Vertical Workflows: Take Advantage of Opportunity

Oneil-Art_0318Digital transformation is driving workflow automation at an increasing rate. Senior business leaders in a recent Cognizant study feel that 25 percent to 40 percent of core workflow such as ERP, CRM or BPM has already been automated. Yet the study suggests that there is a “long tail” of other manual processes that haven’t been automated.1  The global workflow automation market is expected to grow at a 22 percent CAGR and reach $17 billion by 20232 with the U.S. market growing to $6.7 billion by 2020.3

Common manual workflows such as HR, accounts receivable or accounts payable have been some of the first to be automated. Vertical markets have these and other unique workflows that provide dealers expanded opportunities to grow their business and bring even more value to those customers.

Manufacturers have encouraged resellers to embrace vertical market selling for quite some time. A growing urgency and focus on this message exists as manufacturers and resellers search for improved value differentiation to offset the revenue and profit pressures of the hyper-competitive marketplace. Some manufacturers have built teams of corporate-based vertical market specialists. Others were built upon the vertical market business model and now share that experience with their resellers. With the growing level of focus and support from manufacturers, advances in today’s office hardware and software technologies, and the increasing use of cloud-based applications, resellers have more support and tool sets than ever before to address vertical market workflow opportunities.

The workflow resource ecosystem 

It takes more than just the ability to speak the vertical’s language when selling hardware, software or services to a bank, legal firm or medical facility. A salesperson must have a clear understanding of the customer’s workflow and the “ecosystem” of resources being used. Having the knowledge of the steps in the workflow and the ultimate business outcome of the process is critical. This starts the process of identifying areas that may be bottlenecks or high-cost practices.

Understanding the resource ecosystem — how people, hardware and software interact within the process — enables sales professionals to leverage their expertise with the products, software and services they sell, what can be used and where to use it to improve the workflow, and enable the customer to maximize their business outcomes. The realization that these workflows are the same or very similar across SMB to large enterprise customers in each vertical means vertical market-based opportunities and business growth are available in every reseller’s marketplace.

Outcomes and workflows  

Many information workflows are still paper-based and manual. In recent research, AIIM found offices are still burdened with paper-based processes and most important business content is still referenced and filed on paper. However, there were outcomes desired that drive automating these processes, with the top three being:

  • Enabling anytime-anywhere content access
  • Improving process productivity
  • Improving records security and compliance.4

Vertical market customers have other specific outcomes in mind when it comes to working with their unique workflows.
Some examples:

  • A healthcare provider wants to improve patient health outcomes and satisfaction by automating the patient intake process.
  • A manufacturer needs a just-in-time print solution to print individualized instructions for customized products they manufacture, eliminating paper waste and reducing printing costs.
  • A mortgage loan company already using a loan origination system wants to keep prospective customers from going elsewhere and must speed up approval and closing processes by better capturing and managing required customer documentation.

The improvements in each customer’s workflow may require different approaches including addressing the entire workflow, creating a new workflow or introducing a complementary workflow that supports a core installed system. No one process will be right for all of them.

Compliance to industry requirements and rules such as HIPAA, FERPA, or FINRA must be met, and these obligations make security and easy auditing capability important. Customers in one vertical market may be affected by requirements from another vertical market. A personal injury law firm may want to improve overall records management but also may require HIPAA compliance since they work with PHI (personal healthcare information). A sales professional must be ready to discuss how to help meet these cross-industry requirements. This way they set themselves apart from others, becoming a credible expert in the vertical market and to the customer.

A workflow is a series of repeatable actions using some form of organized resources to process information and drive desired business outcomes. Regardless of the vertical and their unique workflows, virtually any workflow can be broken down into the following steps: capture > extract > validate > act (see chart below).


Each step has a clear role in the workflow and each step will use one or more resources of the ecosystem. Keep in mind that the information will most likely be archived for future use and end of life management, but that is not shown here.

To be sure, there are many more details that must be understood. However, knowing these steps can help simplify what seems like a complicated process. Understanding the resources used in the ecosystem at each step enables a salesperson to more easily direct their knowledge and expertise when proposing the best hardware, software and services that bring real improvement to the process.

Some possibilities include:

  • Needing to design a complete end-to-end solution that calls for a holistic integration of the hardware, software and services their dealership provides.
  • Automating the capture step, which is in most need of automation, calling for concentration on the hardware and software aspects of scan and OCR.
  • Improving extraction of needed information and ensuring its accuracy is important, requiring software and services to come into play.
  • Improving the speed of approvals with the introduction of e-signature and mobile solutions.

Obviously, a logical and knowledgeable approach to vertical workflows will pay dividends.

Surrounding all of this is the need for governance to ensure that the workflow:

  1. Is accomplishing what it is designed to do.
  2. Follows the rules of the corporation.
  3. Complies with industry or government requirements.
  4. Has the security needed to protect the company, customers, patients, students, employees or others as required.
  5. Has a regular review cycle for auditing and continuous improvement reasons.

