A well-defined sales strategy is probably the biggest differentiator between successful, high-growth MSPs and the rest. No matter how good an MSP’s technology or service is, successful sales are what really drive predictable revenue growth and company success.
Most MSPs will eventually plateau until they crack the code on sales. Principal-led sales work up to a point, but eventually, the founder will run out of capacity and need a professional sales team to reach the next level of growth. Organizations looking to reach best-in-class growth rates need a sales strategy and a team to execute it. Rarely does sales success ever happen by luck.
In this blog, we will explore the three key ingredients for a successful MSP sales strategy.
1. A Properly Mapped Sales Process
Too often, MSP founders think the path to sales success involves hiring a sales superstar. They believe someone with amazing talent can overcome any challenge, especially the challenge of working at an MSP that lacks a sales process. Talk to founders and you will hear story after story about failed sales hires. This occurs often because salespeople are hired into organizations that are immature or unprepared for a sales team. In these situations, there may be:
- no documented sales processes
- no CRM tools in place
- poorly defined or documented products and services
- lacking or non-existent sales tools
In these sorts of situations, hiring someone from the outside is bound to fail.
The solution is to map out a sales process. It doesn’t need to be elaborate. It doesn’t need to be set in stone. And it should evolve over time. But founders and owners need to realize that process is the first and most important step in transitioning from principal-led sales to building a winning sales team.
The process should be documented, with a process flow, key documents and milestones, and a CRM system to support it. The benefit to a documented process is it can be used to train new sales employees, is easily evolved and improved over time and offers a base of consistency for all salespeople. On the other hand, if everything about the sales process is merely up in the head of the founder, new sales folks are left to their own devices, leading to lackluster sales.
For most MSPs, the best sales process first involves marketing, lead generation and business development. These efforts lead to first time appointments (FTA). Once a complete explanation of services and demo is complete, the goal of an FTA is to qualify the prospect and secure an order for a paid technology or cybersecurity assessment. The assessment process is the way to fully understand the client’s challenges and give them compelling recommendations and a properly detailed proposal. This part of the selling process is about educating the prospect on the learnings and takeaways from the assessment, and will always reveal the client’s needs at a deeper level. With the needs clearly established, the client is then ready for a detailed managed services proposal. The last step is closing the deal.
Every company should customize and own their own sales process. The example provided above is one potential framework, which can be adapted and customized. The key takeaway is that there must be some form of process in place for new salespeople to succeed.
2. Recruiting the Right People for the Job
The next key ingredient is the right people for the job. Before hiring begins, it is vital to map out the different sales roles an MSP needs and to build the team in the right order.
There are a lot of great things about the managed services model. Chief among them is the fact that the MSP-client relationship is very sticky. While many clients stay with their current MSP because it is a big deal to change, they will definitely stay if they are serviced properly and frequently and have the potential to increase their services with the MSP.
When looking at your sales structure, there are Hunters and Farmers. (Trappers, while identified as a sales persona, usually fall under Marketing for sales enablement):
Most MSP founders believe their first sales hire should be a “hunter” – this is a mistake. In nearly all cases, the first and most important sales hire should be an account manager who looks after existing clients, the “farmer,” whose focus is to secure existing clients by assessing their accounts and working on the issues to make them permanent clients.
Driving revenue growth from existing clients is a big challenge. The reality is, with the pace of technological change and the dynamic threat ecosystem, there is a non-stop stream of new technologies, updates, and upgrades that need to be sold to the client. For example, many MSPs find it very difficult to get clients to commit to the right levels of cybersecurity investment needed in today’s environment.
The solution is to add an account manager as your first sales hire. Account managers take over the business of nurturing client relationships daily, keeping the QBR process on track, and farming new business from upsells and upgrades. It is incredibly time-consuming to keep clients on a regular QBR schedule. Making the QBR process a part of the account manager’s full-time job ensures high levels of client engagement and traction on the upsell process.
The next hire should be the “hunter” – a business development representative (BDR). With an account manager in place, the CEO will now have more time and capacity for principal-led sales. At this point, the CEO needs more appointments and at-bats. This is where a BDR rep comes in. The sole focus of the BDR rep should be to set qualified appointments for the CEO.
The last phase is hiring account executives. The most complex part of growing a sales team is to cross-train and hand off the middle and closing process of the sales cycle. The MSP sales process done right, is highly consultative. From the FTA to the assessment read-out, the client gains lots of knowledge and insight into how their technology stack can be improved. This is why principal-led sales work so well in the early stages of an MSP’s life cycle. Most MSP CEOs are technologists, and they weave advice into every step of the sales process. But to scale and grow, the CEO needs to round out the ranks of the sales team and start adding account executives who can manage the most complex part of the sales cycle.
3. Stay Laser Focused
The last key ingredient for sales success is focus. Specifically, there needs to be a well-defined ideal client profile (ICP). Everything needs to zero in on the ICP, from the website, to messaging, to selling tools, and especially to the tactical sales effort. Far too often, an MSP clientele will be a jumble of different-sized clients and verticals. Naturally, small businesses grow opportunistically. And in the early days, any revenue is better than no revenue.
But as MSPs grow and mature, new competencies and vertical specializations naturally form. Savvy companies periodically evaluate the profitability and success of their client engagements and shed the “problem children,” while increasing their focus on the most profitable client niches. Not surprisingly, this process is most successful when it is deliberate and process-driven. Often, the process begins with a better understanding of precisely who you already serve today. It requires more effort than people realize to properly study and inventory all the key attributes of your existing clients.
With a clear understanding of where you are, growth-oriented MSPs can chart a course for where you want to be. And that often means, getting crystal clear on precisely the ICP you are targeting. When an MSP has a sharp client focus, marketing folks, BDRs and AEs will be much more successful in their jobs.
At Dropsuite, we are committed to helping partners build thriving businesses. We look forward to working with our partners to help them both integrate backup solutions into their service offerings while also building world-class sales teams.