In the book “The Discipline of Market Leaders”, written just over 20 years ago by Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema where they looked at competitive business strategies, the overarching conclusion was that a business needed to;
Choose your Customers, Narrow your focus and then Dominate your market.
A key reason for doing this is to make best use of your sales and marketing resources. This requires a focus around a well-defined market or in most cases a logical subset of the wider market. Deciding how best to do this is a common topic of debate with our customers and the most common dimensions considered are; vertical, horizontal, geographic and e-location.
Vertical refers to a market consisting of businesses in a particular sector where the product or service addresses issues particular to that type of business; insurance brokers, engineers, logistics companies, etc.
Horizontal applies to a market where the product or service satisfies a need that is common across a wide range of businesses regardless of sector. For example; a software product that produces invoices, calculates vat and automatically produces the vat return would be of interest to any business.
Geographic; this model is common with; taxi companies, decorators, service engineers and in fact any business that needs to travel to get to and service its customers. This is also a very common model with bricks and mortar retailers who know they need a physical presence in the locations where their customers will want to shop.
e-location; the arrival of the on-line environment has to some extent removed the need for a geographic dimension but the vertical and horizontal dimensions are in many cases even more important. It is now all too easy for someone to ‘wander by’ your website; just browsing, and in the process they may trigger you to respond but if your on-line presence is too general many enquiries could be a waste of time for you.
These dimensions are important when you are planning how and where to focus your outbound sales and marketing effort but they are also important, as mentioned under “e-location”, to focus the nature and volume of in-bound enquiries that you receive.
Blending various combinations of the four dimensions is also common and this can help to further refine the focus of your efforts and a typical mix will see a geographic component with one of the others. There are also many other parameters that can be used to further refine a target market including; business size, private rather than publicly quoted and demographics such as age, lifestyle and interests.
Matching your market strategy to your product/service
Defining a business’ marketing strategy as being ‘vertically focused’ has become very popular in recent years. If you do actually have a vertical offering and you adopt a vertical go-to-market strategy then you and your customers will benefit hugely. However, I see various companies that have adopted a vertical go-to-market strategy when their product or service actually provides a horizontal proposition.
I recall an example of a company that provided IT support services that considered itself to have a vertical offering for the utilities sector. It is true that around 40% of revenue did come from contracts with utility companies and this spurred them on to approach other utility companies with the message “we are a supplier to the utility sector”. As a result they gained an appointment with the CIO of a large electricity company and during the meeting he asked the supplier what they knew about smart metering systems. The answer was actually very little.
It is said that perception is truth. The CIO believed that someone claiming to have utilities experience would know about the business issues specific to a utility whereas the supplier only knew about the technical issues of the IT systems.
This example illustrates very well that doing a lot of work in a particular vertical market does not mean you have a vertical offering.
The experience the supplier had with that CIO proved to be invaluable as they re-evaluated their offering and realised they had a horizontal proposition. Their knowledge and expertise was focused on the IT issues around processing very large volumes of batch data; they had developed experience in tuning systems to optimise performance. Their market focus thus became any company needing to process large volumes of data; utilities, insurance companies, membership organisations and many others.
Points to consider when deciding on your go-to-market strategy
- If your products or services directly address specific business issues of companies in a vertical sector then you have a vertical offering. If your offering solves issues of; infrastructure, processes, systems or methods that are common in many different types of businesses, what you have is a horizontal offering.
Once you have a clear view of your proposition measured against the two dimensions of vertical and horizontal you can now overlay other parameters such as location or company size to further refine the definition of your preferred target market.
The above will feed into creating appropriate sales and marketing messages specifically aimed at your target market. The messages can be accurately framed to appeal to the needs of your target customers and specific individuals with relevant responsibilities; financial director, production manager, HR manager, quality manager, etc.
- Next to consider is how your proposition addresses the question “why you?” Unless you have something truly unique your prospective customers will be able to buy it somewhere else so why would they choose you? Although propositions are rarely unique the way a company delivers it may be and hence the ‘how’ will provide fertile ground for creating your unique proposition.
Incidentally, not many prospects will actually ask “why you” but naturally they will be thinking it so you need to ensure your sales and marketing messages proactively answer this question.
- The previous points help you to build a profile of the industries, business sectors and specific companies that are most likely to be interested in what you provide which in turn enables you to better focus your sales and marketing efforts. However; what you have so far is a well formed but possibly ill informed picture as you have formulated your opinions primarily from internal reference points.
Before you can consider this part of the job as finished you need to take account of what your potential customers might think. Unless you do this there is a risk you will be telling your prospects what you want them to hear rather than what they need to know.
To ensure you have a complete picture you need to gather external inputs from customers past and present plus a range of external stakeholders such as; your suppliers, relevant trade bodies and publications, government legislation, general media commentary and if justified specific market research.
- The final task is the process of deciding which routes to market you will use and how they will blend together to form a complete go-to-market solution. The previous steps will provide valuable inputs to the decisions that need to be made on the routes to market and how the mix should work to satisfy your needs for new business generation. During the conversation with past and present customers you should ask how they actually found you and their preferences in terms of marketing environments they prefer to use when looking for products or services such as yours.
None of this is especially difficult but it can be time consuming which can be frustrating when all you want to do is get out there and make some more sales. However, you will find this structured approach will pay you back handsomely as the key result is to make your sales, selling and marketing effort more focused which in turn will give better return in terms of conversion ratios leading to more orders won and therefore more revenue to bank.