In a recent Emissary survey of executive-level tech buyers, 85% of recent, major tech purchases included a non-technical buyer with major influence over the final decision. This trend results in additional pressure on sales and marketing organizations to speak the business language of their prospects and customers, not just demonstrate technical expertise. A strong strategy using vertical marketing best practices can help reach these cross-functional buyers, drive inbound leads, and help solution providers differentiate themselves in crowded markets.
Most vertical marketing strategies are light in nature consisting of tabs on websites, vertical-oriented stock photos and key words added to headers. The best tech marketers, however, go much deeper. Here is what the best do differently:
6 Vertical Marketing Best Practices
- Resist getting starry eyed over huge markets.
- Listen first. Then speak carefully.
- Take another look at who’s who.
- Don’t stop with content.
- If you market to verticals, sell to them too.
- Measure. No really. Measure.
Vertical marketing best practice #1:
Resist getting starry eyed over huge markets.
The first step in vertical marketing is deciding which industries to target. This involves checking the CRM and other systems of record. Where are the most revenues derived from? And where are relationships the deepest and longest held? You will also want to keep in mind where you have the best chance of getting testimonials or branded case studies. But don’t just look at historical data. Cast a broader net to look at propensity to buy in new industries where you might not have a foothold today.
As you review your analysis, be careful of sorting exclusively to exceptionally large industries. Sure. They have massive potential by virtue of the fact that they consist of large numbers of companies. However, if you go too large, you may end up with segment definitions that are too broad to be useful. You want to be sure that the verticals you select are narrow enough that your targets recognize themselves in the group of accounts.
The key to everything is personalization. Good vertical choices for vertical marketing use similar jargon. Do the accounts in your chosen vertical use the same shorthand and terminology? This allows you to write for a segment. Another good sign that you’ve identified a vertical worth marketing to is that it consists of self-referencing members. To optimize your investment, consider whether the accounts in a vertical look to each other as reference points. Do they consider each other peers, role models or competitors? The final clue has to do with the environment that surrounds the vertical. You’re looking for a group of accounts experiencing the same market conditions (regulations, consumer behaviors, and economic factors) in the same way.
These criteria may help you narrow in on smaller groups of accounts. For example, instead of just focusing on an industry such as “Financial Services,” you may be better off focusing on a sector such as Insurance. Instead of “Retail,” you may get more leverage out of strategies focused on home goods, clothing, or pharmacies.
Vertical marketing best practice #2
Listen first. Then speak carefully.
In some companies, ‘vertical’ is an overarching strategy starting with product development. Products designed for industry-specific application are, by definition, consumed by specific industries. In this case, there are likely many vertical SMEs inside the organization that can help marketers refine their vertical approaches. It’s tougher to design your approach when your organization’s vertical strategy is more about go-to-market than it is about product. In those cases, products are the same across industries. As a result, you might find that you don’t have a lot of in-house vertical expertise.
This is particularly challenging in the tech world because you must communicate a lot of expert, technical information to your prospects and clients. Layering in additional vertical specific context can make for dense and intelligible messaging. Aim for enough vertical context to make your message resonate but not so much that you expose your lack of expertise and end up sounding like an outsider.
The best tech marketers create this balance by doing extensive research on verticals before nailing down audience, message, and delivery. This can include:
- Events and networks. Attend trade shows to look for common themes and identify business issues. Get familiar with the terminology and jargon used by insiders. In addition, join social media groups and discussion threads to look for tone and topics that encourage engagement.
- In-house data. Go beyond bookings. See if there are common customer complaints among sector members. You may also mine themes from highly satisfied customers.
- Outside coaches. Leverage external experts to clue you into themes, unresolved issues, placement options and more. And use Emissary Industry Insider Guides to key in on critical differences.
The additional time spent in the research phase is worth it. At best, poorly executed vertical marketing is ineffective. At worst, it can alienate your target by making you look out of touch.
Vertical marketing best practice #3
Take another look at who’s who.
Another upgrade to your vertical marketing includes revisiting your persona profiles to ensure that they are completely fleshed out with needs, common pain points, job tasks, behavioral patterns and KPIs as well as anything other relevant psychographic or demographic information.
