I’m hosting a webinar on December 17 at 11:00 CST on how to predict MSP sales growth when you’re lacking reliable historical managed services sales data.  If you’re basing your goals on your numbers from 2020 or 2019, you’re likely setting yourself up for failure.  Register here:  https://www.managedsalespros.com/livestreams/

If you missed the live event, you can find the on-demand version here:  https://www.managedsalespros.com/events/on-demand-webinars/

Every year I write pretty much the same “don’t ignore your MSP sales funnel through the holidays” post.  The cliff notes of that post are always:

  • If your MSP sales team stops prospecting for one week, you empty one month of follow up activity from your pipeline
  • If you take one month off of MSP sales, you eliminate a quarter of opportunity from your pipeline
  • You’re a business owner and you’re working. Other business owners are, too.
  • People plan during slow times, so you have the opportunity to hit a well timed “lucky” win for your MSP.

I have written variations of this MSP sales article every Christmas season and every summer for the last seven years.  There’s only so many times you can spin those four bullets into a thousand words.  This year – we’re going to talk about something else.

If you want to read a version of that post, you can head over to the Tiger Paw Software blog, where my most recent “don’t stop cold calling through the holidays” post lives:  https://blog.tigerpaw.com/prospecting-through-the-holidays 

(There’s also an on-demand webinar there)

The above bullets still hold true no matter what, no matter the time of year, no matter the state of the world, or the state of the economy.

When you take your foot off the gas, it takes you longer to get to your destination.

If other people keep driving forward and you lag behind, they may be in the right place at the right time. Suddenly your nurturing of that MSP sales prospect for the last two years no longer matters. You got beat to the finish line at the last minute because another MSP sales rep simply did the same things that they do every day.

Imagine losing a large monthly recurring managed services deal over nothing other than the fact that you decided you weren’t going to make calls for two weeks – it wasn’t better pricing, or better service, or a better culture fit.  They were ready, and someone else, with one well-timed phone call, benefited from the hard work you put into nurturing that opportunity.

Even In A Pandemic Year You Need To Keep Feeding Your MSP Sales Funnel!

MSP prospecting through the holidays is important. You have an MSP sales pipeline, and it doesn’t stop needing your attention just because you don’t feel like making calls through the holidays.  The one call you make before your competitor does may be the difference between your first deal of the year and their first deal of the year.

I want to tell you that it’s going to be just the same as any other year.

I want to.

I can’t.

I have no historical data on what Christmas holidays meets global pandemic prospecting looks like and neither do you. 

My crystal ball says that your MSP sales prospects forced to close businesses for months will take less time off over the holidays.   However, with more cities going in to restrictive lockdowns over the holidays to prevent groups from gathering, we may see better results for MSP sales prospecting than in other years.

With no one traveling at Christmas  – or leaving their houses – we might reach a lot of people.

The opposite may also be true.

There Is No Historical MSP Sales Data But We Can Try a Best Guess 

For a small and unscientific basis of comparision, Thanksgiving was a productive MSP sales prospecting week.  With families unable to gather, and people so uncomfortable with flying and travel, there were a lot more connected calls than usual that week.  I suspect that’s because people are working more to help their businesses recover, or they’re covering off for the employees that they needed to furlough.

We track dials to meaningful conversations as a metric for all MSP sales campaigns, and we didn’t have trouble hitting our goal of 20% that week.

We define a “meaningful conversation” in managed services prospecting as:

  • a conversation which helps us qualify or disqualify the lead
  • a discussion with a champion,
  • a conversation with a direct MSP sales influencer or
  • an MSP decision maker conversation that doesn’t lead to a same-call MSP sales appointment

The conversation may not lead to an immediate MSP sales opportunity, but the conversation tells us whether or not we want to keep investing time in contacting that business in the future, as it is a qualified managed services prospect.

Some Less Than Scientific Findings on MSP Sales Meetings During Covid-19

When the pandemic hit, we offered all of our MSP clients the opportunity to leave their contracts, no matter what point they were at in their agreement.  Most of our MSPs took us up on the offer, but a handful stayed, and a few even upped their investments – they assumed that everyone else would cut their marketing spends, so they increased theirs.

The companies that stayed with us actually grew through the pandemic, with no meaningful loss of MRR (attrition is built in to the number, and no more seats were lost this year than in a “normal” year) and their project income increased after initial downturns in Q2.

I’m not taking credit for another business owner making smart strategic decisions, but I’m definitely taking credit for putting those new opportunities for growth in front of them.

The MSP companies that grew during the pandemic had some things in common:

  1. The MSP takes project work from both managed services contract clients and not-under-contract clients.
  2. They offer a hybrid approach to MSP sales, and take “mailbox money” for licensing and other low-support-requirement offerings.
  3. Leaders of the business know their MSP sales numbers – cost per managed services lead and cost per managed services sale.
  4. The managed services company is niche specific (they focus on one main vertical like healthcare or legal.)
  5. The MSP business owner is still the one attending the MSP sales meetings and closing the deals.
  6. The business owners are community go-givers and actively they actively solicit and receive MSP referrals from their contacts.
  7. They did not invest in any other form of consistent managed services marketing efforts outside of cold calling in 2020.

