Episode 96: Why your MSP should do PR not advertising

Episode 96: Why your MSP should do PR, not advertising

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Paul Green's MSP Marketing Podcast
Paul Green's MSP Marketing Podcast
Episode 96: Why your MSP should do PR, not advertising
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In this week’s episode

  • Do you know the difference between PR (publicity) and advertising? It’s to do with cost vs credibility… and former journalist Paul explains in this week’s podcast
  • Also on the show this week: Three classic book suggestions you may not have heard of before, but you absolutely should read
  • And what data is hiding within your business? The chances are you already have access to some powerful information that, once identified, could go on to help you make better business decisions

Featured guest

Colin Knox is the guest this week on Paul Green's MSP Marketing Podcast

Thank you to Colin Knox from Gradient MSP for joining Paul to talk about how to unlock and use the hidden data in your MSP.

Colin has spent the past 20 years deeply embedded in the technology field and is now the Founder & CEO of Gradient MSP, focused on giving vision and voice to MSPs both small and large.  Colin is a technology innovator, passionate leader, and professional speaker focused on advising entrepreneurs how to grow, expand, and mature their businesses.

Connect with Colin on LinkedIn.

Show notes

Episode transcription

Voiceover:
Fresh every Tuesday for MSPs around the world. This is Paul Green’s MSP Marketing Podcast.

Paul Green:
Hello, hello. Welcome to this week’s show. And here’s what we got coming up for you.

Colin Knox:
A lot of those owners are very stuck in the business, they’re still trying to get things going, and there’s a lot of opportunity to be able to leverage data to make better decisions moving forward.

Paul Green:
We’re also going to be you’re looking at PR or public relations, free publicity, and we’re going to look at it in the context of that versus paid advertising. One of them has a higher credibility than the other, and you should be doing much, much more of it. I’ll explain what that is later on in the show. Plus if you’re the last MSP on earth not yet to have a free copy of my book on MSP Marketing, I’ll tell you how you can get a copy posted to you completely free of charge.

Voiceover:
Paul Green’s MSP Marketing Podcast.

Paul Green:
Talking of books, I’ve recently been reviewing all of the books on the very important books bookshelf in my bedroom. I had some new bedroom furniture built earlier on this year, and I took all of my favourite marketing and sales books literally the books which are the ones I recommend to MSPs I work with. And I moved them onto a special shelf in my bedroom. And I know that makes me a bit sad that I can lie in bed at night and kind of just look over at the bookshelf and look at the books, but they really are the books that are giving me the best ideas or just it sets an explosion off in my brain of ideas and creativity. They’re wonderful books. And I’ve been reviewing them recently because we’ve been setting up a new resource for our members of our MSP Marketing Edge service, where we’re recommending the very best reads for them.

Paul Green:
Now, I don’t want to recommend all of the books on my favourite bookshelf because they’re not all 100% relevant to MSPs. So we’ve given them a curated reading list as it were, these are the, I think it’s about 10 or 12 books that you really should read to get a good grounding in marketing for your business. And there are three books on there which they’ve not gone in my curated list, but they’re great books. And they’re actually really, really old books, I’ve got them here now. So they’re not particularly thick books, they’re kind of a couple of evenings read each of them. And as I say, they are quite old. Two of them are by the same author and I’ll check the publishing dates, but I think they’re well over 100 years old.

Paul Green:
But the one I’m going to start with first of all is a book called How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling, and this is by a guy called Frank Betcher. Now, I’ve just looked on the inside, this was first published in 1947. 1947, that’s crazy. And this is a really old fashioned book about selling. In fact, it’s been years since I’ve read it, but I seem to remember that the author was selling insurance and it’s literally the story of how he made himself as first a salesman, and then as a business owner just through selling. And why I like it is despite it’s old fashioned approach and selling insurance back in the 20s, 30s and 40s really was knocking on the door and seeing if someone would answer and trying to get in and sell them insurance, that was how it was done back then. But what I like about this is just the sheer amount of persistence that this guy has got. I mean literally he’s had doors slammed in his face, he’s been chased off yards by dogs. I’m sure there’s some kind of gun incident in there as well, but the guy just keeps going and keeps going and keeps going. And what he demonstrates for you is this pure enthusiasm to just do what it takes to succeed.

Paul Green:
So I think if you’re going to read this book, it’s not really about selling. Sure, you’ll pick up some stuff about selling, but it’s old fashioned selling. We don’t do door knocking or anything like that these days, we certainly shouldn’t be really. But if you want to read a book that’s just a raw account of persistence, and just keeping going despite all of the odds and how this guy takes himself from being nothing to being one of the highest paid salesman in America, it really is an interesting read.

