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The nightmare for any company is when they know that they have a great product, yet it just isn’t moving in the market because no one knows about it. The company knows that it needs to advertise what it does, but often gets it wrong.

For MSPs, this can be a major problem. For starters, the whole idea of being an MSP is to provide a set of services from a centralised place, meaning that there is a certain amount of dependency on attracting passing trade. Secondly, there is not really a physical product to let prospects handle and look at. Thirdly, the MSP must understand just who they are targeting and, therefore, they need to figure out what sort of messaging will be required. Alongside this is the way that the service is packaged and made available for customers to use it.

Consider each of these in turn:

Centralised services

In many ways, this is a positive. The use of centralised services provides the MSP with a high degree of control over the service and its users. However, it also means that unless the prospect can find the MSP and the services they offer, the prospect will never become a customer.

Therefore, the MSP must both ensure that its own website is purpose built and that it can be easily found via web searches. This is where search engine optimisation (SEO) comes in – but for this to work, MSPs need to know what terms their customers are looking for.

It may also be worthwhile to try out  other advertising methods – both print and online advertising – to get their name and service descriptions in front of people, even they aren’t necessarily prime prospects. Also, targeted mailings of collateral to prospects may seem old school, but it gets you out in front of people who may not be putting the right search terms in to find your service.

Lack of physical product

Although managed services isn’t something that can be handed out, the service is something tangible. As such, the MSP must provide a ‘try it and see’ capability, so that the prospect can judge the offer and make a balanced decision on whether the service meets their needs.

As an MSP, you really do not want customers who have signed up blindly and then found that the service is not what they expected. They will tell others about what they see as a negative experience. Better to provide a high degree of time limited access with as much support as you can provide to show the prospect what a great company you are.

Targeting the audience

In my opinion, this is where so many MSPs go wrong. I come across MSP websites where a service is messaged in deep technical terms. Great for a deeply technical person who knows exactly what they are looking for – which is probably less than a quarter of your actual total addressable market.

For most prospects, they need a double message – what does your service do for me, and what does it do for the business I work for? Lead with the business message first: after all, it is the business that will end up paying for any service it takes. However, the ease of use and the removing of complexity from the individual’s day-to-day life is important. Within this messaging is where a degree of technical details can be put.

Bear in mind that many of the individuals searching for services may not be deeply technical. Therefore, delving into such terminology as to how the service uses 3DES encryption with connections over TLS using paired X.500 certificates from a publicly trusted CA, your likely to lose them. Better to focus on easier messages, such as that you provide highly secure data transport using the latest industry standards – if the individual needs further information, then be prepared to provide it, but don’t baffle with the proverbial.

Indeed, it may be worth having dual messaging that targets two different audiences: one that focuses on how the service impacts business value, risk and cost; and one that focuses on what it does at the IT level. By getting the right message to the right audience at the right time, you can create a perfect balance, making the sale a lot easier.

Service packaging

As composite applications become more common, users will be looking for services that they can identify and use directly in real time. Therefore, your services must advertise themselves through standardised means on the web.

You need a service catalogue that enables users to easily see what you have available and what the technical capabilities and constraints are around these services. By using industry standards such as the open service broker API, a REST API, and OAUTH, an MSP can encourage self service and pave the way for real-time service users, by external calling services that grow to use artificial intelligence (AI) in identifying their own needs.

Already, the big guys are doing this – Microsoft Azure, AWS, and Google, amongst others. Each of these companies operate their own service catalogues and have created successful marketplaces. Their platform gives users access to underlying services in a relatively easy and transparent manner.

MSPs need to be able to compete at the same level. That’s why now is the time to make sure that advertising – in its many forms – is carried out successfully.

Photo: Goran Blackbeard Skok / 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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