Marketing your MSP with James Steel – CompTIA Master Your MSP’s Growth Series

Zen Software’s Managing Director, James Steel recently joined CompTIA‘s Tracy Pound to share his insights and tips on how MSPs can improve their success with marketing.

Tracy is founder and Managing Director of Maximity, a UK-based technology solution provider and chairwoman of the CompTIA board of directors.

As the Covid-19 pandemic hit, there was a big shift in marketing across lots of industries, but especially within the technology and MSP market.

James and Tracy discuss how the need for remote working and the reliance on managed services and solution providers tipped overnight and the opportunities that came about for MSPs and the buyer’s journey.

Watch the full interview

The uplift in hybrid working has blurred the lines between home and work life for some, however, the lines have also blurred between sales and marketing. James shares his thoughts on how these two functions can work even closer to understand the customers more and provide more value, whilst working towards their own business goals together.

Being able to understand a customer should lead to building a robust pipeline. James shares some tactics on how to build a pipeline through some small but impactful ideas which focus on building your email list around both new and current customers.

Using social media consistently is a marketing tactic which, when done well, can have some big gains. However, it’s important to remember to not focus entirely on “building your house, on borrowed land”.

These platforms could disappear tomorrow, and so building an email list, which is an asset that no one can take away from you in the background is highly recommended.

As businesses look to being inclusive and appealing to their customers and employees. Tracy asks James about how you can build bias out of marketing and why marketing is so important to diversity and inclusion. With people at the heart of the conversation and the old adage, “People buy from People”, James shares his love of personal brands and how people can build their own brand and market themselves in order to gain trust and credibility in our online world alongside a business brand.

Topics discussed:-

  • How lockdown orders changed marketing for tech companies
  • How the pandemic changed the buyer’s journey and the implications for MSPs
  • Healthy relationships between marketing and sales
  • Tactical marketing tips for MSPs
  • When to use social media and which platforms
  • Importance of inclusion and diversity in marketing
  • The role of personal brands

James and Tracy mentioned:-

The Tech Tribe

Paul Green

Richard Tubb – How Being a Go-Giver Can Increase Your Sales

The Go Giver by Bob Berg and John David Mann

Marcus Sheridan – They Ask You Answer

Rob Gibbons @ Cara – Personal Branding Examples

Francis West @ Westtek – Personal Branding Examples

Full Transcript:-

Welcome to Pound for Pound where we break down how managed service providers can strategically grow their businesses. I’m Tracy Pound, founder and Managing Director of Maximity, a UK-based technology solution provider and I’m chairwoman of the CompTIA board of directors. Please don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel and click the bell so that you get notified of new videos. Today, we’re talking about the critical topic of marketing, and how MSPs can make the most of their time and resources through effective tactics.


Joining me is James Steel, Managing Director of Zen Software. So before we get started, could you tell us a little bit about yourself, James?

Sure, yes, well I’m actually something of a petrol head. So I’m pretty much waiting for my call up to a Formula One team. But while I bide my time, for the last 15 years, I’ve been doing that in the IT channel, so that’s where I’ve worked in senior sales and marketing roles across Europe, working with distributors and resellers, both in Europe and North and South America. 

That experience has led me back to Zen Software as Managing Director. We’re a small focus distributor working with MSPs and partners where we’re selling software and services, but also trying to provide valuable content just like this, to help them grow their businesses.


Fantastic. Thank you very much for that. And I’ve known you for a number of years, James, I love your knowledge, and also the fact that you’re a petrolhead, because so am I. So just to start, let’s talk about how marketing has changed since 2020. How did the pandemic and the lockdown orders change the way that technology businesses market their products and services? And how does that buyers journey changed?

Yes, it’s a good question. I think when locked down hit in March, I don’t think if you’d have started talking about marketing to an MSP, that have been particularly interested it was, you know, let’s run around, let’s look after the increase in demand that we’re seeing from our existing customers for basically, let’s get laptops, webcams, and secure working solutions.

