Want help marketing your MSP firm?
You’ve come to the right place.
At New North, we’ve helped dozens of managed IT service firms win with marketing. Our clients have dominated new markets, grown, and gotten acquired.
We’re a Hubspot certified partner, a Google certified partner, and have been rated our area’s top marketing agency on Clutch (which is basically our industry’s Yelp).
In other words, we’re good at helping MSPs to grow with marketing.
If you want to learn more about our approach to MSP marketing, keep reading.
On this page, we’ll cover:
- What MSP marketing is
- Where you should begin marketing an MSP
- How to do a marketing analysis for an MSP
- The best lead generation strategies for MSPs
- How do to SEO for MSPs
- How long it takes to see MSP marketing results
- How much MSP marketing costs
- What an MSP marketing retainer looks like
- What are the best MSP marketing agencies?
By the end, you should have a foundational understanding of the marketing approach that can take your managed IT service firm to the next level of growth.
Ready? Let’s dive in.
What is MSP marketing?
Let’s be honest: Marketing is a really broad term. Here’s what we mean by it:
MSP marketing is the process of presenting your MSP to your market.
“Your market” is a segment of people who profile as your potential customers. Defining this segment accurately is a part of marketing (and it’s absolutely crucial).
“Presenting” can involve a lot of stuff – website development, CRO, SEO, PPC, ABM, social media, video, email, postcards, those inflatable people with wavy arms… you get the idea.
The key in all of this is that, when you’re doing MSP marketing, you’re bringing your business in front of your potential customer.
Once contact with a lead is made (i.e. through somebody calling your number or filling out your contact form), sales enters the equation. Things get a little blurry here, because marketing may still have a role; for instance, we often provide sales support via sales sheets or automated emails.
But, in general, marketing is about putting your MSP in front of people so that sales can close the deal.
Where should you begin when marketing an MSP?
You should start by defining your market.
Here’s what I mean:
Identify who you’re selling to.
Who you’re selling to hugely impacts how you reach them. We’ve seen that firsthand.
We’ve worked with MSPs who are fine taking clients with 10 or fewer workstations. We’ve worked with MSPs who set the limit at 50.
We’ve worked with MSPs who serve major enterprises with supplemental managed services. We’ve worked with MSPs who only serve nonprofits.
We’ve worked with MSPs who specialize in working with manufacturers. We’ve worked with MSPs who will serve anyone.
Are you speaking to IT directors? Nonprofit board members? Small business owners?
The point is that each of these markets looks very different, and the ways to reach each market will look very different, too. Defining this segment will set the course of your entire marketing plan.
Clarify what their pain points are.
Part of understanding who you’re marketing to is understanding the pain that those people face.
Marketing only works if it’s relevant to the real problems people are dealing with. So, before you start marketing, you need to clarify what those problems are.
Now, if you’re like most MSP owners / executives, you can probably take a pretty good shot at this already. You know that slow response times, poor cybersecurity stances, and lack of IT strategy are bad. And you can probably guess at some of the more specific issues people are dealing with – remote work infrastructure, maybe, or hybrid office systems.
That can get you going. If you want to go to the next level (and create marketing that resonates as effectively as possible), talk to your market.
That includes clients, people you think could be potential clients, and, if you can swing it, people who opted for another provider rather than you. Email these people, call them up, and ask them what pains they’re facing.
Doing real research will help you to clarify your marketing messages.
Find out how they buy.
Okay, last step – you’ve got to know how these people buy before you can start marketing to them.
Take nonprofits, for example. The board at a nonprofit plays a huge role in setting the IT budget – and usually, budget conversations happen annually. That means that the timeframe of your marketing campaign will look a lot different than if you’re marketing to a small business owner who can make a snap decision.
The channels you’ll target will be different, too.
Small business owners (who can pull the trigger right away) might buy from Facebook. Nonprofits (who need board buy-in) would probably be less likely to do so.
Take the time to understand how your market buys before you ramp up a marketing campaign in the wrong direction.
