One of my favorite sessions at this year’s Saastr Annual was The Playbook for Winning in a Vertical Market presented by Ara Mahdessian the CEO of ServiceTitan.
I love niche markets, and every business I’ve ever started has been incredibly specialized. From marketing automation users to the accounts receivables space, there’s just something about dominating a very defined section of the market that appeals to me. Do one thing and do it really, really well.
I’ve written before about the importance of infusing passion into your day-to-day work, and I stand by that. I also stand by the fact that passion won’t solve everything—in some cases, it can ruin you and your efforts entirely. Think about this in the context of running down every path that presents itself. Often the excitement and “newness” of passion, and the immediate gratification it brings, can result in starving for direction. A mile wide and an inch deep can be a strong metaphor for the shiny object syndrome plaguing marketers these days.
All too often, well-meaning and aspirational efforts start with passion and vision, but turn out to be a mess. We see this a lot with clients when the latest trend starts to bubble up into a movement (hi, ABM). If you start to chase every rabbit that comes along, you’re going to be headed down a lot of rabbit holes. This is where focus begins to pay huge dividends and whether you’re focused on a very tight niche market or serving a hugely broad space, applying some of the fundamental principals of niche marketing can go a long way in creating ownership in your space.
Here are my top three tips for creating industry domination using niche principals:
1. Become a storyteller. Immediately.
If you’ve found a real niche with a big enough problem to solve, you might be the only player in the space (at least for now). And if your product or service hasn’t yet been embraced by your target industry, you’ll probably need to prove its worth to your prospective buyers. This is where you need to create customer success and begin telling those stories to everyone within earshot.
Let’s say you’ve created a SaaS product for the car repair industry that is unlike anything else available. Start by defining who you are, what you do and what your clear differentiator is before you ever approach potential customers, then focus on finding a customer who will allow you to solve that problem and tell the story. Once you have these core elements locked in, you can develop buyer personas and begin aligning the stories you have to teach target personas who match that individual.
Notice I used the word “teach”. At this point, your focus should be on educating and teaching rather than selling and persuading. This is how you begin to permeate a niche industry and garner more and more market adoption. Stories are the key to ensuring that education doesn’t fall on deaf ears.
2. You must have a Rockstar.
The concept of a ‘thought leader’ is a dead horse with more than a few marks where it’s been kicked, but the fact remains, if you want to dominate a space you must have that insider point of view. There’s no better way to accomplish that customer insight than to either hire or create a subject matter expert who can not only guide your messaging and approach, but who will also resonate with the audience. Your buyer is looking to feel comfortable that you have their best interests front and center—that you’re solving their problems. Nothing is more effective at assuring these folks than one of their own. If you’re selling to marketers, you need a kick-ass marketer front and center. If your buyer is in IT, they need to see that you have someone who has been in that role at the helm.
If you haven’t found and propped up your subject matter expert, you need to. Period.
3. Be willing to change your “how.”
Long story short, you have to be willing to pivot quickly. I don’t mean changing your entire go-to-market strategy; what I mean is you have to evaluate the nuances of your buyer’s response to see if how you’re delivering a message makes sense. The why shouldn’t be in question, but the how might change as you get deeper into your niche.
For example, I built my company initially around being a team of Marketo experts, but along the way, we decided we wanted to white label the software, sell it ourselves and dominate our market. This completely confused our customers, so we reevaluated and went back to our why, which has always been to empower marketers through technology.
This made us change our go-to-market strategy. Our services didn’t really change much and our targets stayed the same, but we changed our how, and this proved priceless to our growth and longevity.
As you refine your marketing strategy, keep the problem you’re solving in view at all times. The problem itself might change as time, technology and trends do, but you can adapt and adjust your value proposition to stay relevant if you keep your finger on its pulse. Relief from this problem is why your customers come to you in the first place, and will also be how you can keep them coming back.
And, oh yeah, if you have that stars-in-your-eyes passion, that can come in handy too. Just don’t let it overshadow the feedback your buyer is giving you via engagement, or lack thereof.
Meet Justin Gray
Justin is a serial entrepreneur and the CEO and founder of LeadMD, the world’s largest revenue operations agency having implemented over half of the Marketo user base. Justin has made a career of launching successful companies and scaling them, with successful exits of over 200MM+ in the last decade. Justin’s latest endeavor launched in 2016 when he co-founded Six Bricks an online learning startup designed to combat employee and customer churn through experience-based education. Over the past 10 years, Justin has emerged as a strong voice for entrepreneurship, marketing and culture. As a recognized speaker, Justin has been published over 350 times in industry publications and holds his own column, Tribal Knowledge in Inc., while writing for Entrepreneur, Tech Crunch and others. Justin and his wife Jennifer met over marketing and three years later welcomed their son, Grayson, into the world in April of 2017.