Marketing for IT service providers is a different game than any other industry, and choosing the right marketing agency for IT services comes with a unique set of considerations. Watch and learn tips about finding the right marketing agency for your business.
Devin: Alright. Well, we’re going to get started. So, welcome everyone to a webinar brought to you by eBridge Marketing Solutions. And the topic for today’s webinar is How to Choose a Marketing Agency for IT Service Providers. And my name is Devin Rose and I’m from eBridge Marketing Solutions and I’m the VP of digital marketing. And today’s presentation, being on the subject matter of how to choose a marketing agency, I must admit, I do have a rooting interest in this topic as an employee of a marketing agency.
Devin: So, I just wanted to discuss our marketing agency at the beginning of the presentation. And then for the rest of the presentation, I will not focus so much on eBridge itself and we’ll provide you some good advice whether you’re working with eBridge or another marketing agency.
So, you know, eBridge, we’re a boutique marketing agency and we do focus on IT service providers, such as MSPs vendors and other IT service providers like web hosting companies or security companies. We’re located in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. One question we often get is if we work with IT companies outside of Canada, and the answer is yes. We work with lots of it companies in the United States and throughout the world. We were established in 2001 and have been working with IT service firms over that entire time. So, we’re quite experienced in regards to what works and what doesn’t. And we do offer a full range of marketing services. We tend to help our IT clients with a lot in regards to a website and SEO and content creation. But we offer a full range of services beyond that as well. And for more information, I would encourage you to check out our website, which is www.ebridgemarketingsolutions.com.
So, let’s see what that housekeeping out of the way. I want to talk about how I’m going to structure this presentation to give you some advice about how to choose a marketing agency for your IT service provider. And really what I want to focus on is which questions you should be asking in a marketing agency when you qualify them in doing your research specifically, what do you want to hear and what don’t you want to hear when you’re asking these important questions to your marketing agency.
So, the first question I would recommend asking to vet your marketing agency is, “Do you have experience marketing IT services?”
And what you really don’t want to hear from this question is we haven’t, but we can apply our proven processes. So, marketing generally speaking, if you have a good process in one industry like consumer-oriented industry, you can usually unroll that to other consumer-oriented industries, but that does not extend for B2B marketing of IT services. Just because of marketing agency has expertise broadly does not mean that those learnings, that expertise is kind of apply for IT services. So, that sort of generalized approach where they’re just trying to kind of apply their cookie cutter processes is not going to work. And that would be a red flag. Another red flag would be if they answer, we haven’t marketed IT services, but we are tech people. This is an attempt to try to draw a connection between, their own, maybe sophistication with a hardware software in their personal life. And to suggest that it provides credibility for marketing IT services. And the thing that is troubling with this or problematic with this is that, just because you understand technology doesn’t mean you understand the aspects of marketing technology, such as the needs of decision makers, for who are making purchasing decisions. You know, that’s just because you have some competence of hardware software in your personal life doesn’t mean that you’re going to be able to market IT services. So, that would be a red flag to someone who’s trying to unjustly claim from credibility in the industry. And another one, and I would say, this is the biggest kind of red flag here is if the marketing agency suggests that they have experience with SaaS providers, biotech or hardware, or any sort of these, you know, loosely related to IT services, these are not the same apples to apples comparison. A SaaS company is gonna be a lot more similar to e-commerce marketing tactics, that’s what’s gonna work for them. Whereas for managed services, it’s just a completely different basket of tactics. So, that would be another example where the experience, even though it is maybe a loosely related, maybe the SaS company they worked with was a security company, but that experience is just not going to transfer over to manage services, like the agency you might try to lead you to believe.
So, what do you want to hear? One of the most obvious things is just to hear a description of the market agencies clientele using like industry specific terms. So, for example, for managed service providers, like a large MSP would be, say a hundred employees that would be a large company in the managed services industry. Whereas for a lot of other industries that would be considered or classified as a small business. So, that would be an example where if they’re not talking to you, like you’re a large MSP, then they’re not going to have the right tactics to recommend to you. They’re not gonna understand that you’re probably going after large organizations yourself. So, that would be an example. Another one would be some familiarity with various vendors, they should have background information into various like security vendors, disaster recovery vendors, even like, Microsoft office 365, a lot of MSPs will lead with that as a foot in the door. So, having some knowledge around those sorts of things is important to understanding how to do marketing for IT services. And a big one too, is just acknowledgement of challenges are inherent with marketing IT services. Anyone who’s been around the block and in this space understands that it is very challenging. So, you know, like, if it’s all rosy, when you’re talking to your marketing agency and it’s all focused on the opportunity and not really on overcoming some of those challenges, then that’s going to be a red flag. And I’m specifically talking about things like, challenges around, gaining leads, which is always a focus for MSPs around analytics and measurement, and also just all having a more complicated sales cycle and buying process.
