In every MSP coaching consultation I have done over the last few months, I have always asked the person “how did you get your last 5 customers?” The 15 minutes of the conversation prior to this question was likely about the nuts and bolts of their marketing strategy, what platforms they were using and what they were doing to generate leads. Yet none of this information is ever represented in the answer to this one question. Almost 100% of the time, these MSPs will indicate that “referrals” made up the majority (if not all) of their newest customer acquisitions.
If I were writing this blog post to try to pitch you some kind of MSP Marketing service, then I would probably go on to say that “you can’t build an MSP on referrals alone.” I want to believe so badly that this is true, however I have seen companies grow at a respectable pace on the backs of strategic referral partnerships (my own included) that don’t necessarily show up in the marketing plan. The real question then becomes, “Why not? Why can’t MSPs put their efforts into harvesting more referral relationships with third-party companies and do so with structure and intention?” The truth is that you can.
The first step in this process is identifying companies that provide a service that is parallel to your own, in a lot of case to the same customers. While passing customers back and forth is the end goal, the process is all about satisfying the end customer and making the other company look good in the process. Whether they need help supporting their product or services, getting access to the network, backing up their customer’s data, or porting their services from one location to another, you (the MSP) have the ability to extend value and increase their retention and success. The nicer that you “play with others” on your customer’s networks, the more these companies will recognize your value, thus leading to potential opportunities in the future.
Here are a few specific vendors/ service providers to possibly engage, should you share a mutual customer:
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Commercial Realtors / Movers
When a customer moves from one office to another (or expands with a new branch) it always creates opportunity for MSPs. Commercial Realtors are at the forefront of these exchanges which means that they have the power to introduce these opportunities should they see it appropriate to do so. If you have any Realtors or Moving Companies in your network, reach out and see how you can make their job easier when showing offices to tenants. One way our company did this was by providing free ISP quote comparisons on any property through our Master Agent. The Realtor got to extend more value to their client by helping them understand their options and it got our foot in the door in the event that they needed IT help.
If you do not perform cabling projects in-house, then Cabling Contractors can be great partners that lead to two-way referrals. One way to kick-start this type of relationship is to actively seek out a small cabling project for one of your customers and then reach out to a few contractors in your area to get pricing. Find out which contractors are the most responsive, have reasonable pricing and are great to work with, then continue to send them work whenever you can get it. They will realize that you have the potential to bring them significant business and once they get a sense of how well you manage these projects for your customer, they will want to do the same for you. Tom Watson, of MSPGo and Ninja RMM, recently told me that almost 50% of the referred customers from his seven-figure MSP were a direct result of such relationships. These partners were able to pre-qualify leads for him and send him opportunities that they knew were perfect fit for his infrastructure. Many of these came from customers who they performed jobs for that were looking for a new IT resource, but didn’t know who to ask.
If you have ever worked with a customer in the retail or hospitality industry, you know that Point of Sale systems are the lifeblood of their business. Without the ability to collect payments, they simply cannot operate. System uptime is a critical component of the relationship between the POS system and their customer and it is one that the MSP can ultimately control. POS providers know which of their customers have the worst network infrastructure. This is because those are the customers that are likely calling them several times per month because their system isn’t working. If the POS company runs into a situation where a customer asks for recommendations, they are likely going to refer based on which IT providers produce the most uptime for their customers, in hopes to take stress off of their own relationship.
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Compliance Scan / Auditors
When a third party Compliance Auditor (such as PCI DSS or HIPAA) scans and audits a system, they are in some ways evaluating the work of the MSP and their recommendations. As a result, a failed audit would likely mean that changes need to be implemented and further auditing and action would have to take place in order to bring such company up to regulatory standard. While these can sometimes be “complicated” relationships due to their nature, they can also lead to frequent two-way referrals. The MSP can help their customers evaluate compliance firms and what they offer, and the auditors can introduce the MSP to clients who fail their compliance test and need help making improvements.
Business Management Software
There are a countless number of industry-focused software providers that help a specific type of company do a very specific type of thing (think Law Firms and case management systems). Many of these systems either house or interact with customer data and require hosting or integration in some capacity to use as a part of the company’s overall workflow. Our MSP once moved a small Hair Salon off of their on-premise server and migrated their Client Booking Software to the cloud. Once the software provider realized that all their issues with this customer went away, they began to regularly feed us new opportunities to do the exact same project for more of their customers. In this case, we didn’t even have to refer them new business to reap the benefits. All we needed to do was help them support their own product and keep their customers from leaving them for newer SaaS alternatives.
Much like cabling, Web Development is one of those services that MSPs may or may not offer in-house. While our company chose not to offer this service, this was because we found that it was best to establish a referral partner for this line of business and use it to expand our customer base for only core services. At the same time, it seemed as though our Help Desk was always the first call when a client’s website went down, even though it was made clear up front that this was not part of our Managed Services agreement. Nevertheless, this was not a bad situation to occur, because it often created opportunities for us to refer to our partner, which helped to get more referrals in return. This is another scenario where you are acting more as a Consultant than an MSP, as you are able to facilitate these relationships for your customers, even though these services are not technically under management.
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Document / Print Management
When it comes to boots on the ground, nobody has a bigger army of Sales and Business Development Reps than the print industry. While the pandemic has put a lock on door-to-door selling, these reps are likely looking for any possible way to make contact with Business Owners and decision makers. If I had to guess, our Managed Services company received over 33% of our referrals from Copier Sales Reps trying to prepare a network to install a new fleet machines. We became experts in copier deployments and even had a dedicated team member for this specific task, which helped us harvest even more of these opportunities as we proved our value. While print companies are starting to offer their own form of Managed IT Services, you and I both know that this is not something you can just pick up and sell, making a referral partnership the simpler option for most small and mid-sized providers on the fence.
Security / Access Control
When it comes to companies bringing devices onto the network, there is no better example than Security and Access Control companies. From opening ports, to setting up access rules, and even racking storage devices, these installations often go about as well as the MSP and Security provider cooperate. When it goes bad, it can be frustrating, but when it goes well, it can lead to many more opportunities for both the MSP and vendor to collaborate on similar deployments in the future. In yet another example from my past, our firm was able to collaborate often with a local Security Company that not only become a customer of ours, but also became a sub-contractor and referral partner. It was yet another example of simply providing value to one another in as many ways as possible and sharing in the success as a result.
Business Coaches / Consultants
While they may not be a turn-style of new opportunities, one of the best partners to have on your side are with Business Coaches and Consultants. Most of these companies are not high volume operations, however a referral from them is almost a guaranteed close. A typical SMB pays a consultant for their valued opinion, which means that if they get a recommendation there is a strong chance they are going to go move forward with it. Business consultants want to partner with an MSP that can prove their worth, help their clients prosper and make them look good while doing it.