As reported by CompTIA’s Buying Guide for Managed Service Providers, nearly 2/3rds of organizations use a managed service provider (MSP) to some degree. As an industry, MSPs are on the rise. But with new MSPs popping up everywhere and existing players looking to expand their presence, it can be difficult for an outsourced IT firm to stand out. That’s why MSP digital marketing has also grown significantly over the past 5-10 years. We have found, however, that the cost of digital marketing can sometimes be a barrier for managed service providers, especially if they haven’t done much in the way of marketing before.
As an MSP marketing agency, SevenAtoms has helped MSPs and other technology companies build out their digital marketing campaigns. Over the years, we have identified a number of cost-effective ways for these companies to attract qualified leads.
This blog post provides proven inbound marketing strategies that can help get your MSP’s marketing off the ground or take it to a new level, all without costing your organization an arm and a leg. We will discuss:
- Why MSP digital marketing matters
- Why MSP marketing can get expensive
- Which MSP marketing strategies you can start implementing today
- If and when you should consider hiring an MSP marketing agency
While paid marketing strategies are equally important, we will discuss them in another post.
Why MSP Digital Marketing Matters
Some MSPs don’t necessarily see the value of digital marketing. Smaller (and, in some cases, medium-sized) MSPs will often be quite content with leads that they get from referrals and word of mouth. Their question is simple: Why invest in digital marketing in the first place?
Here are just a few reasons why MSPs need digital marketing:
It’s a Crowded Industry
Last year, MSPs brought in a projected $43 billion in revenue. There are easily tens of thousands of MSPs in operation, ranging from small mom-and-pops to giant international organizations. Moreover, the MSP industry is on the rise, with a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of about 12.5%. With big initiatives such as cloud migrations, cybersecurity, and remote workforces driving this growth, it can be a very good time to be an outsourced IT solution.
This creates an obvious problem: As the need for MSPs expands, so too does the number of providers. New MSP companies are sprouting up all over the United States (not to mention the rest of the world), leading to increased competition. In order to succeed in this environment, MSPs need to be able to market themselves more effectively.
Differentiation is More Important Than Ever
As a natural consequence of there being so many new players in the field, it has become increasingly important for MSPs to differentiate themselves from the competition. This can sometimes be difficult, given that many MSPs provide a similar core set of services.
Digital marketing is a great way for MSPs to communicate their value proposition to prospective clients. By highlighting what makes your MSP unique and clearly defining the impact it can have on a potential client, you can stand out in a sea of providers.
The Plateau Problem
One common challenge that an MSP can face is growing to the point where it “plateaus” and struggles to expand from there. This often occurs after a few years of being in operation, once the firm has carved out a little niche for itself and built a book of regular clients. These firms rely primarily on referrals, which becomes problematic once the referrals run dry.
The plateau can be a dangerous place -- it’s easy for an MSP to become comfortable with its existing business and not feel the need to change its strategy to attract new clients. The problem is that if a company isn’t growing, it risks losing what competitive edge it has.
Digital marketing can be a logical “next step” for companies that have plateaued, generating new channels from which they can attract and nurture leads.
Why MSP Marketing Can Get Expensive
When done right, marketing can feel like it is free. If campaigns have been refined, ad spends optimized, and a consistent flow of leads created, marketing can pay for itself.
When done wrong, however, marketing can get expensive. Poorly targeted PPC campaigns, blog content that hasn’t been optimized for search engines, and other wasted marketing efforts can cost your business big, with little to show for it.
MSP marketing can especially get pricey if not done properly. There are a few reasons for this:
Longer Sales Cycles.
As with any B2B company, managed service providers tend to have longer sales cycles that require more nurturing, content, and education than a B2C company does. Hiring an MSP is obviously a big decision, with multiple stakeholders who need to sign off on the deal. This means you need more marketing resources, more nurturing tracks, and more of everything else in order to turn leads into customers.
More Competition = More Marketing.Unless your MSP focuses on a niche industry, chances are good you are going to face quite a bit of competition, especially given that your competitors are potentially running digital marketing campaigns themselves
- Not Knowing What to Promote or Who to Promote it to.
MSPs offer a variety of different services and solutions and often specialize in several different industries. Narrowing down what offering you want to promote and which key industries you want to target is therefore important; otherwise, it’s easy to spread a marketing budget thin in an attempt to promote every service to every target demographic.
At SevenAtoms, we are big advocates of starting small, testing, finding what works, then scaling up campaigns from there. We find that this approach is typically the most cost-effective way to scale up an MSP’s marketing efforts. That said, knowing where to start and what strategies are more likely to yield results can greatly reduce the amount of time it takes to start seeing a good ROI.