Paul Green:
So I think it’s one of those that it’s quite good to read, not necessarily for the techniques he talks about, but just the sheer motivation and the fun of his journey. Now, the next two books are written by the same author. And you may have heard of this author before, his name is Napoleon Hill and perhaps his most famous book is called Think and Grow Rich. Now, let’s just have a quick flick through this and see when this was first written, because of course it’s out of copyright now. It’s such an old book. Oh, okay. Here we go. 1937 this was first published. So you can find this for free online and just Google Think and Grow Rich and there are various PDFs of it knocking around, or you can actually buy copies. I like paper books, so I got this one off Amazon, it didn’t cost me a huge amount of money.

Paul Green:
Now apparently, and I only found this out recently, but apparently these days Napoleon Hill is a little bit of a controversial figure in that people are debating whether or not he did meet the people that he claims to have met because Napoleon Hill claims to have met people like Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, the real industry titans of the 20s, the 30s. And he interviewed them about what made them successful. And in fact, he was the first person to coin the concept of a mastermind group, literally where you find a bunch of people and you create a group, it was almost like what we’d call a peer group today. A group of people that you can use to help you make big business decisions.

Paul Green:
And his first book Think and Grow Rich was their advice, it was the advice of these self-made people, and it’s their advice of how they made it. And although the language is a little bit out of date and in some places it’s a little bit turgid, it still is worth a read. Now there is another book from Napoleon Hill which is less talked about, but I absolutely love this, it’s called Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude. And this was actually written by Napoleon Hill and a guy called W. Clement Stone. Of course, both of these people are dead now, but I met someone around about 10 years ago who at the beginning of his career had worked with W. Clement Stone. And again, another self-help author and he was a businessman as well. And he wrote a great autobiography, which is called The Success System That Never Fails. So this book just like Think and Grow Rich and pretty much like the first one as well, How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling, they’re about mindset more than anything else.

Paul Green:
And I think if you, as you’re reading them, you place them in your mind as, “Hey, these are historical texts.” When Napoleon Hill first wrote Think and Grow Rich, you couldn’t access the kind of stuff that we can access today. You look at anything on the internet, you want to go looking for positive quotes or information or advice or how to be more positive or how to change yourself, literally we can access that stuff like that. But back in the day, they really couldn’t access this kind of stuff. This kind of stuff just wasn’t routinely around. And it was books like these that became the first kind of self-help manuals as it were for ordinary people to read and to realise that actually they didn’t have to be stuck in whatever difficult situation they were in. They could pull themselves out. They could literally pull themselves by the bootstrap and take action and change their lives.

Paul Green:
And if you look at, what, I guess you would call the American Dream, which really is the Western Dream, isn’t it? Which is that anyone can improve themselves. No matter where they start from, they can improve themselves and make themselves the person they want to be. And the vast majority of people believe that these days, because we see it all around us all the time. A lot of that started with these books. So I think if you’re looking for a boost, a motivational boost or a mindset boost, these are a great place to start because these are literally the great granddaddy of the books and the stuff that’s being written today. Go grab these books. They’re really cheap on Amazon. They’re probably on Audible as well, and they are a fairly entertaining read.

Voiceover:
Here’s this week’s clever idea.

Paul Green:
So I want to talk to you now about PR or public relations, getting free publicity. And this has always been one of my favourite subjects to talk about. And that’s not only because I started my career as a newspaper reporter and then went on to be a radio journalist and a presenter. In fact, I did 13 years in the media in total, but if you get your PR right, you can get journalists in your local media and local news blogs, and other places where the kind of people that you want to reach hang out, you can get these local journalists who significantly and positively affect your reputation locally, but also directly generate leads for you. And the best of all, this really doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, this shouldn’t cost much at all, which is just wonderful.

Paul Green:
So we all know that local print newspapers are just dying really, really quickly. But despite this, there is still a hunger for local news. I’m sure in your market place, there are lots and lots of different news and media outlets, it’s just maybe they’re not the same as the ones that were there 20 years ago. Of course, all of our attention has moved online. A lot of the media outlets struggled to move online fast enough and to be as good as rivals that were set up, but there’s virtually no marketplace where you haven’t got, even if it’s just a local journalist who set up their own blog, or here where I live in, in Milton Keynes in the middle of the UK, what once was dominated by the local newspaper, the citizen online now, the local news is dominated by the local community radio station, which is called MKFM. And it’s crazy that a community not-for-profits business is actually doing a better job of online news coverage than a proper newspaper was. And certainly their website is a lot easier to use.

