Jonathan Crowe

5 Ways to Adapt Your MSP Sales and Marketing Tactics During COVID-19

adapting msp sales and marketing tactics to COVID-19

How are you supposed to be generating leads and new clients for your MSP during a time like this?

That's a question we've been hearing a lot lately, and last week we decided to tackle it head-on during our latest MSP Live Chat session. For anyone who hasn't attended one, we launched our MSP Live Chats about a month ago to give NinjaRMM customers and other MSPs a forum for connecting during the COVID-19 crisis and to share ideas and solutions to the big challenges they're dealing with.

Previous topics have included how to get financial aid via the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and how to handle client requests for deferrals or discounts, but this time around we wanted to focus on the fact that many MSPs aren't just looking to weather the storm, they're actively looking for ways to continue building their pipelines and generating new business — without coming across as insensitive or predatory. To do that, we reached out to Kevin Clune, co-founder of MSP Growth Hacks. Kevin brings a ton of tactical insight from his days as Marketing and Operations Director of a Top 500 MSP, and he's been publishing must-read blog posts about how MSPs should be approaching their sales and marketing since the start of the pandemic.

Kevin joined NinjaRMM Channel Chief Advisor Tom Watson and I during our April 23 MSP Live Chat and dove right into open discussion with our attendees. You can see a recording of the full session here, but I also wanted to pull out a handful of new marketing ideas that we encouraged all the attendees to consider stealing, and highlight them here on the blog.

 

MSP Live Chat recording - Adapting Sales and Marketing to COVID

 

Note: If you want to join our next MSP Live Chat subscribe to our weekly MSP Bento email to get details on when the next one is and how to register.

Is it even appropriate to be doing active sales and marketing right now?

We kicked off the chat by taking the temperature of the room and asking attendees how they were adjusting the volume of their sales and marketing activities due to the crisis. Were they ramping things up, staying steady, or dialing things down?

Answers varied, with a third of the attendees admitting they hadn't really done much on the sales and marketing front. Of those that did have sales and marketing capabilities, 9% said they were holding steady, 6% said they were ramping things down, and 13% said they had frozen spending altogether. On the other end of the spectrum, 24% said they were ramping up activities, and 7% said they were more active than ever.

So clearly there are MSPs out there who are seeing opportunities during this crisis and who are actually actively investing in growth. That could be seen as a gutsy call considering the bleak financial forecast, but it can also be seen as following advice from management consulting giant Bane Bain & Co.

recession advice from bain and co

Quote source: CFO.com

 

In other words, now is certainly a time for MSPs to look to cutting their costs, but the advice from Bain suggests those efforts should be focused on finding operational efficiencies (staying lean) rather than shutting down your sales and marketing engine. After all, cash reserves can perhaps get you through the next few months, but new MRR is your lifeblood. You obviously don't want to see your pipeline run dry the same time your cash reserves do.

Many MSPs agree that there are indeed opportunities worth chasing and spending on right now — think of clients who saw their MSP drop the ball on their WFH transition, or companies who have now seen the light and realize they need to invest more seriously in modernizing their infrastructure.

But how do you go about doing that in a way that's smart and cost-effective?

The world has changed — you likely need to recalibrate

A large portion of our MSP Live Chat discussion centered around the idea that things have obviously shifted, and trying to run the same sales and marketing playbook as usual likely isn't going to be effective or appropriate.

Instead, MSPs should step back and consider whether any of the following three fundamentals needs to change:

  • Who you're targeting: Do you need to pivot away from at-risk verticals that have been especially hard hit by this crisis? If so, you may need to go back to the drawing board,  invest in new buyer persona research, and adjust your messaging before you launch new campaigns.
  • What you're doing: How have your prospects' top priorities and concerns suddenly shifted? What do they have time for and what do they not? How are shelter-in-place restrictions limiting how you can reach them? (See below for specific new ideas for what you can do differently.)
  • How you're doing it: There is a very legitimate concern that by actively selling or marketing right now you can come across as insensitive or as an ambulance chaser. To avoid that, how should you adjust your tone? From a financial perspective, is there a way for you to operate more efficiently and get the same results for less?

Once you review your approach from a high level by asking those questions, then you can dive into brainstorming new tactics. To help you get started, below you'll find a collection of new ideas we openly encourage you to steal.

5 ways to adapt your sales and marketing + specific new ideas to steal

Everyone seems to agree that being "salesy" isn't the right approach right now. Here are five alternative approaches Kevin, Tom, and I suggest you consider adopting, instead.

1) Be a listener and an advocate for your current clients

Even more than education or advice, what some of your clients need right now is someone to simply listen to them. That can mean letting them vent — leverage that to gain clearer insight into the challenges this crisis has highlighted/introduced for them — but it can also result in hearing them express their gratitude and better understanding how you've helped them. If you can capture the value you've created for them in their own words you can transform that into the best type of marketing copy there is.

Idea #1 to steal:

Create positive profiles of clients finding innovative ways to stay open and benefit their community. Highlight the role your services are playing, but make the client the star. These profiles can live on your website or as simple videos optimized for social media (check out Typito for creating them), but you can also even consider using them to pitch local media. News outlets are looking for positive local coverage right now.

2) Be helpful

Plenty of MPSs are going this route, providing COVID-related resources and work-from-home (WFH) training webinars (see an example of a presentation here).