How to do a marketing analysis for an MSP
Once you’ve defined your market, a good next step in marketing your MSP is to do a market analysis. Here’s what we recommend.
1. Review your current marketing channels.
If you haven’t done much marketing to this point, this may not take too long – but chances are, if you’ve been pursuing lead generation to any degree, you have at least a few platforms you’ve invested in.
Here’s a quick rundown of major channels and what to look for:
Again, you’ll need data to review this effectively. If you don’t have data, you won’t be able to judge what’s working and what isn’t – but if you do have data, here’s what you should look at:
- Traffic. We’ve found that, for most MSPs, you need about 1,000 visitors per month to consistently generate qualified leads. If you’re below that, you’ll need to find a way to boost traffic.
- Conversion rate. How often are visitors becoming contacts? An industry-standard rate is 1-2% – meaning that, for every 100 visitors, 1 or 2 become contacts. Your goal should be to get above that.
- Top landing pages. What pages are users hitting first? How can these pages be improved to drive more conversions?
This is closely tied to your review of your website, but it’s worth breaking out for its importance in driving traffic. The best way to check your SEO is through a tool like Ahrefs or Ubersuggest (there’s a free version). Here’s what you’ll want to check:
- Keywords your website ranks for. This will help you understand how people are finding you.
- Backlinks. Links to your site from other sites will increase your chances of ranking.
- Technical construction of your site. You’ll need a paid tool to run a deep check on this, but it’s worth doing – most sites we review have at least some technical problems that are hindering SEO performance (like repeat H1s, duplicate content, broken links, etc).
Your email list.
Email famously has the highest ROI of any marketing channel. To use capitalize on it, you should evaluate these factors:
- List size. The more qualified and engaged people on your list, the better. It’s not uncommon to have unused contact lists that have been sitting for years without activity – if that’s the case, you’ll want to pare the list down to make sure the emails are still active.
- Frequency. Using email marketing effectively requires sending emails consistently. How often have you been engaging your list? We recommend that you send emails at least monthly – and you’ll see more value if you can engage your list weekly.
- Open and click-through rates. The percentage of contacts that open and click on your emails is representative of the impact your content is making.
- Conversion rate. The ultimate impact, though, is conversions. For most MSPs, this will be scheduled calls.
Your social platforms.
We’ve found that most social platforms aren’t hugely impactful in marketing for MSPs. Two possible caveats to this: LinkedIn can be a great sales tool and YouTube can be effective for generating engagement. It’s worth reviewing current activity via metrics like:
- Number of followers. As always, the more qualified followers you have, the better. It’s also worthwhile to look at account growth over time, so you have a general sense of the trajectory of your platforms.
- Post engagement. If you’re posting on Facebook multiple times a week and gettin no likes or comments, your time is better spent elsewhere. On the other hand, if your YouTube videos are racking up engagement, dig deeper to determine why and how you can translate your audience into sales.
2. Review your competitors’ marketing strategies.
Once you’ve reviewed your own channels, you should look at your competitors’ activities, too.
You probably have a sense for the top 3-5 firms that you’re competing with on deals in your area. You’d do well to study their marketing efforts – especially the firms that you feel are having the most success or growing the fastest.
So, check out your competitors’ platforms using the same punch-list outlined above. Look at their websites. Plug them into SEO review tools. Follow their social media accounts. Sign up for their email lists and see what kind of content they’re sending.
You won’t be able to capture the same level of data that you can gather for your own platforms, but you can still gather a surprising amount – and, at the very least, you’ll almost always be able to get a sense of where your competitors are investing their marketing spend. This is informative; if they’re growing, then what they’re doing is probably working.
Don’t copy them, but don’t be afraid to enter the game, either.
What are the best lead generation strategies for MSPs?
As you might have guessed, the best lead generation strategy for your MSP will vary depending on what your market looks like.
With that said, here are the lead generation strategies that we’ve found are most commonly the most effective for MSPs:
1. Account-Based Marketing (ABM)
For many MSPs, the single best way to make consistent lead generation happen is to run an account-based marketing campaign.
