It's time for MSPs to consider specializing to evolve their offerings and kick-start growth with subscription-based billing.

November 5, 2018

5 Min Read

By Felix Ekman

The term “growth hacking” has grown in popularity in the last five years, yet there’s very little MSP-specific advice on how to turbocharge growth. Sean Ellis, who originated the phrase in 2010, defined it as “a person whose true north is growth. Everything they do is scrutinized by its potential impact on scalable growth,” so this mantra should fit perfectly with the mentality and entrepreneurial spirit of many MSP founders. It becomes even clearer with the recent definition of a “growth hacker” as a “hybrid of marketer and coder.” This should be an obvious topic of interest for many MSPs, since not much has been written to date offering a deeper dive into this subject.

A new approach is desperately needed in the MSP space, since the fundamentals for massive growth are in place to rapidly change the industry. Today’s MSPs need to evolve their offering from the old way of making money when things break, to subscription-based billing, which makes money when everything runs as it should. To make growth hacking relevant for MSPs we have to expand the traditional view of growth hacking that traditionally focuses on SEO, A/B testing, web analytics and content marketing, to include a wider view on growth in this sector.

Become the Expert

The need for clarity among MSPs bears repeating. To enable growth, we must first make sure that the fundamentals are in place.

For MSPs, this means a clear and concise message on who you are and what you can offer, devoid of empty soft-value phrases and focusing on the clear benefits for your customers. What differentiates a small MSP from one with growth potential is its ability to express what’s on offer to all potential customers. Softer values are easy to convey when meeting people face to face, but to enable growth you must sell to people who you haven’t yet met, which necessitates the need for clear and unique value propositions.

MSPs should also consider moving from a generic MSP space to specialization. It’s been proven that specialization is the key to growth when there are too many players in a market and differentiation is scarce. It’s a good time to pick a topic or specialization that is your forte, and that you can make your own. For example, you could position yourself as the expert on networking or as the go-to MSP for legal practices. Look for opportunities that will allow you to establish a brand that isn’t tied to your local area, but can gain customers in a wider region.

Invest in Marketing

Survey after survey shows MSPs don’t spend enough money on their marketing efforts. The majority of MSPs spend less than 5 percent of their revenue on marketing, compared with an industry average of 12 to 15 percent. Whether due to lack of time, expertise or clear strategy, if you want to focus on growth, you’ll need to earmark a larger portion to your marketing efforts.

This might be easier to stomach if you start by formulating a coherent marketing strategy that will help your growth and is ready to scale as you do. When you have your messaging in place and you know what topic or specialization you want to target, it’s time to look at your actual marketing tools and fundamentals. Marketing automation platforms help eliminate a lot of the guesswork and manual labor. The problem is that they are quite pricey, especially if you don’t have someone on staff that handles marketing exclusively.

Establish Authority

Once you have your tools and messaging in place, it’s time to start the real work of creating awareness and generating leads. This is where SEO and analytics come into play. Focus on delivering value to your customers to establish your position in the market. One effective way is to create resources and content relevant to your customers that gives them helpful advice for their businesses. This can be done via webinars, blog posts, guides, white papers and self-assessment forms.

The key here is to position your business as the definite source of information on this topic. A consistent stream of quality, cohesive content on the subject will help you gain a better position in search engines and will lead to higher traffic. This is also the time to start obsessing over your analytics and the content to which customers are drawn. Make sure you separate content that helps you drive leads from content that helps you drive traffic—it’s an important segmentation that will help you further down the line when you start to advertise.

Refine and Repeat

When you have found content you can reliably trust to drive traffic, be sure to keep working on these topics, adding more information and repeating your efforts, keeping them relevant for new audiences. Make sure you institutionalize as much of this knowledge in your company as possible — it gives you a good insight into your customers that will not only benefit marketing but sales and customer service as well. A good way of doing this is to have an internal knowledge base of customer insights that can be viewed by everyone.

Experiment and Engage

Once you have a better understanding of your customers and what drives their interest, it’s time to start testing how you can best use this material to reach potential customers. A good way of doing this is by A/B testing different ways of packaging your content. For example, you could create a curated selection of blog posts and format them as a whitepaper or webinar. You could also offer it to customers as an ongoing series if they engage with your company through newsletters. Keep your focus on delivering value and reward people who are willing to engage by helping them grow as you grow. 

Most MSPs can get behind this type of “hacking”: It’s not only a smart and innovative way to approach the changing MSP business landscape, but is increasingly necessary for future success, both for themselves and for their customers.

Felix Ekman is head of marketing and channel sales for Harmony PSA, a software solution that offers professional services automation geared for ISVs and MSPs. Previously he handled marketing at another SaaS provider in the facility management sector, located in Sweden. Since joining Harmony PSA in October 2017, Ekman has built a marketing team that has helped differentiate Harmony from both small and large competitors. Follow Harmony PSA on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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