Over my career I have worked with a number of organizations where making inroads into certain verticals (industries) was critical for our success. Whether you target the banking, healthcare, automotive, technology, etc. verticals for your business, a comprehensive approach should be taken in order to garner the best results.
With my background, one of the verticals that Gray Cat targets is the convenience store industry. Through a combination of efforts – including relevant worked performed in the industry – I have remained an asset in the industry over the years and can contribute expertise to clients that I work with. Here are a few thought-starters to consider if you want to reach broadly and with depth into a vertical:
Get to Know the Industry Associations
All industry verticals have a number of associations that support the industry in various ways. These could be national associations, state-run associations or even subject associations. It is important to communicate with these associations and make connections. They are key drivers of industry leaders; help organize the trade shows that support the vertical; and provide industry data that can provide insights into where the industry is headed.
I reach out to the industry associations at least twice annually to remind them that I am available to present to their constituents or provide insights. When I get the opportunity to present at the trade show, I can share valuable insights that apply to the industry all while giving Gray Cat a one-hour infomercial in front of a room of relevant, potential industry clients.
Introduce Yourself to the Trade Media
Another angle is to actively seek out the industry publications that support a vertical. The trade publications are always looking for industry experts to add to their stories and making yourself known to them further enhances your industry expertise. The trade media is also a great resource for industry data, trends and highlighting companies that are moving the industry forward. These connections put you on the forefront of key opportunity areas.
Write and Publish Relevant Industry Blogs
Similar to being considered an expert by the trade media, producing your own industry content helps add value to the vertical while cataloging your expertise. The more content that you can produce not only provides exposure, but as importantly puts expertise “in the can” for use with clients or customers. You will have pre-fab nuggets of useful information already developed and ready for use – in advance.
I can’t tell you how writing blogs for Gray Cat has enabled me to not only get my name out there, but provides countless time savings when I apply that content to consulting projects. I can just pull from the big “catcher’s mitt” of content that I have already developed. It not only applies to blogs but to podcasts, as well.
Broaden Your Network on LinkedIn Within the Vertical
This is where the rubber meets the road. It is one thing to be thought of as an expert with relevant content, it is another thing to actively apply that to building a network of potential prospects with the hope of converting connections to clients. The very reason for developing expertise within a vertical is to eventually monetize that expertise.
LinkedIn is ideal for prospecting, allowing you to narrow by vertical and build a very relevant target list of potential customers. Not every connection will lead to a sale, but by developing your vertical network in advance while providing that network a consistent funnel of relevant content, the odds will be in your favor of not only attracting prospects but closing a deal.
Highlight Current/Previous Work in the Vertical
In other words, walk the walk. All experts in a vertical need to continually work within that industry in order to remain relevant. Whether you are consulting in the industry through interim or project management or selling products within the industry, highlighting current or previous work is critical.
Potential clients and customers want to see practical relevancy within the vertical. Developing case studies that explain how you tackled a project or providing a description of a useful product that addressed an industry need helps solidify and vet you in the vertical. Add a customer testimonial to support your work and that’s icing on the cake.
Prospect to the Vertical
It all leads to this. Content, connections, relevancy and exposure all set you up for greater success. Now you have to prospect your “product” to the audience. Reaching out to potential clients through a myriad of devices helps cement how they can use what you are offering.
In most cases, prospecting involves identifying a need and simply showcasing your products. In the service sector, these “products” become a little more ambiguous and require a deeper level of relationship-building. In either case, there is no way around prospecting – you have to initiate most sales.
Vertical expertise – leading to prospecting – is a multi-pronged approach that enables you to capture the eyes and ears of an industry. Establishing a niche within the industry helps to ensure that you will continue to remain relevant all while providing value to the vertical you support.
John Matthews is the founder and president of Gray Cat Enterprises, Inc., a strategic planning, operations and marketing services firm that specializes in helping businesses grow in the restaurant, convenience and general retail industries. With more than 25 years of senior-level experience in retail and a speaker at retail-group events throughout the U.S., Matthews has recently written “Game-Changing Strategies For Retailers,” which is available on Amazon. In addition, he has two step-by-step manuals, “Local Store Marketing Manual for Retailers” and “Grand Opening Manual for Retailers”, which are available at www.graycatenterprises.com.