Marketing Microsoft

Win the Sales Race with Vertical Marketing

More than ever companies are turning to specialists for their technical solutions. Make sure you're one of them, and your customers know it.

Imagine that you have a critical business problem and have to pick a company to help you solve it. Your choices are: A generalist that claims to do everything for every kind of company; and an industry expert that focuses on solving exactly the kind of problem you have, for companies just like yours, with a track record of success.

I'll bet you pick the expert, which demonstrates the advantage of vertical or niche marketing.

If your company is a VAR, ISV, System Builder or one of the many other categories of Microsoft channel partners, whether you like it or not, it is probably perceived by prospects as one of a large group of possible suppliers, perhaps one of thousands. This makes it tricky for your company to break through the clutter and be given serious consideration. It also makes it difficult for prospects to determine that your company may be their best choice.

Literally thousands of Microsoft partners claim expertise in network security, for example. But only a handful across the country claim to specialize in helping healthcare organizations comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). And even fewer specialize in secure e-commerce for multi-channel retailers.

You can change the competitive landscape by positioning and communicating your company's expertise within particular verticals or niches. Rather than try to market to the whole world, pick particular industries, applications, geographies or companies of a certain size that you are best suited to serve—then aim your marketing efforts squarely in that direction.

Microsoft is hot on the vertical idea, as anyone who attended its recent Worldwide Partner Conference in Minneapolis can attest. It even launched a new area on its partner Web site that includes a series of worksheets to walk you through the process of selecting a vertical that makes sense for you (http://partner.microsoft.com/global/vertical).

Step by Step
Once you determine the vertical or niche markets where your company can win, it is time to start marketing to these select companies.

Start by learning where decision-makers, recommenders and influencers from these companies hang out. What associations do they belong to? What trade shows or conferences do they attend? What newsletters or magazines do they read? What Web sites do they visit? Use what you learn to determine the best lists, databases and marketing tactics for delivering your lead generation messages to these key people.

Next, create one-to-many marketing messages and one-to-one sales materials that directly address the vertical or niches you intend to pursue. Mention the specific problems and business pains they face. Use lots of key words and images in your materials to let these prospects know you are speaking directly to them. Even your slogan should speak to your target market. Examples include: "Specializing in IT services for small and midsize manufacturers in the greater Boston Area;" "Microsoft Business Solutions for the Flooring Industry;" "The Health Care Computer Security Experts;" and "The Multi-Channel Retail Specialists."

Be sure to include lots of offers in your marketing materials, designed to elicit a response and start the sales process. In the software and IT marketplace, educational offers such as how-to guides, buying guides, white papers, case studies and invitations to events on relevant subjects are the basic tools for eliciting responses from prospects.

Consider tailoring your lead generation offers to appeal to people at different stages of the buying cycle. This could mean offering a white paper or executive information kit for prospects who are early in the process vs. a seminar invitation for those in the middle and a free consultation or needs assessment for those who are closer to being ready to buy.

Don't forget to prove your expertise. How? By leveraging your certifications and other credentials, your client list and case studies that specifically address your vertical or niche market prospect's industries or applications. And liberally season all your marketing and sales materials with testimonial quotes from happy customers.

The bottom line is vertical marketing will help your company be perceived as the expert that your prospects need. The result will be a real competitive advantage and more sales.

About the Author

M.H. "Mac" McIntosh has been providing marketing and sales consulting services for Microsoft and many of its partners for more than seven years. More than 1,000 Microsoft Partners across the United States and Canada have attended his Marketing Boot Camps and Marketing for Leads (tm) live and Web seminars. You can contact Mac via www.sales-lead-experts.com.

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