Paul Green:
So there are always audiences because there’s always a hunger for local news. People want to know what’s happening. And this actually gives you more opportunities than 10 or 20 years ago, because in most news businesses, there are now fewer journalists producing more content to faster deadlines. So in 1993, when I first started in newspapers, we had one edition of the newspaper to do a week. We literally did nothing on Thursdays and Fridays. And then we wrote the whole newspaper on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and it was probably still Thursdays. That was it. I look back now and I think that was actually quite a good life. These days, you’d have to keep the website updated 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And you’d probably have fewer staff to do it because there’d be less advertising money coming in.

Paul Green:
So what this all means is that the people who give the media the right kind of stories in the right kind of way are much more likely to get valuable free publicity. So let’s start by looking at the difference between publicity and advertising. So PR is any kind of communication really between your business and the public. If you write a letter to apologise to an unhappy client or even an email, in a way that’s public relations. And there is always the risk that that letter could end up on social media or on someone’s blog or on a website or something like that. If you sponsor the local scout troop or a local school to do a litter pick, that’s public relations.

Paul Green:
Now, publicity is just one element of public relations where your communication is done through the media. And it’s called free publicity because the media talks about your business for free. If you have to pay in any way, it’s called advertising. Now, the advantage of advertising is that you have very high control over what’s said about your business because you’re paying for that message to be published. But that control comes with a very high price, it’s got very low credibility. And this media savvy world, where we all have commercial messages thrown at us every day, every second of every day, we’ve learned to ignore most of the paid advertisements. We know that when we see an advert, the person has paid to place that message. Publicity is exactly the opposite. It’s got really high credibility because it’s a journalist saying things about your business and you can’t pay them to do that. But of course, it has very low levels of control. You can influence what a journalist says, but you can’t control it.

Paul Green:
So how do you actually get free publicity? Well, there are five unbreakable rules? In fact, the reason that many businesses get it wrong is because they try and over-complicate stuff. You just keep it very, very, very simple. The first rule is to know your target audience and deliver to it. Journalists, whether they’re local journalists writing for local people or they’re journalists in specific vertical or niche that you’ve got, they’re ultra focused on their audience. If the people they’re creating content for want to know about a specific subject, that’s what they’ll write about. If you turn it wanting to get publicity about something else, something that’s not really of interest to their target audience, they just simply won’t be interested in you. So you need to understand exactly what your target audience is interested in and ensure that your story suggestions fit within that. If you get that right, it becomes a lot easier to persuade journalists to run your stories.

Paul Green:
Unbreakable rule number two is that you’ve got to be so different, you naturally catch the attention of journalists. Any business that enjoys a certain degree of commercial success has differentiated itself from its competitors. It’s the concept of the USP, the unique selling proposition. And it’s no different when you pursue free publicity. So your story suggestions, the stories that you suggest to journalists, they’re going to be packed with something called “standoutability”. Now I made that word up, but it’s perfect word for summarising what I mean, because journalists get hundreds and hundreds of press releases and story suggestions every day. And if you’re seen to be the same as everyone else is, they’re going to go the same place, the bin or the delete key.

Paul Green:
Now the next thing you need, and this is the third unbreakable rule is to position yourself as an expert. In fact, this is the single most powerful idea in publicity. If journalists know that you’re an expert in your field, they will turn to you first time and time again, both for information and also for comment on what’s happening in our world. And let’s be honest, our world is a very fast moving world with lots of story opportunities. And if you’re recognised as an expert by journalists, it means that your clients will know that you’re an expert too. Incidentally, it doesn’t really matter who is the one true IT support expert in your area, it matters more who positions themselves first to the journalists and their audience as the experts.

Paul Green:
Unbreakable rule number four is to give journalists what they want and need when they want and need it. So as I said, a huge number of press releases sent to journalists go straight in the bin. Now often, the journalists do this without even opening and reading the email that you send them, and that’s because the people who write to them don’t understand what the journalist wants. So they can’t give it to them. You have the opportunity to be in the 1% who knows exactly what journalists want and you give it to them time and time again, because once you do have a journalist interested in what it is that you’ve got to say and interested in your business, you ensure you give them what they ask for quickly and efficiently. It’s possible to lose media attention as quickly as you attract it, just because you’re not helping the journalist do their job. Journalists are just like your clients, if you don’t fill their needs when they want them filled, they will go elsewhere.

Paul Green:
And the fifth unbreakable rule is to generate creative and imaginative story ideas. Getting publicity is great fun and it can invigorate you and your team, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Yep you’ve got to be creative and come up with some ideas, and there are several easy ways to do this, including some cheats. And it doesn’t really matter whether you consider yourself to be creative or not. I’ll tell you some ideas in just a second, but first of all, you got to make sure you get the story basics right. So to get free publicity, all you have to do is suggest a story to the media. If they think their audience will be interested in it, they will write about it, simple as that, but you got to make sure you give them the full story.

