targeting for sales

Focus on Specific Markets to Bring in More Business


At some point, all salespeople and their companies must make a decision on where to go to develop new business.  Often a choice must be made between specializing in specific markets or not.  This is a tough decision for a salesperson if the print provider they work for has not specifically optimized their production, fulfillment, marketing and sales efforts to focus on a specific market. It is then up to the salesperson to take it upon themselves to identify the best target markets.

Get Better Results by Targeting

More and more salespeople and printing companies are trading in their “sales shotguns” and replacing them with “precision rifles”.  

History has told us that the sharper the focus and deeper the knowledge of a particular market the better the results.  Though some have resisted targeting specific markets, there is no question that targeting and specializing generates better results.

Most Small and Medium Printers Use a Shotgun Approach

Most printers and salespeople we know are generalists. They possess certain production equipment, and intend to sell as many types of generic products as possible at the lowest cost. If they can sell large sheet size brochures or on line finished booklets, their salespeople target any and all markets that may use these types of products. Unfortunately, this approach assumes the customer knows printing and how best to use it. Consequently, more and more customers are choosing other forms of media.

With a shotgun approach it is very difficult to know and meet each customer’s specific requirements. Many successful print providers, particularly large ones, have abandoned this approach and have organized around specific vertical or horizontal markets.

What is a Vertical Market?

A vertical market is a particular industry in which similar products or services are marketed using similar sales and marketing approaches. Examples of vertical markets are: colleges, hotels, retail, hospitals, wholesalers and government.  Targeting a vertical market is generally focused on providing printing and related services that are commonly used within a specific industry. Examples are providing cross media recruitment marketing programs for colleges, direct mail campaigns for retail operations or web to print programs for wholesalers.

The idea is for salespeople to become experts in specific industry niches and to anticipate their printing and related marketing needs. This concept can be applied to almost any market when selling printing solutions.

What is a Horizontal Market?

A horizontal market, by comparison, allows salespeople to sell the same products and services in more than one industry, and is therefore focused on a wider range of business segments. In a horizontal market, customers use print products in much the same way regardless of what industry they are in. Providing brochures and booklets to marketing departments is a typical example of horizontal marketing. Vista Print, Staples and FedEx sell print mostly to horizontal markets.

This is a very challenging approach for most commercial printers. There is plenty of competition and accompanying price pressure. A potential solution is the combination approach which allows salespeople to segment and target accounts by vertical and horizontal markets within a local geographical market. This can be a very good strategy for small and medium print providers.

What not to do.

The clearest path to failure is to try to develop a product that someone else has been successful with. Or even worse is buying a new press thinking that this will provide a competitive edge. At Graph Expo this year, we have met printers who are thinking that installing an ink jet press will solve their business problems. This may help in the short term. Only a carefully thought out targeted marketing and “go to market plan” will provide sustainable results.

The advantages of focusing on specific markets and accounts in a specific geographical area are:

  • Customers like to do business with salespeople who know their specific applications and business issues

  • Target marketing leverages the products and solutions that a print provider can provide

  • Focusing on sales and services to a specific market helps to  gain production efficiencies which leads to greater margins

  • Once engaged in a market, new products and solutions can be developed and expanded that are specifically tailored to a target market’s customer needs

  • Additional services such a data management, design, supply chain, and digital content can more easily be offered because of superior knowledge of the market

Here are some key steps to get started:

  1. Take a careful look at your production capabilities, equipment and workflow. What products and solutions best meet the needs of a specific market?

  2. Review key accounts and markets within a specific geography and determine what their common problems or opportunities are.

  3. Once the buying dynamics are discovered, look to tailor and customize the products that your company can produce to create effective business solutions for a specific vertical market.  We have a client that has launched a successful campaign to further penetrate the hospitality and restaurant market with personalized packaging solutions.

  4. Create a sales and marketing program that addresses specific print related and marketing products that a prospective customer requires.

A great way to beat competitors is by becoming a leader in a specific market. We are seeing more and more print providers develop sales, digital and eCommerce programs, distribution, advanced workflows and dedicated production to create competitive advantages in many niche markets in both business and consumer markets. As the New Year begins, this is a good time to take another look at what you can produce, who it can be sold to and if your salespeople know how to reach them.  

Joe Rickard is a training leader and consultant dedicated to the graphic communications industry. He and his company Intellective Solutions (  works with printing and technology organizations to improve their sales, marketing and operational effectiveness. He can be reached at 845 753 6156. Follow him on Twitter @joerickardIS. This article was published in the Printing News in December, 2015