Episode 07: Vendor Sponsored Events Ft. Tom Watson of Ninja RMM

In this episode, Host Kevin Clune is joined by Tom Watson of Ninja RMM to discuss how MSPs can leverage vendor Market Development Funds (MDF) to put on in-person and virtual events.

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Kevin: “What’s up everybody? This is Kevin Clune. Welcome to The Lean MSP where we look to take on the challenges of operating an MSP in today’s economic landscape.That means staying lean, working smarter, and doing more with fewer resources. So with me I have Tom Watson. Tom is the Channel Chief Advisor for Ninja RMM and also does some MSP Consulting. So I thought that he was the perfect person to really shine the light on MDFs. One, because he does it from a very neutral place and the other because he’s also had experience on both sides. He’s helped build an MDF program from the bottom up and he’s also been on the receiving end of MDF as an MSP himself. So welcome Tom.”

Tom: “Thanks Kevin.”

Kevin: “So Tom, the point of this episode is really to get behind the curtain of MDFs and kind of shine a light on what they are and how to get them. Part of the thing that is frustrating for MSPs is that everybody seems so tight-lipped about this. And beyond that, it seems like the people that are the ones talking I think are the ones that have something to gain. Maybe they’re a marketing vendor and they’re trying to help you get funds in order for them to drive a campaign.

And so while free advertising is never a bad thing, the access to information I think can be improved. So, you know, that’s the point of today. So why don’t you give me a little bit of a rundown on you know, your thoughts on current MDF programs.”

Tom: “Sure Kevin, I guess the first thing I would cover is I do have experience of MDF on multiple levels. I owned an MSP in the Washington DC area 15 years. Sold that five years ago and during that time that I had the MSP, I used MDF on a number of occasions from Cisco, Dell, HP,and security companies. Mostly for lunch and learns, joint events that sort of thing. These were all customers that had a piece in the game, where they wanted some level of visibility by the client as well.

And then fast forward, I spent basically 2017-2018, part of 2019 working for Axcient where I was their VP of MSP Best Practices. And I helped build their very first MDF program and was involved in approving MDF as well as going out and working with MSPs on presentations for webinars and in-person lunch and learns where I would participate and present as well.

So that brings us up to kind of where we are now. I’m now Channel Chief Advisor at Ninja RMM and in that role I am working on content for MSPs to help them better themselves and make more money.”


Current MDF Availability

Tom: “So MDF right now, I’ve done a lot of thinking about it and Kevin and I have had some interesting conversations. I think MDF is out there. I think that it’s often not advertised because I think vendors either don’t have a formalized program, but I’ll tell you what they Kevin they certainly have money for it right now because money that other would have gone to other marketing. They certainly want to spend that money somewhere that’s going to help further their brand and sell more licenses or more product. So it is definitely available.

The thing to first look out for I believe is to look and see if it’s a company that would put out MDF. What I say about that is, is this a company that has kind of some skin in the game with the end client. So when you look at that, the first thing you say is what kind of categorizes that? It would be security companies, backup companies, companies doing spam filtering, email services, security awareness training and things like that. Because the end client actually sees those tools. As a result, the vendor has kind of an interest in getting their word out there and promoting the MSP because they know these are core pieces of the stack  sold under managed service agreement. And that it behooves them to not only get in front of the MSP, but get in front of the end client a little bit to influence that purchase.

In terms of availability right now. I’ve been hearing some pretty positive things from MSPs in terms of talking to vendors about it. Because I mentioned earlier, we’ve got a situation where due to covid we don’t have the marketing events going on and vendors have this money is set aside, last year they budgeted it and they are looking to spend that marketing money. And if you give them a compelling reason to do so, they will probably give you MDF. I believe the way to do that is to have a plan.”


Planning Your Event

Kevin: “So Tom, we’ve gone through this on this site and I think that it is a great topic to cover when it comes to how do you go about this process? So, you know, I’m an MSP, now I’m interested in getting MDFs, but they’re not well advertised I think and so you kind of have to go fishing for them. And so the best way to go fishing is with the right bait, right? Otherwise, you know, you’re not going to be very productive.

So what is that bait, you know. How can MSPs, first of all, who do they go to and then what do they provide in order for them to have success in actually receiving the funds?”

Tom: “I think the key thing is focused by vendors in the past has been in person events and it’s important to understand that what they have not seen from my perspective vendors have not seen much success with web-based events that MSPs attempt to put on. They seem to be more adept at putting on in-person events. I was a part of several MDF webinar events that had very poor attendance. Whereas the ones that were lunch and learns often we had very good attendance. I seem to be able to influence that better and give them a better plan (the MSPs) to help go get that. So it’s important to recognize that but this all comes down to what you’re asking for and your story of what you’re going to do with that funds.

And most importantly what the vendors going to get out of it and I can tell you I review these applications and what I look for for was numbers. I wanted to see an MSP that was saying we want to do an event and that they were reasonable about it. They put it out, you know, six weeks to eight weeks. They had picked a venue. Maybe if they had done something unique that would probably spark my interest. Such as “Hey, we’re not just doing a regular lunch and learn. We’re doing this at a brewery from 4:00 to 6:00 on a Thursday and we’re going to have another vendor there too” When I start to see things like that, more sophisticated approach. I would start to think the success would go up and would be more likely to approve it.”


