This blog was originally published on The Var Guy on Aug. 15, 2012.

There are literally thousands of technology service providers and resellers offering basically the same stuff, making it extremely challenging to distinguish their services and really stand out. It’s not for lack of trying. I’ve seen some well-intentioned tactics: funny ads, clever graphics, pages and pages of product information.

But it’s not about working harder. It’s about working differently. And the problem with those creative but often ineffective tactics is they focus on what you, as the reseller, are selling. You need to focus on your customers’ business. Show you have deep vertical knowledge and you know their industry by talking about their pain points. THEN follow through with how your product and service offerings can help them to achieve their goals.

(Vertical) Knowledge is Power

Demonstrating rich vertical industry knowledge is an effective way to distinguish your business because you’re showing customers that you’re not just randomly racking up customers as quickly as possible to pad your bottom line. You’re actually carefully selecting them, and others, because your solution can really help their business.

Take the healthcare vertical, for example. There are thousands of small healthcare practices that don’t know exactly how they can benefit from the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act passed by Congress in 2009 to help healthcare practitioners automate their health records. There are literally billions of dollars of free money made available by the federal government practitioners could use to update and upgrade their IT infrastructure … if they only knew how. The rules for qualifying to receive these government funds are rather complex, and involve meeting a minimum number of specifically called-out “Meaningful Use” criteria each of the three years of the program.

This is where you and your deep vertical knowledge come in. Being an expert in your customers’ industry rules, trends and compliance requirements and providing this expertise will really drive your profits. And as you ramp up your vertical knowledge, you can use websites such as Mobile Health Market News as a free source of information for technical healthcare happenings. Look for these types of websites for your industry.

The Indirect Contact

Another advantage of using your vertical knowledge to reach customers is you don’t necessarily have to get in direct contact with them. A lot of resellers think they can’t show their value unless they get a potential customer into a face-to-face meeting or at least on the phone. But if you have specific industry-vertical knowledge you can indirectly target customers.

Last month I talked about the power of social media. Now it’s time to utilize those different platforms. Write a white paper about a specific industry’s pain points and push it out onto your website and via LinkedIn or even Facebook. Write a series of blog posts about how your solution has already helped customers in the vertical you have selected and push that out. Businesses are always looking for partners that know their space well, so position yourself as a consistent provider of interesting and useful industry knowledge – a consultant of sorts, in addition to being a technology reseller – and you’re going to catch the attention of the business owners that you are trying to capture.

Don’t Try to Do it All

Picking a vertical to target is easy: Search through your customer base and look first for the verticals you serve the most. Don’t try to become an expert in an industry in which you have no customers. Once you’ve identified your most promising verticals, choose one your company already has the most knowledge in. You’ve just found your target vertical.

You also may want to find out which of those most popular verticals have the most incentives available, such as the federal funding program for electronic medical records for health care, for example. Think about diving into that type of vertical because you can talk to those customers about incentives and give them information that can really help their businesses right from that first phone call.

You can choose a second target vertical if you have the knowledge and staff to do it. But don’t try to become the jack of all trades. I’m talking about deep vertical knowledge. Learn about compliance standards, trends, incentives, pain points — the works. It takes some time to become the type of reseller that can draw in customers purely because of vertical expertise, so look for some help to speed up the learning process. If you try to hit them all, you’re really not going to become an expert in any of them.

In ramping up your knowledge of a given vertical, be sure to leverage your own vendors as a potential source for getting up to speed with information on your target industry. For example, Axcient has created collateral on achieving regulatory compliance, as well as industry-specific case studies – just contact us and ask. Remember, it’s not about your solution. It’s about your customers and their needs. And the sooner you tailor the way you approach people to a customer-first, vertical-specific focus, the sooner you’re going to garner the attention you want from your target business customers.

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