ROI-Focused MSP Marketing Strategies
Here are some actionable ways your MSP can start generating high-quality leads without a giant budget.
Strategy #1: Change Your Approach to SEO
As I’ve mentioned a few times already, MSPs have to contend with a lot of competition. This is especially true when it comes to search engines, where competition for important keywords like “IT managed service providers” and “IT help desk” are going to be near impossible to rank well for (unless you are one of the biggest MSPs in the country or have been aggressively pursuing these keywords for years). A better strategy is to target keywords that have more to do with your MSP’s specific niche or that address common challenges that your audience may have.
When it comes to search engine optimization (SEO), we’ve found that it’s better to focus on things like:
“How to” long-tail keywords.We have found that “how to” and other query-based keywords are easier to rank for and can generate a good amount of top-of-the-funnel (TOFU) traffic. These types of keywords are well-suited for blog content, which can allow you to discuss potential solutions.
Region-specific keywords.While the mass migration to the cloud means MSPs aren’t limited to just businesses in their local territories, it can still pay to focus on local keywords, which tend to be less competitive. That said, since the level of competition varies depending on where you are, this approach will work better in some places over others.
Solution-based keywords.We suggest finding more solution-based keywords that more closely tie in with the specific services that you offer. They generally get less traffic than more generalized keywords, but they often align better with your brand. Think “managed cybersecurity solutions” instead of just “cybersecurity solutions.”
This approach has two benefits:
It’s much easier to rank for.If you pick the right keywords and make sure that your pages are optimized for those keywords, you will find it much easier to rank near or at the top of search engine result pages (SERPs).
It usually results in better-quality leads.Since the keywords are more customized to your company, its unique offering, and the industries that it specializes in, you will find that the leads that come in through search are typically of better quality.
Strategy #2: With Technology Keywords, Newer Isn’t Always Better
While managing campaigns for our MSP and technology clients, one problem that we regularly run up against is trying to generate traffic and interest for solutions that are so new that the keywords don’t actually have a lot of search traffic. This is especially problematic since MSPs are usually looking toward to the latest advances in technology and want to be known for being ahead of the curve.
In these scenarios, we like to take the following approach:
- Identify keywords that users are looking for, such as the last generation of a product or service.
- Create a blog article using those keywords.
- In the blog content, we pivot the conversation from the old solution to the new solution.
- At the end, we include a CTA that relates to the new solution.
This approach allows us to attract potential customers that are actively looking for the targeted solution, but who probably don’t know about the latest version of said solution. Essentially, we are using the blog content to both attract an audience and educate it about the latest technologies.
One of the nice things about this approach is that it creates a lot of content potential. How does the new solution stack up against the old one? Who is it for? Why should a business upgrade from the old version to the new version? Your audience will have a lot of questions, and you can help them out by answering those questions.
Strategy #3: Emphasize Your Cybersecurity Offerings
Cybersecurity should be one of the pillars of your MSP marketing strategy -- if it isn’t already. SMBs anticipate spending 78% more on cybersecurity in 2019, according to Continuum. On top of that, more than three-quarters of SMBs expect to have at least half of their cybersecurity solutions outsourced.
Chances are good that your MSP has some sort of cybersecurity offering. Chances are also good that your business is pivoting more toward cybersecurity. The question then becomes: Have you made cybersecurity a big part of your marketing efforts and, if so, how are you differentiating yourself?
For MSPs, the important thing is to define your cybersecurity offering. What types of solutions do you offer? Network monitoring? DDoS protection? Anti-phishing? Every MSP approaches cybersecurity differently, so being able to differentiate yours is important.
One thing that we have found particularly effective is offering some sort of one-time scan, evaluation, or test. These types of offerings tend to have high conversion rates, provide real value to a lead, and can get your foot in the door.
If you are looking for a more comprehensive guide to cybersecurity marketing, then we have you covered.
Strategy #4: Get Serious About Content Marketing
Content marketing is especially well-suited for MSPs for a number of reasons:
- The tech industry is always evolving, with new solutions coming out all the time. Keeping your audience informed of these changes and educating them on how they work is therefore important. Content like blogs or emails are great ways to keep customers and potential customers up-to-date.
- Content marketing creates 3x more leads than paid ads, making it a much more cost-efficient form of marketing.
- Premium content (e.g., guides, whitepapers, case studies, etc.), when gated behind a landing page, provides a great opportunity to convert website traffic into leads, though you need to make sure that the content offers enough value to prompt a visitor to hand over their contact details.
