The other day I was wondering, “how many MSPs (managed IT service providers) are there?”
I asked because some of our best clients at Jumpfactor are customers of our MSP marketing services, so I wanted to get a feel for the competitive space, especially in the United States.
I couldn’t find a precise number, but I was able to find out that Microsoft — an industry-leading IT vendor — has 640,000 partners all over the world in its Partner Network.
If every person in Portland Oregon were a business, all of them would be Microsoft Partners.
Of those, there are at least thousands of MSPs such as yours, and — according to our clients — a few hundred direct competitors marketing Microsoft’s technology to other businesses.
Moreover, they’re very similar to you.
Like you, these other MSPs have partnerships with tier-one IT vendors such as Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Adobe, IBM, HP, and others.
Like you, they know how to configure cloud services, manage a business’ IT hardware, keep atop of cybersecurity threats and deal with regulatory compliance issues.
Like you, they’re each touching on the same customer pain-points and problems, while also promising the same fundamental solutions.
(If only I got a dime for every time I heard, “we’ll manage your smartphones so that you (i.e., your client) can focus on your business!”)
So it begs the question: “If I have so many similar competitors, how do I stand out? How do I get heard? How do I create a pitch that puts me ahead of my competitors?”
Digital Marketing for IT Services & MSPs is NOT Easy!
Let’s be frank here: it’s not easy to execute a MSP or IT marketing strategy.
It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about your marketing team or even a digital marketing agency (such as Jumpfactor). There’s a lot of work involved and in a lot of different areas.
But we get it; your marketing team wants to increase traffic to your website and, in turn, convert more contacts and leads into actual customers. HubSpot echoes your intent.
You’re almost always looking at a saturated competitive space, one where your rivals are usually already present. So not only do you have to displace them (an elaborate job which I’ve detailed below), but you must be active to keep any gains.
I can’t go into a lot of detail into every single area in a blog as short as this, but I can give you a primer of the top 3 areas you must focus on to stand-out from the MSP crowd, get leads and, in time, convert those leads into valuable long-term contracts.
Start by Answering a Question or Solving a Problem.
It’s obvious: why will anyone listen to you if you don’t have anything useful to say?
But I think you already know this, otherwise, why else would you be reading this article?
Well, this is a layered, multi-part problem.
Most will tell you that you need compelling content — such as blogs, eBooks, white papers, etc. — that answers the actual questions of your target market.
For example, if your prospective customers are searching for help in setting up their Azure cloud services to support their SaaS offering, then you should have a guide (e.g., an eBook) in place.
How did we determine that your target clients are: (1) SaaS providers (2) asking about Azure and (3) are using Google to ask that question? Sure, we can always assume things, but when time and money are on the line, assumptions are never a good idea.
So, before you even get to writing up eBooks, you must (1) fully understand the problems and goals of your target market, (2) confirm if they’re online seeking answers to real questions (3) and build content that provides actual answers.
Not only are these requirements dependent on one another (i.e., layered), but each one needs a multi-part effort. I’ve described each of them in detail below.
1. Find Your Target Market’s Problems and Goals
There’s no point in writing content that doesn’t speak to your target market’s problems or fuels their aspirations. You need to delve into the minds of your clients and determine what buttons to push when engaging them with any messaging.
Yes, I am talking about buyer personas.
From what I’ve seen when it comes to managed it services marketing, the strongest MSPs have segmented each of whom they want to engage.
They combine data-driven research, marketing experience (from trade shows, existing or past clients, etc.) and a deep understanding of customer problems.
For example, CIOs in the US are concerned about the impact of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) on their companies. You need to demonstrate your awareness about how compliance issues can affect your target market and speak to those issues with solutions.
They convert that real-world experience into buyer personas that represent the target market.
When answering questions, you always refer to the buyer persona for solving pain-points, triggering emotions and guiding the next steps.
It’s simple. If you’re saying something that “speaks to the heart” and aligns with the ideas and aspirations of your intended listener, you’ll probably get that listener tuning-in frequently.
It all makes sense, but building successful buyer personas is very challenging.
You’ll need a lot of time to pull real-world data — usually through lots of surveys — and getting each key person your team (especially sales, marketing, and implementation) to spell out their specific, real-world experiences with clients and leads.
For example, are you dealing with small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) concerned over emerging regulatory standards such as the GDPR?
Or are you dealing with specific individuals (e.g., Director of IT) who are having trouble getting buy-in from decision-makers because those decision-makers dislike CAPEX?
Or do your salespeople usually find mid-level management folks worried about the complexity involved in moving their productivity applications to the cloud (and don’t know how to do it)?
There is also a second aspect to this, and that is the online factor. It’s one thing to build a buyer persona, but when it comes to digital marketing, that buyer persona must exist online.
