How does an MSP with very little time tackle the gargantuan task of marketing their business?
This is one of the things we discussed on a recent call with Jonathan and Tom Watson from NinjaRMM, Kevin Clune, and Jimmy from Skout.
(We were planning this week’s Live Chat on March 25th: Register Here!)
To be frank, I’ve been struggling with this topic for a few days now. Largely because my honest appraisal of marketing time management could come across as pessimistic, or even gatekeeper-ish.
But I’ve figured out a way to illustrate my point before I come right out and say it — and hopefully doing so will soften the edges.
I want you to imagine a good-sized agency that focuses on digital marketing. (I’ve worked for these, so I can help you fill in the details.)
Let’s say each client has an account manager coordinating the marketing work for them. Beneath this account manager, you probably have a team of graphic designers, web designers, copywriters, and other specialists working on the campaigns that the account manager has orchestrated. All said, each client is probably getting at least 10-15 hours of work every week spread around this team.
Now it’s important to take into consideration that every one of these team members probably knows what they’re doing. They already have the appropriate skills and tools necessary to complete each task they’re given.
Since this is an agency we’re talking about, we can also assume they already have strategies, plans, and processes. No one is stopping in the middle of their workday to watch YouTube videos on how to do their jobs (hopefully).
Imagining that setup, it would be reasonable to think “that’s awesome! I’ll bet they’re getting every client tons of new leads on a weekly basis”. That’s believable based on the types of numbers you’ve been told over and over again by marketers, right?
Again, I’ll remind you that I worked for a digital marketing agency that worked this way, so I’m not pulling this out of the air…
On average, the agency I know from experience was able to get their MSPs one or two qualified leads a year. Some got more, certainly — but some would go months without seeing a single MQL. Aside from seeing the figures, I knew this was happening because any time ANY lead came in for a client, the boss made a big deal out of it.
That wouldn’t have been the case if we had been raking in dozens of qualified leads a month.
And don’t think that I was working for some crappy, startup marketing agency and that’s why the lead generation was so underwhelming. They had over 300 clients at the time and are still well known in the IT space.
And the methods they were using are exactly what MSPs are taught to do themselves when they’re trying to DIY their lead gen. Same funnels. Same email strategies. Same content marketing. Same SEO.
The point that I’m making here is that marketing is hard. Even the type of digital marketing that can be set on autopilot to run ad infinitum (pun intended) is difficult to set up, optimize, test, maintain, and most importantly make effective.
I’m going to say it again. Even a marketing agency with years of experience and a staff of trained specialists spending 10-15 hours a week on you can sometimes only get you one lead a year.
I’m telling you this because I want you to have realistic expectations about doing your own marketing. Be wary of anyone who tells you that you can create a blockbuster marketing machine with a few hours of work a week.
I can’t, in good conscience, support that idea.
What about me?
I’ve been a marketing professional for almost 20 years, operating in many different roles in different markets. I’ve solo-built dozens of websites and overseen the production of dozens more. I’ve earned certificates in graphic design, SEO, and lead gen funnels. I’m a published author of both fiction and nonfiction and a 20-year copywriting veteran with thousands of hours of experience. I don’t just know all of the aspects of marketing, I’ve been trained in actually executing them.
Even with all of that training and experience, I would never claim to be able to generate leads for your business by spending only a few minutes a day on it.
So do I think that someone with no experience and no marketing training has any chance of building an effective digital marketing-centric lead generation machine by carving out a few hours a week? No. The numbers just don’t add up.
What I’m trying to say is that it’s very, very hard for me to fathom an “optimal” way for an MSP to spend a few hours a week marketing their business, simply because the output figures would be statistically insignificant regardless of how they use that time. The idea is much closer to gambling than it is to process-driven success.
Of course, the counter argument to this is always “some marketing is better than no marketing” — another chestnut that I don’t wholly agree with.
Is some cybersecurity better than no cybersecurity? Not if someone wants to hack you. If you leave big holes in your security posture, you might as well not have anything because it’s the equivalent of locking your windows and leaving the front door flapping in the breeze.