In the tech space, it’s tempting to focus exclusively on core IT roles such as Director of Infrastructure or Cloud. They may be the closest to the actual use of your solution and their issues are likely to be similar across industries. E.g., accuracy of data, security, speed of processing etc. But as you take a more vertical approach, you may need to include business-oriented decision makers. For example:
- Product leaders in medical device companies invest heavily in building new technology-enabled products and invest in technology enhancements to upgrade existing products.
- Customer experience executives in retail will drive huge budgets focused on digital fulfillment impacting the core tech stack.
- Commercial executives in professional services firms spend money to spur market growth opportunities. Their expansion counterparts, Customer success teams, may require specific data or resolutions to common client complaints.
- Production leaders or quality control personnel in manufacturing carry notable weight. They will be concerned with errors, downtime, and productivity. Similarly, Facilities leaders worried about uptimes and evolution to smart factories.
- Purchasing executives in CPG work with their peers in operations and finance to balance amassing inventory liabilities with the risk of missed bookings due to shortages.
All may find incredible value in applying your technology to their specific business problem. The most successful tech marketers add more definition to their target audience and further refine their messaging by exploring additional personas outside of core IT that are relevant in specific verticals.
Vertical marketing best practice #4
Don’t stop with content.
The next vertical marketing best practice has to do with breadth. Most vertical marketing strategies start with content for demand generation and SEO activities. In the early phases, this usually involves creating superficial skins for existing content. E.g., substituting page headers and images into existing copy. The next step is to deepen content with net new copy specifically focused on business issues that are relevant to an industry and to your expanded set of personas. The output is fully new web pages, new collateral, and vertical case studies.
The best tech marketers take it even further and extend vertical approaches across their major marketing initiatives. Other elements of your marketing motions that can be verticalized include:
- ABM. Build a one-to-many ABM campaign aimed at a vertical. These can include emails, direct mail, customized landing pages and more.
- Events. Not only should you add vertical conferences to your calendar, but you can also create your own. Utilize vertical SMEs as panel guests in client facing events. They are a draw to prospects and represent instant credibility.
- Promotion. In addition to website content and SEO, you can utilize vertical specific elements in paid social ads, display ads and press placements to gain awareness in a vertical.
- Outbound. Equip your outbound team with vertical oriented lists, email copy and collateral to multiply impact by combining inbound and outbound activity.
Vertical marketing best practice #5
If you market to verticals, sell to them too.
It wouldn’t be a marketing blog if we didn’t take a moment to bemoan the continued misalignment of sales and marketing in technology companies. Although arguably this has gotten better over the years, there are still disconnects in many (most?) organizations when it comes to alignment on target accounts, sales-worthy content, value messaging, definition of a lead and more. One thing we see the best tech marketers do is share their hard vertical work with their sales counterparts.
Sales enablement is one key beneficiary. Make sure that your sellers have access to all the work that you did to identify accounts, personas, messaging, and delivery. This same information can help them develop prospecting emails, proposals, and account plans. Your sales enablement partners can incorporate vertical training into onboarding, sales kick offs and other development activity. You can also assist them with vertical-oriented sales content beyond the case studies and collateral mentioned earlier. Vertical-oriented skins for presentation decks can add a layer of relevance in key sales interactions.
Sales operations (increasingly evolving into Revenue Operations or RevOps) is another group on the lookout for insights. Your work can help your commercial ops teams as they analyze markets, assign territories, and define channel strategies.
Aligning to similar points of view is one way to keep sales and marketing moving in the right direction.
Vertical marketing best practice #6
Measure. No really. Measure.
As you read this blog, it becomes clear that the best tech marketers are investing more time and budget into their vertical marketing strategies than their less successful peers. As a result, it’s worth tracking program specific KPIs tied directly to your vertical marketing strategies to determine the payback of those investments. Options include:
- Identification and engagement with key vertical personas
- Consumption of vertical-oriented content
- Press pickup and placements
- Leads generated within vertical
- Conversion ratios, velocity
- Pipeline in vertical
- Average contract value.
Still considering an upgrade to your vertical marketing strategy?
Vertical approaches offer significant impact given the increasing need for business-level marketing and selling in the space. But it’s not a decision to make lightly. Vertical marketing requires more research and context than about any other element of your marketing strategy. Follow the best practices laid out by those who have learned the hard way. Be thoughtful. Start small. And keep maturing your approach along the way.