Filed Under:Your Practice, Sales Marketing

How (and why) to target a niche market

Targeting an industry niche is an effective yet underutilized marketing strategy in the financial services industry.  It’s hard to create a reputation for yourself with a shotgun marketing approach. On the other hand, when you target a very specific industry niche, it is fairly easy to elevate yourself to celebrity status.

Let’s start out with a definition. To me, targeting an industry niche means positioning yourself as an expert in a target industry as it relates to financial services, and leveraging that expertise and reputation with appropriate marketing techniques so that people in the target industry will think of you first, and refer you first. I’ve seen financial professionals have great success in the medical, legal, printing, entertainment, sports, restaurant, and franchise industries, to name just a few.

Marketing vs. selling

I’ve seen a million definitions of the difference between marketing and selling. It’s pretty simple, actually.  Marketing is the activity that makes the sale possible. Marketing makes people aware of your product or service and puts them in a position to meet you so that the sale becomes possible. Marketing is what gets you to the client’s door in the best possible light. Sales strategy is what you do when you are inside.

The ideas I discuss below fall in the category of marketing. These are things you can do to increase your reputation so it becomes easier to attract people to your business.

The benefits of targeting niche industries

There are at least three compelling reasons for targeting an industry niche:

1. Word of mouth is easier to create because people within industry niches have specific formal and informal ways of communicating with each other — conferences, newsletters, trade publications, industry associations, and study groups, etc. A reputation for quality work can be built rather quickly within a niche.

2. Referrals are easier to obtain. People within industries usually have many friends and colleagues to whom they can refer you. When they know you are concentrating your efforts in their industry, they are usually more willing to help you extend your influence. In my own niche marketing efforts, I have rarely met a client who was concerned about me calling on the competition. In fact, quite often they are on very friendly terms. I’ve received some of my best referrals to my clients’ direct competitors.

3. Cold calling within an industry niche is usually a much warmer proposition.  Once your reputation is established, there’s a good chance your prospect may have heard of you. If they don’t know you, it’s still easier to warm up the call because you know their challenges, you speak their language, you are an expert in their industry and you truly have more value to bring to them then a generalist.

C. Richard Weylman, CSP, professional speaker and author of “Opening Closed Doors: Keys to Reaching Hard-to-Reach People,” puts it this way, “Remember the truism ‘Birds of a feather flock together.’ People associate and communicate with other people like themselves. For instance, people in the same type of business or profession join together in an association. To gain access to the marketplace, we should then divide it based on what our prospects do for a living, for recreation or where they have special interests. The advantage is that by segmenting your marketing into niches in this way, you can reach out to prospects that associate and communicate with each other. This means you can find and associate with them. They, in turn, can find and associate and communicate with you. Without these two factors, your marketing and prospecting efforts will continue to be frustrating and expensive.”

I have a friend who is a sales rep for an advertising agency. She says that working these principles of niche marketing is like trying to move into a new lane while waiting at a traffic light. If you begin to inch over, trying to squeeze your car into the small space between neighboring vehicles, you may not get in. However, if you just catch the eye of the driver of the car you wish to cut in front of, he or she will almost always wave you in. Establish some recognition, and you’ll be let in. The same is true in sales. If people have heard of you, even if they’re not sure where, you can get past the gatekeeper and your voicemail messages get returned. A widespread reputation overcomes barriers.

 

It takes a commitment

Whether you are a rookie or a 20-year veteran (or somewhere in between), targeting your marketing efforts at an industry niche requires a high level of commitment to the process. Reputations are not built overnight. Until a critical mass of activity within the niche is reached, it may seem that your time and efforts are not producing a good return on investment. However, once that critical mass is reached, your growing reputation almost takes on a life of its own.

When you target an industry niche, reputation is everything. You need to go the extra mile. And you can’t burn bridges, because word-of-mouth spreads faster within specific industries. Every transaction, every encounter, has to be handled with the utmost professionalism. Within the niche, everyone is always a prospect, at least in the sense of helping you build your reputation. If a company or individual doesn’t fit your profile, you still must have an attitude of service. Even people in your target industry who aren’t prospects should be treated with professionalism and dignity.

For more from Bill Cates, see:

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