I do not believe that using cold calling as their only marketing plan was intentional.

MSP Sales Activitites Our MSP Clients Who Grew in 2020 Used Prior to 2020

These MSPs usually attend events in their communities, but since there were no events in 2020, their entire 2020 managed services marketing budget came to Managed Sales Pros.

MSP Sales Activities Our MSP Clients Who Grew in 2020 Did Not Use Prior to 2020

  • These MSPs do not regularly publish newsletters or use direct mail for MSP marketing.
  • They did not use paid search or Google Ad words for MSP marketing.
  • Some MSPs did a handful of MSP sales webinars that we helped produce and manage.
  • They don’t publish a blog.
  • They don’t post on social more than a handful of times a quarter from personal LinkedIn accounts.

(I blog, I post on social, I have a newsletter, I host webinars – I’m not saying you should only use cold calling to grow your business, I’m saying these specific MSPs shared that quality)

We were able to increase their opportunities for “at-bats”, but closing MSP sales is always dependent on the closing ability of the MSP sales leader, and some MSP owners are better at closing than others.

This brings me to an interesting place – if you grew your MSP sales through the pandemic, will that trend hold?

If you didn’t grow your MSP sales through the pandemic, what are you basing your MSP sales forecasting on for 2021?

You can’t use 2019 numbers as your baseline for 2021.

Web-based Sales Appointments Do Not Produce the Same Conversion Rates as In-Person Sales Appointments

Even the best closers are having some new issues with pandemic prospecting.  Sales appointments went up, but conversion rates went down.

If you had a closing ratio of 1:2 pre-pandemic, you may notice it’s 1:3 or 1:4 now.  This is (in my opinion) an etiquette thing.  Most reasonable people aren’t going to make a sales rep drive to their office for no reason.

Prospects don’t see any etiquette issues around cancelling a meeting that you don’t have to leave your desk for.  People see less value in virtual conferences, virtual meetings or virtual networking events – they have no problem committing to them and no problem abandoning them.

Our no-show rates for MSP sales appointments in 2019 was 0%. 

In 2019, if we put an MSP sales appointment on your calendar, that sales appointment stuck. We qualified it, we gave the prospect and the MSP multiple opportunities to decline the meeting, and we clearly outlined in the call and in the confirmation email that this was a sales meeting about changing I.T. companies.

Our Process Creates Sticky MSP Sales Appointments

We qualify for size, budget, and current timeline.

We never schedule a meeting that isn’t a real managed services sales meeting.

That’s why our appointment numbers may be lower than the ones you have been promised elsewhere.  We make your prospects jump through a lot of hoops to eliminate the tire-kickers and price-shoppers before they get anywhere near your calendar.

You’ll never get an appointment from Managed Sales Pros where the prospect wants to talk about software development requirements or a broken printer.  We understand managed services.  We understand managed services sales appointments.  We understand managed services sales meetings, and we understand the big buying triggers, budgets necessary to consider an engagement, and the other fine details that generic appointment setting companies just don’t understand.  (That may be another reason why our MSP clients grew through the pandemic while others did not – we just get it.)

Every caller is told in training:

“I want you to imagine that you’re scheduling this meeting for our CEO.”

(Heads turn towards that caller and everyone looks moderately concerned for the new person.)

“She is going to spend an hour prepping for your meeting, an hour driving to your meeting, an hour taking your meeting, an hour driving back from your meeting, and an hour doing follow up activities after your meeting.  Thats almost an entire day for her.  When she comes back into the office after your meeting, I want you to imagine how your conversation with her will go if you wasted her entire day on a meeting that didn’t belong on her calendar.”

This understanding of the value of a sales meeting between two business owners keeps our meetings high-quality.

That policy, our skilled outbound agents, our quality control process, and our Traction-focused scorecards make a big difference in MSP sales numbers. We tie agent variable compensation to no-show rates in addition to meetings scheduled, dials made and a few other metrics that make up our “magic sauce”.

2020 brought a new challenge to the table – the meetings we scheduled that were historically 100% attended began to have no-show reports – common in our vendor sales appointment setting practice, but previously not a concern for MSP sales appointments.

You can schedule MSP sales meetings all day long, but if nobody shows up for the sales appointments, are they actually qualified meetings?

Scheduling Online MSP Sales Meetings Is Easier Than Scheduling In-Person MSP Sales Meetings

2020 skewed our scorecards and our numbers in a way we weren’t expecting.

With the new MSP sales meeting format of phone call, Zoom meeting or Teams meeting, it’s getting much easier to schedule MSP sales appointments.