And so, piggybacking on that last question, bit of a follow-up question here is “How do you view the sales cycle for it services?” So, this is really where you want to hammer in and make sure that they have credibility and know what they’re talking about here.
So, what don’t you want to hear when it comes to an answer to that question? If someone, you know, if the marketing agency says something’s over simplified, like, a computer breaks, so someone calls you right away and comes to fix it. I mean, obviously this is an illusion to break fix services, which is not what a lot of IT service providers are wanting to go after. These are clients who tend to be, project-based tend to be, high maintenance, and low margin, and they don’t really tend to stick around very long. So, this would be an example of a marketing agency that has an oversimplified view of marketing in this industry. And, it was focusing too much on direct response and getting people to respond when they have an immediate need versus more of the nurturing approach that is needed. Another thing that you don’t want to hear here is if they think that the sales cycle involves IT people determining their own requirements and research in their own solutions, and yes, there is some truth to this, a large degree of truth that, for IT services, the decision makers do a lot of research independently. But it’s not like you can be completely hands-off, there’s, there’s still a role in marketing here to lead them forward, to be a little bit assertive of your messaging and what’s your brand and getting out there. So, if the agency takes the other approach where instead of, we already talked about break fix, which is the error is on assuming the, that the sales cycle is going to be short, the opposite air of assuming that the sales cycles way long and that you can’t really influence it is also a mistake. The truth is it’s somewhere in between where it is a sales cycle, that’s longer, but you still can have an impact if you have the right tactics.
And what do you want to hear? We touched on some of this already, but it’s the longer sales cycles. You know, this is a big one, has a lot of impacts for marketing measurement makes it more challenging, acknowledgement of multiple decision makers and a complicated purchasing criteria. So, like let’s say you’re trying to sign up a lead who has offices in multiple municipalities. Well, maybe one of the office locations is the first one that interacts your brand finds out about you, and maybe they read on your blog, let’s say, and then they send that blog to someone else in their other office who might be more of the actual purchasing decision maker. And then, maybe they research some of your competitors and, ultimately it’s the person in the second office who is the one who’s making the decision. So, by the time that entire process has gone through, it’s been maybe a couple of months, if not longer, the ability to track that they first found you from that blog has been completely lost, cause it’s been hidden by the change in location and the time that’s passed. So, those are just some examples of a stereotypical situation where, it is more complicated than a typical purchasing cycle. And some marketing agencies may not be aware.
So, “What are the most important aspects of an IT service providers website?”, this is a great question to ask as well.
What you don’t want to hear the obvious one is any sort of illusions to e-commerce, including like a shopping cart. Maybe this will change in the future, maybe managed services and other IT services will become more commoditized. And, we’ll get to the point where people are making purchases through a shopping cart, but at this current time, it’s definitely not the focus. It would be the agency tippy in their hat that they have an e-commerce background, and aren’t really familiar with B2B tech is if they’re suggesting a shopping cart. Another that you don’t want to hear is if there’s too much of an emphasis placed on the design of the website. And I want to be clear that design does matter for an IT service providers website, but it’s not the most important thing. I would say that you want to check the box for your website, that it looks modern, that it’s easy to use, but it doesn’t need to be beautiful, it doesn’t need to be reinventing the wheel, rather than the design, it’s the content that tends to be more important. Another thing is a live chat. The thinking behind this is, it’s not to come up without having a live chat on an IT service provider’s website is not a bad idea, cause you know, you want to have a bit of a personal touch throughout your sales process? And the live chat is a way to do that, but the challenge is right. You service providers in particular that you’ll find that support requests will start coming in through the live chat versus going through your support ticket system. So, it poses communication challenges, and we found that the juice isn’t worth the squeeze there. So yeah, that would be an example of an agency that probably, who doesn’t have experiences if they’re recommending a live chat.
