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Specializing Your Managed IT Services: Are You a Restaurant or a Food Court?

Posted October 7, 2014by Nate Teplow

food-court-blog
What's on your MSP menu? Are you trying to be a Sbarro, McDonalds, and Taco Bell all rolled into one nice Panda Express egg roll? In talks with partners, I've learned that many are struggling to define their target market and thus are unable to effectively market and sell their managed IT services. You may think you have to offer a food court of options to stay competitive, but this is where most MSPs get it wrong. 


Picking a Target Market

For any business, it’s critically important to pick a well-defined target market. Without a clearly defined target, it’s difficult to create effective marketing programs, build a knowledgeable sales team and ultimately, create a plan for growth. 

Many MSPs seem to be scared of picking a distinct target market because they don’t want to miss out on other potential opportunities outside of that target. However, if you don’t have somewhere to aim, you’re ultimately just shooting in the dark.


Why MSPs Should Be More Like Restaurants

Think of yourself as a chef for a moment. You want to open up your own restaurant, and one of the first steps is coming up with a menu. What do you offer?

When it comes to deciding on a menu, you could choose to offer a wide variety of cuisines (Italian, Japanese, Mexican, American etc.) all under one roof, or you could specialize in one of those cuisines and build a menu around that style of cooking. Let’s compare the two options:

Option A – The Wide Variety, Food Court Model

While yes, it’s great to offer your guests a wide variety of options, this leads to a lot of complications as a business:

  • Expertise – if you want to offer many different kinds of cuisines, you need to find chefs with those areas of expertise. First off, they’re hard to find and second, you’ll need to pay them all a lot of money.
  • Quality – Additionally, if you don’t have or can’t afford the expertise, the quality of your food is going to suffer.
  • Inventory – Different styles of cooking require different ingredients. It’ll be much harder to keep your inventory up-to-date, make sure food doesn’t go bad and often requires much more up-front and risky investment from you.
  • Mission Statement – How would you accurately and concisely describe your restaurant? We make food for all taste buds? That really doesn’t narrow it down too much. You want your mission and expertise to resonate with your audience. 

Option B – The Specialized, Restaurant Approach

When you think about most restaurants out there, they tend to specialize in a certain type of cuisine. They do this because it’s much easier to maintain a business that way.

When you specialize in a certain cuisine, you become an expert and you produce a much higher quality product. This also makes it much easier to plan your menu, hire your culinary talent and maintain a balanced inventory where ingredients don’t spoil, but you don’t run out.

Additionally, it helps you acquire new customers. For example, say you specialize in authentic Italian cuisine from the Sicily region. If new customers are looking for Italian food that night, they're going to Google "Italian food [city]." By targeting your offering, these prospects are more likely to come across your website, browse your menu, and place an order or book a reservation because they see you offer what they want. The more you target your marketing, the easier it is to get found. Assuming they have a good experience, they’ll keep coming back for more!

Now, imagine this same situation if you had the wide variety approach to your restaurant. If they’re searching for an Italian restaurant for dinner, and they somehow stumble upon your non-targeted site that claims “we make food for all taste buds”, do you think there’s any chance they even look at your menu, let alone consider visiting your restaurant?

Most likely not!


Applying it to Managed IT Services: Do You Deliver?

When it comes to MSP marketing, most MSPs take the wide variety approach. I’ve visited a number of MSPs' websites and typically, the first thing I see is some general tagline like “We make IT work!”

Ok, it’s kind of clever, it has the word IT in it, but it doesn’t say anything about your expertise and who you service. It’s much more effective to say something like, “We help Healthcare companies keep their data safe”. In that one sentence, you’ve identified who you specialize in working with and what your area of expertise is.

As a potential client who runs my own healthcare practice, is worried about staying HIPAA compliant, and discovers these two websites, whose do you think I’d engage with and research further?

Probably the one that mentions “Healthcare” and data security!

In marketing, it’s all about making your message resonate with your audience. The more targeted you can be in your approach, the easier it is to have your message resonate. Think about what we write here at Continuum. Here are two blog posts we could publish:

  1. 4 Ways to Grow your Business
  2. 4 Ways MSPs Can Onboard More Clients
Which blog post would you rather read? Probably the latter, because you’re our target market and that content speaks specifically to you.


“But What About All the People Who Want Mexican for Dinner?”

I understand, it’s hard to pick a target market because you feel like you’re giving up on so many other business opportunities. Going back to our restaurant analogy, a chef is a good cook across the board. Just because you specialize in Italian, doesn’t mean you can’t make a great taco.

However, if someone walks into your Italian restaurant and asks for a taco, would you actually make it for them? Is that what’s best for your business, taking on a project that’s completely out of the scope of what you do?

Figure out what you’re best at and GO FOR IT! Don’t be afraid to make that leap of faith and choose a target market. Start building your expertise and your brand. Once you establish that, then you can go out and start some other ventures. That’s exactly what the great restaurateurs do.

Think about Bobby Flay or Guy Fieri. Bobby Flay has a number of restaurants across the country, that all specialize in different cuisines. However, he’s spent considerable time establishing himself as a great cook before he opened up multiple restaurants.

You can be the Bobby Flay of managed IT services! (I bet you never would have heard that sentence in your life…huh?) 


Conclusion

I understand that A) this is easier said than done and B) you're probably pretty hungry now. To the first point, take a look at your own clients and think about which are the happiest and/or easiest. Which types of services are best cut out for your business? Then, clearly define your target market and your area of expertise. No Italian restaurant is going to serve tacos just to make some extra money. In fact, that probably loses them money in the long run.

Ultimately, by choosing a clear target market, you’ll be able to build better marketing programs, create better customer experiences and earn much more loyal clients. After you establish yourself, then you can focus on expanding your expertise, adding new services and growing your business.

The Definitive Guide to Managed IT Services [eBook]

Nate Teplow is a Sr. Product Marketing Manager at Continuum, currently managing the company's RMM marketing initiatives. Nate's experience spans inbound marketing, content strategy, marketing communications and B2B lead generation. A proud Miami Hurricane alumni, Nate enjoys staying active, traveling to new places and performing A/B tests.

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