Prospects see them as less of a commitment.

It’s hard to get someone out of your office if you’re not enjoying or seeing value in a meeting.  It’s easy to end a Zoom call that isn’t interesting to you, or skip it entirely without feeling like you’re inconveniencing another person.  Prospects see the travel time as the inconvenience to the person asking for the sales meeting, not the work you do to prepare for your MSP sales appointment.

This is a snapshot of the sales meetings we scheduled for an MSP client last month:

Our usual numbers for this MSP client are 2-3 appointments a month.  Last month we got 7.

You can see they are at different stages of completion:

Appointment scheduled:  the prospect has confirmed their attendance via accepting an outlook invite.

Appointment confirmed:  we called the day before and the propsect reaffirmed they would attend.

Agree to attend:  the prospect agreed to the meeting, but the meeting is not yet in the realm of what we consider an acceptable timeline for a meeting (they want the meeting in a month, and we don’t calendar a meeting that is more than two weeks away) so we will follow up and schedule the meeting when the timeline makes sense.  The further out you push the meeting, the less likely attendance at that meeting is.

One Improved Sales Metric Does Not Mean Improved Sales Campaign Performance

I’d love to brag about our appointment setting numbers increasing, but that number means nothing until we know what our client conversion rates are.

It means nothing without knowing what the no show rate for that same client looked like.

That means I can’t tell you if we did better this year than we did last year until our clients start closing deals.  We got lots of appointments, but we also had a no-show rate of 16% in our managed services campaigns for the first time ever.  (That number doesn’t change much if I pull Q2 out of the metrics – it’s holding steady.)

Increasing the number of MSP sales appointments for a client is something to celebrate.

Sales appointments that are not attended by the prospect are obviously not something we want to brag about.

We really want to know how many MSP sales appointments turned into MSP clients.  That’s the metric that matters most.

One number means nothing without all the others. 

Bragging about your MSP sales appointment numbers is a lot like bragging about your top line.

If your top line is increasing while your bottom line decreases, and you only share your top line, you might look like a great, high performaing business on the surface.  That number means nothing on its’ own.

Sales without profitability isn’t anything to brag on.

Appointments that don’t turn into deals are nothing to brag about either, so we’re not going to.

However, other companies may – so hold them accountable for more than one number.

How many of your MSP sales meetings turned into revenue?  If I only schedule one meeting a month, and that meeting closes – that’s 12 new clients a year.  Is that better than 5 MSP sales meetings a month that don’t close?  Yes.  It absolutely is.  So which number do we care about?

How can MSPs adjust their sales goals realistically with this new challenge in mind?

If you’ve set a number of “at bats” as a company goal for next year that you pulled from a revenue target goal, you may not be able to use 2019 or 2020 as a guideline for what 2021 might bring.

When planning for 2021, consider these variables:

  • Appointment numbers are increasing.
  • No show rates are increasing.
  • Conversion rates are decreasing.
  • Direct mail isn’t reaching people working from their homes, nobody is bringing their junk mail home, they’re throwing it in the garbage when they pick up checks, it doesn’t make it on to anyone’s desk.
  • Your prospects have your domains blacklisted by their current providers
  • Your prospects are teaching their clients as they work in less secure home-based environments to never never never open an email they aren’t expecting, and they’re setting up your propsects’ outlook filters to make sure your stuff isn’t getting to their clients.
  • You aren’t answering your phones because you’re not in the office and you don’t want the office line ringing to your cell phone, so your investments in SEO, LinkedIn and Facebook ads aren’t producing – nobody waits for a call back when they’re looking for a new provider, they just move on to the next listing.

So all that considered, what have you got planned for 2021?

Are your MSP sales numbers for next year accurate if you consider these variables?

If you’ve already planned your MSP sales plan for 2021 around your 2019 conversion rates, are you sticking to the same marketing approaches that didn’t get you where you wanted to be? Are you setting yourself up for failure in 2021 and beyond?

It’s not too late to pivot your marketing plan.  Come talk numbers with us!

On Thursday, December 17, at 11:00 AM CST, I’m hosting a webinar to talk about adjusting your sales strategy for 2021.

We’ll talk about predicting MSP sales revenue, building MSP sales pipelines, conversion rates, key performance indicators for MSPs and trends.  We will have plenty of time for Q&A, and I have some new ideas I’m interested in trying this year with anyone who’s interested in trying some new ideas and then helping me measure the results!

You can register for this webinar on our Livestream Events page:  https://www.managedsalespros.com/livestreams/

If you can’t make it, but you’d like to watch the webinar at another time, please register so that you receive a link to the on-demand version.  Most webinars are posted on our MSP Events page about a week post event:  https://www.managedsalespros.com/events

If your plan for 2021 includes outsourced cold calling, retain your onboarding date now – we can’t usually accomodate last minute requests to launch campaigns in January. Fill out the form below or call us, we’d love to help you grow your business next year!

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