Most MSPs practice what I call “vulture marketing.” That’s where they wait for a “dead easy” piece of business to fall down right in front of them, usually in the form of a referral desperate for help who doesn’t know who else to call, so they can pounce on it. Waiting for something to die so you can consume it requires no skill, no ambition, no strategy. Just a willingness to eat dead things and go hungry for long periods of time.
Successful MSPs hunt.
Right now, the excuse du jour for MSPs not doing marketing is that they can’t find or keep enough good techs to do the work. Back in 2009, the excuse was the recession; “nobody” was spending money, and MSPs were complaining they didn’t have the funds to do marketing. Then it was cloud computing eating into profits and making it “impossible” to make money with the disappearance of the server in the closet. Then it was the increased competition from Super MSPs. Then Covid. Then it was “We’re backlogged with projects.”
As with all excuses, there is a vein of truth. Finding great talent IS a problem right now. So is inflation, increased competition, customer acquisition costs drastically rising for MSPs and a slowing economy due to rising interest rates. Yet somehow, our top members managed 23% YoY growth, and PE-backed MSPs 76%. What do these guys have that the others don’t? A penchant for action, not excuses.
At an event, I overheard an MSP owner loudly complaining to everyone at his table about how he had to pay his engineers far more than they were “worth” or risk losing them, saying he was being held hostage by his need to keep them and by the labor shortage. I asked him ONE simple question: How many Help Wanted ads are you running right now? Can you guess his answer? None. No recruiting efforts going on, period. No hunt. Vulture recruiting. Here’s what I told him: You don’t get to complain about a situation that you’re choosing by doing nothing.
You can’t change inflation, the labor shortage, competition or other external market forces, but you CAN raise your prices so you can pay your people more. You CAN be more aggressive in your recruiting efforts. You CAN fire your cheap, low-money clients to make room for more profitable ones. If your techs are not fully utilized with 75% of their time on PROFITABLE, billable work, you can work on your labor efficiency ratio. You CAN convert break-fix clients to a more profitable managed services model.
You CAN find a vendor who will provide white-label help-desk or SOC services to alleviate your staff shortage. You CAN go back to your managed clients and upsell them on additional services they don’t have (but probably need), making each client worth more vs. just getting more clients. THIS IS ALL MARKETING.
The difference between growing, profitable MSPs and ones who aren’t making money is that the latter allow external circumstances to control their outcomes, the former MAKE the circumstances they need. I’m not saying any of this is easy, but it’s far from IMPOSSIBLE.
Let me also add that marketing shouldn’t be something you do once in a while when you’re in dire need. Developing a responsive list, building a sales pipeline and a brand reputation takes years of consistent implementation of marketing communications and advertising. If you wait until you are in dire need of food to plant a garden, you’re likely to die of starvation.
I have two long-term clients in Nevada who have been clients for over a decade, both coming to me back then as one-man-bands selling cheap break-fix services. One is still a one-man operator, barely keeping the lights on, loaded up with personal debt and living in a constant state of bitterness and anger. The other is now a $38 million MSP aggressively growing. One is rife with excuses as to why they can’t do marketing, can’t grow, can’t invest; the other just figures it out.
Of course, no matter what I say and no matter how many examples and case studies I give them, the “vulture marketing” crowd will stand ready with their excuse gun loaded, aggressively and passionately prepared to shoot down any idea or suggestion that COULD get them out of the no-growth, low-money situation they’re in. They fervently believe they “can’t” do _____ because of _______. Pick any excuse to fill in the blank. All you need is one, and it doesn’t have to be all that good. Any excuse will do because the results will be the same.
And if you insist on clinging to your excuses, remember this: There’s NO MONEY in finding reasons why something won’t work. Any unskilled, untalented moron can do that. There’s no benefit to kicking the proverbial “marketing” can down the road either. You feel better temporarily, but the benefit ends there. The real money and all progress is in execution and figuring out HOW, right NOW. Not later. Not when you have more money, more time, more people, more green lights.
I’ve never heard a successful MSP say they didn’t have time for marketing. Not one. Marketing, at least the way we teach it, is not just about getting *more* clients; it’s business strategy and development. It’s about attracting and keeping better-quality, high-value clients. And the same principles we use for attracting new clients can be used for attracting more talent. Successful MSPs know this and are constantly keeping the sales pipeline full so they can quickly replace clients who churn, as well as replacing clients who are proving they aren’t a right fit, or who don’t represent a lot of money.
As Confucius so famously said, dig the well BEFORE you thirst.
This money train that is fueling MSP growth right now won’t last forever. How long is anyone’s guess, but like ALL exceptional opportunities where you have the wind at your back and money running uphill, it will come to an end.
Further, the labor shortage, or whatever ails you today, is also not going away anytime soon, if ever. If you don’t (won’t) figure out how to thrive now, you never will. Perhaps that’s an acceptable outcome to you. Perhaps you can live how you are right now for another 10, 20 or more years, toiling away, making little to no progress. Perhaps you’ve made that decision consciously and are at peace with it. If so, have at it.
But if you want to avoid having this conversation 10 or 20 years from now, with you NOT at peace with your progress and your income (and how hard you have to work to get it), then you better start “digging the well before you thirst,” because you’re going to be stranded in the desert.
As Arnold Schwarzenegger said, “You can have results or excuses. Not both.”
For a fast way to get results (from other MSPs who are crushing their growth and profitability), join us for the Next Generation MSP Tour, coming to a city near you. This is now a FREE one-day in-person event. Register now here.