I returned last week from Citrix Summit 2016, which as always is a fantastic venue to interact with Citrix partners and sales teams (my Citrix Lego avatar from Summit provides a striking resemblance I think). My reason for attending this year was that I was asked to be a coach for the excellent workshop sessions organized by Nicole Nesrsta and Renee Flores. The focus was selling strategically into vertical markets, and specifically in the case of this workshop, selling into healthcare, education and financial services. Why is it important for someone in a sales organization to have a deep understanding of a vertical market?

“Citrix solutions are designed to benefit customers of any industry, but you will stand out from the crowd of sales reps when you understand the unique end-user challenges that our customers struggle to solve.” Nicole Nesrsta, Citrix

Nicole at Summit

Not only do I agree with Nicole that it is important to really understand your customer’s business processes and problems that may be unique to their industry from a sales perspective, but I also really believe it is important to have this understanding when you are designing and building products, even if your products are horizontal in nature.

Why do I believe that? Over the last year the Citrix research team I am part of was tasked in researching the potential benefits the Internet of Things (IoT) may bring to Citrix customers.

What we found is that we need to approach this question from the perspective of digging deep into problems our customers face on a daily basis, and then asking the question on how IoT may help them solve that problem. We also found it easier to dig deep into a particular industry first (in this case we took a close look at Education), and then use that understanding as a platform to then consider how this problem and solution may resonate in other industries.

Did this approach work for us? We are still moving forward with our research efforts, but our initial results are very positive.

By focusing on a particular industry, we uncovered an unsolved business problem, one that we believe IoT can help to address. We are now focused on how we can extend what we have learned to other industries using that same methodology.

And what was that methodology? It really was pretty similar to what we used in the workshops at Citrix Summit. It really is all about asking the right type of questions to better understand and know your customers. It is a process we recently documented in a recent article where we asked the question: “How’s Your Vertical Game?” You can read the article here, or I’ve provided a short synopsis below:

Improving your vertical game is key to growing your addressable market.

Below is an abbreviated look at the four-part formula of understanding your customer’s problems, adapting your products to fit in their world, envisioning where their market segment is going, and showing them what the future could be.

Understand: The first step is to gain a deep understanding of the customer’s business. How does their business work? What is the key to unlocking their value to their own customers? Armed with this knowledge, we can engage in meaningful conversations with customers to uncover their most important problems and priorities.

Adapt: An understanding of customer problems and priorities is no guarantee that you can successfully build a solution that will meet their needs. The key is to innovate with your customers, not for your customers. The path to understanding your customer’s problems and priorities is not necessarily a straight one. It is an ongoing, windy road where you invite your customers to participate in the entire innovation process. Have ongoing conversations and at every step of the innovation journey, take a moment to test your current thinking and use your learnings to adapt quickly.

Envision: A big part of engaging with your customers is showing your understanding of trends and how they affect their business. Demonstrating thought leadership allows you to be seen as a long-term partner instead of a replaceable product vendor, and it allows you to engage them at more senior levels. Being an integral part of your customers’ broad strategy is a hard position for your competitors to unseat.

Show: Once you have talked to customers and better understand their problems and requirements, what can you show them before you have anything functional to share? A prototype does not have to be based on working code; it can be anything visual you want to share. Over the course of your customer engagement journey, you can gradually increase the fidelity of what you want to share until you are ready to hand over the reins to the customer to test a functional concept. This is simply another avenue to test new ideas, gather feedback and quickly adapt to what you learn.

This four-part formula was adapted from a longer article, which you can read here.

Citrix Labs is an applied research organization within Citrix. To get updates on what the Citrix Labs team is following as well as projects the Labs team is working on, you can subscribe to the Citrix Trends and Innovation LinkedIn page.