7 Reasons Why MSP Marketing Fails

Marketing is an investment that drives sales and increases revenue. Or it should be. All too often, it is an expense. Worse it becomes a work generator that sucks up time. Why is marketing so ineffective? Why doesn’t marketing work?

Marketing requires structured, consistent action over time that is customer-focused on the customer and their experience. It must have a digital component; digital marketing is key. We’ve found seven key areas to focus on – get these right, and your marketing will drive predictable sales profitably.

First – digital marketing is just marketing.

MSP Marketing is not posting to Instagram or gathering followers on X, Twitter, TikTok, or anything else. While that may be a part of your marketing, marketing is more than that: it is about getting the word out so that you can grow.

It is simple: to grow you must attract new clients. 

If you are attracting new clients, networking, explaining what you do, putting together proposals, and designing your offerings, you are marketing.  

Every business or professional practice is involved in marketing in some way. Without marketing, there would be no clients.

The challenge for most businesses or practices is to market the business on purpose and efficiently. 

Most companies do not get the results they want or need from their marketing efforts; they take lots of actions but don’t see results.

So, while digital marketing is just marketing, it has also changed marketing

Remember when this was a thing?

 The Yellow Pages used to be a valuable resource.
The Yellow Pages used to be a valuable resource.

There was a time when you could BUY access to the market. Before digital buying an advertisement was a signal to the market that you were serious.

But that has changed.

Now, according to Garter, your clients or customers will make 57% of their decision to buy before they ever talk to you. And this is true for offline as well as online businesses: Google estimates that 97% of all business transactions START online, even though only 6% are completed online.

The marketing that works today is digital marketing. Website, social, email, and online engagement are what will drive sales. You can use other marketing tools, but digital marketing is the hub.

Reason 1: You don’t know your customer, and you haven’t defined a target audience/target market.

If you don’t know whom you are selling to, they certainly can’t know that they should buy from you.

Even if you have the most amazing product in the world if they don’t “get it” they won’t buy it.

 You probably have a great product.
You probably have a great product.
 Your Customer Doesn’t get it - a key marketing challenge.
Your Customer Doesn’t get it – a key marketing challenge.

The most common customer definition is “everybody,” and the second most common is something expansive and non-descriptive, such as “CPAs” or “medium-sized businesses.”

As Seth Godin says, “If you have to water down your story to appeal to everyone, it will appeal to no one.”

For your marketing to work, you must get specific. People buy, but companies and industries do not.  All marketing is human-to-human marketing. To sell to humans, you have to know them, what they care about, what they worry about, and what they need.

Ironically, the more narrowly you define your customer, the broader your market becomes because people can quickly identify themselves as your customer.

Symptoms that you don’t know your customer

Anyone can benefit syndrome

When you look at your offering, you see how this can impact a wide swath of people. It almost certainly can. There are probably multiple clients who would benefit from your services. However, that doesn’t work from the perspective of the prospect.

Your prospect does not see him or herself as “anybody” but rather as an individual with problems and challenges. Better is for you to speak to that person with those challenges. That means defining your market niche specifically. Later, you can expand.  

You are afraid of potentially turning customers off

Not wanting to turn customers off often leads to inaction.  It is a concern that if you do take action or if you do focus on a customer segment you will be turning your other prospects off. Mostly, this is not true – other customers outside of your market segment will be interested, and you can talk to them.

More importantly, it doesn’t matter. You will gain more clients by focusing and talking to somebody than you will ever turn off.

How to fix not knowing your customer: develop your customer persona

The first step in getting to know your customer is to start with what you already know about them. Think back to a perfect customer or group of customers (or an ideal customer if you don’t have a past customer yet). Picture them in your head and build a persona with details about who they are and what they do.  

Start here and build. Refine the customer over time and shift your persona to those who buy so that you start to develop an unambiguous picture of whom you are targeting.

Reason 2: You don’t understand the target audience’s issues and how they buy

Most marketing focuses on what you do. Business owners want to explain and clarify how they solve the problem.  

The challenge is that your prospect is not interested in your solution until they connect with you around the issue.    

Note that not understanding your customers’ issues is different from not knowing your customers. Knowing your customer is more personal – it requires understanding their life.  

Knowing their issues and how they buy is about the problem you solve for them.  

Understanding their issues is the most critical aspect of your marketing strategy.  

You MUST speak to your customer (as you have defined them above) and what is missing for them.  We say that they live in one world, you live in another and they will do no work to understand your world.  If they don’t do the work, you must.

