Strong relationships have always been the cornerstone in complex industrial sales. That hasn’t changed and won’t change in the foreseeable future. How we start and build new business relationships have changed in today’s digital age.
Ask any successful salesperson and s/he will tell you that trust is the key to building strong and sustainable relationships. They’ll also tell you that trust needs to be earned. You can’t earn someone’s trust if all you do is talk about yourself and turn a deaf ear to the concerns of your audience.
Industrial content marketing when done right will help you earn trust by putting the focus on your customers’ challenges and issues instead of talking about your company, its products and services.
Note how I qualified my statement by saying “when done right.” That is the crux of the problem as I see it with content marketing done by most manufacturers, distributors and engineering companies.
It starts with a lack of clear understanding of what content marketing is and how it can drive the sales process. Most if not all my new client engagements start with answering the “what and why” questions about content marketing. And of course they all want to know how it will increase their sales and how quickly they can see results.
Here are some common content marketing myths that I’ve encountered in my daily conversations with industrial companies.
Content marketing is a new form of SEO: This is by far the single biggest area of confusion. It is true that search engine algorithms as they stand today, make it virtually impossible to improve your Search Engine Results Page (SERP) rankings without content. Gone are the days of buying inbound links to rise in the rankings. Now you need a constant flow of fresh and engaging content to improve your on-page SEO.
However, you will be seriously undermining the power of content marketing if all you do is focus on being found in search engines. It’s a fallacy to assume that when someone finds your site in Google, s/he is ready to talk to your sales team after their first visit. (See Industrial Content Marketing is Not Just for SEO and Industrial Web Design – Visit to Call is Not Automatic)
Publishing datasheets and brochures is content marketing: Products features and benefits are important but those alone won’t help to differentiate your company from the competition. Sure, Design Engineers need technical specifications to “design in” your industrial product but they can get that information from many different online sources. They don’t need your sales team to provide them that information.
Effective industrial content marketing should bring out your knowledge and expertise to the forefront. Online content that focuses on customer challenges and your solutions elevate you from being a vendor to a partner. (See Winning the Engineer’s Mindshare with Industrial Blogging)
Social media is not very useful in industrial marketing: Nothing is further from the truth. Social media should be an integral part of industrial content marketing. While it is true “technical professionals engage with social media generally in a passive manner—they prefer to read, watch and research, as opposed to publish, post and comment”. You cannot ignore social media because “technical professionals mostly use social media for “top of sales funnel” activities such as accessing news, product reviews, and suppliers, which are early stage buy cycle functions that require a supplier to have high brand visibility in order to be found.” (Source: 2014 Social Media Use in the Industrial Sector, HIS GlobalSpec Research Report). (See Understanding the Age Gap is Important in Digital Marketing for Industrial Companies)
I have seen meaningful conversations get started on social media that led to RFQs/RFPs. Technical and customer support is another area where social media can be very helpful and quicker than traditional channels. I have found social networks to be extremely helpful in announcing new content such as blog posts, application notes and product releases. These in turn drive high-quality traffic back to the main site where conversations and conversions can happen. Social media is very useful in driving foot traffic to tradeshow booths.
Sales owns the relationship, marketing provides sales support: That’s not true anymore! The dynamics of finding new business contacts and building meaningful relationships with them have changed because of the Internet and social media. Good old Rolodexes have been replaced by digital and social contacts.
Also, there is also a disconnect between Marketing and Sales. Marketing is focused on building an audience and Sales wants customers. Just building an audience (readers) for your content won’t help you move the needle. You need your content marketing to help find qualified leads and nurture them until they become Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs). Sales needs to take follow up action on all SQLs and not just the ones that are ready to buy now. Sales and Marketing need to work together throughout the nurturing cycle by using relevant content that keep leads engaged and move them along to a buy decision in a logical manner. (See How Unqualified Leads Bog Down Sales Pipelines for Industrial Companies)
So how can you use content marketing to build strong relationships based on trust? I suggest the following actionable steps based on my experience with industrial marketing:
- Take the time to clearly understand what content marketing is all about (Hint: It is a process and not a one-off marketing campaign)
- Create a strategic game plan for content marketing (Hint: First understand your audience and the needs of various stakeholders on your customer’s side. Creating good buyer personas requires much more than basic demographic data)
- Establish credibility and build trust by bringing your in-house Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) to the forefront of your content marketing efforts. One engineer to another is a powerful tool for earning trust and building strong relationships. (Hint: Marketing can do the heavy lifting but must remain in the background, otherwise it is easy to slip into the self-promotion mode)
- Implement tactics and execute your plan (Hint: It takes time to produce measurable results. See first hint)
- Track, measure and refine (Hint: Don’t fly blind. You can’t take proactive decisions if you don’t know what is going on)
- Put the right people in place to sustain content marketing (Hint: Data and technology are important but it is the right people with the right knowledge and expertise that make the difference)
- Seek outside expertise if you don’t have the necessary in-house resources for developing an effective content marketing strategy and implementing it consistently over the long haul (Hint: There are real and significant differences between general B2B and industrial marketing)
This is how I see content marketing helping industrial companies build stronger relationships based on trust. What are your thoughts?