The Changing Landscape of MSPs: Navigating New Responsibilities through Sales and Marketing

By Megan Killion, Chief Consultant, MKC Agency


According to a 2020 TechTarget article, the role of Managed Service Providers (MSPs) has undergone significant change. As global CIO Joe McKenna for managed cloud provider Syntax puts it, the evolving roles and responsibilities of modern MSPs are tied to the increased need for CIOs to be business strategists. This transformation is in response to the volatility of business and IT landscapes. With expectations around digital transformation and modernization increasing, MSPs are being called upon to not only provide advanced technological solutions but to do so in a way that aligns with the unique strategic needs of their clients.


This evolution isn’t confined to service provision alone. The article emphasizes the need for a deep, partnership-driven relationship between MSPs and their clients, characterized by trust, alignment, and mutual understanding. It highlights a shift from mere vendor relationships to genuine collaborations that drive innovation and growth.


The transformation in the MSP landscape requires a corresponding shift in how MSPs market and sell their services. The traditional sales model may no longer suffice, as clients seek partners who can meet them where they are and help them reach their future goals. This brings us to the essential question: How must MSPs adapt their sales and marketing strategies to align with this new paradigm?

The New Era of MSPs: Partners, not just Providers

According to Joe McKenna, the Global CIO for managed cloud provider Syntax, the changing roles and responsibilities of contemporary MSPs are closely connected to a growing need for CIOs to take on the role of business strategists. This transformation is further driven by the unpredictability and ever-changing nature of both business and IT landscapes. Today’s MSPs must transcend traditional roles to become genuine partners in digital innovation. The transformation involves:


  1. Modernizing and Adapting: MSPs are now integral in helping clients modernize and identify the next technological advancements.
  2. Building Trust and Transparency: A deeper understanding of the client’s specific business needs and outcomes leads to authentic partnerships.
  3. Investing in Advanced Technologies: The integration of AI, machine learning, and other cutting-edge tools is becoming an expectation rather than a novelty.


Ben Forrest, the CEO of technology startup Olio Health, emphasizes the vital strategic importance of MSPs for his company. According to Forrest, Olio Health’s success hinges on the employees’ intense concentration on delivering their core product: software that facilitates improved communication between hospitals and post-acute facilities. Alongside this commitment, maintaining a secure environment is deemed equally critical to the startup’s continued success.


MSP Roles and Responsibilities: 5 Ways MSPs Deliver Value

In the rapidly changing landscape of IT and business, MSPs are adapting to new demands and challenges. As their responsibilities shift, so too does the value they offer to organizations. According to insights from CIOs, management advisors, researchers, business executives, and MSP leaders, strategic partnerships between CIOs and MSPs are being formed for various complex reasons. However, generally, an MSP serving as a strategic ally takes on responsibilities that include:


  1. Delivering Essential Services Cost-Effectively: Modern MSPs are stepping in to provide critical services economically. As Chad Willaert, a principal consultant at Open Systems Technologies, stated, this approach “frees up CIOs to focus on customer needs and innovation and not worry about the run.”


  1. Bringing Process Improvement Knowledge: Through their deep expertise in specialized areas, MSPs are guiding CIOs to identify ways to refine processes, generating efficiencies that translate into more agile operations.


  1. Providing a Highly Skilled Workforce: Attracting, retaining, and enhancing IT talent in specialized areas is becoming a competitive edge for MSPs, reflecting their adaptation to the evolving industry requirements.


  1. Aggressively Keeping Up with Technological Advances: Staying ahead of the curve, MSPs continuously pinpoint, test, and validate emerging technologies that can lead to incremental or even transformational changes, thus ensuring they are always in sync with the latest technological trends.


  1. Supporting Transformation Initiatives: Drawing from their vast experience across various organizations and industries, MSPs are uniquely positioned to advise and back CIOs in their digital transformation endeavors, leveraging tried-and-true strategies that are tailored to specific business needs.


This new era of MSPs presents both opportunities and challenges, and their evolving roles demonstrate a dynamic shift in how they must position themselves to meet the current and future needs of businesses. Aligning sales and marketing strategies with this new mindset will be key to success, and MSPs must be prepared to collaborate, innovate, and drive transformation, possibly even considering the assistance of experienced agency partners to build marketing that resonates with these fresh dynamics.


Agility and Alignment with Clients’ Goals

Rajeev Ronanki, Senior Vice President and Chief Digital Officer at insurance firm Anthem, encapsulates the shift in expectations from MSPs. He emphasizes agility as a core principle, stating that Anthem looks for MSPs that can “dovetail with the company’s nimble mindset.”


His approach sheds light on how MSPs can align themselves with clients:


  • Becoming Extensions of the Team: Insourcing staff from MSPs creates a collaborative environment where the MSP is seen as part of the client’s organization rather than an outsider.
  • Focusing on Technology to Drive Business Outcomes: Emphasizing AI and digital technologies to remove unnecessary work and hone in on what matters is a strategic move that MSPs can mirror.
  • Aligning with Business Growth: This expectation further emphasizes the shift from MSPs as mere service providers to strategic partners focused on business outcomes.

Challenges and Obstacles in the CIO-MSP Partnership

  1. Defining Responsibilities: A complex mix of in-house, contracted, and outsourced roles can blur responsibility lines.
  2. Aligning Goals and Understanding Business Processes: Successful collaboration demands a deep alignment with IT and business goals and a willingness to understand the client’s business inside out.
  3. Avoiding Vendor Lock-in and Unexpected Costs: Clarity in contracts and alignment of tools and processes can prevent unnecessary complications.