Paul Green:
And to do this, you need to answer five core questions. This is what you learn on day-one of journalism school, the five core questions are this: Who, what, where, when and why. Who is this story about? What have they done or are they going to do? Where did this happen? When did this happen? And then why? This is the most important question of all, because the other questions are mostly basic information, but the reason why someone is going to do something often is the story. Sometimes you don’t have to answer how something’s being done as well as why it’s being done.

Paul Green:
Next thing you got to do is pass the so what test. When a journalist first looks at your story suggestion or your press release, they will ask themselves one question, “So what?” What they actually mean is, “How is this relevant to the audience that I’m writing for?” If your story doesn’t answer this question in seconds, it will be deleted. So here are a series of questions you can ask yourself, have you told the whole story? Have you remembered who, what, where when and most importantly, why can your target audience relate to it? Is it a good enough story? Have you got enough standoutability built in? Examine the media that you want to get publicity with and is your story as good as or better than the stories they’re already carrying? Being ordinary isn’t enough, you must stand out. And are you giving the journalist everything they want? Because if you make it easy for them, you will get more publicity.

Paul Green:
Now, if I think about the biggest PR mistakes made by business owners, I mean, I saw these mistakes being made all the time when I was a journalist. And there were simple things like you don’t generate good enough stories because journalists don’t care about you and your business remember. So if you don’t generate good enough stories, they will just delete it. Another common mistake is to just give up after sending out one press release, you can’t just send out one press release. Really, ideally, you need to send out regular press releases, at least three or four or maybe even six a year. There’s nothing wrong with sending out one a month as well, as long as they’re all different story suggestions.

Paul Green:
And another common mistake is that you don’t get the right kind of mentions in the media or you fail to use coverage to generate leads for your business. You’ve got to make sure that the media coverage you get for your MSP makes it really easy for interested readers, listeners or viewers to find you and get onto your website and have a look at it. And you contain that coverage and actually use it to generate leads and maybe even convert prospects into clients for years to come. And one of the ways to do that is to put copies of your coverage on your website. But listen, I’ve got some practical suggestions for you, and we’re kind of out of time to do that in this week’s podcast, so on next week’s podcast, we’ll have some practical suggestions. I’m going to tell you how to write a press release. I’m going to tell you exactly what goes in it. I’m going to tell you how to send it to the right journalists. And I’ve also got 10 killer ideas for free publicity for you. So part two of this is going to be in next week’s podcast.

Voiceover:
Paul’s blatant plug.

Paul Green:
I did hear that there are some MSPs around who don’t yet have a copy of my free paperback book on how to market your MSP. It’s called Updating Servers Doesn’t Grow Your Business, and basically you can get a free copy at paulgreensmspmarketing.com. If you’re in the states or in the UK, we will physically ship a copy to you for free, it’s a real, listen, paperback copy, there it is. If you’re anywhere else in the world, we’ll send you a PDF. You can go and request it right now at paulgreensmspmarketing.com.

Voiceover:
The big interview.

Colin Knox:
I’m Colin Knox, The CEO of Gradient MSP and I lead this technology platform company to help MSPs make better decisions.

Paul Green:
And thank you so much for coming on the podcast Colin, yours is one of those names that’s been floating around on the periphery of my network for some time. And quite a few people have said, “You’ve got to get Colin on, he’s got a lot to say about using data within your MSP.” So before we jump into using data in this whole world of big data that we live in, just give us a brief recap of your career because you’ve kind of been there and done it, haven’t you?

Colin Knox:
I have, I’ve been through a few things over the last almost 20 years now it seems. So I started out working for my first IT service provider in 2004, I worked with that business for awhile. Eventually, I moved on to more of a mid-sized MSP and kind of grew through the ranks there through being a regular field technician, moving into a special projects role, and then taking over the service delivery management for that business before deciding to try it on my own and I started an MSP, that famously failed in about nine months with a business partner, it just was not suited to success there. but I didn’t let that to discourage me.

Colin Knox:
I went forward and started up my own MSP on my own in 2009, then grew that MSP rather quickly to about 4 million in revenue over five years. And then kind of as we were building that business, I founded a company called Passportal where I operated as the CEO and grew that business to about 2,500 partners around the world and exited that by acquisition to SolarWinds in 2019. After integrating that business into SolarWinds, I stepped into the seat of the VP of community working with and for the 25,000 partners that SolarWinds or now n-able had around the world. I took some time off in the fall of 2020, trying to decide what would be next or if anything would be next. And ultimately, I landed on Gradient MSP.

