The new year is here and for IT companies that provide managed IT services, that means an opportunity to stop and access what went well with your marketing this past year and what you could improve on in the coming 12 months. One thing that virtually all MSP can do better is to engage their community, both online and offline.
Including engaging your community in your marketing efforts is, admittedly, a long game strategy, one that often doesn’t translate into increased sales immediately. However, making an effort to connect with the group of people who are most likely to need your services can increase your brand recognition, set your company up as an expert in your particular niche and eventually boost your bottom line.
What is your community?
Loosely defined, your community is the people who you target as potential clients…and the people who associate with them. If you target law firms as your preferred market, then your community consists of lawyers, paralegals and others who work in law firms. However, you don’t want to forget people who know lawyers and have influence over them.
I like telling the story about Mary, a woman I met and interacted with over and over again at my local networking events. Mary was a Juice Plus network marketer. She sold vitamins. There was no way that Mary was going to be a client of mine, ever. Her business model didn’t include IT services. However, I got to know her, was pleasant and we became friends. After a couple of years, I get an unexpected call from a gentleman who says he’s Mary’s husband and also the CEO of a 300-person oil and gas firm. He was calling because Mary had talked about me and he knew that I ran an IT firm. He wanted me to come in and talk to him about our services. Long story short, we started working with him and he recommended our services to other CEO friends. Eventually, we could trace $1.5 million in revenue back to Mary, the Juice Plus lady, a person who would never become my client.
In short, your community is the people who care about the product or service you offer as well as the people who care about them. Going back to the legal example, places to interact with your community would include online forums for legal questions that might be frequented by lawyers, legal networking events and events, social media pages or websites that are attractive to your target lawyers’ potential clients, such as those looking for a real estate lawyer or a lawyer who practices probate law.
Why engaging with your community is so important
Engaging your community is an integral part of establishing your MSP company’s brand and reputation in your field. The people you interact with may not need your services immediately, but they may know someone who is dissatisfied with his or her IT services, like Mary’s husband, or they may get a promotion or start a new job where they are in charge of the company’s IT services. You want to be the company people instantly think of when it comes to IT services in your local community or your niche field.
Tips for engaging your community
Now that we’ve established that interacting with your community should be an essential part of your MSP company’s marketing plan, how do you go about engaging with your community and doing it well? Consider the following tips:
1. Define your preferred community.
You will likely benefit from narrowing your reach. This may sound counter-intuitive, but sometimes being the authoritative voice in a small community is more effective than trying to be all things to all people in a large market. You’ll want to begin by defining your ideal customers and then seeking out places where they are likely to congregate. Narrowing your reach might also mean forgoing using Facebook for your marketing in favor of one of the more than 400 niche social media sites, such as Bookreads for book enthusiasts and publishers, BlogHer for companies that market to women and Lawlink, an online community for lawyers and legal professionals.
In addition to the online world, it’s a good idea to be visible in your local (offline) community. You want people to know who you are in your city or neighborhood. Join your chamber of commerce. Attend marketing fairs. Support a local softball team. Be a part of networking functions. You may feel that since you sell a digital service that your marketing should be done exclusively online. Nothing could be further from the truth. Your potential customers do more than just read online forums. They have kids, community obligations and other interests in the “real” world.
2. Lurch more than you post.
Consumers hate a “hard sales pitch,” and that gets truer and truer every year as consumers are bombarded with texts, emails and social media messages, all wanting them to try the latest product. A better plan of action is to lurch and read other people’s posts on social media pages and blogs, only interjecting when you have something to add to the conversation. For instance, if the people on the forum you’re reading start talking about cybersecurity, you might add your opinion about how best they can protect their data based on what you’ve learned over the years. It’s fine to explain your experience in the field; you don’t want to say something like “call us for the best cybersecurity plan available” without offering anything substantial to the online discussion. Lurching and only adding something to the discussion when it’s relevant will help build your reputation as an expert in the field.
3. Avoid the hard sale.
As we mentioned above, the “buy now” hard sell tactic will only turn people away from your brand. Yes, you’re in business to make sales. However, today’s consumer and B2B marketplaces are all about forming relationships, not just reacting to the latest advertisement or call to action. People buy from people they trust, or who have been recommended by a trusted friend, family member or colleague. Being a part of your target market’s community allows people in this market segment to get to know you outside of a sales environment.
4. Don’t expect instant gratification.
We can’t mention often enough that including the community in your marketing efforts is a long game, not something you can take to the bank tomorrow. You need to commit to making community a part of your marketing strategy for at least a year to yield positive results, and a more extended trial period is even better. It takes time for the right people to find and read your posts and for your brand recognition and reputation to grow.
5. Hire a community manager.
All of this lurching, posting and attending networking events takes a lot of time, time that you need to be spending with your existing clients. That doesn’t mean you have to choose between existing clients and potential ones. It just says you need to find a person to handle this your community function for you. Elevating your brand awareness within your community and putting yourself out there as an expert in the IT community may not pay the community manager’s salary right away, but it will likely return that salary many times over the course of a few years.
6. Take a look at influencers.
In most communities, there are bloggers, social media stars and outright celebrities that others in the group look up to. These are called “influencers” in the marketing world. A recommendation from them or a guest post on their blog can do for your company in a few days what it might take months to do organically on your blog. In most cases, it’s worth the time and effort it takes to seek out and court these people.
How to be a part of your target market’s community
In addition to the ways we’ve mentioned already, good ways to be a part of your target market’s community include using podcasts to answer questions frequently asked by your potential customers, creating Facebook groups to share relevant information to readers who have already expressed an interest in your topic or product, engaging in the Reddit community (this one takes a little time, but will pay off in the long run), attending trade shows and networking events, and writing a blog targeted to your IT niche and the people in your target market.
Adding community involvement to your MSP marketing strategy doesn’t have to be difficult. For more MSP marketing ideas, visit Ulistic.com or contact us today at (716) 263-6961.
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Stuart Crawford serves as Creative Director and CEO with Sebring, FL Ulistic, a specialty MSP Marketing firm focused on information technology marketing and business development. He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience pertaining to how technology business owners and IT firms can use marketing as a vehicle to obtain success.
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