Stand Up Tall

By Jason Compton

As an enterprise software rep you often find yourself positioned as an expert in solving problems for particular industry verticals. But downsizing and the push for greater sales productivity have created a shift – the vertical you carefully researched and gained experience in over the years is suddenly not your only bailiwick. Instead you need to be able to articulate exactly how your technology solution can smooth away the pain points of your client’s industry, which requires you to expand your knowledge to include other industry verticals. So, how do you meet this new challenge?

Absorb your new vertical markets by immersion. Trade shows and expert seminars are a must if you can spare the time and have the access, but there are some knowledge-building activities that are faster and cheaper. “You can pick up a magazine in a vertical industry and learn a lot about it,” says Dr. James Canton, CEO of the Institute for Global Futures. Whether at a trade show or through the printed word, simply observing only goes so far. You need to start striking up a dialogue with those who have interesting stories to tell about the challenges in their industry and who might be able to help you frame your company’s solution in terms of their unique troubles.

Above all, learn through observation and discussion who sets the benchmark for quality customer service in each industry and then aim to meet or exceed it. “As a customer I’d rather have my vendor be obsessed with customer service and have a good product, rather than one who is selling a great product but provides questionable customer service,” says Dr. Canton.

Vertical research doesn’t merely have to be driven by managerial decree. Keeping an eye on the growth markets can help you and your company identify opportunities ahead of the competition. “You can learn in about five minutes where venture capital is going,” he says. “Nanotech, bioscience, the video game market…these are big upturn marketplaces.”

The chance to open up a new market shouldn’t be passed up simply because an existing client list performs well. “The problem sales executives face is that they become entrenched in a skill set wrapped around a particular horizontal application and vertical marketplace,” says Dr. Canton. “As a sales executive you want to be looking at the horizon for what’s coming next.”