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4 Steps to Position Your MSP as a Vertical Specialist

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Michael BarnesBy Michael Barnes

In my last post, I focused on how pricing packages can be critical to the success of your value proposition and longevity with your clients. Now let’s look at an area that can be the source of a new revenue stream: positioning your MSP as a vertical-market specialist.

 Have you been working with health-care practices? Or maybe most of your clients are schools or real estate agencies. Now is the perfect time to review your client portfolio and market landscape. Let’s look at how to start strategically positioning your MSP in a specific vertical market.

1. Pick Your Practice: Which verticals are the best business bets? It’s not always about going after the “hottest” sector or the one that seems to be turning the highest profit. It’s what, and who, you know. The health-care vertical might be the best fit for an MSP that is already working with dental offices or hospitals, but if most of your clients are in food services, then position yourself as a hospitality (or restaurant market) vertical specialist. If you work with small real-estate offices or accounting firms, you might want to brand yourself as a professional-services firm specialist. Pick one market where you excel – and where you have the majority of your clients – and then stake your claim and brand yourself as the specialist or trusted advisor in that area.

2. Develop Best Practices and Solutions: Once you know the area you want to focus on, begin branding and marketing to these verticals. A good starting point is to speak with some of your peers, maybe in a vendor-networking or industry-association group, and get some best practices and ideas. Continuum conducted a session on this topic during its Navigate user conference this past September. Titled “Best Practices for Vertical Market Success” and moderated by Dan McCoy of Micro Enterprises, the panel discussion featured Continuum partners that have experienced solid ROIs by positioning themselves as vertical-market specialists within their respective regions. Some have even garnered this achievement on a national level.

McCoy began by discussing how he has become a leading MSP for the chiropractic industry in his area. He did this by taking his focus to a more narrow approach, which allowed him to gain additional market share. McCoy said that if his MSP took a more general approach to the health-care vertical, then he would be in a situation where he would have to do it all — something that’s difficult to achieve unless you are a massive firm, and even then it can be daunting.

Another panelist at Navigate, Kim Kiernan of SurfCT, discussed how her firm has successfully penetrated the dental market. SurfCT works with dentists mainly in Connecticut, but also has clients outside of this area. Kiernan said they are highly specialized in this vertical, to the point of having an actual dentist serving as a consultant to advise the MSP on solutions that might (or might not) make sense for clients. Furthermore, she and her colleagues attend dental industry trade shows and events to educate themselves on the practices they serve on all levels — not just from a technology perspective. They learn how the business works and build around that.

While speaking their dental clients’ “language” or terminology helps SurfCT in the solutions it offers its current clients, it also provides additional selling points for potential clients due to the MSP’s high level of industry knowledge.

Case in point, a recent win for SurfCT was getting its techs certified in installing digital X-Ray equipment for their dental clients. While the training is expensive, Kiernan said that the ROI more than paid for itself because they have since gained several new customers as a result of having this specialized training. The MSP can basically do anything that a dental office requires, including custom projects like lighting and audio/video setups for meetings and events.

3. Build on Regulations & Compliance: Focus on a vertical where there are upcoming regulations and compliance measures, such as HIPAA or EMR. Establish yourself as the go-to person in your area that is the trusted resource when it comes to these standards. In some regulated vertical markets, governing agencies initiate mandatory yearly reports. With health care, however, this is not the case. It’s the responsibility of the doctor or dentist to proactively file reports; fail to do so and they may be subject to huge fines. Position yourself as an adviser by letting the client know that you can perform HIPAA audits, which will not only cover them for compliance but possibly uncover security issues that they likely wouldn’t have known about otherwise.

4. Focus on Branding and Education: If you want to be that trusted vertical specialist, then your branding has to reflect that. Continuum partner Don Viar of Epic Technologies has a photo of himself in a lab coat on his website, showing his dedication to the health-care industry. In a Navigate panel, Viar suggested that MSPs should have their marketing resonate to the vertical in which they want to specialize. He added that it’s wise to look at what you currently have in terms of clients, and where you can build those synergies, as well as your demographic area. He added that it’s ideal to create your own space where no one can compete with you; if there already is cemented competition, figure out how to separate yourself from the field.

Bottom line: If you want to be a vertical-market specialist leader, go above and beyond your competition so that you can set yourself apart. Do your research to determine which vertical is best to focus on and brand your MSP accordingly. Educate yourself and your employees through research, speak to industry thought leaders and attend trade shows in the areas you want to specialize in — and gain as much knowledge as you can, aside from the technology portion of the business.

Michael Barnes is Continuum‘s director, New Partner Acquisition, where he manages the account executive team responsible for new partner recruitment. Prior to joining Continuum, Michael was senior channel marketing manager, Experian Data Quality, where he led the development and execution of the go-to-market strategies with key technology partners. 


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