From the Ground Up: The Keys to a Sustainable MSP with Guest Layne Frank
Jeff Loehr: Today we’re joined by Layne Frank to discuss sales and how he sells MSP services – a topic that comes up often with MSPs. It’s great to get the opinions of experienced people like Layne to help us become better at sales and marketing.
Joe Rojas: We’re like the college athletes, and Layne is the guy with the gold medal at the Olympics.
Jeff Loehr: Ha, well then I’m a high school student who’s been trying to figure out a way to get around the field at school. Layne actually knows what he’s talking about. Layne, tell us a little about yourself.
Layne Frank: I’m so grateful to be here on this lovely Monday afternoon. Well, I’m the son of a roofer from Philadelphia and I spent my whole life working on roofs. But back in the early 90s, I had a pivotal moment and decided the roofing industry wasn’t for me. So I took a one way ticket to New York City and my career in technology sales began. Now, over 25 years later, here I am!
I’m now at BBH Solutions – we’re turning 34 years old this year. We’re a managed security services provider (MSP) that specializes in security and confidentiality. We’ve been proudly holding our SOC 2 Type 2 certification for the past 11 years, which puts us in a unique position compared to other companies.
Jeff Loehr: So basically – see if this resonates with our audience – you’ve narrowed down your product to make it different from other MSPs and created a special offering for people. Does that sound right?
Layne Frank: Yes, and it really happened a bit by accident. 11 years ago, we didn’t have Azure in the Microsoft Cloud, or Amazon Web Services. And we’d be helping local and community banks get their infrastructure out of their premises and into a data center. 11 yeasr ago we built our own private data centers to host virtual servers and applications in the cloud. It was the start of something big.
Joe Rojas: I really enjoy the focus that Jeff had on a certain type of client. It’s when you narrow down and focus on something that the real magic happens. It’s a great way to have some fun and meaningful conversations.
Jeff Loehr: Right. And I’m going to suggest it was not accident, Layne. You went out and asked your customers what they needed and they told you. You then put together a package to solve their problem and went out and sold it. It wasn’t an accident, it was a deliberate process. A bit of brilliant strategy.
Layne Frank: Yeah it definitely was not an accident. We have to answer the question of what we’re doing with banks’ data, so we have to get everything in order. To do this, I got service order controls, which has put us in a different playing field after 11 years. You and Joe always talk about finding your niche, and we found it in the banking world with community banks, local banks, and regional banks with two to 200 branches around the country.
Jeff Loehr: So you’ve been able to grow business steadily by creating a specific avatar and product.
Layne Frank: Right, though its not just banks. We have many divisions, the largest of which is our managed services group. We focus a lot on sales for this group, but we also do corporate relocations, design and build networks, audio, visual, and voice solutions, and anything else that makes an office work.
Jeff Loehr: And when you first started selling, it was high-speed internet access, right?
Joe Rojas: You were an ISP way back then.
Jeff Loehr: Back in the days when people knew what an ISP was.
Layne Frank: I like to think I invented the internet.
Jeff Loehr: But it sounds like even then you were addressing a problem that you saw on the market, you were bringing something to the table that not only provided access but actually solved the problem that people had.
Layne Frank: It’s a good story. I was part of a startup company called Intellispace in 1995. We partnered with Rudin to buy the first internet connection into a commercial building at 55 Broad Street, which had been vacant for years after Michael Milkin’s Drexel Burnham company disappeared. We distributed the connection to the tenants and the building became the Information Technology Center of New York, with companies like IBM, Sun, and Oracle taking space there. We became pioneers in delivering internet to commercial buildings all over the world.
Jeff Loehr: That’s very cool. So they needed something to differentiate their building from all the others in order to bring in more people.
Layne Frank: I remember when I first moved to New York City and there was only one building that had high-speed internet connection available to the tenants.
Jeff Loehr: So yeah, back in 1996 I built my first website using a 14 baud modem. It was a slow process, and high-speed internet wasn’t something we had access to.
Layne Frank: And I had just moved to Manhatten. Moving to Manhattan the year after college was the perfect timing for me to answer an ad in the New York Times and launch my sales career. I didn’t know anything about the internet at the time, so I had to learn as I went.
Jeff Loehr: Nobody knew what the internet was when you took the job.
Layne Frank: I was asked to help out a bunch of engineers with this concept and idea and they needed somebody to sell it. I said yes, even though I had no idea what the internet was or how to sell this thing. They said it was no problem and gave me the information I needed.