So that was like that was the last thing on their mind. But I think what was happening at that time as well was that something was unfolding that was quite unique in the MSP space, because as a sector, I think where it is quite unique in the inertia, so customers don’t tend to really want to move provider if they can help it because it’s a hassle. And it’s what they know. And you know, so an opportunity was arising there, as people were leaning more on their MSPs, for services that they desperately needed to get set up remote working, and so on.

If those guys weren’t doing the job, then they were suddenly you know, looking around. So that put those MSPs, who had been doing a good job of things like list building, you know, if you had an established list, and you were, you know, constantly communicating with a LinkedIn audience or an email list, just as, as prospects, you’re right there.

If you look at it in the sort of the buyer’s journey, as it were, you know, you’re obviously these guys know, they’ve got a problem, they’re looking for a solution, and they know that you provide the solution. And exactly, you know, they know about your brand. So you’re a long way ahead.

I think that put those people in a really good place, then I think, really, for those that perhaps hadn’t been doing that, the difference we saw was that, as you know, 70% of the buying journey is typically done online, before even speaking to a salesperson. So I think it really became a case of you know, the digital presences became really important.

Of course, you had to have been doing a good job to make sure we had good reviews that were visible when people were looking around for a new provider. It was things like, you know, having those reviews, making sure that you know, the personality came across, they could connect with you, and they trusted you.

So I think Yeah, more than ever, that became important. There also became a really good opportunity to do things like Google ads, which may or may not have worked, but they might not have worked particularly well previously. But suddenly, you’ve got a lot of people searching for alternative IT providers. So that was Yeah, I think that was pretty important.

And of course, you know that final stage, even for those that did have that audience for the final stage, you’ve then got an opportunity where you don’t necessarily have to, you don’t necessarily have to go and visit, you know, a client, you can do a successful pitch or, you know, an evaluation on online via video. And of course, you know, that gives you an opportunity to get your personality across.

But you have to be able to do a professional job of that, appear in a professional way. You make sure you got the right setup and so on. So, yeah, I think it changed. I think it changed a lot. It was an interesting, challenging time to witness. 


Yeah, I agree. I think it’s been a very interesting time, isn’t it? And I think it’s blurred the lines between marketing and sales quite a bit. They’ve always been very closely linked, but where do you think marketing ends and sales begins?

And how do you integrate marketing into selling? What does this successful relationship look like between those two different functions? 

Yeah, that’s it’s the age-old question, isn’t it? It’s a difficult one, I’m not sure I’ve got the perfect answer to this. But having worked on both sides, I feel like I have got some experience of both. I think it’s a lovely idea if you can brief your marketing team or an agency and say, Well, this is what we do is while we’re great, go off, get me I’ll just sit back for a year and wait for my marketing qualified leads to come in.

In my experience, that’s really not the way and I think it almost feels like the more distance there is between a sales and marketing team, the less effective it is, I don’t think I would say, you know, Marcus Sheridan, author of, They Ask, You Answer. Big on content marketing is very, he pushes this idea of a revenue team.

And I like that, because it’s about, you know, first of all communication, I would say, you know, if it’s somebody internal or even a marketing agency, you either want to be sat with them in the same room next to each other. Or I think you need to have the systems in place that ensure that you’re, you’ve got visibility of everything that’s happening all the way, all the way along.

Not even the best marketers in the world can replicate the knowledge coming from the front lines, it’s absolutely critical that the sales guys and the marketing guys are, you know, working really closely in my mind. They are the biggest, you know, source of content and ideas.

I think the other thing is that you need that accountability as well, and the vision. I think it’s really important that the sales team, understand, okay, we’ve got a long term plan here, this is exactly what’s happening. Sometimes in some cases, I think it’s really useful if the marketing team are bought into those same goals that the salespeople are sometimes even incentivized, you know.

So yeah, I’m not a fan of the silo approach. I think the closer the better. And you know, the less Yeah, the less gap really.


