Seven Steps to Identify, Attack and Dominate a Vertical Market
Good morning. Thanks for coming in early to talk. Have a seat. We want to talk with you about your 2014 performance and, well, your career to date. Do you feel like you are on track? No? Well, what is standing in the way of fulfilling your sales ambitions?
Tell you what; let's examine the sales leaders here in our company, as well as the marketplace. Are these leaders carrying the most customers? Probably not. Do they serve clients from a patchwork quilt of hodgepodge industries? Again, no. Instead, they likely practice industry specialization of some sort.
If your observations are anything like ours, leading printing industry sales reps often are known for unique expertise in one, possibly two, verticals (a.k.a. industries, line of businesses, domains). Why the apparent narrow focus? Success begets success. Regardless of whether you choose to concentrate in manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, food, insurance, gaming, financial services or any other vertical, be confident that, when it comes to creating real domain expertise, less is truly more.
Here are Bill and T.J.'s seven steps to identify, attack and dominate a vertical market.
Step 1: Change
Life is a choice. You can choose your same old sales strategy of killing whatever happens to stumble into your path. Or, you can choose to become a streamlined hunter, seeking the game you want and methodically hunting it.
Sure, squirrels and rabbits can keep you kicking for another day, but the real difference maker is intelligently selected bigger game. Yes, this prey is harder to find, track and capture, and sometimes requires coordination of scarce resources, but as our early ancestors discovered, it's a far more satisfying meal. Once you've acquired knowledge and tasted success, it becomes much easier to predict where similar big game lies. In short, hunting becomes easier.
Telltale sign: You get it. A vertical strategy is what you've been missing.
Step 2: Choose
Enough of the caveman talk. Assuming you agree that targeting a vertical or possibly two makes sense for you and your printing business, start by examining your client list. Focus on two things: previous client success and current knowledge. The white whale may be attractive in theory, but if you've never seen one, mimicking Captain Ahab isn't a good idea (especially if you're landlocked in Kansas).
After you classify your current roster of clients by vertical, look for emerging patterns. Then, research the heck out of the best possibilities. Ask yourself three questions:
- Is there a concentration of prospective companies in your marketplace? Identify these companies by name and try to get an idea of their TAP (Total Account Potential) for the services your company provides.
- Are your potentially targeted verticals financially healthy? Do they have cash? Stay away from industries littered with slow or no pay companies.
- Are there any external drivers for industry growth? For example, ARRA (American Recovery and Investment Act) is a huge driver of health care IT investment.
Telltale sign: You've done your industry research, made your choice and are jumping ahead to creating proof points in your selected vertical.
Step 3: Commit
Commitment starts with resource investment. Unless you change your daily behavior and commit time, money or both to your vertical niche, nothing will happen. Consider laying the groundwork with these steps:
- Painstakingly describe the services you're offering and the value you bring to your vertical.
- Write your proof points, preferably a case study or two, and clearly show how your services and expertise have made a positive difference for your clients. Client ROI is often crazy hard to calculate, but well worth the effort.
- Develop a nurturing strategy to bringing prospective companies along the sales funnel.
Telltale sign: You've got collateral, case studies, baseline studies, Web page and microsite development in the works.
Step 4: Ignite
At this stage, your goal is lead generation. Create market buzz and get key business influencers to know your company's brand. You want phone calls returned. Like any other prospecting activity, igniting prospect interest is hard work, but this time, there might be a noticeable difference. When executing a well-planned attack on a vertical, your effort feels different. When leaving a string of never-ending voicemails, you know you're going to eventually get through because your value proposition is obvious to both you and your targeted key business influencers.
Telltale sign: When in client discovery meetings, you see your prospects' heads nodding up and down. The quoting process starts easily and naturally. You know who your likely first client will be.
Step 5: Build
Make sure you completely understand the pain points of your early customers. They listened to your message and gave you a chance, not because of your dynamic personality and awesome presentation, but because your value proposition fills a gap, a hole, a need. Relentlessly drill down to precisely understand what this gap is so you can incorporate it into your future selling message.
You now should feel yourself and your company naturally rallying around your chosen vertical. It will all be real when you see your firm's management throwing support behind you and your effort.
Telltale sign: Success with an early adopter. Multiple new clients are signing on, as well.
Step 6: Own
When a printer starts owning a vertical, things happen differently internally. You now have the attention of the leadership of your firm and they start protecting your vertical when inevitable production tradeoff decisions need to be made.
You feel different, as well. The Willie Loman days of your past are now over. All of a sudden you don't feel the urgency to pounce on inquiries from clients with small TAP (Total Account Potential), one-shot-Charlies, slow payers and chronic problem children. You once did, but no longer! You might even hand over some of these accounts to other reps, clearing the way for focused concentration on better owning your vertical and crowding out the competition.
Telltale sign: You're now thinking like an owner. The distraction of a $20k/year client isn't worth it any more. Early stage reps in your company will be glad for these opportunities, but not you.
Step 7: Share
When capturing all the opportunity in a vertical becomes too much for one person, you might want to consider building a micro-business within your company. The powers to be might be interested in providing you an extra CSR, a job planner or even a junior sales rep under your direction. Building a business within a business is a good way for both you and your firm to leverage your existing client relationships. As long as the ROI is positive for you (you make more), your employer (they make more) and the support staff (you're an awesome leader), everyone's happy.
Telltale sign: Much like the top level (self-actualization) in Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, once you've achieved the sharing stage, you are now...there. Ahhhh. Congratulations. You're not done, but you've arrived. PI
About the Authors
T.J. Tedesco is team leader of Grow Sales Inc., a marketing and PR services company that has served the sales growth needs of graphic arts companies since 1996. He wrote "Win Top-of-Mind Positioning" and eight other books. Contact Tedesco at (301) 294-9900 or email@example.com. Bill Farquharson is a vice president at NAPL. He can help drive your sales. Contact Farquharson at (781) 934-7036 or firstname.lastname@example.org.