Why is differentiation important for modern IT service providers?

Why is differentiation important for modern IT service providers?

Posted by Maddy Leslie Picture of Maddy Leslie on 19 January 2023

We have eight seconds.

You’re here to find out why differentiation is so important for IT service providers.

Let’s get into it.

Why IT service providers need to differentiate

The human attention span is now shorter than that of ‘notoriously ill-focused goldfish’ thanks to the increased digitisation of our world (TIME Magazine).

Eight seconds. Even the fish get nine.

When it comes to marketing your business, this means you must catch people’s attention, fast.

You need to stand out. Be interesting. Be different.

Differentiation. That is the first step to getting customer engagement, business growth, a larger market share, the company yacht etcetera.

You’ll find this especially true in the world of B2B tech. Modern IT service providers have a tough time differentiating their business. This is for several reasons:

  • There are a lot of you. Nearly one million people are employed in this industry in the UK alone, a number that has almost doubled in the last ten years. There’s simply more competition.
  • Speaking of, in our increasingly remote-working landscape, your pool of competitors just got wider still. Companies can deliver IT management and security from further afield. New competitors, therefore, are encroaching on your territory.
  • Inevitably, you have ties to one or more of the big tech giants. Microsoft, Google, Amazon. They want you to sell their products. This is a great brand strategy for vendors, but perhaps not for vendor partners what want to get noticed (more on this later).
  • IT services has a major tone problem, right? You’ve likely struggled to find the right tone of voice that draws your ideal audience, reflects your brand values, and properly communicates complex and technical subject matter. Many businesses in the industry sound the same, lacking charisma, fizz or ginger.

Signs you are undifferentiated in the tech sector

There are plenty of ways to tell if you’re undifferentiated in business. And it would take much longer than eight seconds.

For now, let’s just focus on the six common signs we see in the tech sector. Take a second to check off each one that applies to you. (That leaves you two to scan our services menu or find a webinar to download.)

  1. No reason to believe. You care about technical details and practical outcomes, but that’s not the reason customers hire you. In fact, they don't want to have to care about those things. To be persuasive in marketing means having a ‘why’, a.k.a. an aspirational reason for customers to believe in your business. They don’t buy technology because of feature X or Y, they’re buying the efficiencies, the abilities, the future that technology unlocks. Simon Sinek says this best, here.
  2. Doing everything for everyone. You have a wide range of services, plus the technical chops to address the needs of an equally wide range of sectors. Sounds great, right? Except for some reason, this ‘everything for everyone’ approach isn’t generating customers.
  3. The Three Stooges: ‘professionalism’, ‘expertise’ and ‘customer-focus’. Yes, you need to have all three. But everyone in IT says they are professional experts that care about their clients. Without the right angle, messaging and proof points, these are not automatically differentiating factors. In other words, these attributes won’t win you the race; rather, they’re the criteria for entry.
  4. Technical jargon out the whazoo. (‘Whazoo’ is, of course, the technical term.) IT service providers are notorious for putting jargon-heavy content on their websites. It’s dry, it’s confusing, it scares people. Trust us, it’ll be those companies who are able to communicate complex information in layman’s terms that will reach potential customers.
  5. Over-reliance on vendor-provided campaigns. Microsoft (or another vendor) funds most of your marketing campaigns. These campaigns, therefore, focus more on selling their products rather than your service offerings. And if every MSP gets the same instructions…
  6. The colour blue. Blue features heavily in your brand and website. (Disclaimer: This isn’t always a bad thing, but blue is certainly a popular choice, particularly for tech businesses. To stand out, try being the red kite in a blue sky.)
1. No reason to believe.
2. Doing everything for everyone.
3. The Three Stooges.
4. Technical jargon out the whazoo.
5. Over-reliance on vendor-provided campaigns.
6. The colour blue.

Six ticks? Uh-oh. Time to work on differentiating your business, ASAP.

How IT service providers can stand out from the crowd

“Be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace.”

Cecil Beaton, artist

Playing it safe won’t win your customers. It’s the path to obscurity and stagnation.

What else is there?

You can’t differentiate on price. That’s a race to the bottom. There will only be one cheapest IT service provider and you can always be undercut.

So what CAN you do?

Figure out what makes you more interesting, more investable, more trust-worthy or more likeable than your competitors. For a start.

Then, build your brand strategy around that core differentiating principle.

For more in-depth advice on this subject, check out our 48-part Difference Engine model for differentiation best practices.

Build a differentiated business brand that stands out from the crowd.