Paul Green:
Which we’ll talk about towards the end of the interview. Now, before we talk about our main subject which is big data, do you mind if I just go back over that pretty impressive career actually? I’ve just got a couple of questions, probably things that I guess people would always want to ask you, the first one is the MSP that failed, what were the circumstances that caused that failure? Because I think that could be a valuable lesson for people to look at why something didn’t work.

Colin Knox:
Yeah, absolutely. So I did a big post about this on LinkedIn a few months ago, now I think, it really came down to poor judgment on choosing the business partner that I went into business with. I partnered up with a person who had been in IT for awhile. We’d actually worked at the same MSP for a period of time, but more than anything, we were just friends, right? We had similar interests, we hung out a lot and we figured, “Hell, why don’t we just start up our own company and get going on this?” I had no idea as to that person’s motivations going into the business, what their expectations were. I had no understanding of what their work ethic was like, what their technical aptitude was like, anything that would go into building a successful business. So we kind of just went at it and it started becoming very apparent to me that that person had very different motives, expectations and plans for the business. I think they saw a lifestyle type business where they had the better lifestyle, not really having to do a lot of work, not having to bring in a bunch of business, but just kind of enjoy time and not have to report or answer to anybody. And I was kind of grinding away trying to do things and there was only so much I could do.

Colin Knox:
So at the end of the day, I kind of made that decision where I looked at things and said, “I can live in misery for a long time.” And I know people who had business partnerships that they were not happy with and they were trapped in it like a bad regular relationship and got too deep that it would have been too costly to get out. So I figured, “Let’s kind of rip the bandaid off now. Let’s finish this and decide what to do next at that point.” So yeah, it just really came down to not having properly vetted or knowing who I was getting into business with, what they were looking for, what their expectations were and making sure that that was in alignment with what I saw as well.

Paul Green:
That’s a great lesson. And you do hear about people picking business partners really quickly based on gut feel. And yet we wouldn’t someone that way, would we? But almost when we pick a business partner, we’re almost more committed to them than we are to our wives or husbands or whatsoever.

Colin Knox:
Absolutely.

Paul Green:
Okay, second question, the MSP that was a big success, if you could boil that down to a couple of critical success factors, what would they be?

Colin Knox:
A few things. One was sheer determination and just grit. We started that business and in kind of the tail end of the recession 2008, 2009. So not exactly the best glowing time you would think to start a business. So there was a lot of grit, determination and drive, but I think some of the core parts were having a strategy, understanding what our unique selling proposition was, how we could leverage that towards the strategy of what we wanted to build, how we were going to get there, what we were going to offer, all of those types of things. And then executing against that and being focused on that plan. So I think it comes down to the strategy, the execution and the focus for us.

Colin Knox:
I knew lots of people over time, I mean, out at conferences and other business people and whatnot in my circles. And I saw this kind of what I saw as a fundamental flaw or inconsistency is so many people talk and talk and talk about all these things they’re going to do and how big their business is going to be and what they’re going to achieve and what life is going to be like when they do it. And then they don’t ever actually do anything about it. They just sit there and it’s almost like they wait for it to happen. So I refused to let that be part of what we were going to do and I’m big on if we say something’s going to happen, we’re going to make it happen. So that was the big thing, we had the plan, created a strategy and just executed against that with very strict focus as to how we went about it.

Paul Green:
I love it. Absolutely love it. Now these next two questions are probably documented on LinkedIn, as you say, but it’s always good to cover them off in a more intimate conversation as we can have here.

Colin Knox:
Yeah, absolutely.

Paul Green:
Passportal, obviously it’s a pretty good product. It’s an obvious product to create. What was the thing that made you do it? In fact, you may just have covered off the answer to this because every day we all have good ideas, or at least every week we have an idea and we think, “Oh, someone should do that.” Or, “That would be a good idea.” Or, “If only that service was available.” And 99.9% of people who have those ideas never actually acts on them. Sometimes that’s a good thing focus, but often opportunities slip past you. So what was it that made you actually decide to do it and jump on it and get on with it?

Colin Knox:
Yeah, so I had thought about it as a concept for a long time, including when I worked at the last MSP I worked at, and then thinking about it when I had the first MSP and then over time at the MSP that I built up. But a couple of things really happened. One is we got our first resignation from actually the first employee even that joined the business a couple of years into the business. And we spent upwards of 30 hours changing all of the passwords of all of the clients because we had no idea what they knew and what they remembered or what they had seen. And it wasn’t a nasty departure by any means, but we wanted to do our due diligence. And that was the initial impetus where we said, “There’s gotta be some better way to this.”

