Having spent most of my career in B2B marketing roles, I have come to appreciate the beauty of a really well crafted vertical marketing campaign.
I remember having a discussion with a product manager at another company about how they wanted to enter a new vertical market. However, they were concerned that their company had no significant history in said market. My first questions was “do you have existing customers in that segment?” “Well we have a couple, but they are small.” So what, they had already dipped our toe in the market and had customer successes that could be leveraged. They had a customer story to tell that they could use to get their foot further in the door.
They also had a great product story to tell on a broader scale that was very relevant and important to the segment. The combination of this big picture and the specific stories they could tell about existing customers was all they needed to build a credible vertical campaign and arm the sales team. If there was anything missing, it was a solid data foundation for identifying target customers and opportunities, but they were working on that too.
Good vertical marketing starts with a great, relevant story and builds from there. When I was at Nortel, we built our Healthcare vertical marketing around the concept of the Hyperconnected Hospital. From the Nortel brand POV, the story started with our core products that were already in many hospitals and built from there. We already had broad expertise in the enterprise telecommunications market that was directly applicable to the modern hospital environment. And, while the details of what a hospital needs, compared to a bank or office setting, are somewhat unique, the telecommunications infrastructure, security and underlying technologies are pretty much the same.
We also had existing hospital and clinical customers and a significant amount of data on them that we could leverage. Starting with our install base, we were able to craft a credible story about network infrastructure needs in healthcare, and confidently build a vision for how hospitals and clinics could use Nortel Clinical Communications solutions to leverage their technology investment. The customer data on hand gave us a starting point to begin developing our marketing and sales program for the healthcare vertical.
However, knowing who the customers were and their network configurations was only half the story. Since our new solutions were to be used by clinical staff the purchasing process was very different from the traditional technology sale. This meant we had to gain a much deeper understanding of the healthcare industry, how buying decisions are made and who are the key influencers. It felt a bit like starting from scratch, but gaining this knowledge allowed us to better sell into the industry and relate to the needs of the users as much as the purchasing decision makers.
Every vertical has its quirks. Healthcare is no different. While the industry is very price sensitive, there are two things that we learned which fundamentally changed our marketing approach:
- The most valuable thing is time
- The most important thing is patient outcomes
Where we found a convergence of those two things, and were able to clearly talk about it, was the sweet spot for our sales teams. Now that we had a more complete understanding on the unique needs of the healthcare marketplace we built a comprehensive marketing and sales program focusing on how Nortel Clinical Communications Solutions helped save time on the care floor and supported the goal of better patient outcomes. We did months of research, prep and training before we rolled out the campaign, but it paid off. As a result of careful work up front, we grew the business by over 100% in just under a year.
Thats one of the things I have always loved about developing and managing vertical marketing campaigns. The more intimate knowledge you have of a segment, the more successful you are likely to be. When you can tell a relevant product story that does not feel contrived, your chances of success on entering a new market are much higher. The key to success is having a deep understanding of the needs, motivations and key decision makers for a particular segment.
A lot of this goes back to my five imperatives for effective communications. Simplicity, consistency, relevance, context and reason. In vertical marketing all of these are critically important, but specially relevance and context. If you cannot create a relevant story it will be much more difficult to enter the market. If you cannot identify the most contextually appropriate way of delivering your message then you run the risk of missing the market completely (or more likely, the market missing you).
If you’re new to a segment, a simpler story will have more impact that one that tries too hard. If you have to force fit a story to a segment, you are not giving it a reason to consider your product or service. Individual segments often look very appealing to businesses. They are growing rapidly, have massive opportunity or some unique sales play that make them a target. I recommend doing your homework first. Taking a few weeks or months on the front end can yield massive dividends on the back end.