How The Pandemic Will Forever Change The Way MSPs Grow Their Business
Full disclosure: when we first launched this blog, our intention was to create only evergreen content for MSPs that could index well and drive traffic via organic search or paid social media ads for years to come. I know now that this was a flawed concept because things change and when they do, adaptability is everything.
When the pandemic became a serious threat, MSPs needed timely answers to very temporary challenges. We had to make a choice. Are we going to throw out the playbook and give our readers what they need, regardless of how it will benefit us in the future? That is exactly what we did and this blog has changed for the better because of it.
This was not the only lesson that the pandemic taught us, as I listened intently to every MSP I met with to learn how their growth was impacted. As the transition back is underway, I figured that now was finally the right time to unpack everything that we have learned about selling & marketing Managed IT Services over the last few months to help you future-proof your business as a result.
Direct Response Tactics Are Vulnerable
Of the MSPs that I spoke with, most that were impacted relied heavily on direct response tactics such as cold calls, cold emails, social selling on LinkedIn, and direct mail. While this was not a surprise to me, it did have me thinking deeper into the long term viability of these tactics and whether or not they can truly be relied on to grow an MSP.
The conclusion that I came to was that outbound direct response has more limitations than I even realized. The window of opportunity to “catch someone at the right time” is most often Tuesday through Thursday (except on holiday weeks and the majority of the summer when people are out of office). In a year without a global health crisis, there are likely around 125 (rounding up) good days where all the conditions are right for that ideal response. This makes it incredibly vulnerable to changes in market conditions and short term successes can be somewhat blinding to the fact that you are always chasing the next result.
Content Marketing Is Now Mandatory
The MSPs that appeared to be at an advantage throughout this process were those who already had some sort of content strategy at play. They were able to use this platform (whether it was a blog, podcast, or video series) to communicate with their customers and prospects to demonstrate their leadership during this tough time.
Those without these capabilities found it very difficult to change their message, especially if they were accustomed to a sales-forward approach. What we learned is that no matter what your sales approach may be, you still need some type of content strategy to reinforce your value and show your audience what you know on a consistent basis.
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Attention Has To Be Earned Everyday
It was about the first week of March when I realized that the tone of the conversation had changed and no one was really interested in what we had to say unless it was relevant to them in this very moment. Even our most tenured subscribers were likely to tune out if we didn’t pivot our message and start addressing the topic of COVID head-on.
This was also true of all the MSPs that I talked to throughout the last 10 weeks and it made me realize that even though we are building brand equity with each and every post published, we have to earn that attention every single time. If you are putting something out there that is not unique or that you don’t believe in, your past success will not cover up for a lack of effort or obvious shortcut.
Owned Audiences Are Major Assets
At a time when everyone appeared “inaccessible” to the world, the opposite proved true among peer groups and tribes. People turned to their trusted source of information to help them through a difficult time. Those putting out newsletters or hosting peer events saw an incredible increase in engagement (including us) which was contrary to what everyone expected at the beginning of the pandemic.
The MSPs that have already built an “owned audience” will be able to harvest opportunities at little expense when they need it the most. We are all now seeing the value of list-building first hand as the companies with the largest audiences have a major advantage in recovering from a poor economic climate or difficult sales environment.
Business Development Is A Luxury
One of the hardest things for me over the past few weeks has been seeing many of my LinkedIn connections bid farewell to their employers as their position was deemed no longer necessary. A trend that I picked up on very quickly was that the many of these connections that were terminated had roles in Business Development, especially those in the IT Industry.
This made me realize that the role of Business Development is really a bit of a luxury for most businesses. It floats somewhere in between sales and marketing and often with a cloudy view of where it overlaps on each end. While I do believe this role is important in many ways, I see how it can be left out of the conversation when compressing a business to weather poor economic conditions.
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Value Propositions Are Temporary
MSPs put a lot of thought and effort into creating their value proposition. Many see their business as a commodity (which it very well may be) and so their unique proposition is what sets them apart from their competitors. If this is something that you struggle with, you should be happy to know that these have proven to be merely temporary and are subject to change with little notice.
For a reflection point, take a look at the fine dining industry over the past two months. While many were touting an upscale “experience” that far exceeded the sum of the ingredients on a plate, this suddenly became their biggest downfall. They are not succumbing to take-out orders and delivery to stay afloat, a move that is somewhat contradictory to their entire value proposition. What is important to people, may not be of the same priority in the future. Approach your value propositions with more fluidity and ensure that your servicing the needs of your customers right now, without putting yourself in a corner in the future.
Problem Solving Always Sells
One of the most refreshing aspects of this entire experience was that many MSPs got back to their roots. I spoke to several Owners and Operators that chose to roll up their sleeves and take onsite appointments themselves, simply to protect their Engineers from the virus.
Even more refreshing was the fact that everyone put their “sales hats” away (if only for a moment) and problem-solving was the top priority for every customer engagement they had. For many, this reminded them of the days when they first started their business and approached every appointment as if they had something to prove. This should act as a reminder to all, that it should never be about how many widgets we can sell, but always about how many problems we can solve.