Colin Knox:
So we went out in the LinkedIn groups and public forums and everything else and posting and asking what other IT companies were doing about password management and nobody had anything. We kept asking, we asked through all of HTG and the groups that we participated in there, and nobody had an answer to it. And then one of our clients that was publicly traded had to go through an audit. And we were going through an audit where we were challenged by the auditors asking, “What are you doing to secure these privileged credentials? And how can you prove that only certain people have access? Who has had access and prove that they’ve been changed since that person had access?” And we had one of those “oh crap” moments. We’ve got nothing, we didn’t do anything about this yet. We saw this problem, still had no answer out in the industry.

Colin Knox:
So yeah, we said, “We’re a profitable business, let’s built something for ourselves.” And kind of had the foresight early on that if we’re going to build it and make the investment, let’s commercialise it at least. So that if other people do see the benefit and want it, then we’ve got that as an option. And we did that, and over the first couple of years of Passportal’s existence, even though we weren’t focusing as an operating company at the time, people responding to those LinkedIn posts and group messages and forums saying, “What did you ever do?” And so we let them know about Passportal. And I’d say we got probably around 250 partners just through some of those initial inquiries and stuff like that. And then we kind of sat and said, “Hey, this could be a much bigger opportunity.” So in 2014, made the decision to split Passportal from the MSP, and I moved into that business full-time and just kind of focus down on it and drove it forward.

Paul Green:
Just fascinating. And my final question before we get onto the thing we’re supposed to be talking about is your exit, what was it that made you sell up? And I guess it wasn’t so much about SolarWinds or n-able as it is now, but was it a case that you felt someone else needed to take it forward or was the offer just too good to refuse? What was it?

Colin Knox:
We were at an inflection point with the business. We were growing very well, triple digits year over year for five consecutive years. So a very strong business, strong growth, strong opportunity. We had actually been going through our series a fundraise, much like various other tech companies often do. And as we were progressing through that path, there was a lot of inbound interest for acquisition. And we had had conversations with a number of parties over the years with offers and whatnot. And at this point, we kind of made the decision that there’s enough interest at this point, we’ve accomplished a fair amount. We still had big dreams of where we could take it, and if we weren’t going to stay independent and take the series A and move forward, we wanted to align ourselves with the business that we felt gave us the best prospect at reaching as many MSPs globally as possible. And at the time, SolarWinds MSP was marketing or advertising 22,000 ish partners globally. There was estimates with the other companies and with the offer as it stood and everything else that looked great, we decided to go that path. And meeting with the leadership team there, there was a lot of synergies and good feel, they were great people, very committed to the MSP market. So that’s really what drove that decision and path to go down with SolarWinds?

Paul Green:
That’s great. What a great story. I think you’re the kind of guest I need to just book onto the podcast every two years, because I imagine every two to three years, you’ve just done something amazing to talk about it. Right, let’s talk about the subject we wanted to get you on about, which was big data. So I know this is something that you’ve immersed yourself in for the last couple of years. And am I right in saying that your supposition is that as MSPs, we’re surrounded by big data, huge amounts of data, but we don’t leverage it particularly well.

Colin Knox:
There’s all these statistics out there about the rate at which data is growing and accumulating, at this incredible pace. And we’ve got all these tools as MSPs that they use day in and day out to manage their business, operate and deliver the services that they do. And we get so stuck in the busy-ness of running a business that when making decisions, there are often a knee-jerk reaction decision based off a hunch or trying to push things or take a quick look at what we have or what we can put together. And I think there’s been a lot of great solutions that have come on the market on the business intelligence space and with dashboarding and reporting and things like that. And that’s done really great for the MSPs who have matured along and been able to remove themselves from in the business to be on the business.

Colin Knox:
But there’s been this gross inequity of access to data and insights. When you look at the mass side of the market that call it 88, 90% of the MSP space are 10 employees and under. And lot of those owners are very stuck in the business, they’re still trying to get things going, try to scale, try to find ways to make it move forward. And they’re a lot like I was when I started my MSP, I was this accidental entrepreneur that I would have called myself a business owner, but definitely not a business person. And it took a lot of time and effort and learning and education and mentorship to start to make that transition into a business person. And I think there’s a lot of opportunity to help MSPs and the MSP owners out there, to make that same transition and to be able to leverage data to better understand their business and just overall make better decisions moving forward.

Colin Knox:
I mean, you look at just gross growth of, and not gross in a bad way, but just significant of the MSP subreddit of some of the Facebook business owners groups for MSPs. And the sheer amount of questions that fly day in and day out in that, from what services should I be offering? What should I be charging? Who should I be partnered with? How should I handle this situation? What are you guys seeing? How much profit should I have? All of these questions that are out there that people want to know, and the data’s all there to get that information and get those answers. And I think there’s a lot of opportunity to really leverage that data to make better decisions in and about the business. And there’s statistics showing that companies in general or businesses in general who adopted data-driven mentality versus kind of that hunch driven or gut driven, they’ll see on average 6% out performance of what they would have done on a hunch-based decision.