Jeff Loehr: Put it on the roof because I’m really good at roofs!
Layne Frank: I started out selling Internet access by going door to door in buildings. After a year, I decided I wanted to negotiate the rights to bring fiber-optics into the buildings, but I had no experience in negotiating. So I had to figure it out as I went.
Joe Rojas: You’re talking about getting really niche and helping landlords with their problem of not getting enough tenants or the types of tenants they want. You call them up and say, “Hey, you got this problem? I’ve got a solution for that problem. Let me tell you what it is.” Then, you talk about the solution and the transformation they’ll get once they have it.
Layne Frank: The selling process wasn’t necessarily easy, but it was made easier by the fact that it was brand new. Landlords were eager to get on the bandwagon and get high speed internet connections, and tenants were excited to hear that they could get 1.5 megabits. It was a win-win situation for both landlords and tenants.
Jeff Loehr: Download a picture and a half an hour. That sounds great.
Layne Frank: Napster on everybody’s desktops
Throughout my career, I’ve been lucky enough to have a few changes in focus and product set, all with a specific target audience. I’m really blessed that it’s worked out so well after all these years.
Jeff Loehr: So is the key to your success as a salesman finding your niche? The way you work? A combination and a bit of luck?
Layne Frank: I’ve learned that the best way to be successful in my career is to be a great listener. I identify people’s pain points and educate them on trends. Cybersecurity is a big issue, but people just want action taken to make sure their environment is secure and everything is working. All in all, it’s about understanding people’s needs and helping them find solutions.
Jeff Loehr: Basically, you can’t really explain what cybersecurity is or how it works, you just have to sell it.
Joe Rojas: you just sell the peace of mind. Like, look, we’re gonna take care of it.
Jeff Loehr: Right – I’m not interested in learning about cyber security – I just want to know that my data is safe and where I can get it. Cybersecurity is overrated!
Layne Frank: We treat all our customers like they’re a regulated company, even though they’re not. That way, they can be prepared for when their customers come to them and ask about their security measures. We make sure they have the right boxes checked so they can be confident in their data protection.
Joe Rojas: Being in a niche can be really helpful because you get to know the problem and the solution really well. You know exactly what to do to close a deal and you can apply that knowledge to other clients. Even though some people think that when you niche, you won’t take other kinds of clients, it actually gives you the flexibility to do so. You can say yes to other clients or you can stick to just working with banks.
Layne Frank: After 25+ years in the business, I’m fortunate to have 100% of my business referred to me. I focus on nurturing my network of people, many of whom I’ve been selling to since the 90s. My team of 85 employees and I work together to provide a great customer experience and get the job done.
Jeff Loehr: It’s amazing how much of an impact delivery has on sales and marketing. If you get it right, it makes the whole process a lot easier. A lot of small entrepreneurs focus on sales and marketing but forget about delivery or vice versa. You need to combine both to get the best results and create a referral business. High-quality delivery is key.
Joe Rojas: If you’re a small MSP, it’s important to focus on delivery while making sales and growing. Otherwise, you’ll be losing clients. Layne has been successful by constantly nurturing his network and giving out leads and connections. Good delivery is key to maintaining success, so make sure to keep that in mind.
Layne Frank: I think the key to success in this delivery model is having a great corporate culture and making sure everyone is constantly educated and certified. Our engineers are some of the best and they love working on complex and technical solutions. Ultimately, it all comes down to making sure it works.
Jeff Loehr: Layne, before we end our conversation, I wanted to ask you for some words of wisdom for entrepreneurs who are just starting out on their sales journey.
Layne Frank: As a startup entrepreneur, it’s important to pick a niche and focus on that. Don’t get too swayed by bad business opportunities, and instead focus on positive business and people who want to help you. It’s okay to say no to bad business.
Jeff Loehr: Like it’s really important to make sure that you’re not being taken advantage of. I’ve learned an important lesson: always say no to bad business. It’s important to make sure you don’t get taken advantage of.
Joe Rojas: I’m so glad you shared you insight on focusing on a specific avatar and buyer when it comes to marketing. It’s a great way to open the door for the right people to come into my company and buy from me.
Jeff Loehr: Layne, it’s been great chatting with you and hearing your sage advice and wonderful stories. I want to thank you from myself and everyone listening for taking the time to be here. Thanks so much!
Layne Frank: Thank you see you guys soon.
Joe Rojas: And remember that you are loved.