Absolutely 100% agree with you that they’re in concert with each other, aren’t they? What marketing tactics, if we were to get down into a bit of detail, do you think can help a business to build a robust pipeline? And how do you think it’s going to change post-pandemic?

Yeah, it’s interesting, I think in terms of building a pipeline, I think it’s really important that you MSPs put some more focus on this, the temptation obviously, is to concentrate on your technology stack. And I think sales and marketing should be a priority. That could be as simple as having, you know, a high-quality lead magnet.

I know that not all MSPs. Certainly, the smaller ones we work with don’t have the time to invest necessarily in marketing, but something as simple as having a high-quality lead magnet, you know, a high-quality webinar and then using that in all your outreach efforts, so that you’re driving traffic back to that, whether it’s people on the phone, whether it’s some level of you know, sort of continual social marketing posts, that kind of thing, driving people back, and obviously having it visible on your website.

I think that’s the way to be generating, you know, consistently filling, filling a pipeline, but also not to look just at your net new customers as being that pipeline, you know, your existing customer base, if you can regularly communicate with them, whether it’s via a newsletter, or you have the time to do you know, podcast or something along those lines.

Actually, Nigel more in The Tech Tribe, I know, and Paul Green have come up with a newsletter template for MSPs. And I think that’s a fantastic idea. It basically provides, you know, generally useful information about how to make the most of Teams or whatever software is they’re providing. But in amongst that is, by the way, did you know you can upsell this particular security solution that we offer you or you know, for an additional pound a month extra, you get this service?

So there’s a lot of gains to be had, I think an existing customer base and building that pipeline as well.

Post pandemic. I, I’m a big fan of this video stuff. I hope this stays. For me. It’s more about the differentiation, not necessarily tactics. Obviously, we can go on site. I think it’s more about the messaging, honestly. I think IT is less and less visible to the, to the end users. You know, if you’re selling them antivirus solution, you’ve got the greatest RMM in the world, they don’t really care.

I think post-pandemic is going to be much more about Okay, I’ve got my set of cloud services, it’s costing me quite a lot on a monthly basis. You know, what can you do? What can you offer me beyond that?

And I think that all feed, you know, whether it’s like marketing automation or CRM or accounts or something like that, I think that that messaging of improving your business process, you know, saving your time making your more money. I think that’s where the change will happen in the in the marketing shift. Hope that answers the question.


Yeah, yeah, it really does. It’s really interesting because it’s, it’s about making sure that you have a process really I guess in place, isn’t it?

Marketing isn’t a one hit wonder it’s not going to get you a pipeline just by doing one marketing activity, you need something that leads into something else, that leads into something else that starts the conversation.

And you mentioned social media when you talk. So when it comes to marketing on social media, how should MSP spend their time? And what are the right platforms to engage on? Because I’ve seen a lot of this done really wrong? 

It’s an easy time sink, isn’t it? You think I’ve got to be everywhere. There’s a new platform, I’m only on Tik Tok, and I’m sure you watch it. But that’s basically not the platform, we would recommend to MSPs.

Yeah, I mean, I would say it’s a case of picking the platform and making sure that you focus your efforts on and you touched on it consistency is, is the key, I see some guys doing a great job at the moment on LinkedIn, I think, Robert at Cara, Francis at Westtek, a good examples of how you can consistently be you know, producing content of value, it’s that same idea of providing value without necessarily selling, keeping, developing an audience there.

But I think you do need to certainly with LinkedIn, I think you need to invest, you need to say, right, I’m going to dedicate half an hour a day, and that is going to be me reaching out to new prospects. And sure, slowly, but surely, you will develop a list there that that’s an asset. I think things like Twitter are brilliant. If you know how to utilize them more as a communication tool, probably I mean, it’s a good idea to have an active Twitter feed.

