Gaining New Inroads to Prospects Means You Have to Go Vertical

In his book Fanatical Prospecting, Jeb Blount says, “The number one reason for an empty pipeline is failure to prospect.” That one statement sums it up pretty well. Our industry has always been known as team of hard-charging sales reps who knock down doors and take down deals. Prospecting is in our DNA.

The challenge is that over the past few decades, our prospects have changed. We still need to prospect hard. But we also need to prospect smart.

The Challenge of Prospecting

Today’s buyers are smarter than ever. Armed with instant access to information, buyers self-diagnose their problems and potential solutions long before meeting with a sales person. Don’t believe me? The latest Neilson research revealed that the average American adult spends 11 hours per day looking at a screen—we’re information junkies.

One thing that drives our ravenous hunger for information is rampant skepticism. Gen X decision makers who are taking the reins of many organizations are some of the most-skeptical buyers we’ve ever seen. Millennials are skeptical as well.

Interrupting Smart, Skeptical Buyers

It’s never been easy to get attention. If it were, sales would be easy. However, the environment we live in now makes it harder than ever.

How do you gain attention with prospects who are smart and skeptical? You better be talking about something that’s important to them.

In the book Insight Selling, Mike Schultz and John E. Doerr interviewed buyers to ask what they want from sales professionals. The answer was simple: insight!

Buyers want sales professionals who can bring them ideas that will improve their businesses.

“The sellers most successful at creating opportunities focus on positives—goals, aspirations, and possibilities achievable by the buyer, even if the buyer doesn’t know it yet.”

Buyers want insights. If you want to get their attention, bring them fresh insights that will help their business.

So, where do you go to find fresh insights?

Vertical Market Business Problems

This morning while driving to work, you passed many decision makers headed to their offices. You were thinking about how you would solve your problem of growing sales. Each one of the people you passed has problems as well. Most likely, they were thinking about how to solve their problems.

If you want to get attention with decision makers, the smart thing to do is understand their problems and bring insights as to how they could use technology to solve their problems.

Fortunately, most business problems are related to a process. Since documents (paper and digital) are the key vehicles which drive information through business processes, we have ideas to offer.

Add in challenges with security, compliance and simply needing to reduce overhead expenses. We’ve got insights to help prospects solve problems.

However, all of our ideas don’t mean anything to a potential buyer unless they are connected to their top-of-mind business problem. This is where vertical markets come in.

Begin With Business Problems

The beauty of a vertical-market prospecting approach is that we begin with the one thing that has the best chance of getting prospects’ attention: their business problems.

If you want to get an appointment, start with a business problem that is top of mind to your prospects. How do you find business problems? You understand the vertical market!

Recently, we were doing some research in the legal marketplace for our strategic-prospecting program. When looking for the top issues law firms face, we discovered that the number of billable hours per attorney has dropped over the past 5 years. At $300+ per hour, that can add up! Digging deeper, we learned that the burden of eDiscovery plays a huge factor in the drop in productivity.

The managing partner of a law firm who would never take a call with you to talk about copiers would consider talking with you about increasing the number of billable hours per attorney.

The beauty of a vertical market is that prospects in the market have similar problems. For example, our research in the non-profit marketplace taught us that the new tax law will significantly impact donations. Once again, the executive director of a nonprofit probably doesn’t care about their copiers. But they do care about both raising more funds and cutting expenses, given the reality that their revenue is about to take a big cut due to the next tax laws.

Once you understand the issues in one nonprofit, you have a conversation starter for every nonprofit. The specific issues a given individual organization may have will vary, but the overall theme will be similar. Even if the individual organization doesn’t feel the pull, they know their peers do. They also know that you took the time to understand their business and could be a resource in other areas.

Make the Bridge

Once you understand the business problems in a market, the next step is to build the bridge to your products, services and solutions.

Consider the legal example above. Can you help streamline the eDiscovery process? You bet! From scan-enabled multifunction systems that simplify capture, all the way through to integrating with their case-management system, you’ve got products that could help. You could also help improve attorney productivity by ensuring their network stays online with managed IT services. Additionally, you can provide secure access to the information in a hybrid-cloud environment that you manage. There are probably a half a dozen more things that can be added to that list.

