Paul Green offers three top tips on how to be a marketing master in the digital era
20 years ago, marketing an MSP was a hell of a lot simpler than it is today.
You did Yellow Pages, whacked a few adverts into the local newspaper, and sat back to wait for the clients to roll in.
Today it's a lot harder. For a start there's more competition than ever before - and digital marketing has levelled the playing field. Size is no longer an automatic advantage. It's no longer big beats small; it's fast beats slow.
On top of increased competition, advertising is no longer as effective as it used to be. An advert in the local paper or sponsoring a roundabout will give you a significantly lower return than it did years ago. Most MSPs have seen this but have never figured out why it's happening.
The problem is that this kind of advertising is what's known as "interruption marketing". You are interrupting someone who has picked up a newspaper for the news, or is listening to the radio for the travel, information or music.
That was the only way of marketing for 100 years or more. And it worked just fine. But these days it's no longer cost effective.
Instead, online marketing has made it simple to put your MSP in front of the small group of people who are looking for a business like yours right now.
Why attempt to interrupt everyone with an advert blasting out your message in the media, when you can invest small amounts of resource into targeting people who type "IT support" and "your town" into Google. And then remarket to them via Facebook.
All these changes mean that if you've been a business owner for a decade or more, it's time to update your marketing mindset to the 21st century.
Here are three things I suggest you do.
1) Throw all your old marketing knowledge in the bin
What you learned about MSP marketing 20, 15, 10 years ago will have changed.
Sure, the fundamentals are the same. Most people still pick an MSP with their heart rather than their brain. They want someone they can trust; many want a deal; and most have very little awareness of IT issues (how many of your clients know what the channel is? Or in fact care!).
But these days the mechanism that allows them to compare businesses is significantly different.
Today no-one uses Yellow Pages, and only a handful type yell.com into their browser. Most people use Google, and they make their decision whether to use your business or another based on your website and your social media presence.
Even word of mouth is affected by your website. In the past a personal recommendation would drive someone to your doors; these days it drives them to your website or Facebook page. And if your website is like most, it has no real differentiation. It's too focused on the building rather than the people. It talks about partnerships and expertise, when it should be communicating passion, and trust.
This means that for the first time in history, a small business can significantly outperform a bigger rival. Size is no longer an advantage. The ability to communicate effectively online is more important.
And it's why you must…
2) Start taking your online presence more seriously
It's not just about your website, it's about your Google and social media profiles. It's about who's following your business online; and what is said about you on review sites.
This is your online presence. It's more important than ever before and will continue to become even more critical. What is said about your business online is your reputation. Yet so few MSP owners put significant resource into this.
Done well, the more resource you invest into your online presence, the higher the return for your business.
That means constantly adding new content to your website. Enhancing your Google My Business profile. Truly interacting with people on Facebook, not just uploading a few pictures of new devices every week.
There's a final part of your mindset that must change…
3) Communicate with clients and prospects the way that suits them, not you
The way people communicate with each other has changed dramatically in just a few years. There are dozens of different ways of communicating with people; and most of them are not used by MSPs.
If a client want to email, let them. If they're happier on the phone, great. If they prefer to talk through Facebook or Messenger, make it happen.
Best of all, use a mix of methods. Our business owner clients who are seeing the highest levels of return for prospect communications are those who use a mix of letters, emails, social media and phone calls, all within a short space of time. So instead of communicating with a prospect three times over a six month period, they communicate three times in a single week.
Is that too much? Maybe for you personally. But it's not too much for everyone. You cannot judge good marketing by your own preferences; you have to judge it by what works these days, and what gives you the best return.
That's an important part of your new 21st century marketing mindset.
Paul Green is the founder of IT Support Marketing, a business growth and marketing organisation. He is the author of "Updating Servers Doesn't Grow Your Business", a free paperback book to help business owners improve marketing and profitability. You can get a free copy posted to you by visiting www.itsupportbook.co.uk