What do you want to hear in regards to the most important aspects of a website? The homepage, every IT service providers analytics I’ve looked at has the homepage receiving the most traffic by far. So, that one is the biggest, most important page. And you want to make sure that there is sufficient content and it covers the important areas like you want your homepage to have some social proof. So ideally like a testimonial, or some other reviews of some sort, whether it’s a video testimonial written, you also want to make sure that you have an overview of your services and make it easy for people to click more for more information about your services. And another one is some information that’s in particular about the industries or that you serve, if you have a particular niche. So, let’s say if you are going after medical companies, well, having a little bit of language on the homepage that mentioned dental offices and other sorts of medical offices, and maybe touches on compliance, that sort of thing. You want to demonstrate some credibility to the groups that you’re going after on your homepage. The other most important aspect of the webpage or website rather throughout is the content. This is what’s really going to give you credibility, not only with users, but also with Google. And, it will get people sticking on your site, but also get more people to your site through search engine optimization, if you have good written content on it. And because we’re not building e-commerce sites here, the other most important aspect is like contact forms and calls to actions to those contact forms. It’s all about collecting contact information. So, you want to make sure those are all tweaked and set up appropriately and the social proof. So, we touched on this, on the homepage, having a testimonial on the homepage, demonstrate your social proof, but also just making sure that your testimonial section on your website is nice and polished as well.
So, another question that you want to make sure you as, your marketing agency that you’re considering to hire is “Who owns your client’s websites and content?”. So, this is one, I don’t think a lot of companies think about, unfortunately, when you know it, when it becomes important to think about it, it’s often too late.
So, what you’d really don’t want to hear here is syndicated content. So, there are a lot of companies out there who offer IT service providers like syndicated blogs that are being distributed to hundreds of companies. And because Google punishes websites who have duplicate content to other websites, these blogs, have no SEO value. And they’re actually typically, they have a no index tag associated with them. So, that search engines aren’t even coming in and spider in these pages, so they literally have no SEO value. They do maybe have a little bit of value in terms of educating your clients and things like that, especially for smaller MSPs where it might be too costly to create your own content. But the bottom line is if it’s syndicated content, you don’t own it. So, whatever efforts you’ve put in to build out your blog with syndicated content are going to be reliant on you sticking with the marketing agency that you’re currently using. And, similarly with your website, you know, there are marketing agencies out there that will charge you a monthly fee, to use your website, but you don’t actually own it. So, if you want to change directions and move to a different agency, they’ll hold the website hostage. And, as an incentive to try to keep you with them. So, it’s quite to an ugly situation if you do decide that you want to move on, and, puts you in a tough situation where you have to kind of reinvent your website, rather abruptly, and it can be a destruction to your business and a significant one at that. So, that’s really one you don’t want to hear is you want to make sure that you own your website if it’s being built up for you. And another one is making sure that, the logins for social media accounts and also your advertising accounts, that the agency doesn’t own those, like let’s say Google ads, for instance. If, let’s say, the agency gets you a Google ads campaign spun up, and then later on, maybe you want to take it over internally, or you want to grow it through another agency or whatever. If they own the login, then you’re not going to be able to carry forward any of the data, and any of the learnings within that data, going forward as you’re trying to grow. So, that’s a really important one there, especially if you have significant advertising budget is you want to make sure that you own your own logins so that you can share them. And, I would say any agency that objects to that too, is, you know, that’s a big red flag in my books.
And what you do want to hear is if an agency is writing content for you, it’s going to be unique and you own it. And also, that they provide you access to the social media and ad accounts that they’re using.
Another great question to ask marketing agency is “What are the biggest challenges facing IT service providers when it comes to marketing?”.
The stuff that you don’t really want to hear is social media does have a role for marketing IT services, but it’s not the main thrust of a marketing mix. It’s kind of a secondary aspect. You want to be distributing your blogs and things like that on social media, your distributed interesting stories and trying to be engaging, but, it’s just not as important as it is for other industries. Another one is brand awareness. A lot of IT service providers, this is not their problem, it’s usually IT service providers have more of a pinpoint approach to their targeting where it’s not as broad. You’re not trying to gain that brand awareness in a market. So, if that’s the focus of, you know, that’s been sold to you, then it’s a red flag and similarly advertising, paid advertising is expensive. It’s usually not the top priority for a lot of IT service providers, unless they have a lot of prerequisites in place in regards to like the inbound marketing tactics. So, advertising is usually a secondary or a few exceptions, like you might want to consider early highly targeted local campaign, or maybe you want to do some remarketing of an audience to your website. But regardless, it shouldn’t be the main focus, it should be a secondary focus. And another thing you don’t want to hear is, if they really overemphasized Search Engine Optimization, and propose it as like a standalone in isolation solution that is problematic as well. Search Engine Optimization is, an important piece, but it’s not the whole piece, cause it’s just a little bit to pass. If you need to do a little bit more in regards to you being active and generating leads with, by sending people to your website and, just being a little bit more assertive than SEO offers.
