MSP Growth Requires Sharp Attention to Buying Personas

Sales and marketing techniques need to change to keep up, help MSPs better target customer needs.

John Pagliuca, CEO

April 8, 2024

4 Min Read
MSP growth

A question our partners hear often: How did you get started as a managed service provider? Many of the answers have similar themes: Someone was part of an MSP and decided to start their own; small break/fix businesses changing their business model; and stumbling into it by accident when doing tech support for a friend — all are common answers.

We're used to technology startups building quickly around an idea, but MSPs tend to grow more organically. Many start as the external IT department for a few small businesses, those with a handful of employees and no way to justify a full-time IT person, never mind a team. These MSPs generally sell directly to the CEO — or whatever job title the person in charge has, perhaps a managing director or simply "business owner." Their ongoing relationship is often directly with this person.

As an MSP grows, this typically changes. The MSP starts targeting bigger customers with more specialists. Their sales and marketing techniques need to change to keep up.

Growing Beyond 'Mom and Pop'

MSPs have grown with impressive speed in the last few years, and others have merged with or have taken over other MSPs. More break/fix outfits have switched to a managed services model, and some tech support specialists have spotted an opportunity and branched out on their own.

The MSP business model is one where economies of scale make sense. Core MSP services, such as remote management, security and backup, will be very similar for each customer, and if the MSP has the resources to keep up with new business, growth can (at least compared to other businesses) be straightforward. A successful MSP can build on this and create a virtuous cycle. Positive word of mouth can lead to more business, and a successful track record will mean potential customers are happier to put their faith in what is now an established business.

The now-larger MSP is more efficient and can target larger businesses with greater needs and more money to spend. But this means that the MSP is now no longer targeting a business owner with a handful of employees — instead, it is now trying to win business from companies that employ over a thousand employees and boast a full roster of C-level executives.

The decision-maker is now more likely to be an IT director, or in some cases, a CTO or CIO. Winning new business means understanding what makes these new targets different.

New Targets, New Personas

It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking there's little difference between selling to the head of a small business and selling to a C-level executive at a midmarket business. After all, they want the same things, right? IT infrastructure that's reliable, backups if things go wrong, and security to keep everything safe — those are all going to be high on the list of priorities. But it's not so simple. You also need to think about the vertical you're selling to as well as different geographic areas. For example, in some countries where manufacturing and industry, automotive, design and construction verticals are strong, there are bigger needs for on-premises environments, sometimes due to something as simple as computer-aided design (CAD) file size.

Creating buyer personas to better understand exactly who you're selling to is important and part of any thorough sales and marketing exercise, but it takes time. As MSPs grow, they will reach a point where they need to revamp their marketing strategy — or create one if none exists. How might these personas differ? These will be different depending on the sector being targeted, but some examples are:

  • Tech savviness: A CTO is likely to have more experience in technology than a managing director. They usually want more detail and have a hands-on approach. But they might not need to be convinced why particular services are necessary — for example, they're more likely to understand the need for good backup.

  • Business goals: While goals will be broadly the same, there will be some differences. The head of a small business may be happy to know that everything is working well and the only metric necessary is that no one is complaining about IT. A CTO will likely demand more detailed information from their MSP, such as analytics and reporting.

  • Budgets: Whoever an MSP is dealing with will be a decision-maker, but their control over the budget may differ. Dealing directly with someone that holds the purse strings will be different from dealing with someone who needs to make an "internal sale" for extra or enhanced services.

As MSPs grow, there's still a need to understand each customer's individual needs, but also a greater need to understand the needs and personalities of sales targets more broadly. Think of it as another economy of scale. Just as MSPs use the same platforms and systems to service their customers for greater efficiency, a better understanding of buying personas can create a more efficient sales process.

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About the Author(s)

John Pagliuca

CEO, N-able

John Pagliuca is president and CEO of N-able. His 20-plus years of leadership experience include serving as president of SolarWinds MSP, CFO of LogicNow and VP of finance and operations of GFI Software.

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