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Being an MSP has changed markedly over the years. In the early days (going back as far as being an application service provider or ASP), it was a given that most of the business would come from a web search. Few service providers had a field sales entity or even that much targeted outbound marketing. Now, however, MSPs are expected to be not just a service provider, but also to be a partner or a trusted advisor. Customers are looking for strategic skillset(s) that can help them excel in their business.

Sure, many organisations who are looking for a specific service will use web search to find a local MSP. However, few organisations will just sign up for a strategic service via a web search – maybe they will for tactical or low-cost, low-impact ones, but not for something that has a direct impact on how the business operates.

That first contact via the web is still all-important. Whereas MSPs that are focused on large enterprises can afford to operate a full sales and marketing function covered by the returns on multi-million dollar wins, the majority of MSPs are dependent on smaller contracts where such in-depth interactions before a sales could wipe out not only the profit from that one contract win but could wipe out profits on other wins should the contract not be won.

Your shop window must be eye-catching

How, you may ask? To be eye-catching, a website needs to differentiate itself from your competitions.  Due to the reach of the internet, MSPs are less regional than they used to be, so you are no longer just competing with the two or three other MSPs in your city or state, but with many of the ones across the nation – plus some who could be located in other, possibly lower cost countries.

It becomes tempting to play one-upmanship – trying to out-do everyone else with promises such as 100% up time, minimum latency, no resource limits, and many more. Please avoid such promises! As soon as something goes wrong that breaks any of these promises, your customers will not just question that one broken promise, but all of them.  You’re a busted flush, and your business may well be catastrophically damaged.

Instead, look to what really differentiates you from other MSPs. Do you offer named support staff for certain types of accounts? Do you have expertise for specific market vertical? Do you have certifications (either technically- or business-focused) that can offer additional value to support a customer’s need?

Also, look at messaging yourself in the way that prospects are be looking for. Most will not be looking for “We are the pre-eminent provider of GPU-accelerated active machine-learning algorithms”. What they will likely search for is “We specialise in providing real-time insights into data around production lines, with accurate, targeted advice provided in how to optimise your systems”.

Strategic service vs. promise

This not only provides an easy-to-understand value statement, but you are now offering a strategic service, rather than a bunch of promises that could possibly be broken. You will find that this differentiates from a broad swathe of MSPs who are still focused on technology rather than on solving problems. This will help get you onto more ‘possibility’ lists.

Once your website is updated, the contact forms may start coming in. Contact forms must be responded to quickly and effectively. Do not allow first-line sales support to dip back into technical jargon though. Once the prospect initiates further contact interest, make sure that you do have salespeople who understand (or are at least capable of understanding) what the prospect’s actual issues are – and can then provide advice on how you as an MSP can provide the solutions that are required.

Keep everything benefits-focused unless the prospect wants to dive down into technical areas. Baffling a prospect with technical details is a quick way to lose them: they do not like being made to feel ignorant. Where technical terms must be used, describe them in business terms. It is a fine tightrope to walk. You don’t want to risk sounding condescending, but at the same time, not addressing the prospect’s technical question can also be a major error.

If the prospect becomes a customer, the same sort of services needs to be carried through. The first line of support needs to be able to quickly gauge if they are talking to a highly technical person or a businessperson trying to maintain a business while outsourcing certain areas to you, an MSP. Ensure that level 2 and 3 support can also maintain the right levels of discussion with the person – and mustn’t over-promise on fixes or on requests for additional functionality.

Honesty is the best policy in the longer term; customers will share any bad experiences when it comes to MSPs – not just to each other, but also to possible prospects. When something bad does happen, throw extra resources at it to make it right again. Apologise, provide something extra to that customer to make them feel that they are not just another customer.

Ensuring that you as an MSP is perceived as a strategic part of an organisation’s operations is key to stickiness. An MSP that is seen as being just a provider can always be swapped out.  One that is seen to be an extension of the company is harder to shift.

Photo: Africa Studio / Shutterstock

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Clive Longbottom

Posted by Clive Longbottom

Clive Longbottom is a UK-based independent commentator on the impact of technology on organizations and was a co-founder and service director at Quocirca. He has also been an ITC industry analyst for more than 20 years.

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