Managed Services Providers face numerous challenges. As jacks-of-all-trades, they are called upon all hours of the day and night to solve the most basic IT issues their clients experience. While they do this, however, they are often also expected to be masters of the most detailed systems and services while maintaining a holistic view of their client and anticipating their future needs.
Without combining all of these into a perfect offering, you face risks in each respect: your customers not realizing your overall value if you somehow fail in a small or urgent task, new consultants with different specialties cutting in on opportunities that you could have wholly owned, or simply failing to perform well in general and possibly worsening your customer relationships or diminishing your reputation as a result.
This is enough of a challenge as it is, however MSPs still face bigger challenges in turning a reasonable profit and maintaining a work/life balance while still growing their business. This article is about that topic: how to create a routine – in the midst of all your hustle and bustle – that allows you to move the needle and keep your business growing.
The Labor-Intensive Practices
Margin pressures and the ability to sell play their role in this model, and time-saving is the most critical function of any customer acquisition process for MSPs. Mining and managing an existing customer base is the first priority, along with encouraging referrals and networking with potential new customers by way of existing connections. But, while billings may also grow from current clients, practicing affordable customer acquisition processes focused on new clients will keep you from having too much to lose from any single account, while also giving you the chance to learn more, open up new opportunities, and think about new ways to address your potential customers.
With that in mind, labor-intensive practices are time consuming, but usually come down to the most traditional, suave sales techniques around. For existing clients, some of these would include:
- Daily: Ensuring that you are keeping clients satisfied, before thinking about opportunities to sell them, consolidate services or increase profitability. This is the best time to ask your clients about what their latest projects are and take an interest in their work, learn more about them and make small talk that may reveal more about how they view their work and what their goals are in the long term (where it doesn’t cost you too much time of course).
- Weekly or less often: Scheduling weekly, bi-weekly or monthly calls or meetings with them to discuss your daily requirements and tasks and the fulfillment or blockers inherent to them. This is the best time to bring up issues and solutions to them, as well as broader risks and what products, services or practices might address them, but without being too pushy or taking priority from your regular duties and obligations to your client.
- Quarterly or less often: Scheduling any quarterly or bi-annual meeting or business review to gain perspective on their business, talk about new opportunities, lingering frustrations, and create a strategic plan that has “buy-in” from your clients, showing them the value and outcomes of increasing their investment in their services with you. This is the best time to roll out the new solutions and services that you think are most critical to your client’s future success, and in that process tease out their interests, concerns, budget and time constraints to get the job done. If you’ve just completed a large project and your client is particularly satisfied, this is also a great time to ask for referrals – nothing too outrageous, a simply nudge will often do.
In trying to gain new customers, the process is more dependent on your schedule than theirs, as you have to be able to set aside time during peak business hours (or hire someone who can) to solicit new business and open up conversations.
- Weekly: Set aside 5-10 hours to build and call out to a target list of customers that are near you and resemble your existing customer base. For instance, if you’re focused on serving healthcare, financial or legal firms, emphasize that strength and your ability to address their particular regulatory requirements. Don’t “boil the ocean” looking for random customers – figure out who your best customers are and call out to people who look like them. Email, social media posts, forums and other methods of 1-to-1 communication are also great here. Even if they’re cold, as long as they’re relevant and your list is large enough, you’re bound to gather some interested prospects. Getting them to a technical presentation and consultative proposal is the goal here, after which you can try to arrange pricing, contractual obligations and actually close a new customer.
- Monthly: Make sure you’re attending (or even hosting) 1-2 local events, luncheons or meet-and-greets where local entrepreneurs might be present. Allow yourself to listen to their concerns and bring up potential solutions (again without being pushy or solicitous). If you come home with more than zero business cards, consider that a success – these aren’t totally for getting new customers, but keeping your ear to the ground, learning, connecting, and educating people where you can. When the right time comes up these people can then think of you as their first call.
- Quarterly: Revisit old prospects and opportunities who expressed interest in your services but were never able to sit down for a meeting, or didn’t have the money or availability to sign up with you at the time. Keeping these customers alive, pinging them regularly and showing them you care may be difficult, but over time can win you your most loyal customers.
- Yearly: This is the time to consider hiring someone to do the above tasks for you. Do you have enough time and money to take on a new employee, train them, prepare them, pay their salary and benefits, and wait for their work to pay off? Go over the pros and cons of hiring, what the costs are, what the benefits are, and what the opportunity cost is. That means: is your time, money and effort better invested in improving services with existing customers, or in hiring more people on the technical and implementation side of your business? If that’s the case, table the new sales person for now and pick up the issue again next year – there’s no shame in it, patience will pay off!
The Cash-Intensive Practices
In the services business, margins are always tight, and it can be hard to develop a name brand except locally or through word-of-mouth. With that in mind, where your dollar is being spent, you need to ensure that you’re appearing in the right place at the right time. This can include:
- An adequate website that is structured to focus on the most popular and in-demand services you offer and your location, not your brand or beliefs. You don’t need all the bells and whistles here, just the right keywords and foundational SEO, with a contact page, testimonials, pictures of your team and the social proof you need to make yourself familiar to your clients. This is both an opportunity to generate interested leads, and a brochure that supports your other efforts to acquire customers. But remember, focus on local searches and what you’re offering – who you are will come through as your prospects and customers get to know you.
- Advertising through Google, Bing, Linkedin or Facebook. These are the main channels that you can target potential clients through. In each of these, you don’t need to throw a huge budget out there, but you do need to be location-specific. As an MSP, your biggest differentiator will often be your proximity to your clients, and these solutions take that into account. LinkedIn and Facebook also enable you to promote to custom audiences, which mean you can follow up the people on your cold-call list with targeted advertising to maximize the value of your dollar.
- Blogging, Content Marketing, Email Newsletters and Social Media: Interestingly, these are labor intensive, but the attention required is often best left to specialists unless you’re a prodigious content creator (or already have one in your company). Ultimately, as with your website, you want to focus on local relevance. Publishing content on high-traffic issues and solutions will help push up the ranking of your website overall, but you want to maximize your ranking on your local searches, where your most relevant customers will be looking.
- Offline Ads: Sponsoring the right little league team, pizzeria, county fair or any number of relevant events could always be beneficial to a local MSP. The challenge here is measurement, and while there are certain techniques to generate more data about your offline marketing performance, be aware: relevance is the key to your B2B advertising. Targeting people who can actually buy your products and services will go a great deal further than targeting people who don’t.
The “19 Channels for Traction” are a common reference for this sort of thinking. They broadly include some sales and marketing approaches, but also consider some more resourceful strategies. Being resourceful and maximizing the value you get is ever more important for you in a reduced-margin, services business. If you’re smart with your money, however, you can make a whole lot of it.
What is your real opportunity?
The most enabling thing you can do for your business to grow and prosper is to find the best way to deliver the right solutions to customers who need them. The MSP market opportunity is expected to exceed $250 Billion by 2022, and that’s because more small and medium sized businesses need more specific and tailored technology stacks and services, while large enterprises are venturing into more exotic areas of IT in order to create efficiencies, expand their reach and reduce costs.
Beyond basic hardware and day-to-day functionalities, however, the best way for MSPs to engage is to start from security out. Are the points of contact between your clients and the outside world at risk? With 90% of cyberattacks starting with a phishing email, email security is as crucial as ever to keeping your clients secure and confident. Email encryption, email archiving and other solutions are also crucial to driving compliance and doing more.
Vircom’s modusCloud email security solution now features an integration with ConnectWise Manage that further enhances your ability to function efficiently as an MSP. Contact us to get a demo or learn more!