The IT Marketing Crash Course

Written by Raj Khera
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Chapter 1: Riches in Niches

"Success demands singleness of purpose." — Vince Lombardi

There are Riches in Niches

Good IT marketing can have a big positive impact on your bottom line. Yet many IT companies struggle with marketing. It's something they want to do, but often do not have the time or resources to do effectively — and consistently.

IT marketing is not rocket science. It can be easier than troubleshooting a network error on a client's server. There's no trick. It's all about the process. This online book will show you the process you can put in place to consistently get new clients for your managed IT services business.

Your first step is to look at your company and take some objective notes. Let me tell you a story about how one company, which provides a lot of different IT services, came across at a networking event.

The meeting room at the Hilton was packed. During a break, the guy sitting next to me leaned over to introduce himself. Since this is what networking is all about I was happy to make his acquaintance. You never know where these connections might lead.

I asked the standard question: "So, what does your business do?" His response left me confused, really confused.

"We perform IT services for government agencies, businesses, and nonprofits."

This was a pretty vague answer, so I dug deeper. He replied, "Things like web design, managed services, network management, and software development."

"So, how big is your firm?" I asked.

"We're relatively new. My partner and I work with several other folks to pull in expertise required for our various projects," he answered.

He might as well have said "I'm just starting out, I don't have any business, and I'll do anything to make a buck."

If I were a prospect for him, there is no chance I would ask for a bid from his company. Why? Because I want to hire experts, not generalists. Experts go deep into a topic. That allows them to ask questions that hone in on what I might need. Really good experts, the ones who have built a reputation for themselves, know all about a technical issue. They are able to illustrate options for solutions and explain trade-offs. Hiring a generalist might seem cheaper upfront, but their mile-wide, inch deep knowledge will likely overlook important considerations that can be very costly down the road.

Prospects Prefer Specialists, Not Generalists

Let's say you were looking to build a deck for your house. Would you prefer to hire a company that specialized in building decks, or a general contractor that did all sorts of construction projects? The deck company will have numerous pictures of decks they have completed. They can also offer best practices and answer questions about the pros and cons of the latest composite materials. A generalist doesn't have that level of depth.

When you focus on a specific area of IT consulting, you gain the ability to build a reputation for being the "go-to" source for that specialty. For example, there are so many Microsoft products that you can use for developing solutions. Each has its own purpose. A prospect who needs a SharePoint solution will find a SharePoint expert to be the better bet over someone who also offers web design services. While you may be technically adept at both, a prospect won't see it that way. From their perspective, they want a specialist. There is a level of comfort they get by knowing that their needs are being addressed by someone who really knows their stuff.

By developing a marketing campaign that is tuned into a niche, you can target prospects like a laser beam. Your messaging becomes very clear and your prospects become more comfortable with your capabilities. This means you have to pass on opportunities that aren't within your focus, regardless of your aptitude to offer all sorts of IT consulting services. When you are starting out, that can seem like a hard pill to swallow. Just think back to the deck builder for inspiration. Focusing on one specialty is important.

Focus Deeper, Pick One Audience

Let's say you picked managed IT services as your area of specialty. There are thousands of others who also offer managed services. Your competition could be one-person shops to well-managed, finely-tuned corporations. How can you differentiate yourself among so many choices that confuse your prospects?

You could say you offer better service. But everyone says that. Unless a prospect has hands-on experience working with you, or a trusted adviser has recommended your services, they have to rely on other factors to make their decision. So, now what?

Ed Mana, owner of Technology on Demand, a managed service provider (MSP) in New York, figured out the answer. There are many MSPs offering their services to all kinds of organizations. Their client bases include nonprofits, dentists, doctors, lawyers, and roster of other businesses. Not Ed's. He focuses on only one type of business: audio-visual companies. "There are riches in niches," Ed will tell you proudly.

Ed's extraordinary focus allows him to contact audio-visual companies (and there are a lot of them in New York) and say something nobody else can say — that he only provides managed services to audio-visual companies, so he has a much greater understanding of their needs than any other MSP. His competition is no longer the other thousands of MSPs knocking on their doors. It is only an MSP who also specializes in this niche, and there aren't many of those. It's an excellent MSP marketing strategy.

The Building Blocks of Your Expert Reputation

The conversation with prospects becomes very different when you speak their language. The services you may offer are similar to other companies, but all that is lost in the prospect's mind. They only care about themselves and how you can help them.

When they perceive that your services are designed just for companies like them, you create a bond. You are no longer just one of those other vendors adding clutter to the prospect's buying process. You are viewed as the expert. You start to build trust. And people buy from those they trust.

Picking your area of specialty and honing in on the audience you want to reach are the most critical steps in creating your MSP marketing strategy. You need to know exactly what you offer so prospects don't get confused — remember, they are not necessarily technical experts. That's why they are looking to hire you for technical work. You also need to know exactly who you need to reach so you can craft your marketing campaigns appropriately.

I'll discuss how to construct the framework for your marketing campaigns in the next chapter on your buyer personas.

Checklist: Your Next Steps

At the end of each chapter, I will provide you with questions to get you thinking about the concepts I've covered and how you can apply them to your business. Use these checklists to be sure you are getting the most out of each chapter as you refine your marketing efforts.

  • What audience could you serve that is being overlooked, or is currently underserved? Look in your local Yellow Pages to see how many listings there are for different types of industries for insight into market size and potential.
  • How big is each potential niche that you identified? Roughly how many potential customers can you identify? Is the niche too narrow (i.e., not enough potential customers)?
  • Does the client base in this niche have the budget to be able to afford your services? Don't chase companies that can't afford you — you'll be wasting your time and theirs.
  • Do you have any unique capabilities that can provide this niche with tools or services that others cannot?
  • What can you tweak in your product or service offering that would resonate with buyers in this niche?
  • Do you have any connections to some of the companies within this niche that can serve as references or be profiled as case studies?