Requesting Funds

Tom: “Now the most important thing I would look for that I think MSPs leave off from the request of these funds is some real numbers. Of course. These are just numbers that are speculative. But if you can say to a vendor either on their form or in a letter that says we expect to get 20 businesses to this event. We already have 10 signed up and let’s tell you a little about that 10. Of that 10, three of them are law firms and three are construction firms. And two are some of the kind of professional office. Sizes of them range from this to this. We’ve already been talking to two of them. We believe after this event and with the help of it, we will sign up at least three of those attendees and what that looks like is we’re going to propose managed service agreements. You can be as specific as you want. I’ll tell you the vendors will appreciate it. Appreciate the intel. Managed Service agreements totalling this amount. Of that portion for say your backup software (or your security software). We’re going to need to purchase this many licenses from you and put them under these agreements.

That’s the point where I think the vendors really pay attention because they see a plan and they don’t just see a one-off lunch and learn event. They see a couple things, they see if you have a plan of who you’re going to invite you, have some idea of who’s coming already. You have some idea of the revenue generated from that and you’re already showing that you’re definitely going to follow up.That’s the big drop off Kevin. I think we’ve seen a lot of marketing events that MSPs try to put on. They put on the event and there’s not the follow-up. You’re showing you have a follow-up plan to attempt to close business from the event, the vendor pays attention to that because that more closely mirrors how they do business. Multiple touches to get to the end result of a deal.”

Kevin: “Yeah, and I think to your point with the follow-up and one of the things I’ve noticed from these events is usually right after the event. There’s some low-hanging fruit. There’s like the people that have approached and have said yes, I’m very interested. And maybe that’s only one person out of twenty. What ends up happening I think is the MSPs give themselves a pat on the back. They focus only on that one person and then they don’t do the whole follow-up, create like a drip campaign and pay attention to everybody else. You know, when they really could have maybe gotten three opportunities out of that but they only paid attention to the one that was the most obvious, you know, like I said the low-hanging fruit.


Getting Paid Upfront

Kevin: “So you talked about, you know, kind of building that financial case. What if it doesn’t work out? Is there any situation where funds have to be paid back? I’m sure these are a lot of questions that MSPs might have and they might be afraid of their own failure and maybe that could be a possibility why they wouldn’t go ask for the funds.”

Tom: “Yeah, I think that’s a good point. We were handling that when I was help building this MDF program. If you came up with your plan and the plan consists of one other part. We want to see to how are you going to man that event and how are you going to market it. We wanted to see that, “Hey now in addition. We’ve got some people already signed up to go, but we are going to continue to market it because doing a call down campaign to our top 10 clients and asking them who they can bring with us.And we’re going to have six of our people at the event and they’re going to follow up in this way.” But we didn’t put MSPs on the line. We looked for a solid plan and how we could be a part of that plan. And then if they needed money up front once they had an invoice for something that we would usually pay and it was often things.

Like it’s very reasonable Kevin to ask for $500. Your usually going to get $500 if you’re putting on some type of in-person event. You often can get a $1000 or even $1500 depending on how many people you’re going to put in the room. And my thing is that yes. I would not let a vendor tell me we’re not going to pay until we have the actual results. I would say listen to these events are expensive for us to put on we are going to need to secure funds because we are working a list. We’re using some outside marketing help and we know that the restaurant minimum such as steakhouse, a lot of them are thousand dollars per event. So we’re going to need some money down.

A lot of the ones I handled that we’re like that and we knew they were going to be 20 people in the room. We basically would agree to we will pay half on site. So if the plan wasn’t completely solid and the MSP wasn’t asking for money upfront the agreement was when I went on site and I spoke at the end of say the Ruth’s Chris lunch and learn we would pull out a credit card and pay 50% of the final bill and that was fine. What’s interesting Kevin is we only really did that because we weren’t asked for money up front. We were more than happy to pay money up front if there was a good plan. I think that’s part of what we’re talking about what’s missing here and going after it.”


Funds For Event Promotion

Kevin: “You mentioned Ruth’s Chris which is you know on the higher end obviously of places to have lunch. Let’s say an MSP is in an area where things are not that expensive and maybe they want to go to just a cafe down the street that doesn’t have a large expense but maybe they need more funds that they can attribute to actually filling those seats putting it into marketing and some kind of campaign to drive attendance. Is that something you would pay for too?”

Tom: “Yes, and that’s good question. Getting paid in advance, but for an MSP, I would recommend going after that because we always have the alternative getting paid after and I think that is all dependent on the plan we first talked about. How comprehensive does that plan look to the vendor of what you’re doing. When you’re stating to them “Hey, listen, we’re going to have 20 people there. We’ve already got 10 signed up. Let me tell you about them” as I stated earlier giving details about who’s coming and what kind of contracts you’re going to be able to sign out of that. What kind of money that’s going to put the vendors hands.

You put that down on paper in such a way with that level of detail. It’s very hard to say no to that, especially now Kevin. I think that with vendors out there not doing these events is in-person events. They’re looking for places to boost your money. I actually have a good friend of mine who owns a VoIP company and he said that now these bodies like wanted to do all these virtual events and virtual speaking things and he had hundreds of thousands set aside for that and he canceled every single one when they went to virtual. He said “I’m not doing it.” He took the majority of that money and has earmarked for MDF. Now talked to him last week about this. He said that he is not broadcasting that. He’s telling only his top partners that buy his VoIP services about it, but he’s open. He’s open to to making that available if people ask the right questions or come up with the right plan.”

Kevin: “Thanks for coming on Tom.”

Tom: “Thank you Kevin and MSP Growth Hacks.”

Kevin: “Tom put together a great case study on how to host a successful lunch and learn to sell Managed IT services.Look for a link below this episode or head over to MSPGo.com/lunchandlearn to check it out. That’s all for episode 7. Thank you all for listening. I hope you have a great week.”