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In Part 1 of this mini-series on MSP marketing, we looked at attrition marketing, the most basic form of marketing MSP services. Now in Part 2, we’ll take a trip in the world of maneuver marketing using the example of a precious metal mining business. Grab your hard hat, head lamp and pickax, and let’s carry on.

Eliminate your competition with focus and specialization

In this scenario, you have some mining specialization. You mine only for precious metals, like rhenium, ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, osmium, iridium, platinum, gold, and silver, but don’t touch coal, fossilized dodos and other mineable bits and pieces. The bad news is that you must move a lot of dirt to find these nine metals.

And while you need less diverse equipment than in general mining, considering the amount of dirt you need to move, you still need a large, although more homogeneous, range of equipment and a large workforce that you must staff 24/7. The good news is that both your equipment and human resource requirements are smaller than in general mining. And with proper surveying, you can find land that contains lots of those precious metals.

With maneuver marketing, your operation is more focused, and you have less competition. You no longer must worry that general mining companies or start-up mines invading your turf because now you’re a semi-specialist. The MSP equivalent of this “We are in the precious metal mining business” approach is that you offer only a few services to any industry.

Understand your customer and their industry

In terms of market positioning, you’re sandwiched between the broad generalist, or one-stop-shop firms, and the narrow specialist, or one-step-shop firms. In this case, the one-step refers to the limited number of services those firms offer to their clients. Vertically (target market), your firm is still a generalist but horizontally (service areas), you’re specialized in offering only a couple of services. (Because some people call the target market a niche, while some others call the area(s) of expertise a niche, I’ve decided not to use it here to avoid confusion.)

But how do you select a target market and the services that you want to offer? For target market, let’s consider an important survey (1).

In a 2008 study, Maureen Broderick, the principal of Broderick & Company, conducted of study among 240 senior executives of Fortune 1000 companies in the U.S. and Europe about the most valuable skills that those Fortune 1000 recruiters seek in professionals on the top of their core expertise. The top two are subject matter expertise (43 percent) and hands-on industrial experience (23 percent) in the buyer’s industry. Price (1 percent) and geographical location (1 percent) are the bottom two items on the list.

Be the expert your client needs and wants

So, before you select a target market, make sure you have some people in your firm who really understands (not merely knows) that industry like the back of their hands, speak that industry’s special jargon and can interact with that industry’s C-suite people as respected peers.

For services, you must first look at the Japanese Ikigai (a reason for being) concept and its four criteria.

  1. You are good at it
  2. You love doing it
  3. It’s a “must have” service for your target market
  4. Your target market is willing to pay a premium for it

And here are some extra criteria for your services offerings to consider:

  • They are in high demand by your target market and in limited supply by your competitors.
  • They can be sufficiently differentiated from similar offerings by your competitors.
  • They can be delivered at very high quality and at a reasonably low cost (It’s not what you make but what you keep that counts).
  • They can be leveraged by your clients’ people, so you need a smaller number of staff focused on the expert brain work, leaving the manual labor to the client.
  • They offer quantifiable business (NOT technical) value, like higher revenue, lower costs, and avoidance of unnecessary expenses.

A few words about what I mean by leverage so there is no misunderstanding. All I mean is that you are the expert, and you do expert work. For instance, your surgeon doesn’t line up at the pharmacy to pick up your prescription for some post-surgery drugs. On the same token, a guest executive chef, hired to cook for VIP clientele, doesn’t peel potatoes, mop floors, or operate dishwashers. This manual labor is provided by the client in each case.

So, I mean no disrespect when I suggest that you request clients to do the brawn work. MSP work is a blend of expert brainpower and pick-and-shovel manual labor. The idea is that your people set the strategy for implementing the services and your clients’ people do the associated manual labor. When you approach things this way, you end up with less competition than in attrition marketing because your buyers have only a few alternatives besides your firm. So, you are likely to win more opportunities.

Align your marketing and business strategies

It is important, to remember that maneuver marketing is really attrition marketing. It is just done in a specific direction as there are a limited range of services for which your firm can be considered a specialist. This model is based on a mid-volume of low-mid-margin work and the main objective is to acquire more clients while watching costs.

In maneuver marketing, you have a solid strategy behind your marketing. But make sure your marketing strategy is in alignment with your firm’s overall business strategy.

  1. Business Strategy => As outlined in your business plan
  2. Integrated Marketing Strategy => As outlined in your marketing plan
  3. Online and Offline Marketing Strategy => Separate entities but at the same hierarchical level
  4. Marketing Channel Strategy => E.g., snail mail, cold call, LinkedIn, SEO, email, social media, etc.
  5. Marketing Campaign Strategy => One specific marketing campaign within a specific channel

In many MSP firms, by the time marketers get to #5, they’ve forgotten what #1 and #2 are. Also, many MSP firm owners treat their business plans as 100 percent top secret and are reluctant to share them with their marketing people.

As a result, a sizeable chunk of marketing is guesswork. The equivalent of being locked in a dark room blindfolded, chasing a black cat. With maneuver marketing, your client load, time, price, and cost grow at around the same rate. Your price growth balances your cost growth and keeps your firm on even keel, leading to steady growth and stable operation.

If you missed Part 1, you can find it here. In Part 3 of this series, we’ll travel to the world of special operations marketing: “We Are in The Diamond Mining Business.”

(1) Source: Maureen Broderick: The Art of Managing Professional Services: Insights from Leaders of the World’s Top Firms (Prentice Hall, 2011)

Photo: MossStudio / Shutterstock


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Posted by Tom Varjan

Tom “Bald Dog” Varjan designs and builds highly automated client acquisition systems for boutique IT service firms that enable them to attract better clients with more interesting projects at higher prices 24/7. He is one of the very few IT marketers/copywriters who is also a graduate computer engineer with 16 years of experience in the high-tech industry as an engineer, programmer, project manager and corporate tech buyer.

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