Same goes with marketing. If you’re not going to do it right, you’re just wasting time and money.
Now that I’ve slammed down my candid opinion on this, I’m going to make a suggestion about how to best devote a small amount of time to marketing.
Setting the Best Objective for DIY Marketing
The rational answer starts with finding the attainable objective. We need to establish the right goal for the DIY approach.
Your goal should not be to single-handedly create a robust, complete marketing machine for your company that will carry you for years. As I illustrated above, the idea is foolhardy if not entirely impossible. And that’s the biggest mistake people tend to make from the get-go.
You’re never going to be able to out-promote competitors who are using agencies or who have internal marketing teams. Don’t get into a fight you can’t win.
Your only goal should be to generate enough new business with your DIY marketing to immediately hire marketing help. There are multiple routes you can go with this — outsource to an agency, hire someone with a lot of marketing experience, etc. — but your only priority should be closing one or two new deals — enough to give you the MRR needed to farm out the work from that point on.
That is the only logical and attainable goal for the average MSP with limited resources.
Getting your hands on more resources is always better than continually trying to stretch the ones you have.
Getting Those Two New Clients
This leaves us with the million-dollar question:
How do I go about getting those one or two clients?
Well, if marketing were so easy that I could just give you a cheat sheet on this, we wouldn’t have a trillion-dollar industry built around it. There’s no instant solution, but I can help with some guidelines.
Remember that all marketing is essentially a funnel. (Funnels aren’t a strategy or a new idea — the AIDA process has always been funnel-shaped.)
Your standard digital marketing approaches are usually designed around building out complex, funnel-shaped campaigns. They are also very likely to take a lot of time to pay off. It takes time for prospects to move through these processes — sometimes months. And if you don’t have the resources and knowledge to actively A-B test and refine your funnels, you might wait months just to find out they don’t work.
So my first bit of advice is to forget the typical digital marketing approach for now. Again, you’re not trying to build out a marketing machine. You’re trying to get one or two new clients so you can pay someone else to build it.
I would forget things like Facebook altogether for now. The ROI on time spent is typically poor (though there are always exceptions), and it’s not going to get you your two contracts without spending a good amount of time up front.
You can probably put SEO aside too, unless you know a lot about optimizing website conversions and you’re willing to write a lot of good SEO copy. Search Marketing usually takes a long time to pay dividends as well, and it likely won’t do you any good at all if you have a mediocre website and poor messaging.
I’d also step away from mass emailing, especially if you can only start with cold lists. Not going to cut it.
You might be noticing a theme here. I’m telling you to avoid all of the things that fall under the category of “casting a wide net”. This is Top of Funnel stuff — the beginning of a long journey that requires tons of additional build-out to be effective.
You need to be more focused on finding people closer to the bottom of the funnel. People who you can target with pinpoint precision, hit them with value propositions that matter to them, and get them to sit down for a meeting to at least discuss some options.
Technically, this is more sales hunting than marketing. It’s really not lead generation at all. But that’s my point. Lead generation is a slow, resource intensive process — so if you’re lacking in time and resources, lead gen is probably the worst thing to try to figure out on your own.
Driving the Point Home
You know the worst thing about running out of gas on the highway? It’s having to push your car in 70 mile-an-hour traffic to the next station. Man, it’s so dangerous and you’d better hope it’s not uphill…
Wait…what? You don’t push your car. You walk to the station with a fuel can or get someone to bring you gas. You take the logical choice that avoids 90% of the struggle and risk.
When an MSP that doesn’t have enough money to pay for marketing services decides to build out their entire marketing engine on their own, they’re choosing to push their car down the highway all the way to the end of the road. And most of them fare just about as well as someone trying to push 3000 lbs of metal along the fast lane.
The MSP that chooses to manage their time differently and focus on getting enough MRR to afford marketing help is taking the smart choice. They’re opting to call AAA, minimize their risk, and take thousands of hours worth of burden off of their own shoulders.
Fortunately, you get to choose which one you want to be.