What do you want to hear? Focus on generating leads. We touched on this a little bit already, but, having a nice to actions through the site, for that matter, if you are considering advertising campaigns, making sure that they’re focused on generating leads and, have the forms and landing pages required to generate those leads. And then they’re treating the leads that you do generate should be another big focus. And one of the biggest challenges, cause you know, if you do this badly, the nurturing, you can come across as, really annoying. There’s a balance to be struck there where if you’re nurturing, let’s say with emails and you’re sending a sequence of emails, you want to make sure that it’s, well-written written like you’re talking to a real human, and not coming across spammy or annoying. And that is a challenge. And then another challenge is demonstrating credibility. And this is a particularly important for, let’s say a managed service providers where, they’re, it’s hard for managed service providers to really differentiate themselves a lot, are making similar claims, have similar offerings, et cetera. And one of the big differentiating factors is how credible you appear, and it’s difficult to do it because, if you’re making the same claims as other MSPs, you’re not really differentiating yourself in terms of the messaging. It’s tough to demonstrate that sort of credibility that’s desirable. So, that kind of goes back to the social proof and having testimonials is really important. And, what else do you want to hear is, you know, if we contrast SEO in isolation with, building up a marketing mix that has many different tactics that are building on each other. So, for instance, yes, you want your SDL all nicely polished on your website, but you also want to couple that with content marketing, and when you’re writing content, then you want that content to bleed into your nurturing campaigns and you want the content to be distributed to your social media. And then when people on your social media are interacting with your ads, you want to be able to capture that audience to do remarketing, et cetera. So, it keeps building on each other. It’s not just any one thing it’s about having a mix that’s coordinated and working together.
Another great question, because content is so important for marketing IT services is to ask your agency, “Can you tell me a little bit about your copywriters?”.
And what you don’t want to hear is affordable. I mean, obviously she can save some money by getting the good writers go for it, but affordable, is definitely not the experience I’ve had in terms of the quality that you need. Good writers for IT do command a good wage? So, if it’s being pitched to you as, kind of too good to be true in terms of the pricing, that’s a big red flag. Another one you don’t really want to hear is engaging, and yes, you want your content to be engaged in all marketing should be engaging, but oftentimes people who are pitching marketing as engaging as like a main thrust, you can kind of read between the lines and what they really mean is it’s going to be spammy. So, engaging is really the word that I would be wanting to hear there. Another one is what you don’t want to hear is overseas, because these decision-makers are, there’s quite often senior, in the companies. If you’re using an overseas provider for copywriting who might not be familiar with industry jargon and acronyms, et cetera, it’s going to be abundantly clear to the IT decision-maker. So, just avoid using any sort of overseas copywriters for IT services.
And what you do want to hear, that the copywriters are experienced in IT themselves. That is huge, probably the biggest thing. And it is challenging to find these people cause to find someone who’s most, who’s both, technically savvy and a good writer, that started a lot of those people, but that’s really who you’re going after. You want domestic writers who are able to communicate to, effectively to these, to these decision-makers in your market. And you want someone who can write both for IT decision-makers and non-IT decision makers. So, often, IT services, when the purchasing decision involves, feedback from non-IT decision makers, perhaps in finance or perhaps even in human resources, you want someone who can write to that audience as well, but also who’s someone who can write credibly for IT decision makers too.
So, another great question to ask is “When can you start, when can you expect to start seeing results?”
And, what you really don’t want to hear here is someone who over promises and, suggest that results are going to be coming in as soon as campaigns are underway. Just not the case for IT services, it takes a little while to build them up. Another one you don’t want to hear is not sure, this might be an honest answer, but, not exactly a confidence inspiring one. Although there are challenges in marketing IT services and is more difficult to project results in other industries, any agency who’s been around, these industries for long enough, we’ll be able to offer at least some sort of expectation in terms of when you can start seeing results.
And what do you want to hear about results? Well, realistically it does depend on the tactics, so that is a big emphasis, and that’s what you want your agency coming back to you with. And, generally speaking, it does take about two to six months, but, let’s say for SEO, for instance, that’s going to be on the higher end of that range because it takes a while to build up the SEO juice with Google, and to build all that content and to fix all the technical errors and build out, the backend profile that doesn’t happen overnight, it’s an iterative thing. And, other tactics maybe like outbound lead generation would be on the lower end of that two to six months, because it’s a little bit more of a direct response thing if you’re doing outbound lead generation. But realistically, it does depending on tactic, and it varies quite a bit.