Your marketing must appeal to them on a core, reptilian brain, emotional level, which is all about them. Once you have shown them that you understand their problem in their world, they will ask how you solve the problem. Only then can you get into the solution. 

Part of understanding your customer is to understand how they buy.  If your target market finds information in a newspaper and you are advertising on Facebook, they will never see you.  How do they use your website to find information about you?  What questions need answering before they can buy? 

These are all key to the buying decision.  

Symptoms suggesting that you don’t know your customers’ issues

Your marketing doesn’t yield new business

The simple fact that whatever you are doing doesn’t yield more business, or not enough business, suggests that you don’t know your customers’ issues.  When you understand their problems your marketing will connect more effectively because you will be talking about them.  

You are not getting the clients you should 

We often hear that marketing works, but the wrong clients are buying.  They may be too small or too large or looking for something that you don’t offer.  Often these clients drain your time with conversations and meetings without buying. Alternatively, they may engage you on small projects and take forever to pay.

 The source of this issue is a lack of understanding.  

Uses research to get to know your customers’ issues

Ask yourself: what is missing in their life? What do they need, professionally, that they do not have?  Also, what is keeping them from being ?  There is always something missing otherwise they won’t hire you.

  1. Step one is to look at what you do and express this concerning the problem you solve.  If you help people improve their presentations, they must need help with their presentations.    

    What is it?  Do they struggle to build slides? Do they fear public speaking? What is the problem you solve? 

  2. The second step is to conduct research.  Talk to your customers or prospective customers and ask them.  Research is a valuable tool that will help you define your niche and understand your customer fully.  

Here are some of the questions we like to ask to understand the customer, you don’t want to bombard them with all of these at once, but you can work these into your conversations and build a picture piece by piece. 

 Questions that help define needs include: 

  • Why does your perfect client choose you?

  • What do they want to achieve? 

  • What are their concerns, what do they want to avoid? 

  • What is their greatest challenge, what is holding them back (gets to what is missing and what keeps them incomplete)? 

  • What does success look like for them? 

  • What do your clients feel about you? 

 Understanding customer influencers and information sources is also essential, questions to ask here are:

  • Where do they get their information? 

  • Whom do they see as a leader in the market? 

  • How do they find service providers?

Also, go beyond your customers and look at what is happening in the market in general: 

  • What trends can you identify? 

  • How are others identifying the problem, what words do they use? 

  • How are similar services priced – is your pricing aligned? 

  • How are people buying the services you offer (bonus: there may be an opportunity here to innovate and set yourself apart). 

While doing this remember to focus on your perfect customer.  

There are many other markets out there, focus on your ideal customer, your target, first.

Marketing Failure Reason 3: You don’t have a documented journey

There are many moving pieces in marketing. Good marketing is a balance between communication, balancing the funnel and creating useful products.  

The process of taking a prospect from stranger to a raving fan requires a well thought through plan and a consistent approach.

Marketing also requires time.  There are short term things that you can do, but you must also deliver and build on what you do over time.  Consistency requires a plan.  

Without a plan you make things up as you go along, which almost guarantees that you will waste time, money and effort.   

Some Symptoms of not having a marketing plan are:

You don’t have a marketing plan:

Here is a pretty straightforward test: if somebody asks you for your plan can you produce it?  Is it written down?  If not, then you don’t have one. Easy.

Without a plan, you can’t align your team, and you can’t measure progress against the plan.

You continuously try new things:

Trying something new is a bit like chasing shiny things – you spend some time with one tactic, lose interest, or it becomes hard, then you move on to the next one.  

Maybe you work on building social media for a while, then shift to speaking as you abandon social media. 

Marketing becomes a constant stream of new ideas and new things to try, which leaves a long trail of incomplete initiatives.  Implementing any tactic takes consistent effort over time; constant shifting leads to a lot of wasted effort and expense.  

 You are trying marketing tactics to see what works. 

Alternatively, you try many different ideas and tactics to see what works.  You start with one strategy or channel, put it out there, see if you get a response then move on to the next one.  The big problem with this is that nothing works if you don’t plan it. You might get some results, but it is more by chance than planning. Chance is expensive – planning leads to predictable results.   

You don’t have any analytics or content testing 

The other problem with moving from tactic to tactic is that you cannot run analytic tests to see what works.  