Inbound marketing relies on people finding you; the problem for many MSPs is that there just aren’t enough people looking.
ABM gets rid of that problem by flipping things around: Your marketing is targeted to find your ideal clients – and it’s tailored specifically to each account. It works because it:
Hits a pre-qualified audience. As explained above, you identify the traits of accounts that make for great clients; you’re not wasting time on misaligned prospects.
Allows for your message to be personalized. Because they’re so targeted, ABM campaigns can include personalization (first name, company name, location, etc.) in messaging components like emails, landing pages, and even videos.
Incorporates multiple touch points. Once you’ve selected your ideal accounts, you can engage them with consistent marketing to drive conversions.
This is the equivalent of fishing in a stocked pond with only the types and sizes of fish you are interested in catching.
So, how should you run an ABM campaign to generate consistent leads?
We’ve outlined ABM campaigns in more detail before, but here’s a quick overview:
Build the Campaign Plan
The tools you’ll use in ABM are the ones you’re probably already familiar with – email, paid, social media, website pages, etc.
It’s the way these tactics are used that changes. For example, you might use social media as part of your ABM campaign – but you won’t just create general LinkedIn posts on your page. Instead, you might upload a list of target companies to show very targeted ads to.
- Put together a plan to determine how you will reach this audience. What channels will you use? How personalized can you get? How frequent are the touch points? What pain points will you focus on for different segments?
- It’s important to note that ABM is not something that exists strictly in the marketing arena. It is tightly integrated with sales. Because of this, include things like personal emails and follow-up calls to the contacts that seem to be hot leads.
You may already have a list of ideal accounts with all the information you need to reach them with effective marketing. If so, great! Pat yourself on the back.
Often, though, this isn’t the case. Maybe the contacts you have are very old and their info is outdated. Maybe you don’t have a list at all.
If you don’t have an ideal list, you have two options:
- Append your list. If you just have the name and address from a mailer you send out every year, but you don’t have your contacts’ emails, you can use a list appending service to connect those physical addresses with emails, phone number, etc. This is very inexpensive.
- Buy a list. This topic is an article in itself, but if you don’t have any list at all, you can purchase one, either as a one-off buy or via a database subscription. At New North, for example, we’re partners with ZoomInfo.
Regardless of how you acquire your list, it’s critical that it matches your target market. The tighter the filtering you can do on these contacts, the better your results will be. Get started off on the right foot with a solid list of verified contacts or you’re setting yourself up for failure.
Now that you have an understanding of who you are reaching, have a list of these contacts, and have a plan for how to go about reaching out to them, it’s time to pull back your spear-throwing-arm and let her fly.
Remember, though: Even the best-laid plans of mice and men can go awry when you have poor execution. Pay attention to the details. The first impression goes a long way, and if you start out with an off-the-mark pain point, a shoddily designed email, or a landing page that doesn’t work on mobile, you are shooting yourself in the foot. This is something to pull the whole team together for.
- Have your personalization tactics been tested?
- Have you talked to current clients about their pain points and why they work with you?
React to the Numbers
Back in the day, marketing was a shot in the dark – you’d send a postcard out and cross your fingers or spend money on radio ads and just hope people were listening. Those days are gone.
Today, everything you do should have a number. Conversion rates, open rates, time on page, bounce rates – metrics are your friends. Use the information that comes in to make your campaign better.
- Having great success on LinkedIn but can’t get anything from your display ads? Shift the budget.
- Does your landing page have a high bounce rate? Look at your heatmapping and site analytics and shift accordingly.
- Do your emails not have a good click-through-rate? Tweak the design or content and do some A/B testing.
If you pay attention to the data, you’ll be able to continually optimize your campaign – and you’ll be on your way to consistent MSP lead generation.
2. Inbound Marketing
If you’re serving a bigger market, inbound marketing is another great option.
Inbound marketing, according to HubSpot, is “a business methodology that attracts customers by creating valuable content and experiences tailored to them. While outbound marketing interrupts your audience with content they don’t always want, inbound marketing forms connections they are looking for and solves problems they already have.”