To nail the second aspect, our Digital Marketing Strategists double their efforts by binding the buyer personas you’re familiar with to those prospective readers online. So basically, they will repeat every step. In some cases, they’ll find overlap, but in others, they’re sailing new waters.
2. Are These Questions on the Web?
Speaking of the online factor, how do you find out if those buyer personas are asking actual questions on Google? Well, that’s through Search Engine Optimization (SEO) research.
It’s weird, but SEO is both just about finding keywords and not just about finding keywords.
When I watch our technical, on-site SEO Specialists, I find that they shy away from those short three or four word keywords with tens of thousands of searches. Yes, these folks are looking for keywords, but not necessarily low hanging fruit that any amateur SEO effort can figure out.
Instead, you’ll want professional SEO experts to embrace the online buyer persona (crafted by a digital marketing researcher) and find the exact terms used in those questions. These should be long-tail keywords that clearly show the intent of the reader.
SEO for IT Companies Done Right
I’m not in our SEO team, but having spied on them for a while, I can tell you that they use tools such as SEMRush and Ahrefs to pinpoint the exact questions your buyer personas are asking.
So, if the Digital Strategist finds that a prospective buyer exists online (such as SaaS providers), the SEO Specialist might find that this buyer is asking questions through particular, long-tail keywords (e.g., “Azure database options” or “Azure HIPAA compliance”).
Ideally, you’d find that the space is underserved — yet flush with people matching your persona — so that any good content can result in relatively quick lead and conversion gains.
Usually, there’s always a competitor (or two, three or more). This is where every expert on your team converges to dissect the competition to see what works, what’s off or unappealing and, in turn, equip your content to genuinely do a better job at answering the same question.
In SEO terms, your team will also look at the keywords your competition is using and is ranking for on Google. Your IT marketing strategy should include each those of elements.
3. Let’s Answer That Question
At this stage, you will have built a buyer persona of online prospects and exactly determined the questions these folks are asking in Google.
This is where your writers and designers interact with your marketing strategists and SEO team to craft material — blogs, eBooks, web pages, white papers, infographics, etc. — that answer the questions, solve the problems and fuel the goals and aspirations of your target market.
This discussion alone is worth an entire blog or two, but if I can narrow it down to the title of this piece — “How to Get Seen and Heard in a Crowded Market” — it always starts by answering the question.
I don’t mean this in some symbolic way — your top content should start with answering the question. However, when doing so you must also incorporate the work (detailed above) by your SEO team and Digital Strategists in keyword and buyer persona research, respectively.
You take your expert knowledge about the issue and combine it with the intelligence information about your target audience. The result is content that speaks to the reader’s issues and solves their problem, thus earning their trust.
The actual content strategy varies case-to-case, but a good start would be to produce content that targets each stage of your audience’s decision-making process (i.e., the buyer’s journey).
In other words, not every piece should be a sales piece.
The strongest MSPs, especially the ones that rank on the first page of Google and achieve high conversion rates, center their content strategy on helping the reader.
In that sense, your eBook about using Azure to support a SaaS solution should answer that pain point with actionable solutions. Depending on the subject matter, this might need to be a highly detailed, technical whitepaper or potentially even a detailed informational video.
You want the reader to rely on your insights, not feel pressured into a sales pitch.
That bold part is key.
Your readers are looking for specific answers to specific questions, not a sales pitch.
The strong MSPs have content that educates. Google picks up on valuable, informative content when it finds that people asking a specific question go to that MSP’s website. In turn, the MSP gains a strong search engine ranking (i.e., first page on Google).
MSPs succeeding in converting readers to leads and leads into eventual sales start by serving as resources for their prospective buyers.
Once you achieve that trust, the buyer will start seeing your service offerings as solutions they could buy into — this is where you begin your pitch. Typically through a service page, your pitch should be informative, but easy to read.
For example, a study by Unbounce found that business consulting pages that read at a 6th-grade level convert more leads (nearly double) compared to difficult, graduate-level content.
Easier to Read Pages Convert More That Difficult to Read Pages
You must also be brief.
The same study found a correlation between more words and lower conversion rates. Business consulting pages saw a gradual decline in conversion at more than 200 words. Pages with more than 800 words had half the conversion rates of pages with less than 200 words.
The Longer Your Page, the Fewer Conversions
If you don’t have one already, then your starting point should be on building a digital marketing team to cover each of the areas I’ve discussed. I recommend reading my colleague’s take on building a strong digital marketing team as a start.
But I also get that there’s a lot at play here. If you’re short on time and need to leverage your online assets to generate leads today, then you’ll need a digital marketing team today.
Jumpfactor is a full-service digital marketing agency offering on-site technical SEO, in-house content production and growth-oriented marketing strategy. Contact us today to discuss how you can use your website(s) and other online assets to increase revenue.