Colin Knox:
Now that might not seem a lot when you look at a single year, but as that compounds annually, you look at 10 years down the road, and a lot of MSPs I know have been in this business bracket for 10, 15, 20 years. At 10 years, you’re talking 60% outperformance of where you would have otherwise been, simply by making decisions and running faster as a result of that off of the data. So we’re trying to spread this mission of helping MSPs better tune to data, helping them understand how they can really refine that art of decision making in their business and how to leverage data properly.

Paul Green:
Yeah, this makes perfect sense. As a side note, you mentioned the subreddit, the MSP subreddit, that’s the most terrifying place on the internet that is. Now obviously-

Colin Knox:
For MSPs and vendors alike I’ll share.

Paul Green:
Oh, it’s awful. I was, not attacked, but I was challenged by someone about my service, the MSP Marketing Edge. And it was a bizarre situation where I offered to set this guy up as a free user and give him three months so he could write a review on it, I’ve got nothing to hide, but he wouldn’t tell me who he really was or where he was based. And I’ve put everything about me publicly on that forum, anyway, awful place. Great place to go for resource, but there are better places to go I think. So you’re saying that the average MSP, which doesn’t have a huge amount of resource in-house, and if they can find a way to dive into that data, they’ll make better decisions, they’ll grow faster. That makes perfect sense. The big question of course then is how. When you are busy dealing with clients, dealing with staff, just trying to make sure that the business ticks along every day, how do you find the time or the resource or just making it easy to dip into the data that’s clearly sat around you?

Colin Knox:
I think there’s a lot of ways to do it. If you think about it, there’s a very popular research study out there that has said that the average adult makes 35,000 decisions a day. Now, those aren’t all about business or your job or what have you, but a lot of them are. When you start thinking about purchasing decisions, negotiation, staffing, who to send to a certain client, which client to hit first, which ticket to take next, all of these things that come into play. And there’s, again, so many solutions on the market that have done dashboarding and reporting solutions and just quick filters or being able to do prebuilt searches, whether it’s in your PSA or your other tools and stuff, to just make it a habit to do a quick look at the data, right?

Colin Knox:
If you have a client that’s requesting an urgent response to something, take a quick peek and see what your c-sat is like with them. See what level of satisfaction they have. If they’re really low, chances are that’s a client that you really want to prop up. So maybe take and find one of your better more social and likable technicians or something to send out to that call. And you can find that out by doing a quick c-sat average check across your technicians. Who’s getting the best results right now? That they can go out there and instead of you having to send an account management person or have one of those extra owner-to-owner calls and touchpoints, which you should be having anyways, but you can start to leverage little bits of data that way to send people to the right calls or which client to handle next? Or which type of clients you want to even be attracting?

Colin Knox:
I know you do a lot of stuff on marketing and go to market messaging and things like that. Paul, well, how about looking at the data to find out what are the traits about your best clients? Who pays the fastest? And now look at all of those clients that pay the fastest, what are the similarities about those ones? Who pay the most? Who have the better budgets? Who are more accommodating and adopting of your recommendations? Is it a specific vertical or industry? Is it a type of business where it’s all employee owned? A bunch of things that way that you can start to look at and then say, “Those are now the types of businesses we want to attract moving forward and grow. So now I’m going to talk to those companies and even look at survey reviews and stuff and see what they’ve said to us already to help me better define my messaging so that I can attract other like-minded and similar businesses to my company.”

Colin Knox:
So it’s about making a habit to just look at some of the data that you have, what makes the most sense and just be mindful and methodical about how you approach these thousands and thousands of decisions you’re making every day and start to be a little bit more habitual or more process driven around it. Defining your scope, looking at what’s a potential impact of a decision. How quick do you need to make it? Is it something that can be reversed and undone or not? And then guiding it that way. I’d say those decisions that are maybe high-impact and high-risk and can’t be reversed, take a little bit more time, dig through some data, take your time to make that decision. But that’s really the way that you can start to approach things, as simple as even on the ticket back club parties, I don’t know, I think a bunch of MSPs do that, I know we sure did it. We actually closed way more tickets on the days that we ordered pizza versus when we did the barbecue and just did burgers for everybody or something.