The key to understanding what works is to make small changes, expose them to two different groups, see which one they like better and then do this again.   Take your website, for example, you should test it to see how well a headline engages the market or how different calls to action actually call people to action.  

You should run experiments and measure the results to continuously improve your outcomes.

Your team is not aligned

One of the key benefits of a written plan is how it ties the team together.  Without a plan, everybody works on their own and ends up working at cross purposes.  Misalignment is inefficient and costly.  A plan gives everybody something to focus on and align around. 

To fix not having a marketing plan… create a plan.

There is no trick to this one, to get a plan, create a plan.  Use our step by step process, that starts with deeply understanding your customer, clarifying your solution and then structuring the funnel that will drive them to close business with you.

Alternatively, you can write down what you are going to do.  Sometimes, we overcomplicate these things: write it down, identify how you will measure it, implement, measure, and reassess.

Don’t worry about it being right. Your first plan is a stake in the ground. No plan survives first contact with the enemy, and your marketing plan is no different. It will change, but you want to intentionally adjust it and with data.

Reason 4: You are doing a lot of work but not producing results 

Marketing should be an investment; it should deliver results.  Which just means if your marketing efforts are not generating sales results then they are not working.

Often companies are lulled into confidence generated by effort.  

There is an allure to just being busy.

One of the risks of marketing today is that the channels we have generate their dopamine rewards internally: you can garner attention through followers, likes, and pings of one sort or another,  and feel great about it, without any of it leading to business.

There is also an active cultural element to this.  “Effort” is immediately visible, so it tends to be the thing leaders reward. The opportunity is to shift this to a focus on results.

Symptoms of too much effort and not enough results 

People have no time

In an effort driven situation, your marketers (or yourself) are hectic.  As a result, they do not have time to discuss new ways of acting or even thinking about what actions to take.  Sometimes they don’t have time to do what they need to do.

You can recognize this in yourself if you find your marketing efforts encroaching on every other aspect of your life rather than being a defined part of work. 

Everybody is busy doing with very little analyzing

Busy teams execute and do but neglect the analysis.  Action can often look like highly responsive effort, but it lacks substance.  In marketing this can take the form of lots of generated content or activities, but little assessment of the impact.  Or, this can take the form of swift action, such as responses to e-mails or social media messages, without thinking about the answers.

Your team misses deadlines and doesn’t realize intentions

All of this activity and lack of time will often lead to inconsequential deadlines.  There is almost always a good reason: everybody is too busy acting, responding and doing so despite their best efforts deadlines slip. 

 In most cases this happens with the best of intentions – you, the team, those working around you put in the effort to deliver, they just are not getting the results.  

Not enough budget

This problem also manifests in the lack of budget.  To maximize results through trying new things and seeing what works you spread budget thinly over many initiatives and activities.  None of the initiatives are fully funded, everything needs more, and you don’t have the money to make it work.

Fix the effort equation through CEO involvement, finding the experts and creating focus on high return activities.

  1. The first step is to commit to making your marketing work at the highest level.  CEO level involvement and commitment to marketing with a focus on results rather than effort will go a long way.  

  2. Find the experts to help: get training and consulting to support delivery on your marketing goals. We often work with experts in their fields who feel intuitively that they should be able to get marketing done, but there is a lot to learn in marketing your business and bringing in the experts can save you a lot of money and bring you closer to your objectives much more quickly.  

  3. The third fix is to create focus.  Quality is more important than quantity, so reduce the number of activities and focus on those that will most likely yield results.  

Focus applies as much to the channels as it does the content. High quality, well-crafted, content is more valuable than lots of low-quality content. 

You also want to drive your focus to high return activities such as conducting research and speaking.  Both of these are great ways to build connection and get your voice heard, and they also provide content and ideas that can be repurposed.  

Low return activities tend to include e-mail marketing and sending materials to prospects.  These are important but you must prioritize correctly.  Collateral and e-mail marketing tend to be lower down the funnel and is more about building relationships than generating interest.   

Part of focus may be knowing where your prospects are in their journey to buying from you and focusing your efforts there.    


Reason 5: Bad Data or Inaccessible Information

Ultimately the real measure of whether your marketing is working, the only one that truly matters, is the business it brings in. So, measurement is key to effective marketing.  However, we often meet with clients who do not have access to useful data.  

You can’t measure if you don’t have the right data or don’t have accessible information. 

Nobody suffers from a lack of data – you can measure a dizzying array of marketing related metrics.  The problem is that too often the data are locked in systems and difficult to access, or the data are wrong because they are incomplete or siloed inappropriately.

