LOVE OF ANIMALS and technology led me to discover an underserved industry sorely in need of IT expertise, and subsequently launch a vertical focus on veterinary clinics. For the past two years, we have directed our core competency and marketing efforts toward that industry and productized our offerings, which we continue to build out. This has not only given us a competitive advantage, but also differentiates IT Corps and enables us to develop deep customer relationships.
After my service in the U.S. Marine Corps, I developed my technical expertise, gained the necessary certifications, launched an IT business with a partner, split amicably with him after several years, and started IT Corps. During that time, I worked with customers from a variety of industries until I found the right vertical “fit.” While I like the government sector, everybody’s doing it. I realized nobody was going after veterinary practices. They need the help, and they have money to spend. Plus, I love the people in this industry.
My passion for this vertical was sparked as a patient before practitioner. Because I owned a cat with health problems, I sought services at a number of veterinary clinics over the years and got to know the personnel. One day while chatting with the staff at a clinic as they stood around a computer that was causing problems, I joked, “I know a guy who can fix that.”
It turned out the clinic was shopping for a new IT provider and the office manager asked if I was interested in bidding. IT Corps won the job. Next step was to become an expert in veterinary IT needs.
There are a half-dozen practice management software solutions that everybody in this industry uses, so I called on the vendors to avail myself of any product training they offered. I spent hours teaching myself what I needed to know, then disseminated that knowledge to my people. We also built some small labs and tested the products.
Meeting the Needs
In addition to educating myself on the products, I familiarized myself with veterinary practices’ needs and concerns. As a group, they are very cost conscious and don’t like to make sweeping changes, but if a product or service is geared toward their industry they will spend money on it, or at least listen to the pitch.
Thus began the productization process that led to System Retriever, a backup solution we created that comprises custom-built hardware and white-labeled software, a service bundle, and a three-year warranty. To help it resonate with veterinary clinics, we branded it with a Golden Retriever logo and pitch it this way: “Each and every business is unique, just like man’s best friend. With the presence of System Retriever, you can sleep easy at night knowing all of your business’s systems and data are protected.”
As an added benefit, we have space in a small, local data center, and since all of our customers are currently local, I can drive their data to them if necessary.
We are in the process of productizing a VoIP solution geared toward veterinary hospitals and will have the option of repurposing it for other industries, just like with System Retriever.
So far, the veterinary vertical has been profitable, but there were definitely some challenges and lessons learned:
- Office managers and admin staff are the people you want to talk to when making a sales call. Doctors and practice owners have the money and make the decisions, but you need to learn the pain points of the people in the trenches.
- Veterinary clinics already struggle with the exorbitant costs of medical equipment. Your goal should be to provide significant value. We try to be on site and visible in their office, so they see that the money they’re spending on us has tangible results.
- Gain their trust by treating them like they treat their customers. You want to be the one they call when they need anything IT related.
- Don’t bark up the wrong tree. When seeking your initial customers, look for independent clinics. A corporate-owned practice will likely have an IT organization and does not need someone like you.
Finally, just as you should with all customers in all industries, sweat the details and try to avoid mistakes. We do it right at IT Corps, we make it look right, and we follow up to make sure the customer is happy. That perfectionism is part of our company culture. And we do our homework to make sure we’re barking up the right tree.