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April 2021 - Vertical Markets: Tips & Tricks for Being Successful

Updated: Nov 11, 2021

Through this column I hope to impart some of the wisdom I have learned in the 26 years I have been in the furniture industry and ultimately, I hope to encourage you to get involved in these markets by making them easier to understand and a little less scary.

For many just the thought of vertical markets, especially GSA, creates confusion or anxiety. The term vertical market as defined by Wikipedia is “a market in which vendors offer goods and services specific to an industry, trade, profession, or other group of customers with specialized needs.”

So, for the purpose of this column we will be discussing some of the "other group of customers.” With a focus on federal, state/local government, education, and healthcare specifically as it relates to selling to these markets and the use of contracts to do so.

Early on in my furniture career I was the Sales Manager and then VP of Sales for a satellite office of a dealership that served Maryland, Washington D.C. and Virginia. Just based on geography you probably guessed we sold to the federal government as a major vertical. At that time, I had very little knowledge of selling to federal agencies using the GSA (General Services Administration) contract, but I was managing a team of people who focused solely on that. As I think back to that time, the thing I remember most is that the GSA sales team made it seem very mysterious to sell GSA and I felt very confident they were convincing me that I would not be able to do it even with my sales success in the market in other areas. Since I was in management, I did not question it and I let them do what they were very good at doing. However, as I changed companies and held different roles throughout my career learning more about GSA and other verticals was unavoidable and overtime, I ended up leading a vertical markets team for a manufacturer and now offer consulting for manufacturers on how to create a program to successfully target Federal, State/Local/Education and Cooperative.

I call myself a GSA geek, others have called me the GSA Queen which I clearly prefer, but regardless of what term you use I have built a career and now business on demystifying these markets for myself and for companies. Through this column I hope to impart some of the wisdom I have learned in the 26 years I have been in the furniture industry and ultimately, I hope to encourage you to get involved in these markets by making them easier to understand and a little less scary.


As this is the first, hopefully of many, columns on this topic I will start with an easy question that I get all of the time “How do I sell to (insert vertical market)?” Believe it or not, selling to any vertical market, including GSA, is the same as selling to commercial as long as you hold or have access to a contract that they are eligible and want to buy off of.

Here are the sales steps with some tips where applicable:

  1. Identify the agency, school, hospital, etc. that you want to meet with: I think this is somewhat easier in verticals than in commercial. With federal and state/local a lot of the data is public information and with education and healthcare since you are using a contract you will most likely be selecting from a list of members and the entity who issued the contract or organizations that focus on these verticals have a wealth of information regarding spend. On the federal side, if you know where to look you can also find what their annual budget is, what they plan to spend it on, who they need to spend it with to meet their goals, and who they are currently buying the products you offer from.

  2. Identify the contacts within the end user: The titles may be different than commercial, but again, the contacts are public in- formation including email and phone. A lot of them are also on LinkedIn.

  3. Identify the other decision makers: Internal or External Designers; General Contractors, Commercial Real Estate Companies, etc. As you do your research and work with these markets, keep a list of the companies that work with the vertical market you are interested in and who at the company/firm specializes in that vertical. If you call on A&D as a career and want to get into vertical markets look at the firm’s website to see if they have done any projects in the vertical market that you are pursuing before you call on them.

  4. Get the meeting and sell them on your value proposition as a dealer, manufacturer or dealer/manufacturer combination and get them to want what you are offering.

Once you do all of this, then the contracts, legalities of some contracts, access and/or approval to use specific contracts and other requirements such as socio-economic status come into play.

My hope is that this has provided some clarity to selling within the different vertical markets, eliminating fear and anxiety, while also arming you with specific steps to start inspiring you to pursue these significant sales opportunities within specific vertical markets.

About Michelle Warren

Michelle Warren is President of Catalyst Consulting Group, a firm specializing in providing strategic solutions to the commercial furniture industry to enhance their sales and positioning within the industry and distribution.

Michelle has been in the commercial furniture industry for over 25 years with experience on the dealer and manufacturer side of the industry. She has experience at the EVP, VP and National Sales Manager level for large and small manufacturers in addition to in-depth understanding and experience in creating programs to target and selling to the Federal Government, State Government, Higher Education, and working with Cooperative Purchasing.

GSA selected her as 1 of 2 board members to represent industry on the Quality Partnership Council which she served on for almost 4 years. Additionally, she has represented the manufacture she worked for as a member of the Coalition for Government Procurement for over 4 years.

Because Michelle believes in the healthy building and how a building can affect employees, she is a Fitwel Ambassador.

She is known as a “serial networker” in the furniture industry and enjoys meeting people and making connections happen.


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