Ask an Expert : Break Into the Health-Care Market

Q : We’re a medium-sized decorator doing pretty standard business-to-business jobs, but after landing a local hospital, we researched and retooled to serve their needs. We’ve had a great experience with this client and want to expand further into health care. How can we get more business in this niche?

“Approach the purchaser at your current hospital to see if they’ll be a reference for you.”

The most difficult task for most potential niche-marketers is breaking in, and you’re already there. Having identified solutions to pain points in your niche is a great asset; you simply have to expose other health-care buyers to that well-earned knowledge. It starts with packaging those solutions into something you can pitch. You’ll proactively show your potential customer how you can address the problems they’re likely to have and interview them to suss out places where you can simplfy the fulfillment of their specific garment ordering and management needs. Build your pitch, add social proof from your existing customers – and expansion will come naturally.

Start by distilling the lessons learned from your first niche client. What problems did the client have? How did you solve them? What have you had to change about your shop? Did you do anything innovative or did something that was already part of your shop’s setup or culture help serve that first client well? Make a list of these bits of information and rewrite them as offerings.

If you found that certain thread types didn’t hold up to industrial laundering and switched to something more durable, explain that you’re familiar with industrial laundry practices and offer compatible decoration. If you learned that distribution of uniforms was a major hassle for department heads and moved to direct-to-employee shipping, tell prospective customers about how your fulfillment experience can remove their staff from the distribution process, saving them costly work hours. If ordering difficulties, lost catalogs and missing order forms led you to create a custom sales website, show it to your prospective customer and explain how it eliminates paperwork and the need to play telephone tag.

No matter the market, if your shop can show how it has identified those problems common to such businesses and implemented the skills and equipment needed to address them, you’re positioned to be an educated and engaged partner. Once you’ve written key information about your approach to the market, put together a set of sample garments that exemplify the pieces your initial customer preferred. Now you have the basic tools you need to call on new customers.

This is where social proof comes in. Approach the purchaser at your current hospital to see if he’ll be a reference for you or provide a LinkedIn referral. Solicit reviews on your chosen social media site or testimonials for your own Web properties. Whichever media you use to solicit and show your proof, referrals and testimonials will reinforce your status in the niche. Nothing beats an opinion from a qualified member of a niche to sell other companies in the same space. Just as we in the garment decoration business tend to know all of our competitors by name, your hospital purchaser probably knows her counterpart in another location or other contacts in the medical field with similar needs.

Having secured meetings with potential customers, remember that actively pitching your company isn’t your only job. Lead with a short synopsis of your strengths and what you’ve done with similar customers in your contact’s market, but move quickly from presenting to listening. Interview your customer about their current situation with garment suppliers, ask them what they find difficult about the process of purchasing and what they like and dislike about the way they work with their current decorator.

Learn about their business, their organizational style, the way they handle their image; learn who they are, what’s important to them, and what an ideal business relationship looks like in their eyes. Stay present and focused and you’ll be able to supply them with thoughtful solutions to their problems that answer their needs and corporate culture directly. You’ll still dip into your well of prepared pitch material, but you’ll do so in a way that feels more tailored to your client.

Erich Cambell an industry veteran, is an award-winning embroidery digitizer with experience in designing, implementing and maintaining e-commerce websites. A longtime technology fan, ad-hoc IT staffer and constantly-connected Internet dweller, Campbell is in the process of adding social media to the marketing arsenal of Albuquerque, NM-based Black Duck Inc. Contact: