Which strategy is the best fit for IT Providers?
When working with Managed IT Providers on their growth plans, I always ask them about their overall sales and marketing strategy. Nine times out of ten they respond by rattling off tactics such as social selling on LinkedIn, cold calling, and email prospecting. Some simply tell me the name of the vendor they outsource their marketing to and nothing more.
While this is not a dooming circumstance, it is one that leads me to believe that most Providers don’t actually have an underlying strategy and generally engage in whatever sales and marketing activities have been sold to them (or are hot at the moment). While these tactics might be netting new customers, they are also hemorrhaging potential prospects that could have been won with a more holistic view of their approach
The Difference Between Brand and Direct Response
Think about your sales funnel and the tactics therein as rope in a fishing net. If you only use one or two tactics that were picked at random, your fishing net would have less rope and much larger, widely knit holes. It would still catch an occasional fish, but the vast majority would wiggle their way through the net to freedom.
However, if you deploy a variety of tactics in a cohesive strategy, your fishing net now becomes tightly laced with substantially smaller holes. This allows you to catch fish (or prospects) easily and often with a greater return on your efforts.
When it comes to developing a strategy there are really two schools of thought, brand and direct response. Both might consist of a combination of the same or similar tactics with the primary goal of generating sales, but the approach couldn’t be more different.
Direct Response Strategy
When most IT Providers think about “lead generation” they are most likely thinking of direct response. This strategy consists of sending out communications such as direct mail, email, phone calls, or even placing digital ads and simply looking to get an immediate response and thus a return on your investment. The same targets likely receive communication in various forms but overall the success of each campaign is measured based on how much it costs to generate a sale from each individual activity.
In terms of our fishing net analogy, this would be similar to using several nets and throwing them out in very short intervals. The idea is that you leave the net out just long enough to grab a fish or two but you make up for the low yield with quantity of nets that deploy and the frequency of throws that you make.
In this scenario, you will likely always come home with fish but you are required to put out a high amount of effort and resources to do so. It also means that any time your crew spends on the boat not throwing a net, is time that is completely lost and thus chips away at your overall return. This strategy demands repetitive, consistent action to achieve the best results.
Building a sales funnel that implements a brand strategy takes a much longer view of the sales process. Instead of measuring success on short term returns, branding looks to gradually earn the trust of your prospect over time. While this strategy lacks the instant gratification of direct response, it makes up for it at the end of your funnel, allowing you to often earn a higher return on your investment overall.
When related to our fishing expedition, a brand strategy would be similar to using one really large net that is tightly woven and leaving it out for a long period of time. The longer the net is in the water, the more likely the fish are to trust it, removing any skepticism they might have initially had when it was thrown.
During this time, the staff on the boat remains mostly idle, which allows for fewer crew members and thus a lower overall cost for the excursion. When enough time has passed, the net is slowly pulled up in one large haul, minimizing the overall effort and maximizing the eventual results.
Why Brand Strategy Is Best For Today’s IT Industry
If you are in the position to choose a theoretical marketing strategy for your IT company, we firmly recommend a brand strategy. While I have executed numerous direct response strategies myself as an MSP (some even detailed in articles on this site), it is my general opinion that the days are numbered for the yield that these can produce and that brand is the best play moving forward.
Here is the basis of our opinion when choosing brand over direct response.
First and foremost, there are very few quick exits in Managed Services, so why not take a long-viewed marketing strategy too? Even though the merger and acquisition market is heating up, most IT companies have been incorporated or intend to be incorporated for a decade. Slow growth is in this industries DNA and will continue to be moving forward.
If you know that this is the inevitable truth, then also know that there is a difference between achieving accelerated growth through growth hacking and flat out rushing a poorly conceived strategy. Take your time conceptualizing a brand focused sales funnel that will compound your growth in the future and execute it consistently (without wavering) between now and then. Time is already on your side. Sometimes fast growth can be achieved through slow execution.
Saturation & Competition
One thing that has become increasingly apparent to me over the years is that the tactics used in a direct response strategy do not age well. Even though you are able to optimize your campaigns to improve results, you are still constantly fighting against your competition to see who is willing to spend the most to get a return (or go broke trying).
In addition, if you are outsourcing using a direct response marketing company that has a large customer base, you run the risk of deploying the same tactics and messaging that other local competitors are using. I would assume that this becomes quite confusing to the prospect, as all of these search ads, calls, emails, and direct mails start to become eerily similar.
A brand strategy does the opposite of this. It puts the people and the company brand at the forefront and attempts to achieve a level of existence where your primary competition is your own self-sustainability. Repetition and relevance are what allows your message to cut through the noise in a way that becomes more cost-effective in the end.
The most exciting part about the future of a brand strategy is that new ad-tech is making it easier to execute in some very exciting ways. In the past, branding or “brand awareness” was about getting as many impressions as possible without measuring a return. This couldn’t be further from the way it works today and we have companies like Google, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn to thank for it.
Now we can get our message out using “content” (like this article) instead of a sales pitch and ease the prospect into the sales funnel. We can do this because we know that after they view our content, we can use the platforms previously mentioned to re-target them after they leave. We can also bid on impressions instead of clicks because the platform’s targeting abilities allow us to zero in on exactly the prospects we want and provide them a message that is hyper-relevant.
The bottom line is that we no longer need a “direct response” because there are so many ways target and re-target the prospect throughout the process. In this case, it is almost better to ease the prospect through your funnel slowly using contextual an calculated messaging so that they are truly ready to buy when they come out the other side. I believe that the direct response tactics we used in the past (and still use today) did not focus enough on buyer trust and are a major contributor to the lengthy sales cycle still plaguing the IT industry.