The thing with content is that you need a lot of it to really have an impact. For example, with blogs, we recommend publishing at least four blogs per month minimum, though 8-12 posts per month is better and daily posts are ideal. Start with whatever is manageable and try out different types of content to see what resonates with your audience.
For premium content, building out a good library of resources is key. You want to have different types of content for each of your core offerings. You can then promote these resources on the pages of your site that align with those offerings. This allows you to only offer premium content assets that are applicable to your audience.
Strategy #5: Develop Evergreen Blog Content
This is the strategy that we have seen have the most impact for our MSP clients: Create evergreen content. While the volume of content you produce is important, what’s more important is that you create evergreen blog content that can drive consistent traffic to your site each month.
Content marketers often think of blog articles in terms of “cascading” vs.”compounding.” These terms might sound fancy, but they’re simple when you break them down:
Cascading refers to content that gets a lot of traffic initially but rapidly drops in views over time. Topical and news related content tends to fall into this camp. For example, a blog post about the latest cyber attack would be considered cascading.
Compounding content (aka evergreen content) refers to posts that may not generate a lot of traffic initially, but see a slow increase over time to the point where they bring in a large, consistent amount of traffic each month. How-tos and guides fall into this camp. An example of this would be a step-by-step guide for resolving some sort of technical issue.
For every piece of evergreen blog content you produce, you will see more organic traffic to your website each month. The goal, then, is to keep producing evergreen content so that web traffic continues to grow.
Strategy #6: Nurture Leads Thoughtfully
It’s easy to feel the need to throw every resource you have at a new marketing qualified lead (MQL). In our experience, however, less can often be more when it comes to lead nurturing.
MSPs can offer a pretty wide variety of services, but not every lead who downloads an eBook or subscribes to your blog needs to know about every one of them. If a lead comes to your website and downloads a white paper about VOIP solutions, then that is probably the pain point they are looking to rectify at the moment. In this scenario, it makes more sense to just focus on your VOIP offering and to put this lead on a nurturing track built around VOIP.
This approach means that you will have to establish a number of different nurturing tracks, one for each of your core offerings. These email drip campaigns don’t necessarily need to be long -- you just need to provide enough info to give the lead a good sense of your processes and the benefits of partnering with you. Emails should go out soon after the lead enters the workflow, though not so often that the lead gets multiple emails a day. If, by the end of the workflow, the lead has taken no action, then they can be placed into a more general nurturing track that sends fewer and less frequent emails.
On Hiring an MSP Marketing Agency
If you are looking to generate more leads, then chances are good that you have at least considered outsourcing your MSP marketing services.
Partnering with an MSP marketing agency definitely has a number of advantages, especially if you are looking to take a more aggressive approach to lead generation and hope to see an ROI from your marketing sooner.
Here are a few of the key advantages to partnering with an expert in MSP digital marketing:
I’ve mentioned a number of different marketing strategies in this post. While most of them are relatively inexpensive, they do cost something: time. It takes time to create content, research keywords, design emails, and other types of digital marketing. This could be time that your team simply doesn’t have. Partnering with an agency significantly reduces the amount of time your MSP needs to spend on marketing initiatives.
I often like to compare digital marketing to going to the gym: If you just do it here and there, you aren’t going to see much in the way of results. The key is consistency. Establishing a regular cadence of content, publishing case studies or sending out emails on a regular basis -- all of this builds your marketing muscle and will ultimately lead to great results. An agency can help you stay consistent with your digital marketing.
The same way businesses will turn to an MSP to provide technical support, so too can MSPs leverage the expertise an agency has to help optimize their marketing campaigns. Partnering with an MSP marketing agency can eliminate a lot of the trial and error of digital marketing, allowing you to be more strategic with your campaigns.
While outsourcing aspects (or the entirety of) your marketing can be an added expense, it will ultimately save you money in the long run. Since the agency saves your own team time and allows you to be consistent with your marketing activities, you will start seeing an ROI from your marketing sooner. You save more time and resources as well, thanks to the expertise that an agency can bring to the table.
If you are considering MSP marketing services, then it pays to go with an agency that doesn’t have any standardized package for MSPs. Every MSP is different, with different internal capabilities, goals, target audiences, etc., so you want an agency that can adapt itself to your situation and come up with a package that adapts to match your needs.
Should you need MSP marketing services, then SevenAtoms can help. To get a better idea of what you can expect by partnering with SevenAtoms, check out this case study of one of our MSP clients. And to find out how SevenAtoms can help your business, request a proposal from us today.