It works because it helps people searching for IT services like yours to find your solution.
So, how should you run an inbound marketing campaign?
Again, we’ve covered the intricacies of inbound in more detail before, but here’s a recap.
Identify your buyers.
Remember, if you don’t have a big enough market, inbound won’t work. So, the first step is to confirm that there are enough people searching for your offering who you want to sell to and (more importantly) who will buy from you.
Create effective messaging.
Once you know who you’ll be speaking to, you can figure out how to describe your offering. An effective message:
- Speaks to your buyer’s paint points and desires.
- Communicates the stakes.
- Is easy to understand.
- Is consistent.
At a tactical level, you should develop these messaging documents:
- 3-4 of your offering’s unique value propositions
- 3-6 of your buyer’s biggest pain points
- A paragraph outlining the stakes the buyer faces in making the purchase
- Empathy and authority statements positioning your firm as the best solution
- A one-sentence tagline
Spend time on these things, but don’t rely on your opinion to determine what message is best. Adjust your messaging as you see it resonate or fail to resonate in the market.
Get your messaging in front of your buyers.
This is the step that most people think of when they think of inbound lead generation – and it’s the step that many MSPs want to skip right to when they start inbound marketing.
We often get MSPs coming to us asking for lead generation – and when they say that, they’re imagining message promotion. But without an accurate buyer persona and an effective message, message promotion is worthless and lead generation won’t work.
To get leads, your message has to reach enough people.
In digital marketing, this is called traffic generation. We’ve found that, most often, you need to be reaching 1,000 people with your message each month in order to consistently generate leads.
The most straightforward way to measure whether or not you’re doing this: look at users on your website. Were there 1,000 users on your website last month? If not, you likely need to drive more traffic.
This varies depending on your conversion rate, of course, which we’ll talk about shortly. But it’s a good general benchmark to keep in mind. At a 2% conversion rate (which is roughly average), with 1,000 users, you’ll convert 20 contacts each month. Most businesses that have a lead problem simply aren’t getting their message in front of enough people.
You can drive traffic with:
- Social media
- Paid ads (usually social or search ads)
But you have to drive traffic. Without traffic, inbound marketing will not work.
3. Outbound Marketing
Okay, we’ve reached the third and final strategy for MSP lead generation: outbound marketing.
Outbound marketing is most impactful if there is a clearly established community you can serve, but you need to increase awareness of your brand in the market.
It differs from account-based marketing in that you’re not targeting specific accounts; the market is big enough that that client-specific research likely isn’t worth your time (and might come off a little weird). But, like ABM, outbound involves you making the first connection. Think trade show booths, association ad placements, and cold-calling campaigns to big lists.
These things are often time-intensive, but they can be highly impactful in driving leads.
How to do SEO for MSPs
We’ve touched on SEO a few times up to this point – now, let’s dive in deeper, because a good SEO strategy is a pillar of most inbound lead generation.
And MSP SEO must deal with a major problem.
Most MSPs are offering high-priced services to a small geographic region, which means they simply don’t have much search volume to capture.
Take your standard MSP located somewhere near, say, Indianapolis (it could be any city). Most often, they’re only offering managed services to businesses that are within or around that metro area.
Let’s say they target their SEO efforts toward the keyword “IT company,” which is a nice (if general) keyword with fairly high buying intent. If someone in Indianapolis is searching for “IT company,” they’re probably thinking about buying services from a local provider.
That keyword gets 8,100 searches each month across the US. That’s great! But in the Indianapolis metro area, it only gets 50 searches. That’s not so great.
Even if our MSP ranks in first place for that term – which will probably take a substantial investment over a long period of time – they’ll only get around 30% of searchers to click through to their site, bringing in around 15 people each month. If 3% of those people fill out the form to request services (which is a generous conversion rate), the company can expect…
0.45 leads per month.