So, another question is, “Are you familiar with IT service providers business models?”
You don’t want to hear them coming back with you are answers that allude to e-commerce or that emphasized project based work or home users? I think that’s obvious for a lot of IT service providers that this is just not the market that you’re in.
What you do want to hear is an understanding of recurring revenue, and especially how that impacts lifetime value. A lot of IT service providers have recurring revenue and also low customer turnover. And, the implication of that is that signing up new clients is worth a lot of money, quite often, tens or hundreds of thousand dollars even, if you’re signing up a new client. So, understanding that and understanding how much good leads are worth versus, other industries where it might be more of a shotgun approach, this is much more of a sniper rifle approach, and we’re going after quality over quantity. And also, the understanding of dynamics between vendors, service providers and end users. I know myself and I was wondering about these industries. This was one of the most complicated things. A good example is like the word clients, it depends on who you’re talking to, if it’s a vendor or service provider or the word clients can refer to so much, so many different stakeholders in this ecosystem. So, having a familiarity with the context surrounding that ecosystem and the channel relationship there, is really crucial to understanding what sort of marketing tactics will play into things as well.
Another great question I would ask any marketing agency if you’re an it service provider or otherwise is, “What can you expect in terms of communication? At the end of the day, marketing services, are people services and you want to make sure that you’re having a good customer service experience.
And, you don’t want to hear them respond back saying that they have a ticketing system. I’ve seen this before with marketing agencies. I don’t understand it. My ticketing system just isn’t quite as fluid as you need for marketing communication. And additionally, if you have your own ticketing system, save yourself a headache, you’re already dealing with it in, on one side of your business. Don’t no reason to deal with it on the marketing side as well. You also want to make sure that they’re going to be available for calls during your local Workday. A lot of times, marketing communication is better done on the phone call than it is by email or otherwise. So, and also having a guarantee about response time is important. And if there is no guarantee, and that is a red flag there.
What do you want to hear? You want to hear that this can be regular check-in calls with regular reporting to review and some sort of expectation around a reasonable turnaround time, probably 24 to 48 hours.
So those were the big takeaways that I want to offer today, but I also had some additional considerations. We’ll call this one, a bit of a bonus round here on the slide. These didn’t quite fit into the structure for the rest of the presentation, but I wanted to mention them as good questions to ask a marketing agency regardless. So first off here, Are there any marketing services you can’t help with? I’ll say I described to you eBridge earlier on as a full service agency truth be told if you asked me this question or a couple of things we don’t really specialize in, like public relations. I would be an example. but you know, it’s not really too much of a problem because if you would ask us that we can certainly help connect you with a public relations company. So, just get in that, out of the way at the beginning of a relationship and understanding, where you might need to augment the services of the agency that you’re talking to. That’s an important thing to understand. Do you have references from other IT service providers? This is a no-brainer, obviously it’s a huge red flag if they say no. How much do I need to invest to see results? For IT services, this is going to be, tend to be a larger number than it is for other industries. So, if they come back to you and say something that is overly optimistic, like invest 500 bucks or a thousand dollars, and you’ll start seeing some leads, that they’re probably just not going to be able to generate you anything, because anyone who’s tried to generate leads for IT services knows that, it’s a more in depth effort than that. And it’s going to require a little bit more funding as well. And, “Do you have experience with our tech stack?” So, a lot of IT service providers will use WordPress or HubSpot. but perhaps you have a CMS or something that is specific to, maybe it’s a legacy system that’s specific to your organization that requires some integration with your website. Determining that beginning of the engagement is crucial as well. And, if they don’t have expertise with your CMS or with your marketing automation system, it’s probably gonna be a deal breaker in terms of working with them.
So, that brings me to the conclusion of today’s presentation. Thanks so much for attending, and if you’re watching on YouTube, thanks for watching as well. And if you’re on YouTube, please hit that subscribe button below. It’s appreciated. It will help us get more eyeballs on our videos. And, we enjoy bringing these to you and we’d like to keep doing them. So, the more people we have watching them the better and, yeah, your support is appreciated if you do click that subscribe button below.
And if you have any questions about the presentation today, about How to Choose your Own Marketing Agency, or if you’d like to vet eBridge for your marketing needs for your IT service provider, please don’t hesitate to reach out my contact information, it’s on the slide there, and I will get back to you as soon as I can. Thanks so much and have a great day.