What vertical customers expect 

Vertical customers expect a dealer to understand their basic business in regards to terminology as well as the requirements and rules for compliance for their business. They expect salespeople to provide information that guides them on how to achieve their business objectives. They will expect a continuous-improvement attitude from the dealer that will help them deliver even better outcomes in the future. To achieve this, they expect long-term relationships and a credible and trusted advisor who will work with them to continue reaping benefits of the improvements and more. Meeting these expectations will set a reseller apart from being just another vendor selling products and services.

Finding the opportunity 

Analyze your current customer base. Chances are you have clusters of customers within the same industry. Ask yourself if your sales team really knows the customers’ businesses. Ask and guide your sales team to actively work with customers to improve their workflows. Have your customers been shown how to use the technology and services you provide to help them comply with industry requirements and rules? Has your dealership helped them improve some of the most common workflows such as accounts payable or accounts receivable? You may find that you’re already an expert in their eyes and can expand your expertise into other workflows of their business. You can also leverage this expertise and knowledge to gather new customers in that same vertical.

Have any of your salespeople found success concentrating their efforts to a specific vertical? For example, a salesperson who has a finance degree may have found easier sales success in the financial market. Leverage that type of resource to expand coverage in that vertical market and serve as a mentor to train others who may have a desire to sell to verticals.

You may want to consider specializing in “vertical markets within vertical markets.” For example, in the healthcare vertical do you want to focus on hospitals, walk-in clinics, group medical practices or even dentists? Are you stronger with legal customers in real estate law, criminal law, estate planning or other types of legal services?

Make sure you know your competition. Are they strong or weak in any one vertical? How can you provide a substantially better value to that market? Are they focusing on only one area of the workflow ecosystem, such as hardware, leaving opportunity for the software and services you can provide?  You may find a vertical market is “orphaned” with no attention being paid to it from any of your competitors.

The best types of contacts to cultivate in a vertical market account are:

  • Line of business (LOB) managers who are directly responsible for the outcomes of the workflows.
  • Compliance officers interested in ensuring security and compliance measures are met in the business workflow processes.
  • CIOs who have the larger and more strategic picture of the business in mind.

While IT will be involved in some part of the decision — particularly testing, installation and support of the solution installation — they may not be the best initial contact unless a specific automation project is underway.

What you can do 

So what can you do to grow with the growing vertical market workflow automation business?

  • Commit to vertical marketing. A focused and written plan for developing your vertical market business is best. This commitment to build the business will enable you and your salespeople to buy into the efforts necessary for success.
  • Don’t try to tackle all verticals at once. Choose the verticals you’re best positioned to serve now. Build expertise and reputation in one or two verticals and then expand that success into other verticals.
  • Assign someone dedicated to chosen vertical markets. Do not expect that all salespeople can or should sell into vertical markets. This vertical market specialist needs to be responsible for the knowledge and business savvy of the vertical. Use your general salespeople to uncover vertical opportunities but make sure your specialist is the one who engages the customer and takes ownership of success in that account.
  • Take advantage of all programs and resources your OEM has for vertical marketing. Draw on their expertise to help you and your specialists build expertise and credibility in the verticals.
  • Create “Industry Day” events. Choose a vertical and invite key contacts from those local businesses. Instead of using the event as a focused sales event, educate the attendees. Have speakers on topics specific to that industry. For example, on “Healthcare Day,” a speaker covering how it takes more than using technology to be HIPAA compliant — it’s about documentation, training and audit preparation — will build your credibility and can cement you as a valid partner with customers in that vertical. Enable a “Gee, I didn’t know that!” moment for the attendees. This opens doors to future sales as customers realize new needs.


The workflow automation market is growing and can offer business-building opportunities for any dealer or reseller. Vertical markets, with their unique workflows, are good places to deeply engage with customers. With vision, committed planning and execution, virtually any reseller can succeed and grow their business with a good vertical market selling strategy.

1  Cognizant: The Robot and I: How New Digital Technologies Are Making Smart People and Businesses Smarter by Automating Rote Work

2 Research and Markets: Global Workflow Automation Market Analysis (2017-2023)

3  IDC: Worldwide Business Workflow Automation and Optimization Forecast, 2016–2020

4  AIIM Tipsheet: 3 Challenges Created by an Ad Hoc Approach to Information Capture

This article originally appeared in the March 2018 issue of Workflow.

Thomas O’Neill, an analyst for BPO Media, is a 35+ year marketing and product strategy professional in the enterprise imaging and print industry. Beginning with positions in sales and training management, for the past 24 years he’s held director and manager positions at Canon, Océ, Lexmark and Minolta. He has extensive experience in hardware and software product marketing, strategic product planning and sourcing, solution sales, marketing content creation and strategies, branding strategy and vertical marketing strategies. Contact him at