VTN members ponder vertical moves

Tiffani Bova

Gartner's Tiffani Bova advised VTN attendees to specialize vertically.

If there were one word that would summarize the hot topics at the VentureTech Network’s Spring Invitational last week in Chicago, it was “cloud.”

Okay, so that’s a granted.

But if there were a second word added to that list, it would be “verticals.” And that would be a strong second.

The idea of going vertical figured heavily into the presentation from industry analyst Tiffani Bova of Gartner, and was also the topic of the always-important peer-to-peer keynote session at VentureTech.

Bova argued it’s not a matter of “if” but rather “when” channel professionals choose to build out a vertical focus. Her presentation stopped short of “verticalize or die,” but not too far short of it.

“Customers want vertically-focused partners and vertically-focused solutions,” she said. “Don’t look at it as ‘we do anything for anybody.’”

She added that while solutions across various verticals may be quite similar at the technical level – but when it comes time to pitch, it will often be the solution provider who can show the best understanding of the customer’s market who wins the day. That’s where partners can truly differentiate themselves, Bova said.

“All of you could sell anything to anybody across any vertical,” Bova told VTN members. “But my point is that you really should focus. Be good at two markets, or extremely good at one, and absolutely, without a doubt, your midmarket customers will reward you with business because you’ve got that expertise.”

Among the top verticals in which to invest, Bova said there are big opportunities in particular in media, manufacturing, healthcare, retail, transportation and wholesale.

So how’s a partner to build a practice in a new and hot vertical? Don Nokes of Warwick, RI-based NetCenergy shared his organization’s experience in building out a healthcare practice over the last three years.

Nokes said NetCenergy recognized the need to really go deep within a vertical, and did some research on what field to pursue. Eventually, it found healthcare met its needs for a market:

  • It’s a growing field and is poised to continue to be one.
  • There are lots of clients locally in the space, from doctors’ offices to community health centres.
  • There are plenty of managed services opportunities in the field because many smaller clients don’t have on-staff IT resources.
  • There was only one real local competitor in the space, and Nokes said that competitor wasn’t really “identified as a market leader” in healthcare.

So once the company decided on a field to pursue, how did it engage? Three key words: “subject matter experts.” Nokes detailed how the company built out its presence in the field, joining healthcare industry groups, networking within the field and even relying on existing relationships. For example, Nokes said he turned to his own doctor to find out his challenges and needs when it comes to technology, and to find out whom else he should be talking to.

Nokes described the process of diving deep into the industry as “not for the feint of heart,” but ultimately successful because the company got to know the industry, and perhaps more importantly, the industry got to know NetCenergy. As a result, many of its new healthcare clients have come as a result of referrals from the communities in which the company now participates.

The results of the effort – In 2007, the company had 160 customers, a handful of which were in the healthcare field. Fast-forward to today, and the company has 240-odd customers, 70 of which are in the medical field. And it’s a growing business that Nokes predicts will continue with managed services well beyond initial EMR rollouts.

“If you’re going to look at going vertical, you really have to make the commitment,” he said. “It’s not easy, it’s not quick, but it’s really paid off for NetCenergy.”