Yes, that’s less than one person each month from a pretty relevant and popular search term, assuming some pretty great results (a first place ranking and a 3% conversion rate).
If you’re looking for consistent lead generation, 0.45 people probably won’t cut it.
Serve on a broader geographic scale.
We’ve had the most success doing SEO for MSPs that are serving a broader geographic region. If you’re targeting a niche, for example – like manufacturing firms or nonprofits – you may be able to rank for terms in that niche at a national level, which will give you access to a bigger pool of searchers.
“Nonprofit IT support,” for example, gets 170 searches per month in the US. If you keep the same assumptions we made before, a first place ranking for that term should generate about 1.5 leads per month.
Still not great, but it’s definitely better.
If you’re a generalist but you have offices in multiple service areas, you’ll have an advantage, as well, assuming you can rank for your terms in each of the areas that you serve.
Rank for multiple core keywords to capture multiple streams of traffic.
This is the key to successful SEO: rank for a lot of good keywords.
As we’ve laid out here, one keyword ranking won’t do much for your lead generation efforts. But let’s say you rank for “IT company” and “IT support” and “managed IT service” and “IT service” and “IT consultant”. Now we’re talking!
Rack up enough first page rankings for relevant and popular terms, and you will start to see consistent leads come in.
Use SEO as part of lead generation strategy – not as your only lead generation strategy.
If you’re doing SEO effectively, it will still take three-plus months for you to rise to the top of the search results for your targeted keywords – and it takes a lot of work (blog posts, pillar pages, backlinks) to get there.
Sometimes, you’ll rank for your keyword and find that, after all of your effort, it wasn’t worth ranking for. Maybe the keyword has a low conversion rate, or maybe it brings in mostly would-be clients that aren’t actually great fits.
For this reason, we’ve found that paid search ads are a great companion to SEO campaigns. You can essentially pay to skip to the top of search results and test if a keyword is worth ranking for. If you can’t drive any leads when you’re paying to rank for “remote desktop consultant,” you probably shouldn’t invest the time, effort, and money to rank organically for it. We’ve also found that it’s sometimes better to flip the funnel on its head; in smaller markets, ABM campaigns can be more consistent in providing a flow of leads than traditional inbound tactics.
SEO absolutely can work, but it takes time, and it shouldn’t be the only tool in your toolbox. For more on using it well, check out our article on MSP SEO.
How long does it take to see MSP marketing results?
This one really depends.
First of all, you’ve got to define what “results” are. Are results qualified leads? Are they simply contacts? Are they just materials – a landing page or an email?
Second of all, what approach are you taking? You might be able to get some quick results with LinkedIn prospecting. Inbound usually takes longer but can be more consistent over time.
Here’s our rule of thumb:
- Consistent inbound lead flow usually takes at least 6 months. This can vary if you have a lot of the setup already in place, but the bottom line is that anyone who promises you consistent lead flow in a few weeks from inbound marketing is probably not to be trusted.
- ABM results can be quicker, but they still require upfront work, and you’ll need to refresh your pool if you want to keep your lead flow consistent.
- All good marketing gets better over time.
MSP marketing is a game of adjustments that, over time, should build momentum. It might take you three months to start ranking in Google for “IT service in [your location]. But once you do, you’ll have an easier time ranking for “IT company in [your location]” – and so on.
How much does MSP marketing cost?
Now we’re getting to the nuts and bolts. If you’re seriously considering marketing your MSP, you’ll seriously want to know: How much is this going to cost?
As you might be tired of hearing by now – it depends.
Cost will vary based on things like:
- What tactics are being used
- What results are being delivered
- Who you’re working with
The truth is, you can find somebody on Fiverr to market your MSP for virtually nothing. But you’ll get virtually nothing in return.
At New North, our MSP marketing retainers typically start at $5K per month and can range past $25K.
The key is that marketing should be ROI positive – meaning that you should reap more than you sow in terms of leads generated and deals closed.
Many of our MSP marketing engagements begin with a strategy consultation that ranges in cost from $3K to $5K, depending on the scope. The outcome is a full-fledged marketing plan tailored to your business that you can, essentially, take and run with.
