Hire a marketer who knows your business, and make sure to know the key differences between marketing and sales.

Ken Presti

January 8, 2024

6 Min Read
MSP marketing strategies

The managed service provider model continues to experience solid growth, with some estimates seeing revenue increases for nearly 70% of MSPs in the past year. Nearly half of that population has experienced increases of 10% or more. In such a hot market, competition becomes a key issue on both offense and defense, as MSPs strive to acquire new logos, and prevent other MSPs from carving into their existing business.

Effective marketing is one of the key elements in remaining competitive because marketing serves as a mechanism through which prospects can know your company’s name in advance of their actual need for your services. It also helps to keep your company top-of-mind within your existing customer base. Those who market effectively can set themselves up for ongoing growth. On the other hand, those who don’t market effectively will find themselves at a distinct competitive disadvantage.

Despite its importance, marketing remains an area where many MSPs, as well as other segments of the channel, continue to struggle.

Although the reasons for struggling vary by organization, many MSPs are founded by dyed-in-the-wool salespeople, devoted technologists or operational specialists. The focus may begin with interesting deployments, or quarterly revenues. In such environments, marketing, is often an afterthought.

Related:Channel Futures Reveals MSP 501 Special Award Winners

Here are a few things to keep in mind when MSPs are planning their marketing strategies.

Understand the Difference Between Marketing and Sales

“Marketing should be focused on big-picture awareness so that when someone comes to your website, they’re already aware of you through your podcast, through your webinars, through your CEO’s thought leadership on LinkedIn, through your ads, your email marketing blasts, and whatever else you’re doing," said Holly Dowden, vice president of Marketing at Ntiva, a McLean, Virginia-based MSP and No. 48 on the 2023 Channel Futures MSP 501. “Sales, meanwhile, should be account-focused, and be very targeted. Don’t just download a generic list of prospects from an external source. Sales is supposed to be digging into the details. Do they have an MSP? Do they need an MSP? How big are they, and what do they need? Sales needs to focus on personal relationships and building a book of business.

Ntiva's Holly Dowden

“The second job of marketing is to provide sales with the tools that make them more effective,” she continued. “These include things like scripts, videos, podcasts and other sales enablement tools.”

Play to the Business Model in Which You Compete

Related:2023 Channel Futures NextGen 101 Rankings, Part 2 — 50-1

This is especially critical when an MSP has grown out of an earlier business model, such as value-added reseller, but much of the advice relates to companies that have been MSPs since day one.

Kimberly Storin, CMO at Zayo, the Boulder Colorado-based MSP and No. 8 on the 2023 Channel Futures MSP 501, had a firsthand experience with this transition when her company moved to an MSP model in 2022.

“It forced us to re-think marketing because marketing ourselves as an MSP is different from marketing ourselves as an infrastructure company,” she said. “Ultimately, we want to stay grounded in being an infrastructure company, but we want to be seen in the market as having a full breadth of services as well.

Zayo's Kimberly Storin

“We learned that, as an MSP, we really needed to start talking more about outcomes and putting customers at the center of our story, in terms of helping customers deliver value to their own customers. We couldn’t just be the heroes of our own story. We started leaning into customer experience as a differentiator," she added.

Adopt a Vertical Strategy

Storin’s marketing strategy evolved into a primary focus on key verticals, recognizing that when a marketer tries to appeal to every segment of a market, they often end up appealing to none of them. The vertical focus enabled Zayo to focus on providing prospects with information that specifically matched their needs. What are the products that they care about? What are the outcomes that they desire? What are the things that keep them up at night that might be different from the other industries?

They then segmented their list of verticals to identify specific industries that were an especially good fit.

“For example, over the past year, we’ve really focused on how to tell our end-to-end story to carriers,” she explained. This includes grabbing their attention at big events as well as enabling our sellers and channels in meetings with the customer and building a really great digital marketing experience on our website. We’ve developed white papers by industry, and videos by industry, and testimonials by industry.”

Hire a Marketer Familiar with Your Offerings, Targeted Verticals

Be sure to hire a marketing leader who is familiar with your niche, or at least the technology industry, in general. These now tend to be more easily found, given the widespread layoffs experienced by the industry over the past two years.

“If you’re not bringing in seasoned marketing leaders who can influence and drive collaboration among the various internal teams, then marketing very quickly becomes just another sales effort,” observed Storin.

Your marketing leader, in essence, becomes an interface among the various teams within your organization, and needs sufficient internal alliances to craft a message that pertains to a wider audience than an individual customer.

“The biggest mistake MSPs make is hiring an agency without having someone internal who understands marketing,” said Holly Dowden. “This doesn’t mean it’s the agency’s fault. You have to know exactly what you want from the agency. You can’t hire an external source and expect them to do it all for you. That’s just not going to happen successfully."

Dowden explained that in the early stages of her role, she needed to do all the marketing tasks herself. As her budget increased, year over year, she started using freelancers, and then hired a small agency.

“Eventually, I upgraded the agency. They’re not cheap, but they’re really good. But you have to have someone internal to manage them, regardless of who they are," she said.

Build Measurability Into the System

Results need be tracked on a solid, reliable platform that your team finds easy to use. This can be complicated, given the variety of paths to a signed purchase order.

“I can show you the data behind marketing results,” said Dowden. “We have charts that show the revenue that comes from the channel, the revenue that comes from executive referrals, what would coming from marketing, and the revenue that’s coming from sales doing their own prospecting. It’s not a perfect system, but we can see the trends.”

“I think marketing got into the habit of spraying and praying where nothing was really measured," added Storin. "So, the economic challenges being experienced by the industry actually give marketing a stronger chance to rethink their priorities. How do we make sure that the work we’re doing drives the outcomes we want, and that’s happening with our partners, too.”

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About the Author(s)

Ken Presti

Ken Presti is a technology industry veteran specializing in the use of high-value market research, reports and podcasts to help consultants, agents, service providers and vendors to more effectively help their business customers understand and evaluate Information Technologies (IT) strategies. He specializes in combining empirical data with information acquired through industry contacts to fully illustrate technology trends, business model evolution, likely outcomes, and strategies for success.

Ken also has extensive prior experience in news-talk radio, and has been featured on a variety of media outlets, including CBS Radio News and Reuters. He’s also been quoted in a variety of business publications, including Forbes.

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