see if the response rate increases.
“Our aim is to leverage the content creation of our inbound team, applying advertising and SEO techniques to it as a means of accelerating our lead gen,” Oakes says. “One of the keys to our thought leadership is that it all ties back to the products, which in turn inextricably link with who we are as a company. We want MSPs to be as efficient and profitable as possible.”
What and Where Should MSPs Growth Hack?
When it comes to growth hacking MSPs face an increasingly generic market for service provisioning. According to experts in the field, the traditional “break-fix” model of provider service must be moved away from. They need to learn to “hack the stack” as in the software stack and go up stack, in their opinions.
“Understanding where to hack is as important as what to hack,” says David Eisner, CEO, Dataprise, one of the largest MSPs that helps organizations throughout the US manage their IT. “MSPs need to add additional service offerings and continue to distinguish themselves from commodity-oriented services such as device monitoring, trouble ticketing and infrastructure management. What is not as simple to understand is what replaces those legacy services.”
In addition, MSPs are changing pricing models by moving toward fixed-fee and device- or user-based pricing, according to Eisner. “But that isn’t enough,” he says. “The goal is for the MSP to become the glue between the customer and all its technology needs.”
MSPs can hack the stack and become that glue by offering higher value-added services such as security, telephonic solutions and critical line-of-business (LOB) solutions as well as cloud consulting. “Every MSP needs to be there now,” Eisner says. “The good news is that MSPs do not have to go this alone. There are many channel providers offering quick on-ramps to all these services.”
Growth Hacking MSP Methods: Experiment, Iterate, Try Again
Of course, the goal of all growth hacking MSPs is growth. The methodology that MSPs hack growth with can summarized by the simple three-part idea of experiment, iterate and if what you do fails try again with something else. In the view of some in the the MSP community, these types of SaaS providers begin too many projects and have too many factors in play to know what is or is not working in growth hacking. This can lead to the classic definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.
“Too many companies never start new initiatives because they try to tackle too much,” says Perryn Olson, CPSM, marketing director, My IT, an IT firm specialized in working with construction companies, medical practices and auto dealerships. “And then they can’t be tracked because there are too many variables.”
Overall, the key to growth hacking MSPs is experimentation and metrics for marketing, operations and other aspects of the business, according to Olson. “Growth hacking does not mean social media or inbound marketing—those are marketing tactics, not strategies,” Olson says.
Growth Hacking Toolbox: MSPs Must Take the Long View
Building on what’s been said, growth hacking MSPs have to take up the growth approach as a long term strategy not a short term tactic that can be turned on and off. Those at the CEO and CMO or VP levels of marketing concur that using growth hacks like search engine gimmicks will not cut it in the end. Growth hacking MSPs’ strategy needs a quantitative, scientific foundation.
“There’s been a lot of hype about growth hacking,” says Kuba Koziej, CEO and co-founder, Uptowork, an online resume builder. “Sure, you can pull off a few tricks to get some email subscribers or increase your conversion levels, but the sad truth is that sustained growth cannot be hacked—it is a matter a devising and executing a reliable marketing strategy.”
To execute that strategy, Koziej believes that researching competitors and reverse-engineering their SEO approach can yield benefits. He recommends Ahrefs, a paid tool that will show both organic and paid traffic metrics including which pages have the most visitors and the keywords or ads a given site uses. However, an SEO tool is not a growth hacking MSP strategy. As Koziej points out, MSPs must write more engaging content, make better ad campaigns and more. There is no systemic panacea.
“People automatically assume the way to hack growth is to trick the system and find a loophole—like optimizing SEO to generate leads quickly,” says Jacqui Murphy, vice president, marketing, Auvik Networks, a tool used as a value-add service in MSP sales pitches. “At the end of the day, growth takes time; it’s a process and you need to set it up in a systematic way—it’s all math. Understand what your sales cycle looks like and understand what your growth goal is and work backward. If you know the average deal size, you can do the math.”
To win prospects, Murphy recommends focusing on the buyer journey and the conversion points along the way. But before growth hacking MSPs even get to to that point, the presales cycle needs attention to make potential customers aware that they have an issue that managed services can solve.
“Then you educate them about what managed services are and you do initial engagement, then do quoting, then closing,” Murphy says. “To have 10 meetings per month you may need to educate 30 prospects. You’re going to have drop off at each stage. If you want to have five customers at the end of the month how many do you need at the beginning of the month based on how many prospects you lose at each phase of the cycle?”
The MSP Customer Lifecycle
According to marketing experts, an MSP should look at all its sales and service processes to identify opportunities and weak spots over the customer lifecycle. To start, the customer lifecycle is divided into five stages:
- Prospecting and lead gen (e.g., explain product, convey benefits, share helpful tips)
- Presale and buying process (e.g., give demos, affirm value/ROI)
- Post-sale outreach (e.g., say thanks, provide instructions)
- Long-term touchpoints (e.g., anticipate needs, show you care, ask for feedback)
- Referral generation and testimonials (e.g., request referrals, find new prospects)
“Parts 1 and 2 are often called the buyer’s journey or sales funnel—everything leading up to the initial sale or conversion,” says Robert Cassard, CEO and co-founder, Voodoo Video Marketing, a media production company and cloud-based software platform to automate, co-brand and personalize video communications. “Video can do a lot of heavy lifting to grab attention, educate and inform, then convince and convert.”
Video can be even more important after the sale, according to Cassard. Because MSPs can use video to say thanks, provide instructions and support, anticipate needs, show they care, ask for feedback, request referrals and find new prospects. “It’s an endless, upward, automated success cycle,” he says.