Colin Knox:
It’s amazing how simple it can be down to that way. Certain foods may be more social for your technicians versus just making it and sitting down and eating and plugging through tickets. I mean, there’s so many different ways that you can leverage and look at data to start to understand things. And even just looking at data and making a habit. If you don’t have time during the day to do it, then carve off a little bit on a Saturday morning or in an evening, or just block off your time a few weeks down the road to just start looking at the data and see what unveils to you. Look at the reports that you’ve been looking at and if there’s nothing that’s really standing out to say, “Hey, I’m recognising a trend in this.” Then maybe those aren’t the right reports for you to see either, because you can’t just look at, “We haven’t had any outages due to low disk space.” or we haven’t had this or haven’t had that, you want to be looking at reports that actually indicate and tell you something.

Colin Knox:
So if you’re not getting anything from the reports you’re seeing, if you’re not seeing trends or anomalies that appear when you look at it across your client base, then those are kind of becoming useless window dressings for you as a business owner, instead of just digging in and finding out. You want to find the things that are wrong, you want to find the things that are going super well so that you can zero in on those and minimise the things that are going wrong and focus more on the things that are going right.

Paul Green:
So it seems obvious to me that you’ve built Gradient MSP to help MSPs to do this, tell us what it is and how it works.

Colin Knox:
Yeah, so we’re building towards what I think is the industry’s first data intelligence platform. I’m very clear, I’m not saying business intelligence, we’re focused on the business side, but we’re not about building a big data visualisation platform because I think that category is well handled already for MSPs that can make the best use of it. We’re focused on making sure that those who are looking at reports are getting the most from those reports. So the first thing that we launched was a data hygiene or data cleaning module, which connects to your PSA as an MSP and pulls in the data, analyses the data and tells you which records we believe might not be relevant to your business anymore and could be obscuring your vision of your business and causing some red herrings in the decisions you’re making or what you think is really going on.

Colin Knox:
So we’ve started there and then we’re working towards this collective intelligence platform where for every MSP that participates and is in the program and in the platform, they have the opportunity to get back thousands fold what they give in by being able to be fed by the data of their peers. Something that can march them towards an understanding of what their peers are truly offering? What their peers are charging? How their peers are structuring their business and what they’ve done that has fundamentally impacted their growth either positively or negatively moving forward so that they don’t have to go through all the guesswork and guessing game that comes with building an MSP. You can connect that, you can understand what you need to do. You can be pointed in the right direction and not left looking at a shiny dashboard and thinking, “Is this good? Is this bad? What do I even do to impact it if it is bad?” Having a solution that can come out and just tell you what it is you need to do that gives you your best chance at growing and being successful.

Paul Green:
Yeah, that makes perfect sense. So tell us how we can get in touch with you Colin, and what’s your website address?

Colin Knox:
Find us online at meetgradient.com. If you want to get started with the data hygiene, data cleaning or your sheerly just curious about how much dirty data is actually lurking in your PSA, check out meetgradient.com/checkmyscore. And that’ll get you kicked off to connecting up and into the system. And we’re hearing from a lot of MSPs that have jumped into the platform already that is very eye-opening. A lot of them jumped in saying, “I’m going to prove you wrong. I’ve been running this business great, I’ve got a clean PSA.” And that’s been very true for a few of them, but I’d say on average we’re finding about $250,000 or so worth of dirty data lurking in their PSA’s. And that number’s kind of based on a rule of data science of the 1-10-100 Rule where every dirty record comes at a cost consequence of $100 to the business at some point over the life of that record in the business. So we’re finding a substantial amount of dirty data and helping a lot of MSPs clean that up and make better decisions.

Voiceover:
Paul Green’s MSP Marketing Podcast. This week’s recommended book.

Stephen De Tomasi:
Hello everyone. It’s Stephen De Tomasi from Amigo Technology. Today I’m recommending a book called Work the System by Sam Carpenter. Absolutely transformative for our business and how we think about everything we do day-to-day, making sure that everything is a system and everything that is systemised can be done by anyone. It’s really a game changer. Check it out.

Voiceover:
Coming up next week.

Stormie Andrews:
Hey there, this is Stormie Andrews of Yokel Local, and oftentimes people approach me wanting to outsell, outgrow their competition. The best way of doing it is outsmarting the competition. Be sure to visit the next episode and we’ll go over The World’s Best Buyer Persona System, it is the foundation for outsmarting the competition.

Paul Green:
We’ll also be finishing next week the conversation we started about PR. We’ve done the theory today, next week, we’re going to get into the practical actions that you can take. Plus, we’ll be talking about Google Ads. Do you use Google Ads for your MSP? There’s a mindset that you have to adopt for them and we’ll take about it next week. Have a great week, see you then.

Voiceover:
Made in the UK for MSPs around the world Paul Green’s MSP Marketing Podcast.

 

 

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