Idea #2 to steal:

Think beyond the beat-to-death topics. It's fine to cover topics like WFH, COVID-related phishing, etc. but just keep in mind so is everyone else, and the demand for these topics is going to wane (if it isn't already). Kevin recommends the key to finding new topics isn't looking externally to see what everyone else is doing, but looking internally to your tickets to see what your current clients are actually struggling with. If you're seeing the same questions or requests come through, chances are those are going to be things prospects are grappling with, too.

3) Be resilient

There's a lot of uncertainty out there right now. Clients and prospects want to know how the crisis is impacting you, and a good way of positioning yourself as a leader is by showing how you're adapting and tackling this crisis head-on. You want to make it clear that you're still operating, accepting new business, and actively helping clients take this all in stride.

Idea #3 to steal:

Share the lengths you're going to in order to keep your clients and team safe. You may have just put a ton of work into adapting your current operations with your clients' and employees' health and safety in mind, but is that work visible? If not, all that hard work may be going unappreciated, and it certainly isn't helping you win new business.

Consider documenting your efforts and displaying them publicly. That can be as simple as creating a COVID-19 FAQ section on your website that provides details on how you've adapted and how clients can still conduct business with you. See this example from France-based MSP, ALTICAP:

Example COVID FAQ

Or it could be as creative and involved as sharing a video highlighting your hardware sterilization process. I've seen several MSPs writing about that, but recording a video showing how you're handling equipment delivery and on-site work responsibly could be great for generating interest and proactively addressing concerns.

Whatever you decide, the point is to show your business is active and proactively on top of this.

4) Be a networker

We hear the phrases "be a thought leader" or a "trusted advisor" all the time, but I'd argue at this moment being a networker for your clients and prospects is just as valuable. What I mean by that is maybe you don't need to position yourself as having all the answers right now (who does, really?). Instead, you can simply be the person who connects people with one another and facilitates discussion/information sharing.

Idea #4 to steal:

Host live chats that connect your clients with each other. It's been pointed out that this crisis isn't necessarily creating trends so much as it's accelerating them. On the marketing front, one trend that this has absolutely accelerated is the death of traditional webinars in favor of more interactive and informal virtual events.

Your own inbox has likely been filled with invites to a host of virtual summits, live chats, and events lately (quite a few of those invites may be from us). All of these events are stressing live interaction and promising "no death by PowerPoint." It's clear everyone is interested in finding ways to replicate the more participatory side of live get-togethers and events. No one wants to be presented to.

"Interactive" doesn't have to mean "complicated," though. Take our MSP Live Chats, for example. In late March we started hosting these Zoom get-togethers for our customers and prospects, and kicked off the series with a simple invite to share reactions and solutions to the challenges the COVID-19 crises was creating.

 

screenshot of our 4th MSP Live Chat

For our MSP Live Chats, we use Zoom and share a Google Doc agenda to help guide discussion.

 

That first session went so well we decided to follow it up with additional sessions (sign up for our weekly MSP Bento emails to get notified for when the next Live Chat is and how to register).

In terms of hosting your own live chats, do you have a bunch of clients in the same vertical? Why not invite them to an "Outlasting COVID Together" brainstorming session? Pitch it as a time/place when they can connect with peers at similar companies to vent and share ideas. Have an accountant or financial specialist client? Invite them to speak to the rest of your clients on small business loans.

There's real value in you positioning yourself as not just an IT expert, but a true business partner at the center of a strong client community.

5) Be thinking about what's coming next

Unless you have dedicated marketing resources that can quickly and repeatedly pump out new content, chances are you need to be following the classic advice and trying to skate to where the puck is going. Anything that you put into motion now isn't going to be released possibly for weeks (that feel like months). As we've seen, a lot can change in that amount of time, so by that point there's a real possibility that your content or campaign will be stale.

Instead, try to get ahead of the game by anticipating what the next set of challenges and needs will be. Kevin has a handful of great suggestions he shares in this post. Two of them are below:

Idea #5 to steal:

Create comparisons and reviews of solutions that may have been deployed as stop-gaps but are now being considered for longterm use. Ex: Teams vs. Slack/Zoom; ConnectWise Control vs. TeamViewer vs. Splashtop vs. RDP; etc. In fact, if I were at an MSP, I'd create videos and blog posts comparing the top options in each of the categories listed here (the categories that made sense for my target audience, anyhow). That would be a great way to start showing up in more relevant organic search results.

Idea #6 to steal:

Make "getting back to normal" checklists and resources. Despite how it might feel, this crisis is going to eventually end. And while many companies will in fact start to do things differently, it's highly doubtful everyone is going to continue working from home (for now). Many workforces will be migrating back into the office, and business leaders will be looking for guidance on how to accomplish that effectively.

Expect all the "WFH / remote work checklists" you're seeing to be replaced by "back to normal" checklists. If you can be at the forefront you can stand to capture a decent amount of attention.

See what else you may have missed

If you thought this post was interesting or useful check out the full discussion we had during our last MSP Live Chat. You can see the complete recording here, no registration required.

We're taking a week off from MSP Live Chats to focus on our upcoming MSP Security Summit, but you should absolutely check out that event and subscribe to MSP Bento to receive updates on when the next Live Chat will be.