Small-to-medium businesses (SMB), in theory at least, should be consuming most of the IT they use on a daily basis as a service. After all, most SMBs have access to a limited amount of resources. And yet, a new survey of 600 SMBs conducted by CompTIA finds that 61 percent of them don’t rely on a managed service provider (MSP).
What's perhaps even more frustrating is that 38 percent of the respondents who said they don’t rely on MSPs said they had at least considered managed IT services but for reasons surrounding cost, trust, or execution had decided not to employ an MSP. That would leave another quarter (23 percent) of that 61 percent that apparently did not consider MSPs at all.
Taken together, those survey results would suggest that MSPs have an image problem on two levels. The first issue is that far too many potential customers don’t even appear to be aware MSPs exist as an option. The other is that for one reason or another far too many also have a negative impression of MSPs.
To be fair, these problems aren't always the MSP's fault. In fact, the CompTIA survey notes that 40 percent of the respondents admit they spend too little on IT, and more than half of the respondents (53 percent) are spending less than $50,000 a year on IT. The portion of those customers that would consider an MSP more than likely decided that from a cash perspective it would be simpler to hire one or two people to look after their IT environment on a full or even part-time basis.
Ignoring marketing compounds the problem
But even after accounting for the fact that many customers simply can’t afford to pay for managed services, the survey results suggest there is a sizable portion of the market where MSPs do have an image problem. Given the lack of time, money, and effort that most MSPs put into marketing, that perception, or lack thereof, shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.
Ask any IT professional or business owner to name an MSP, and most of them would be hard-pressed. Without any real effort to attach a value to a brand, most MSPs are invisible. Like any other service that an organization consumes, driving down the cost of what is perceived as an undifferentiated service becomes a primary objective. Before too long the MSP discovers it can’t sustain itself because profit margins are simply too low.
Of course, IT vendors that sell hardware and software to MSPs always promise to help fill that marketing void. But most of the marketing collateral they create is about buying a product rather than consuming a service, so most of that marketing collateral winds up being less than useless. In the absence of any meaningful marketing help, the negative perception of MSPs all too often becomes an ugly market reality.
Time to invest in marketing
There’s no doubt that the marketing prowess of individual MSPs needs to be improved. The challenge is finding a way to go about it that achieves the objective. IT vendors need to invest in the MSP channel to educate customers on how to go about taking advantage of advances in IT without necessarily having direct access to the IT staffs needed to master them.
Rather than diverting funds to hire one more engineer or sales representative, MSPs need to invest those dollars in marketing plans that upgrade their image. Most MSPs are extremely competent when it comes to delivering IT services. But if nobody knows or appreciates those capabilities then all the investments made in engineering and sales talent ultimately isn’t going to make a meaningful difference.