The go-to-market strategy is critical to any business launch.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of MSPs launched without one. With most people believing that an MSP is a turn-key operation, the usual go-to-market plan is “we’ll set up a website, go to some trade shows, and companies will start calling us.”
I probably don’t need to tell you that this isn’t quite how it works. It’s generally a bad idea for any business to launch under the auspices of “this is so great people will come to us.” In the best-case scenario, a fledgling MSP will use their existing network of professionals to get a decent amount of clients, but once that list is exhausted, they hit a growth plateau that makes them start to question everything.
And the next step they take is typically toward marketing — a step that often proves fruitless and empty.
Why? Unlike consumer products, IT services are too complex for a marketing-centric approach to produce results. Many IT solutions aren’t actively sought out by enterprises because they’re completely unaware of the value of said solutions. Commonplace marketing ideas like “informing” and “awareness” are slow to pay off, and may never pay off at all if not executed correctly.
So what should an IT company’s go-to-market strategy look like? To find out, we first have to look at where your offerings fit within the market.
Begin with this illustration provided by First Round Review in their article Leslie’s Compass, A Framework for Go-To-Market Strategy:
The authors used toothpaste and jet engines to show opposite ends of a product spectrum. The former is a simple, in-demand consumer product; the latter is a specialized product with few buyers, complex utilization, and more touch requirements to close the deal.
Do you think IT services are more akin to toothpaste or jet engines? Yeah, an MSP has more in common with General Electric than with Crest. IT is not a cheap impulse product, it’s not simple, it’s B2B, and a client relationship lasts longer than a tube of toothpaste.
This indicates that your go-to-market priority must be sales, not marketing.
Sales Over Marketing
It’s easy to see this by looking at the typical sales cycle, as well. It’s possible to get a new client without marketing, yet impossible to get a new client without a salesperson sitting down and finalizing the deal.
There’s just no system in place that allows an enterprise to land on your website, select their preferred services, enter a credit card, and become your client. There probably never will be, because IT services rank too high on the complexity scale to support that kind of sales process.
Your sales department is what really drives your organization’s growth. That said, it only benefits you to make it a priority. Look around and you’ll see that the most successful B2B businesses — not just MSPs — put their salespeople first.
As a general rule, MSPs don’t think about their own businesses this way. The last person they hire is a salesperson, and then only when they feel like they have some money to spare. Up until that point, the owner is usually the sole salesperson and the entire business is bottlenecked around their schedule and their sales abilities.
For those who finally do hire a salesperson, the selection process is often… less than ideal, with the MSP choosing the cheapest salesperson they can get rather than the experienced, driven individual who knows the job.
Consider how much sense that makes for a business that’s entirely dependent on sales.
These are all reasons why we’ve fully embraced the sales enablement mindset here at YSE. In our strategies, the sales department leads the way, taking priority over nearly every other aspect of the business.
This is especially the case with marketing. Your marketing department should not serve as some standalone arm of your business. From a strategic standpoint, it needs to be at the head of your business. (Giving the marketing department leadership helps you avoid things like having a “if we build it, they will come” go-to-market strategy.)
On the execution side, marketing should be in a tight symbiotic relationship with sales. No one should be informing the decisions of the marketing team more than the salespeople — not even the CEO, who of course is the final decision-maker, but not always the most in touch with the day-to-day minutiae of the sales process.
In this sales enablement-focused scenario, the primary purpose of the marketing department is still to generate qualified leads for sales. That is the generally agreed-upon role of marketing among MSPs. However, most MSPs aren’t giving the sales department much input on how that should actually happen. Instead, the majority of MSPs are leaning on generalized content marketing or informational strategies that may or may not impact the actual lead gen pipeline in a productive way.
In other words, MSPs and most marketing agencies they turn to are coming into the situation with a plan already in mind. Without any consideration of the market, the business, or the needs of the sales team, they’ve already decided on a rote marketing strategy.
Yes, it would be great if that worked, but your salespeople who are hurting for qualified leads will probably tell you it doesn’t.
Now you also want to take into account the longevity of the relationship and Average Customer Value (ACV) in this business. The situation demands solid, active effort toward client retention, yet many MSPs take few steps to retain clients beyond QBRs. The sales and marketing departments, if truly invested in the growth of the business, would probably have it otherwise.
Keep in mind that QBRs are the current standard and while they do play an important role in client retention, they aren’t crossing that threshold that we’re always shooting for: providing value that a client can’t get if they switch to another MSP. What is that value? It will vary considerably from case to case, but that’s exactly why your salespeople should be part of the discussion. They may be able to help identify gaps that no MSP is filling, and if you pull that string, you will have a unique selling position that makes your MSP stickier.
And most salespeople are happy to chime in. Every worthwhile salesperson I’ve ever met is themselves invested in client retention. For them, it’s almost personal. In many cases, they have other great ideas for improving client relations and reducing churn — if leadership is only willing to listen and divert some marketing resources away from lead generation.
The Better Way to Utilize MSP Marketing
We’ve established that your marketing department (or agency, or freelancer) should be working very closely with the sales department, but how should they be addressing their role of generating leads and supporting the sales team?
It goes back to what we always say: marketing should be focused on building your MSP’s position in the market by creating and promoting unique value propositions.
Your brand strategy, which includes creating a dominant position, is vital to the success of your sales force. On this front, marketing should be delivering in a way that empowers them to close more deals.
How many times have you heard an MSP salesperson say “when a prospect asks how we’re different from other MSPs, I don’t have any real answers”? They may not say it to their bosses, but we’ve heard it plenty of times. They know every other MSP is saying “we’re reliable” and “we have years of experience” — they need real ammunition.
Salespeople need meaningful differentiators just as much as the marketing department. Every salesperson would be thrilled to say “we have this thing you need and you can only get it from us” — our key brand development directive.
If You Build It, You Still Have to Sell It
If there’s one key takeaway from this article, it’s to prioritize your sales department and make sure they’re given every resource they need. That includes giving them complete access to the marketing department so that they can share ideas, strategize, and work in concert toward growth.
Even with all of our experience and know-how, we marketers can’t see the entire picture. We can only see your sales process from the outside and we typically never meet the clients face-to-face. While this is sometimes a good perspective, it’s incredibly valuable for us to look deeper and get the kind of insight that’s only available from your people on the front lines.