Imagine you’re having a debate within your team about how to grow your print business. One salesperson reckons education could be a rewarding market, another wants to target manufacturing, and a third sees huge potential with local small businesses. So who is right?

When large enterprises target vertical markets, they often devote whole teams to a sector, getting excellent results. And, with their ability to hone in at a personal level, smaller businesses can enjoy spectacular success too.

We all like the idea of hitting a marketing sweet spot with a near-identical and repeatable approach that works well for every customer. But vertical markets are also easy to get wrong, which wastes your precious resources. In this article, we’ll look at how to go about targeting the right sectors in the right way.

Who’s in your sights?

In the broadest terms, let’s think about six vertical markets you could be targeting:
1. Central government
2. Local government
3. Health
4. Not for profit
5. Large corporations and
6. Small and Medium-sized Businesses (SMBs)

As you look more closely, even more vertical markets come into view:

• Central government can include the armed forces, emergency services or agencies as well as the main Government bodies around the UK
• Local Government can mean councils and schools
• Health could be a mixture of state-run or private institutions
• The Not for Profit sector can include a wide range of charities and organizations
• Private companies of all sizes operate in diverse markets, such as retail, finance, utilities, automotive, engineering, manufacturing, food, drink and much more.

It’s easy for our eyes to glaze over at this point. The options are mesmerizing. But stay with me.

Focus on what’s different

It’s easy to address any of these vertical markets in the wrong way. For example, a company could send a flyer or email to thousands of schools with the headline ‘print solutions for education’. But your marketing return on investment will be poor if your actual sales pitch/story is the same as everyone else’s.

The secret to success in vertical markets is in understanding each sector— and then tailoring your end-to-end proposition to fit their personal needs.

Sectors will also be different to each other in other ways, for example:
• The products and services that interest them most
• Their reasons for buying one product over another (eg. cost, service, quality, durability, speed of delivery, environmental benefits, etc.)
• Their purchasing process timeline and who makes the decisions
• How many suppliers they’re willing to deal with
• How they prefer to buy (eg. catalogues, websites or over the phone)
• How long their contracts tend to last
• What style of account management they prefer
• Do they prefer to buy local or national
• Are they part of a larger framework they must buy from

You need to meet each of these requirements to get your voice heard and have any chance of building a sustainable operation. Of course, there will be variations between customers, but you’ll encounter many similarities within a sector.

So which vertical market should you attempt to address? Your own business holds the answers

Before selecting vertical markets to target, take a close look at your existing customers and your best accounts. In which sectors do they operate? What have you learned already about that sector that could be used to reach other businesses within the same industry? Get a team together to identify what you know and what you need to find out.

Rather than attempting to target a completely new sector — and face a mountainous learning curve — it’s far easier to build on your own strengths and knowledge. Perhaps there are one or two industries in which you’ve had success and where you’re only a few steps away from being a specialist? If so, these are your obvious starting points.

Plan, invest and think long-term

Success in vertical markets requires a strategic plan and commitment (see How to Develop a Winning Strategy in Today’s Print Market). You need the right sales force, the right marketing, the right operational requirements for your audience, the right vendor and, naturally, the right product range. Without these, you may win piecemeal business but you’ll never make that strategic jump into being a big player in that market.

Once you’ve got the basics right, you’ll be in a far stronger position to win, surprise and delight your target customers — because they recognize you understand them and you’ve built your business operations and approach around them.

Finally, remember that marketing to verticals is a long game. Adding to your industry knowledge takes time, building up your reputation within a sector will demand consistency and winning lengthy contracts doesn’t happen overnight. But the more effort you invest, the deeper your business relationships in vertical markets are likely to be — and the greater the returns over time.

Do share any thoughts and experiences you’ve had in developing success in a chosen vertical, I’d love to hear about them.

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