Growing a global business is not the sole domain of giants. Small and mid-size companies can achieve a global impact with a niche strategy.
Niche business strategies break down barriers. They take you beyond your backyard, and allow you to serve clients across districts, cultures and countries. By focusing on a clear need your business can serve clients internationally.
Deighton Associates is a software development firm, and they’re making a global impact. They develop dTIMS®, an infrastructure asset management system used by Departments of Transportation (DOT) and large industrial companies around the world. The system helps DOTs manage all their assets such as roads, bridges, culverts, guardrails, signs and water systems.
According to Vicki Deighton, CEO of Deighton Associates, “Our clients are global. Over 40% of the U.S. State DOTs use our system. We have seven out of nine provinces in South Africa, and over 50% of the available market in Australia. And 100% of the roads you drive on in New Zealand are run on our product.” And Deighton has a substantial footprint in Europe too.
Look beyond your backyard
Deighton Associates has carved out a nice niche. Vicki explains, “Deighton was founded in 1986 in response to an industry call for solutions in the pavement management industry.”
Deighton saw an opportunity and went after it, but quickly hit a resistance point. The DOTs in their backyard were moving slowly and were resistant to working with a proprietary system. In the 80’s government agencies had a propensity to build their own systems versus purchasing packaged software applications.
If the business was to survive they’d have to chase opportunities everywhere.
A niche business strategy is an opportunity and a challenge. The opportunity is you can serve a well defined target market, and solve clear business issues. This focus gives a company an advantage to develop a brand and reputation greater than its size. Deighton tapped into a fantastic niche, because they recognized very early that DOTs needed a database and analysis system to manage their assets.
The problem with niche strategies is reach. There’s often not enough business in your backyard to focus on a niche and scale the business. Deighton found that limitation, and pursued opportunities in the U.S., Europe and Asia.
To succeed a niche strategy requires a commitment to chase opportunities, no matter where they are. Vicki shares Deighton’s philosophy, “We believe when something comes up you jump for it, and go all in.”
Build the human connection
Even though your customers may be global, they still have to feel a local connection.
Vicki says, “Once we establish a client relationship we work hard to serve them and work with them. Customer service has been our number one priority since the beginning, and continues to be our number one priority.”
Service is integral to small and mid-size companies serving a global marketplace. Technology shifts, needs shift and competitors shift, but customer service is constant. Every day you have to reinforce the reason why companies around the world should seek your firm out and choose it first.
Deighton uses a bottom up approach to master their niche. They sell to the guys with a need, and then support the heck out of them. They work with their customers one-on-one, and really try to understand their job, how they use the tools and where they’re heading.
The deep client relationships allow Deighton to innovate. Their clients are open and honest with their likes and dislikes, and this helps Deighton evolve dTIMS®, keep it fresh and one step ahead of alternative options in the market.
The deep client relationships also make the product sticky. Deighton’s customers are their greatest advocates. The DOT market is tight knit, and the dTIMS® users are vocal supporters.
Believe in yourself
An effective niche creates an opportunity to serve customers far and wide. The question is will you chase that opportunity.
Deighton made a choice to go global from the start. They didn’t hesitate to get on a plane to chase an opportunity.
One of Deighton’s first major clients was a large construction firm in Switzerland. They were introduced to the company through a partner, and the team immediately jumped at the opportunity. They took the first flight out of Toronto, and were at the prospect’s site in Switzerland the next day.
Vicki continues, “The client was initially skeptical. I told them I’ll pay for the trip, and we’ll show you how we can help you. We want you to see the product.” Deighton bet on themselves. They knew as soon as they got in front of a customer they could sell the system, which they did. And they’re still working with this firm over 25 years later.
The choice to grow a global business is yours. Deighton has grown into one of the largest providers of infrastructure asset management systems in the world, and their customers are raving fans. They achieved the position with a clear focus on their niche, their product, their clients and what it means to succeed.