What does an MSP retainer look like?
If you’re considering marketing your MSP, it’s worth a quick recap of what an MSP marketing retainer looks like.
You’ll probably find this model of engagement familiar; it works very similarly to the managed IT service model.
Under a marketing retainer, your business pays a fixed monthly rate and receives a package of marketing services and strategies. You’ll get a dedicated account person (you could call them a vCMO) and access to a team of marketing experts.
You already know the benefits to a retainer – you get proactive strategy, not just reactive order-taking. You get predictable costs to help you systemize your marketing. Ultimately, you get better marketing results.
Our retainers generally work like this:
- We collaborate with you to set quarterly performance goals that will have the highest level of impact on your growth.
- We have meetings each month to outline the tactics we’ll be working on and the deliverables we’ll provide.
- Our team does great marketing work, collaborating with you as needed to drive leads.
- Each month, we review the results we’ve achieved and use data to optimize our approach.
- Your MSP firm grows with marketing.
Again, over time, good marketing gets better. You’ll get wins as you get going, and you’ll see results continue to build over time.
What are the best MSP marketing agencies?
If you’ve gotten this far, there’s a good chance you’re considering working with a marketing agency to grow your MSP.
We’ve been in this industry for over a decade. Here are some of the best options we’ve run into.
Surprise – we’re at the top of this list because a) we made the list and b) we have over a decade’s worth of experience helping dozens of managed IT service providers market effectively. Our clients have dominated new markets, grown, and gotten acquired.
We understand the technical challenges of MSP marketing, and we can help you to solve them.
We’re a full-service agency, which means we can do it all – from web development to SEO to content production – but our sweet spots are branding and lead generation. Translation: We make your business look good and we help you drive more sales opportunities. That’s how we’ve generated thousands of leads for MSPs over the past 10 years.
We’re not the best fit for everyone. We’re best for MSPs that have grown to the point where referral growth is approaching a ceiling and an experienced marketing partner is the logical next step. If you’re just starting your MSP, you may want to look at lower-level options before you commit to an agency relationship, such as the MSP Marketing Edge (number five on this list).
We work via one-off projects or ongoing monthly relationships (you can learn more about our engagement models here).
The bottom line: If you’re an established MSP looking to take your business to the next level, we can help.
Lemonade Stand has a cool pitch: These guys actually were an MSP before they sold it off and pivoted into becoming a marketing agency. Today, the MSP industry isn’t their only niche, but it’s still one of their focuses (they also serve the real estate and legal industries, among others).
They’re a full-service firm, too, so they offer services like ad management, web development, SEO, and social management.
Here’s how they describe their approach on their website:
“We work every day to help small to medium size businesses around the globe get their products and services into the hands of their customers through powerful digital & online marketing solutions.”
The bottom line: If you’re a small MSP looking for a partner who’s been in your shoes, this firm’s worth looking at.
Ulistic, on the other hand, is specifically dedicated to the MSP market – in fact, their tagline is “Fueling Your MSP Business Growth.” As you might expect, these guys are straightforward and to-the-point. Here’s how they describe their approach:
“Ulistic has one focus and one focus only. Get Leads For Your MSP. Simple enough, isn’t it? When you partner with Ulistic as your trusted MSP marketing partner, you immediately get access to a solid team of professionals, all committed to one thing only…Getting leads for your MSP.”
That kind of locked-in focus may not make you fun at parties, but it’s nice to have when you’re building a business. Tactically, Ulistic is a bit more streamlined than other companies on this list – they do website development, SEO, and social media (mostly LinkedIn). We can confirm that those platforms do help generate MSP leads.
The bottom line: If you’re looking for laser-focused MSP lead generation, Ulistic is worth considering.
Ready to get MSP marketing that will help you reach the next level of growth?
Hopefully, the above information has been helpful as you consider marketing for your MSP.
Whether you’re looking to dominate your market, get acquired, or simply generate a steady flow of new business, we can help.