Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Think vertically

To get more than one customer, the shortest distance between point A and point B is a vertical line. When you win your first customer, the dam will not burst open with a flood of additional ones. You will not be hit immediately with a wave of prospects waiting to sign on the dotted line. However, the first customer will make it a lot easier to get the second customer if you think vertically.

My company's first customer was part of a network of similar organizations in Indiana. The organizations did not compete directly with each other. In fact, the heads of each group met regularly. That made it a lot easier to call them and say, “We’re the company providing XYZ Company its new software.” Within a relatively short time, four of the nine similar organizations in Indiana became customers. We discovered that many other states had comparable organizations, so we began contacting the states closest to Indiana, including Michigan. “Your neighbors in Indiana are using our software,” we said. “Perhaps you would like to hear what they find so beneficial.” We soon had four Michigan customers similar to the ones in Indiana. Even if a prospect in another state had not heard of our other customers, they easily understood the similarities with their own business.

We enjoyed almost instant credibility each time we made a call. “Oh,” the new prospect would think. “These guys solved that problem my counterpart had in Michigan, which is the same problem I have here in Illinois. I should listen to what they have to say.” We milked that vertical market until we thought there was nothing left to milk. And then we returned to that niche later to milk it more.

Even if you have to limit your service to a specific area, you can still go vertical, whether it’s a city, neighborhood or even a few blocks. The vertical approach works the same whether you are leveraging your relationship with a pilot customer or a paying customer. Either way, your prospect will feel a lot more comfortable considering your company if they know someone with similar challenges already went through the mating ritual and pronounced you fit for marrying.