If you’re going to enter a vertical market, enter it!

vertical-market-classroomI love Vertical Market Software

If you've never been to my site, you might not know that my day job is working at an enterprise software company, one that specializes in vertical markets. If you don't know what a vertical market is, another way to say it is to think about targeted industries. Hospitals are a targeted industry, as are hotels, as are hair salons. Yes, the letter of the day was “H”.

But I don't work in those industries. Emphasys Software works in public housing, housing finance (redevelopment), treasury systems and residential real estate. If you don't know what half of that list is – just remember one word: compliance.

Much of what we do, in three of the four, is focus on the ever-changing regulations in those vertical markets and make sure our software stays compliant, while also ensuring that our customers trust the software to keep them in compliance.

Another way to think about it – in a really simple way, is to think about Turbo Tax. The tax codes change yearly. So does the software. And you don't have to worry at all about a thing, as long as you trust Intuit.

WordPress is stepping into Vertical Markets

A week or so ago, I wrote about how it made perfect sense for WordPress.com to step further into more vertical (niche) markets. I applauded their efforts – whether it was for restaurants, weddings, or photographers. But yesterday they announced they were stepping into education.

And this time I'm not applauding, because I'm not seeing what I expected to see. Instead of telling a compelling story with vertical-specific features, they showed us that WordPress could create pages, posts, and embed video. In essence, they've not yet stepped into the space with both feet. It feels like they're still testing the water with their toes.

Stepping into a Vertical Market effectively

Here are three of my guidelines for fully stepping into a vertical market.

1. Be able to articulate what you bring to the market

When you step into a vertical market (from outside it), particularly with software, you need to be able to tell a compelling story. One that highlights how you were successful in another adjacent market and how this has prepared you for bringing value into the new market. This is the credibility challenge you're trying to overcome.

2. Demonstrate an understanding of niche nuances

If you're going to step into a deep and rich vertical market, you should know that a common barrier to entry is the details. Others have spent years learning those details and can quickly add value as they navigate known issues. Just announcing that you't stepping into a vertical, without an understanding of the space makes you look shifty – like you're just trying to expand the market for your wares and putting a nice new bow on it. This is the trust challenge you're trying to overcome.

3. Enter the market with partners

Some people call them reference clients, but the truth is that if you're stepping into a new space, these guys are doing a lot more than just being clients. Either way, whatever you call them, people will look more to them to help decide if you're credible and trustworthy than anything you say. So find a set of great “first clients” and really help them shine. It tells everyone you're serious about what you're doing. This is what I call the respect challenge you're trying to overcome.

If you're getting in, jump in.

I'm not saying they can't or won't do it. But I don't think WordPress.com has fully committed itself to the education space yet. In fact, their site highlights three groups that are “at the head of the class.” But if you click on the third and go dig into what they're doing for parents, you'll find it's virtually nothing. No place for parents to log in. No place to see how their child is doing. Nothing.

So follow WordPress' lead by stepping into vertical markets, but when you do, really commit to being in the vertical market you're in.