MSPs as Strategic Partners: Moving Beyond Commodity Vending

In today’s multifaceted business environment, the role of MSPs cannot be confined to mere commodity vending. There’s a growing realization that MSPs need to be perceived as strategic partners capable of aligning with an organization’s core goals, values, and visions.


  • Aligning with Client Objectives: It’s not just about providing a service; it’s about understanding the broader business landscape and tailoring services to align with the unique objectives and transformational goals of each client. This requires MSPs to move beyond a one-size-fits-all approach and craft personalized strategies that resonate with individual client needs.


  • Embracing the Partnership Mindset: MSPs must evolve their narrative to foster genuine partnerships. This means building trust, demonstrating empathy, and delivering value in ways that make clients view MSPs as an integral part of their strategic growth, rather than merely a vendor of services.


  • Showcasing Unique Value Propositions: The shift from vendor to partner involves underscoring what makes an MSP unique. Whether it’s specialized expertise, innovative solutions, or a demonstrated track record in driving transformation, MSPs must articulate and promote their distinct value propositions.


  • Collaborating with Experienced Agency Partners: Leveraging the assistance of experienced agency partners can help MSPs build marketing and messaging that aligns with this partnership mindset. It’s not just about selling services; it’s about communicating how an MSP can synergistically work with a business to achieve shared success.


  • Continuously Learning and Adapting: The transformation from a vendor to a strategic partner is an ongoing process. MSPs must remain committed to learning, adapting, and growing with their clients, always ready to respond to new challenges and opportunities as they arise.


This transition is no longer optional but a necessity for MSPs seeking to thrive in the modern business ecosystem. By positioning themselves as strategic partners, MSPs can foster deeper connections, deliver greater value, and truly differentiate themselves in a competitive marketplace. It is a path that requires both courage and innovation but promises a more sustainable and rewarding future.


MSPs and Digital Transformation

The demands Ronanki makes are reflective of a broader trend. The new era of MSPs is about more than service provision; it’s about enabling digital transformation.


Paola Doebel, Senior Vice President and Managing Director for North America at Ensono, articulates this clearly: “CIOs need a provider who will meet them where they are today and can help them get where they want to go.” However, she highlights the challenge in pricing models and setting realistic expectations between providers and clients.


Building Trust and Transparent Relationships

The insights from Brett Sparks, Senior Director Analyst at Gartner, emphasize the importance of trust and transparency. Success between CIOs and MSPs hinges not just on technological prowess but also on a deep understanding of the client’s business and measurable business outcomes.


This highlights that the relationship between MSPs and their clients must evolve into a partnership built on open communication and alignment of goals. It’s about transcending transactional interactions and forging relationships that are rooted in a shared vision for growth and transformation.

Sales & Marketing in the New MSP Landscape

The role of MSPs is not only evolving in service provision but also in how they market and sell their offerings. Sales and marketing strategies must undergo transformations to align with this new era of partnership and innovation. Here’s how companies can make that transition:

Align with Strategic Needs of Clients:

  • Understanding Client Goals: Begin by comprehending the unique transformation goals of each client, identifying where your services can add the most value.
  • Customized Marketing Messages: Create marketing materials that speak directly to the client’s specific challenges and opportunities, highlighting how your services align with their strategic direction.
  • Collaborative Solution Building: Engage clients in a co-creation process to design solutions that fit their exact needs, reinforcing your role as a strategic partner.

Embrace the Partnership Mindset:

  • Storytelling that Reflects Partnership: Develop content that tells the story of collaboration and shared success, going beyond mere vendor-client relationships.
  • Transparency and Trust-building: Offer open communication, sharing insights and industry knowledge to strengthen trust. Use case studies and testimonials to demonstrate a history of successful partnerships.
  • Educational Content: Provide content that educates potential clients on the intricacies of digital transformation, fostering a shared understanding that goes beyond mere service provision.

Anticipate and Address Challenges:

  • Navigating Complexities: Develop marketing materials that outline how your services help clients navigate complex issues, such as contractual negotiations, technological alignment, and vendor lock-in avoidance.
  • Leveraging Data and Analytics: Utilize data-driven insights to predict client needs and challenges, offering solutions before problems arise.
  • Flexible Pricing Models: Emphasize your willingness to work with clients on pricing models that align with their financial and strategic goals, showing flexibility and understanding in a complex technological landscape.

Bring in an Experienced Agency Partner to Help:

  • External Expertise: Leverage the skills and knowledge of an agency that specializes in your industry, providing an external perspective that can add depth and innovation to your marketing strategies.
  • Collaboration with Specialists: Work closely with agency experts who understand the unique challenges of the MSP landscape, harnessing their expertise to tailor strategies to your specific needs.
  • Comprehensive Strategy Development: Engage with an agency partner who can help guide a comprehensive marketing and sales strategy that aligns with the evolving role of MSPs, ensuring that you’re not just adapting to change but leading the way.

The key to successful marketing in the evolving MSP environment lies in a deep alignment with clients’ needs and goals, fostering a true partnership that goes beyond a transactional relationship. This alignment includes recognizing when to bring in external expertise to enhance marketing efforts and provide fresh insights. By aligning strategies and fostering collaboration at every level, MSPs can position themselves as indispensable partners in innovation.

The transformation of MSPs into strategic partners is an exciting but complex evolution that requires a renewed approach to sales and marketing. By aligning with client needs, embracing technological advancements, and fostering meaningful relationships, MSPs can position themselves at the forefront of this new era. By reflecting on the insights from industry leaders, MSPs can craft a strategic and adaptive approach that sets them apart in a competitive landscape.