The foundation for successful marketing, and business in general, is to know your customers. Your MSP can’t truly provide services that go beyond satisfying their needs and thrill them until you know your customers.

Louis Gudema

AUTHOR: Louis Gudema, Founder of Bullseye Marketing

You may think that you know your customers and that as a services company you’re talking with them every day. But in my experience, having conducted hundreds of customer interviews, it’s rare that even services companies really understand what motivates their customers.

The problem is that your day-to-day conversations are typically restricted to two types: sales and service.

The problem is that your day-to-day conversations are typically restricted to two types: sales and service. In sales conversations, the customer may be overly concerned with getting the lowest price possible, and that will make you think that price is all that customers care about. In service calls, you’ll find out about the short-term problems that they want to have addressed now.

Neither of these understandings make you the strategic partner that you can and should be. So how can you get to truly know your customers?

Ask questions and listen

The most important thing an MSP can do is listen to them. (Listening is the most important skill in marketing, business, and life in general.) Have non-sales conversations with your customers on a regular basis. These should be 30-45 minutes each, or longer. Go in with some set questions such as:

>> Tell me about your business and where your industry is headed.

>> What tech do you need to compete successfully?

>> Who do you compete with? Why do customers pick you? Them?

>> Why did you decide to serve those customers?

>> What were you looking for when you hired us?

>> Who else did you consider? Why did you choose us?

>> I’m going to list several factors that might have been important in your decision to hire us. Please add any in if I missed something important and rank the top three:

–  Industry knowledge

–  Reputation

–  Responsiveness

–  Timeliness

–  Quality of service

–  Full range of tech services

–  Price

–  Other?

>> If our prices had been 10% higher, would you have hired us anyway? 25%?

>> What are your biggest technical challenges?

>> What technologies are vital to your business, and which are nice to have?

>> How does it impact you if your network is down for five minutes? An hour? A day? Longer?

>> What’s your biggest tech worry?

>> How could we do a better job for you?

>> Would you like us to provide you with more background on business technology?

>> Where do you get your business information from? Which websites, publications, blogs, events, podcasts, webinars, etc.?

This is a conversation. These questions are not the beginning and end of it. Depending on how they answer, you should ask probing follow-up questions.

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Don’t be overly driven by data

Be open to the good and the bad

Sometimes it’s difficult for a person from a company to ask people to give them feedback; they may be reticent to criticize your company to your face. Make clear at the beginning that you really want their full thoughts. Or you may need to hire a third party to do these interviews for you.

You should conduct at least 10-20 such interviews with major customers and have other non-sales conversations like these with them regularly. Here are a few examples of insights that I gained from conducting this kind of interview:

>> The largest customer of one of my clients was very unhappy with their work and, if nothing changed, they would be looking for a new vendor in a few months. My client was completely unaware of this dissatisfaction; the CEO was on the phone with their CEO the next day.

>> Another client CEO was certain that price was all that his customers cared about, but when I asked customers they rarely put it in their top three reasons for picking them. Quality of work, timeliness, responsiveness and other factors were much more important. (In fact, given how central technology is to the operation of most companies today, you may be able to raise your prices without the loss of customers.)

>> Another client’s customer very sweetly said that he was happy but when probed for 10-15 minutes he started to be more forthcoming and said that in fact, he was quite pissed because he was sure that he wasn’t getting the same quality of service as their biggest customers. When I informed my client of this, senior execs immediately acknowledged that he had a legitimate complaint and said that they needed to change that.

Net promoter score

Another method to learn about your customers is to use regular Net Promoter Score (NPS) surveys. You know NPS, although you may not know it by name. The heart of NPS is to ask all your customers one question:

How likely are you to recommend [name of your company] to someone you know?
0  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10
Unlikely               Very likely

To calculate your NPS, you consider those saying 9 or 10 to be Promoters, those saying 7-8 are Passives or Neutrals, and those 6 and below are Detractors. You then subtract the percentage of Detractors from the percentage of Promoters to get your Net Promoter Score. Companies with a high NPS tend to have happy and enthusiastic customers – champions even – who are telling others about them. They don’t lose many customers. And this leads to faster growth.

Companies with a high NPS tend to have happy and enthusiastic customers – champions even

There’s one other question you should ask: What is the reason for how you scored us? For this, you’ll provide an open text field for them to write out their reasons. Ask them for their name, company, and email, too, so you can follow up with them, but don’t require these.

You should conduct an NPS survey once or twice a year (not after every interaction as some companies and websites do). This will produce a baseline that you can use with your staff to measure improvements to how well you’re serving your customers from their point of view.

The most dramatic improvement in an NPS that I ever heard was for Vimeo, the video hosting platform that competes with YouTube. Vimeo’s CEO Anjali Sud said in an interview that when they pivoted to better serve business customers and built the tools and services that they need, their NPS tripled in one year.

Online reviews

Another way to better understand your customers is to look at their online comments about MSPs. Looks at reviews of MSPs on sites like Clutch to learn what they like and what they hate. If you read these before beginning your interviews, they may help you come up with better questions and issues to talk over with your customers, too.

Often the most successful MSPs are focused on just one type of customer based on size, industry, location, and a combination of other factors. They can then present themselves to potential customers that fit their profile as the experts in serving them and have many references from others in their industry. If that narrow kind of focus is what you have, then understanding your customers and their industry truly and deeply will be even more important.

But regardless of your target customer, a deep understanding of them is critical to your growth and success.


Louis Gudema acts as a fractional head of marketing and marketing strategist for B2B tech firms and is a regular contributor to Modern MSP.