Selling services in tough times

by Matt McCarthy, Director, North American Partner Management, Barracuda MSP

Matt McCarthy, director of North American partner management for Barracuda MSP

We are in the midst of one of the most uncertain economies in many of our lifetimes, and that uncertainty isn’t going away any time soon. The global shutdown in response to COVID-19 has brought many sectors of the economy to a screeching halt. 

How managed services providers are being impacted varies, but the overarching question is this: How can MSPs continue to sell services during what could be a deep recession? The silver lining here is that many MSPs (particularly those with a diverse client base) could come out of this experience even stronger than before. The last time there was a significant recession (2008-2009), managed IT serves grew as many companies reduced their in-house IT investments. That growth snowballed in the ensuing years as more companies embraced outsourcing and implemented cloud-based IT solutions.

While growth isn’t guaranteed, MSPs can adjust their selling approach to take advantage of new opportunities and lay the groundwork for new client relationships during the economic recovery. There are a few strategies that can help:

Focus on business benefits. Many of the technologies you sell may be seen as commodities. Make sure you are explaining the real business benefits of your services so that existing and potential clients see the true value in investing with your company. Always focus on results in every interaction.

Tailor your marketing and outreach activities for the pandemic. This isn’t a time for a hard sell, or an exploitive coronavirus advertising campaign. Keep tabs on the geographies where your prospects are located, and watch for ways they might be affected by the crisis. Be empathetic in your outreach, and tailor the messaging to the challenges they might be experiencing – but only if your solutions are a real “fit” for those challenges.

Avoid fear-based marketing. There’s enough anxiety out there. Focus on how your company can help clients navigate these challenges. Provide as much helpful information as possible and try to connect them with solutions that can address the problems they’re facing as quickly as possible.

Invest in channel relationships. There is strength in partnerships. Revisit your channel partner and vendor relationships to see how you can mutually support each other and expand your reach with new clients. You can also work together to reach prospects, coordinating those outreach efforts.

Offer support to your customer community. Many of your clients and prospects have been thrown into remote work scenarios that they weren’t ready to support. Provide some online advice or resources to help them navigate this new reality, leveraging your own firm’s expertise in cloud computing, security, remote management and other solutions. If vendors in your space are offering free support, products or licenses to help companies manage a remote workforce, draw attention to those offerings. Promote your online resources in the press (both local media and business media) and on social media to draw more attention to your company as a trusted resource.

Be flexible with your clients. Many of your existing customers and prospects are working with less-than-optimal hardware. Some of them have VPNs; some don’t. Some have robust remote workplace policies; others do not. Everyone may need to temporarily put some best practices aside as they navigate this abrupt transition, and then revisit some of the requirements later on when staff, on-site support and upgraded hardware are more readily available. That flexibility can help you finalize new business with clients who may be working within IT restrictions that are beyond their control.

Don’t let your prospect pipeline dry up. While budgets may be tightening, that’s no reason to stop picking up the phone. They may not be in a position to spend money, but you can continue checking up on them both personally and professionally. Pass along some of the resources and information mentioned above, and make sure they know you’re still thinking of ways to help their business.

The last recession completely redesigned the MSP market. Many companies are already looking for outside support to help them maintain business continuity and security during the current crisis and downturn. MSPs can play a vital role in assisting clients during the shutdown and then helping them thrive during the recovery – if they adjust their selling strategies to fit this unique moment in history.

Matt McCarthy is Director of North American Partner Management for Barracuda MSP, a provider of security and data protection solutions for managed services providers, and he plays a key role in the development and growth of partner relationships.