How-to-Differentiate-Your-Managed-Services-with-SyncopationMost managed services providers face a brutally difficult challenge: standing out in a sea of sameness.

Now you may think that your company is differentiated. However, your MSP business is only truly differentiated if your prospects and clients – mapped out by buyer personas – share the same opinion. In other words, managed services differentiation is very much in the eye of the beholder.

So because differentiation is more art than science, if you’re struggling to differentiate, it often pays to use fine arts as your muse.

Don’t Let a Rebrand Overshadow Your Budget

For some that are very visually oriented, this will mean investing in a ”rebrand” of the website and company as a whole. While this can be an effective differentiation tool, lots of small- and mid-sized MSPs are left scratching their heads months later when they have this beautiful website that no one wants to visit.

And the worse part: the rebrand has typically consumed most or nearly all of the year’s annual marketing budget and there’s no ROI to show for it.

See 11 Signs Your IT Consulting Website Was Built by Barbie and Ken Dolls 

“Syncopate” Your Managed Services to Create Awareness in Unexpected Ways

But back to the fine arts inspiration, there’s a very basic concept that many MSPs need to think about: syncopation.

Syncopation is defined by Wikipedia as a musical concept that “involves a variety of rhythms which are in some way unexpected which make part or all of a tune or piece of music off-beat.”

What does this have to do with managed services? Everything!

The overwhelming majority of managed services providers are conducting their “orchestras” (teams of employees and contractors) and attempting to entertain their audiences (prospects) and patrons (clients) with the exact same piece of sheet music as every other MPS in town.

Avoid at All Costs Playing the Sheet Music Exactly as Written

And many MSPs are quite masterful – you could almost say virtuoso-like – at playing the “musical scores” by someone else, like the drafted modern day MSP “composers” such as AVG, Continuum, Labtech Software, and Kaseya.

But here’s the problem: it doesn’t matter how competent your team is at playing a Beethoven symphony or covering a Beyonce top 10 pop hit.

When there are 40 concert halls or arenas in your small city of 400,000 all advertising the exact-same or nearly identical Beethoven symphony or Beyonce tribute concert on a Saturday evening, (continuing the analogy) you’re going compete each other into the ground because no one is any different – at least in the mind of your average target customer or client.

You’re all playing the same “sheet music” (white labeled managed service) and hiring the exact same kinds of “musicians” (technicians and system engineers).

How could you stand out?

Syncopate your music.

Shake Things Up into 3/4 Time, or Even 7/4 Time

For example, perhaps the most popular piece of classical music ever written, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony starts in 2/4 time.

But what if your “orchestra” changed things up and syncopated the first moment to 3/4 (like a waltz), or even more radically to 7/4 time (like Peter Gabriel’s classic Solsbury Hill)? Sure you’d ruffle some feathers among music critics. Your orchestra might even be boycotted by Beethoven purists (and get you “free” publicity on the evening news).

However, WOW would your orchestra and its concert stand out from the sea of sameness!

To the more modern pop culture extreme, if your “orchestra” is planning a Beyonce tribute concert and opening with Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It), you likely recognize the ultra-conventional 4/4 time that’s super easy to dance to and to tap your foot to.

But what if your orchestra did the song unplugged – totally acoustic – to a completely different beat, like a 3/4 or 7/4 time signature rather than 4/4 time? In other words, you syncopated the Beyonce chart-topper. Again, some Beyonce purists may call it heresy.

However now your orchestra and its concert would stand out and differentiate compared to the other 39 Beyonce tribute concerts going on in your small city on Saturday evenings.

How to Syncopate Your Managed Services Without a Juilliard Degree

So what can the small- to mid-sized MSP do to utilize syncopation?

  1. Recognize that there’s no single playbook or magic pill that solves this differentiation battle. Even if there was an effective one-size-fits-most strategy, its effectiveness would be extremely short-lived. As soon as 10 or 20 MSPs in the same region use the same course or playbook to power their marketing, everyone’s screwed.
  2. Study your prospects and clients, not your competitors. MSPs and channel vendors push your emotional buttons by evoking fear of the competition. However, if you’re spending a few hours over a weekend studying your competitors’ websites, you’re totally misdirected. Focus more on the websites of prospective clients and actual clients.
  3. Stop trying to market to “every” small business and focus on the two or three kinds that you excel at. Most managed service providers have websites that are ghost towns. No one’s visiting. And even if an occasional prospect happened by, that prospect would likely back-button out and bounce within seconds. Why? Because you’re trying to speak to all visitors as if they are the same. That might’ve worked 10 years ago, but it’s totally ineffective today because people have so much more choice. CFOs care about completely different issues than sales directors. And sales directors are up at 2 am for completely different reasons than CIOs. Don’t waste your time or theirs coming up with a one-size-fits-none message. Develop meaningful buyer personas and shape your entire marketing plan and sales funnel around them.
  4. Stop calling your company an MSP. When you do so, you’re admitting that you’re a commodity broker that looks like every other MSP. While 5% of your prospects are in fact late-stage and actively searching for an MSP in your local area or region, you’re wasting your time trying to intercept them. It’s too late. They’re too far gone as nearly all of their mind is made up already on another vendor and the only way you’ll get them to change their mind and consider your firm is by severely price-undercutting your competition – a surefire way to run your company into the ground. “Syncopate” your message much earlier on in the sales process so you don’t sound like every other managed service provider advertising a Beethoven or Beyonce concert.
  5. Educate. Educate. Educate. The best marketers are teachers. Your goal is to use content to intercept your ideal customer at the exact moment they’re asking Google a question. Attract strangers. Use remarkable content to transform strangers into website visitors. Use highly relevant premium content offers to convert hot prospects into leads. Combine content with context (who the person is and where they are in the buyer’s journey) to accelerate the sales cycle and close sales faster. Measure ROI to close the loop on the connection between marketing activities and sales results. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.


Is your managed service provider company struggling because it can’t effectively differentiate? What have you done to stand out from the crowd without destroying your brand? Let us know your take in the Comments box below.


And to build a thorough end-to-end marketing and sales plan that helps your company syncopate itself from the sea of sameness, be sure to download your free copy of the IT Channel Inbound Marketing Planning Guide.

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