I had two conversations last week with CEO’s about marketing to a vertical segment (such as retail banking, healthcare, or manufacturing).  It got me thinking about my experiences doing vertical marketing and what did and didn’t work.  In my mind, great vertical marketing comes down to executing well in three areas – Messaging, Content and Sales Enablement.  Here are a few tips:

1/ Messaging – Taking a horizontal product and putting a light coat of vertical paint on it is rarely effective because customers won’t find it credible. The best products for a specific segment were designed from the ground up for those segments.  That said, in my experience it IS possible to take what is essentially a horizontal product and market it to a vertical successfully if you are prepared to go very deep into specifics of how the product addresses the unique needs of the market.   If you value statements are things like “lower costs” and “ease of use” you aren’t there yet.  If you start getting into things like how your product can help companies be compliant with their industry regulations (such as HIPAA for healthcare in the United States, Basel II/III for banking in Europe, FERC regulations for energy companies in the U.S., etc.), how your product can deal with a particular problem common to the industry (such as managing a large number of part time employees in retail apparel or reducing carried inventory for manufacturing), you are getting closer.  Not only do you have to illustrate this in your messaging, you will need to prove your deep understanding of the segment in your other content (see below).

2/ Deep Content – Depending on the product and the market you are going after you can try any of the following:

  • Demos – I like “day in the life” style demos where you are essentially showing how the product gets used for a specific user in the vertical (i.e. an insurance claims agent, a bank teller, a law office clerk, etc) performing a specific set of common tasks.  Remember that the pre-populated data and any applications customizations in your demos also needs to make sense for the segment.
  • Customer testimonials and videos – the trick with these is to get into the details of why customers in that specific vertical chose your product over others in a way that speaks to other companies in the same vertical.  Again – “we chose them because they were cheaper” isn’t what you are looking for.
  • White papers, e-books – these can dive into a particular vertical-specific issue and can help customers understand how to evaluate products within their specific industry context.  The more timely this content is, the more prospects will seek it out and find it useful.  For example a discussion of the impact of a new industry regulation or the impact of a certain major recent event (for example a major blackout or natural disaster for Power companies or Utilities, recent legal decisions, etc.) are examples of events where prospects will be looking for analysis, help and guidance.
  • Blog posts and articles – A blog is a place where you can express opinions talk about current events in a way that might not fit neatly into your web pages, ebooks or press releases.
  • Third-party content – If you are lucky enough to have industry analysts covering your space in any depth it pays to work with them both to learn from and influence their content but also (in some cases) collaborate on content where you can do so in a credible manner.
  • Other industry-specific content – there will be other content you can create such as buyers guides or calculators that will be specific for the segment.
  • Segment-specific landing pages – all of the above should be collected in a destination where prospects in that segment can land and be awed by the breadth of your company’s knowledge of their domain.

3/ Sales Enablement – It isn’t enough to have your marketing content go deep in a segment if leads get handed over to a sales force that can’t talk the talk.  Marketers will need to figure out how best to train their field forces so that they have a deep understanding of the specific environment, pains, use cases and users in that segment.  Many companies have people with this expertise (either in product management, product marketing, field engineering or professional services) but often there is no process to package up that information for it to be consumed not just by customers in marketing materials, but also by the sales force.  Some things I’ve done before to try to accomplish this include:

  • Deal analysis and discussion – this can be done as a document or a presentation to the field but the idea is to document in detail the steps of a specific deal from prospect to close including evaluation criteria, deal committee, the evaluation process and how negotiations took place.  I’ve found this works best when it’s a sales rep or field engineer presenting directly to the other reps (rather than having marketing do the talking).
  • Regulations/Issues/language training – marketing can create sales training materials that pertain to a particular industry regulation or business problem. This training can be delivered in online or over the phone (hint: if you create materials and merely email them out to your sales force they WILL be ignored.  I’ve tracked the open rate on emails I’ve sent to my own sales teams, trust me it wasn’t pretty) as long as it’s done live.  Don’t be afraid to repeat this training and make sure you determine how a new rep that comes on board will get trained.  I also like to publish a glossary of industry-specific terms that folks in the field should know in order to talk credibly to prospects.
  • Customer presentations and Q and A’s – Get a customer to attend your regular sales call and/or your sales meetings to talk about a specific set of problems and let everyone in the room ask a lot of questions.  I once had a CIO come and speak to my sales team about why she chose a competing product to illustrate how some of our sales tactics were not hitting the mark.
  • Whiteboard training materials – People define this in different ways but I would call this anything you can do to help sales do more visual storytelling around your products and solutions.  Marketing can create a set of easy to understand diagrams and graphics that sales can use in a discussion with a prospect using a whiteboard, flipchart or on the back of a napkin.

Am I missing anything?

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