The key is to make the bridge between the market’s top business problems and your offerings. Don’t focus on secondary problems—nobody has time for that. Buyers are focused on their top problems.

As we did research in the construction industry, we learned that while other industries have improved productivity dramatically over the past 50 years, the construction industry is flat. They need help. Amazing amounts of time, human resources and equipment are wasted because of inefficient processes and poor access to information.

Could you bring ideas to solve a construction company’s productivity problem? Of course! There are all kinds of ways any copier dealer or managed services provider could help. You just need to understand the problem so you can build the bridge.

Prospecting In Verticals

1. Understand the Problems
This isn’t rocket science, but it does take some time. Over the past six months, we’ve been neck deep in vertical-market research. What we’ve found as we’ve trained sales reps is that it’s not hard for them to understand the high-level problems in a market. Then the lights come on as they see how the products, services and solutions they sell could be applied to solve the problems.

2. Create Effective Messaging
The next step is to craft the message—you must communicate your expertise in these areas. Right now, we’re doing this in two ways. The first is to create e-books with titles like Smart Strategies to Thrive in Today’s Competitive Legal Marketplace. Putting content like this up against a white paper on managed print services will win all day long.

The second way to communicate your expertise is through vertical case studies. Properly written studies demonstrate your ability to understand the business issues in a given vertical market and apply technology to solve the problems. We highly recommend using them.

3. Find the Right Targets
Every vertical has its “sweet spot” of ideal accounts. As we were working with a dealer in a large market, we used Avention, a D&B Hoovers product to identify law firms. The problem was that there are many one-person firms. So together, we determined the criteria for a good target account. You need to know who your target accounts are in each core vertical. Don’t waste your time on the small ones that don’t match your criteria.

4. Prospect with a System
The old days of spray-and-pray phone prospecting are over. tells us that you need six to eight touches with a prospect to get an appointment. The most-effective prospecting strategies have a system with multiple touches in multiple channels. Platforms like HubSpot Sales Hub can be used to efficiently launch sequences of emails, calls and social touches. Pre-loading this with vertical content makes it easy for field reps and sales development reps (SDRs) to launch multi-touch sequences.

5. Upgrade Your Phone Skills
Next, you need a good phone strategy. Just calling to say you sent an email you’d like to discuss doesn’t cut it. Instead, you need a focused phone-prospecting methodology that grabs attention, deals with brush offs and crushes objections—our recommended training is Fanatical Prospecting. Whatever you do, make sure that you schedule prospecting training for your sales team at least once a year. This is a skill that should always be improved.

6. Establish a Culture of Problem Solving
Last, and not least, it is vital to establish a culture of problem solving. Simply hiring a team like ours to get into vertical markets is not going to do anything. From top leadership on down, there needs to be a commitment to be a company that truly adds value. I don’t think this is a stretch for most dealers—after all, we’ve built our industry by providing exceptional service after the sale. Let’s apply the same level of diligence to provide exceptional insights before the sale. Verticals are the way to do this.

Smart dealers reinforce the vertical-prospecting strategy by taking the time to learn the issues in the verticals. Invite your friends to come into your sales meetings to talk about the issues in their business. Over time, you’ll upgrade the business acumen of your team and build a culture of problem solving.

Does It Work?

Quite simply, yes. Prospecting has always been hard work and always will be. However, playing the game smart by leading with insights to help buyers solve their problems makes it much more effective.

This morning we were on a web meeting with a VP of sales in a large metropolitan market. We could see his smile as he told us about getting a first in appointment with a company that in his words, “They’d only dreamed about getting into.”

How did they do it? Vertical prospecting. They took the time to learn the problems in the market. They had a message that resonated. They found the right targets. They launched sequences. Finally, they followed up on the telephone using proven sales skills.

Don’t let lack of vertical research and prospecting empty your pipeline. Take the time to understand the needs of prospects in your core verticals and you’ll find that it’s a lot easier to get their attention.

Darrell Amy
About the Author
Darrell Amy is the founder of Dealer Marketing, a managed marketing services team dedicated to helping independent copier dealers win net-new business and protect their current accounts. He regularly consults with dealers to create new websites and execute their digital marketing plans. Darrell has 23 years of industry experience in sales, sales management, solution selling, and digital marketing. Learn more at