A Foot in the Door: Shadow Channel Marketing

A Foot in the Door: Shadow Channel Marketing

Crystal McFerran, CMO | The 20 


Shadow channels tend to instill fear in most Managed Service Providers (MSP), but the general process that makes them work is neutral (though the actual implementation may not be). It can be a legitimate foot into the door for a new client as much as it can be an underhanded way to poach clientele. If you distill the concept down, you get the natural next step for customer retention. Rather than just bringing the customer back, you want the relationship to progress.

The difference between an email list being spam or welcomed is in how it is executed. Trying to win a customer by screaming how bad everyone else is, and how you would do them right is going to be at best tacky, but more often it’s seen as sleazy. Winning a customer by showing them the best you have to offer, then baiting and switching is going to be equally unethical (and shortsighted). But, how is winning a customer over through better marketing and service different than a standard sale?

Sometimes, you just can’t win a customer for the contract, but you can get a transaction (or limited contract). A transaction doesn’t have to be a one time exchange though, it can be your foot in the door. If you know what the customer wants and can get it to them, why shouldn’t you try?


Getting a Foot in the Door

While transactional marketing has its place, it makes less and less sense for modern technology offerings. Shadow channel marketing requires a different approach. Why sell a single piece of software when you can sell a subscription? A transactional approach to most IT solutions ends up as a way to write yourself out of the story. A perfect piece of software means that clients have no reason to upgrade.

If you only charge once, you only get paid once. If you do everything right, that customer won’t be back anytime soon (once their problems are solved). The better you are, the worse this effect is, especially with break-fix models. While you can’t always sell a subscription, a transaction doesn’t have to be the limit of the exchange.

While some customers just want a specific solution and don’t plan to do anything further, others are on the fence. If you market right, you can turn a transaction into more. You just have to know what to target and how. The idea is simple, the implementation is not.

You have to provide something which shows what you are capable of, then have a plan to turn your foot in the door into a way in. Sometimes this means more ongoing transactions, other times this means your client buys into your service offering. Either way, it requires a good understanding of your client and how to make them aware of what you can offer.


Turning Transactions into Targets

One of the first steps in turning a transaction into a relationship is understanding why it happened at all. Was the customer just looking for a solution and you fit, or are they looking because they don’t know what they want? While there are far more reasons than this, this line of reason can be used to extrapolate out the ideas behind how to approach and qualify their transaction.

Most transactions are going to be rooted in either short-term needs or market exploration. People will pay for the convenience of here and now but don’t want anything more. You have to understand what your client wants and why they chose your service.

People buy something for a reason, so why is your customer buying from you? Did you fit the bill or did they just not know where else to go with their deadline? If you offer more, how can you show them that the one-off they got is representative of the rest of what you offer? The right marketing filter at this step changes a transaction into a relationship or lets it slip away without wasting time and effort.

You can’t just try to turn a transaction into a relationship if you’re selling an immediate need or a loss leader. You lose on either approach due to the fact it doesn’t fit in with the rest of the model. A transaction which can turn into more needs to be indicative of the experience you’re selling. A good client relationship starts with a good foundation and transparency. Keep this in mind when creating a shadow channel marketing strategy.


Growing a Relationship

A client relationship can be toxic or nurturing depending on the details and motives. There’s a subtlety between keeping your client safe and controlling them. There’s also a subtlety in how actions are interpreted depending on how you communicate and what your intentions are.

If you want to be a more controlling MSP, that’s fine as long as your clients understand and agree. There’s nothing wrong with making the relevant decisions if both parties are in agreement, but this needs to be mutually understood and accepted or you become a tyrant. Once you get your foot in the door and show the client you can walk the walk and talk the talk, you should use that trust for mutual growth rather than selfish growth.

A relationship only blossoms when both parties get something out of it. You can’t just tell what you give them though, you need to show it. What is your solution providing and what do the next steps in the relationship provide? Your actions speak louder than your words. If you come on too strong you smother them, if you are too aloof, they lose interest. Manipulation can work in the short term, but it is unethical and tends to poison the well to boot.

While we’ve stepped away from marketing proper, we haven’t stepped away from the mindset. When it comes to shadow channel marketing, you need to frame every outreach in a way which pushes the underlying goal without pushing too hard. Many non-technical clients pick an MSP based on feeling rather than experience and understanding. How do you offer more without trying to show up the competition? Done right, a successful campaign ends with a win for both your service and the client. As long as both parties know what is going on, it doesn’t matter if you sit in the shadows.


Shadow Channels Panel

📣 Don’t miss “Shadow Channels: Threat or Opportunity?” panel discussion on Sept. 30 at #VirtualVISION!

Moderator: Rich Freeman, ChannelPro Network

Panelists: Mark Elliott, 3i International | Zane Conkle, Cytracom | Robert Boles, BLOKWORX, Inc..

Register for Virtual VISION 2020 ➡️  https://web.cvent.com/event/b64f7c42-a7ce-4627-842d-4c747ccd3136/summary

Session Overview: Everything looks like it’s going great with your MSP business. Your clients love you and everyone is satisfied with the arrangement, but one day they have a new technical service in something you don’t support. They also didn’t ask for your input on this one. Is this something serious or just business as usual? A shadow channel provides an avenue for a competitor get their foot in the door to take over. Should you let them do what they want, or should you shut them down like a jealous lover? Ideally, you don’t have to make that call if you don’t let it get that far. Learn what shadow channels are, how they work, how to prevent them from harming your business, and what they mean for your business.