I think that’s another important point is don’t have a social media platform that you’re not active on, if it’s active if it’s up, and it’s not being used, that doesn’t look good for a prospect. But I think also, what’s very important is that you, you look at each one of these platforms as what would happen if it was gone tomorrow. And you know, because if the algorithm changes the businesses not available for whatever reason, you should always have that view that you’re trying to build an email list in the background because that’s the one asset that no one can take away from you. So I think that’s, that’s, that’s what I would say about the social side.


Yeah, brilliant advice there on collecting those email addresses, because it is it’s very transient I think social media can be, can’t it? And you know, as a business, just to change tack slightly, you want to be inclusive, and you want to appeal to diverse customers and employees, how do you build bias out of marketing? So why is marketing so important to diversity and inclusion and equity efforts?

Yeah, if you look at it strictly from an ROI, perspective then it makes sense that you don’t want to exclude groups, you know, potentially, that have different backgrounds, it makes total sense. And we’re all loaded with unconscious bias. I think if we’re talking, you know, the small business level, I think it’s the way to try and remove that really is, you know, as a first point you widen the group you’re working with.

So, you know, as a small team, don’t come up with every campaign or messaging idea, and then just fire it straight out. For a start, you might go viral for the wrong reasons, which, you know, there are numerous examples of that, of that happening, widen out to family to friends, if you can, if you’re in communities, you know, online communities and things you can share that messaging.

You can also measure whether it’s resonating when it does go out, but I think there’s definitely a temptation isn’t there to, to hire certain types, because it’s, it’s, you know, that’s, that’s kind of we view that as being, you know, easier in terms of workplace, you know, harmony and so on. But there’s no doubt about it. A marketing team that’s diverse is going to be, I don’t know, the exact stat but a lot more effective than one that’s, you know, shall we say, homogenous? I think having that ethos really is going to contribute towards, you know, generally you know, equality, I think it’s really that’s really important.


Yeah, I agree. I think it is very important, and it does start with the marketing side of it. And that brings me nicely on to our final question. So let’s talk about personal brands and marketing. How can people build their own brand and market themselves in order to gain trust and credibility in our online world? So how closely should an employee’s brand tie to their company’s brand?

Yeah, it’s an interesting area and it’s an interesting area to me personally as well because obviously I’m now managing director of Zen Software and people do buy from people so I think personal brands are really good thing. It’s I don’t think there needs to be a decision necessarily made.

You know, if I was to rename the business to James steel distribution, that obviously limits me in the future Should I want to pass it over or sell, so you’ve got to be very mindful of that. I think the best way is to have the two run along side each other. I think that’s I think that can be done effectively. And there’s different ways you can do that just by being visible in the communities.

You know, I’m giving this advice, it’s  also something I need to take more myself. Richard Tubb, you know, a well-known CompTIA member, he talks a lot about being a go giver mentality. Idea Bob Berg’s book, where you’re offering, you know, offer as much help and advice to the communities as you possibly can. Not necessarily because you want to return straight away is obviously a nice attitude to have anyway, but you know, offering sound advice and help in communities is, is definitely a good thing and to colleagues.

Video is definitely a really important tool here, for small companies trying to create a brand, you know, just getting in front of the camera, in a short space of time, people quickly can understand a bit more about what you’re about. And it’s provided you’re not bringing the business into disrepute, I think brands are always going to want to be safer online. And I think there’s an opportunity there for you to, you know, to not necessarily be controversial, but certainly just connect with some of your opinions on a lighter side, your interests and I think that’s, that’s going to attract a certain audience.

You’re much better to, you know, to be yourself and to focus on, you know, being genuine and authentic. I think that’s a nice compliment for a brand. I mean, obviously, just trying to do that with your brand as well. But, you know, I think it’s easier to do as an individual. So I think that that’s the thing that I think video is pretty, pretty key there.


Yeah, again, I totally agree with that. It’s building that personal relationship, because people as you say, buy from people.

And that’s all we have for this episode. So thank you very much, James, for joining us.

Keep an eye out for more Pound for Pound videos for more tips and insights on developing a growth strategy for your MSP. And thanks for watching.

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