Symptoms of bad data

You don’t know what works and what doesn’t

Without good data, you cannot tell what works and what doesn’t.  So, if you don’t know what is working and what isn’t this is likely a data issue.  

Data are incomplete

Sometimes you may have data, but they don’t tell the whole picture.  You may know what your bounce rate is, but not know what content is well received and what is driving your traffic.  Or, the other way around.  Powerful marketing requires a complete analytical picture your marketing.

Systems don’t link up

You probably have many systems running: website, email, social media, CRM.  Without some planning and structure, each one of these exists as a silo of information.  You end up with details spread out across systems but no comprehensive picture, which is impossible to optimize.

Limited calculations

Bad data tends to play out in not having key metrics available; you can’t answer questions like your cost of acquisition or lifetime value of a client.  Often you don’t even have a complete picture of how much your company spends or the actions you take.

How to fix bad data 

The two keys to getting the right data are to implement the proper systems and to assign owners. 

Implementing the right systems doesn’t necessarily mean more systems, it often means fewer.  Focus on those you need and ensure that you are using them entirely and the right way. 

You should also Link the systems that you already have.  Tools exist to link different programs so that you don’t end up with siloed data. Creating these links makes calculating metrics possible. 

Finally, assign owners to the information, make this a priority for someone, when it is somebody’s job to produce useful data you will end up with better data.    

Reason 6: You can’t measure efficacy or success 

Your marketing isn’t working if you can’t measure how effective it is, or if you don’t know whether it is generating results.  

This starts with having good data, but data by itself isn’t helpful.  You need to turn that data into actionable information.  

Marketing is a business activity, an investment in growth and you put real money behind it.  So, you must know if it is working.  If you don’t know, then it isn’t working.  It is that simple.

Symptoms of not being able to measure efficacy or success

Decisions are guesses

If you are using your gut to make decisions, then you do not measure what works and what doesn’t. When choosing between unknowns and trying to figure a way through something that can’t be accurately measured, use your gut.  In marketing focus on the analytics.

No regular reporting

You can’t make informed decisions if you don’t have regular reporting.  We often see sporadic or ad hoc reporting.  Irregular reporting can sometimes look like a big push to get some numbers together then a lack of follow up on updating the numbers and tracking how they change.   

 You are better off with a few simple metrics tracked consistently over time than with a spreadsheet of dozens of parameters generated once.

Data are not understood 

Often data are wholly misread or misunderstood.  Objective metrics like “bounce rate” or site visits are misunderstood. The challenge is to comprehend what this is and why you care.

There is also the problem of looking at the wrong data and thinking that they will give you the right answer, or that they are the right indicators.  Followers on social media, for example, is often a useless metric but one that people often track.  The number of followers you have is most to the platform, so they make this very easy to measure.

However, you must understand what these numbers mean to you and how they impact your business.  It is critically important, therefore, to understand the metrics you track and their relevance in your business.  

Reason 7: You treat marketing as an expense not an investment.

Marketing must be investment in growth, building your client base and engaging with your customers. When you launch a marketing campaign you should know the return on your efforts.

If you don’t have a handle on what you are doing and the results your actions are driving, you are just wasting your time and money.  

Too often though companies treat marketing as an expense or a necessary evil.

Marketing becomes something that must be done. That makes it a complete waste of money.

Symptoms of treating marketing as an expense rather than an investment

The challenges above are evident in your company

Without the right priority it is almost inevitable that you will fall into the traps above. So if you see failures this is likely a result of not demanding enough of your marketing.

Your expectations are low and your focus is on minimizing the cost

If you are treating marketing as an expense then your expectations will be low. Your focus moves to minimizing the outlay and spending less money rather than maximizing the returns. Note this this is not necessarily about spending MORE money, it is about demanding more from the money you spend.

In the end this is about demanding more from your marketing. You should insist on results. You should measure your return on investment and you should ensure that whatever money you are putting in to marketing is delivering a result.

Fortunately, the fixes don’t have to be complicated.  Often less marketing done well will have a better impact than trying everything and seeing what sticks.

Remember that the objective with marketing is to build a relationship, establish trust and relevance so that people will buy from you.  Structure your marketing so that it delivers.  

Follow the steps above to assess your marketing efforts and make sure your marketing works for you.  

Interested in how to bring clarity to your marketing? Start with an EngageStory, Learn more here.

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