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5 Ways to Improve Your MSP Service Level Agreement (SLA)

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5 Ways to Improve Your MSP Service Level Agreements (SLAs)

SLAs are the foundation of your MSP business. They are essential to building strong client relationships and must be clear, reasonable and well-constructed.

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4 Can't-Ignore Steps to Mastering Your MSP Vertical

Posted April 27, 2016by Mike Barnes


In Which of These 3 MSP Pricing Strategies is Right for You?, I explained the types of pricing packages available to MSPs, how to choose a pricing package that works best for you and how to fit it into your existing model. Now let’s look at an area that can be the source of a new revenue stream: positioning your MSP as a vertical market specialist.

Have you been working with healthcare practices? Or maybe most of your clients are schools or real estate agencies. Now is the perfect time to review your client portfolio and market landscape. Let’s look at how to start strategically positioning your MSP in a specific vertical market.


1. Find Your Vertical

Which verticals are the best business bets? It’s not always about going after the “hottest" sector or the one that seems to be turning the highest profit. It’s what, and who, you know. The healthcare vertical might be the best fit for an MSP that is already working with dental offices or hospitals, but if most of your clients are in food services, then position yourself as a hospitality (or restaurant market) vertical specialist. If you work with small real-estate offices or accounting firms, you might want to brand yourself as a professional services firm specialist. Pick one market where you excel – and where you have the majority of your clients – and then stake your claim and brand yourself as the specialist or trusted advisor in that area.


2. Target Your Vertical

Once you know the area you want to focus on, begin branding and marketing to these managed IT services verticals. A good starting point is to speak with some of your peers, maybe in a vendor-networking or an industry association group, and get their best practices and ideas. Ask what has and hasn't worked for them! Continuum conducted a session on this topic during its annual Navigate user conference this past September. Titled “Best Practices for Vertical Market Success" and moderated by Dan McCoy of Micro Enterprises, the panel discussion featured our partners that have experienced solid ROIs by positioning themselves as vertical market specialists within their respective regions. Some have even garnered this achievement on a national level.

McCoy began by discussing how he has become a leading MSP for the chiropractic industry in his area. He did this by narrowing his approach, which allowed him to gain additional market share through this hyper-targeting. McCoy said that if his business took a more general approach to the healthcare vertical, then he would be in a situation where he would have to do it all — something that’s difficult to achieve unless you are a massive firm, and even then it can be daunting.

Another panelist at Navigate — our partner event scheduled for September 28-30 this year — Kim Kiernan of SurfCT, shared how her firm has successfully penetrated the dental market. SurfCT works with dentists mainly in Connecticut, but also has clients outside of this area. Kiernan said they are highly specialized in this vertical, to the point of having an actual dentist serving as a consultant to advise the MSP on solutions that might (or might not) make sense for clients. Furthermore, she and her colleagues attend dental industry trade shows and events to network, gain brand visibility and educate themselves on the practices they serve on all levels — not just from a technology perspective. They learn how the business works and build around that.

While speaking their dental clients’ “language" or terminology and avoiding nondescript IT jargon helps SurfCT reinforce trust in the solutions it offers its current clients, their business's high level of industry knowledge also attracts potential clients who need IT providers that understand their business needs and challenges.

Case in point, a recent win for SurfCT was getting its technicians certified in installing digital X-Ray equipment for their dental clients. While the training is expensive, Kiernan said that the ROI more than paid for itself! They have since gained several new customers as a result of having this specialized training. The MSP can basically do anything that a dental office requires, including custom projects like lighting and audio/video setups for meetings and events.


3. Be Your Clients' Regulations & Compliance Expert

Focus on a vertical where there are upcoming regulations and compliance measures, such as HIPAA. Establish yourself as the go-to person in your area, the trusted resource when it comes to these standards. In some regulated vertical markets, governing agencies initiate mandatory yearly reports. With healthcare, however, this is not the case. It’s the responsibility of the doctor or dentist to proactively file reports; failing to do so may yield huge fines. If applicable, position yourself as a strategic advisor by assuring the client that you can perform HIPAA audits, which will not only cover them for compliance but possibly uncover security issues and help these healthcare clients avoid data breaches.


4. Brand & Market Yourself to Your Vertical

If you want to be that trusted vertical specialist, then your branding has to reflect that. Continuum partner Don Viar of Epic Technologies has a photo of himself in a lab coat on his website, showing his dedication to the healthcare industry. In a Navigate panel, Viar suggested that MSPs should have their marketing resonate to the vertical in which they want to specialize. He added that it’s wise to look at what you currently have in terms of clients, and where you can build those synergies, as well as your demographic area. Create your own space where no one can compete with you; if there already is cemented competition, figure out how to separate yourself from the field. This competitive differentiator should be clear across all marketing channels, especially on your website home page. 

Want to know what Viar has to say about our partnership and its impact on Epic Technologies' service level agreements (SLAs) and ticket resolution? Read his success story here!


Bottom line: If you want to be a vertical market specialist leader, go above and beyond your competition so that you can set yourself apart. Do your research to determine which vertical is best to focus on and brand your MSP accordingly. Educate yourself and your employees through research, speak to industry thought leaders and attend trade shows in the areas you want to specialize in — and gain as much knowledge as you can, aside from the technology portion of the business.

The preceding was adapted from Mike's Channel Partners guest blog post.

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Mike Barnes is Director of Partner Engagement at Continuum. Mike brings years of experience in the software industry, having specifically focused on the SMB and Channel space. A life long New Englander, outside of the office Mike enjoys various winter and summer outdoor sports and playing with his adorable shorkie, Murphy.

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