Understanding the industrial customer journey is essential to the success of digital marketing with content. Based on my conversations with manufacturers, I sometimes get the impression that it is just a marketing exercise to them and is not taken seriously. Why do I say that? Let me give you two examples.
Example #1: Conversation with the VP of Business Development of a manufacturer of industrial mixers and agitators.
Me: “How long is your sales cycle?”
VP: “Oh, it is just a matter of a week or two for us to get an RFQ or PO after we’ve talked to the right decision-maker(s).”
He was either clueless or chose to ignore the time it took for the prospect to go through his or her process or journey before deciding to contact this manufacturer. The concept of mapping the customer journey was alien to him, and he told me that it was a waste of time.
Example #2: Conversation with the National Sales Manager of a manufacturer of Butterfly and Control valves.
Me: “How do you define a qualified lead?”
Manager: “I don’t consider a prospect a lead until we have a serious conversation about putting together a quote.”
He couldn’t care less about top-of-the-funnel Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs), nurturing them into Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs) before handing them off to Sales. All he was interested in are leads that were ready to buy. (See my article, “SAL is the Glue that Binds Sales and Marketing in Lead Generation.”)
FYI: I published that article in December 2010, and it is still the third-highest visited post after more than ten years. Talk about the power of blogging!
Industrial buy cycle and the customer journey
The industrial buy cycle consists of four distinct stages, at least that is the conventional definition. The stages are:
- Needs Awareness
- Consideration & Comparison
According to the research done and published by THOMAS™ for industry (Thomas Publishing Company), the industrial buying process is now made up of 6 stages. Their version applies to all industrial buyers—Engineers, MRO, and Purchasing professionals in companies of various sizes and industries.
Now, you may be saying to yourself, “Okay, it has grown from 4 to 6 stages. No big deal.” Wait, things get a lot more complicated because engineers and buyers face many challenges at each stage, and they present new opportunities for the supplier. Look at this chart from another ThomasNet presentation.
Personal buying experiences influencing industrial buying expectations
Buyers of generators, pumps, motors, etc., expect the same kind of easy access to digital information, search capabilities, and comparison features that they are familiar with and similar to their personal online buying experiences. Anything less, and the visitor is off to another site with a click of the mouse.
I recently read a fascinating white paper published by Accenture. They defined this change in industrial customers’ expectations as Industrial Consumerism. I think that’s a brilliant and apt label.
Here’s a direct quote and an illustration from the white paper, which was published in 2016.
“By 2020, thanks to a seismic shift in customer expectations, B2B companies will need a completely different approach to driving growth. Is your sales and marketing organization ready?”
Conventional differentiation of the past where industrial companies relied on superior product features, may no longer be enough. Today, they must leverage newer technologies to better understand the customer journey and meet the digital expectations of industrial buyers who are in self-serve and self-select mode.
The Accenture report identified areas where digital technologies will have the most significant impact and where gaps exist.
Enter the 4th Industrial Revolution and the COVID pandemic
If the changes in industrial buyer expectations weren’t enough, the 4th Industrial Revolution has brought about significant digital disruptions in industrial sales and marketing. The COVID pandemic of 2020 has only accelerated some of these changes, and many will become permanent.
Klaus Schwab, executive chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF), introduced the concept of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in his article which was first published in Foreign Affairs in December 2015.
Most manufacturers and engineering companies are playing catchup when it comes to digital disruptions. That extends well beyond just sales and marketing. Some companies have taken the lead and embraced digital initiatives in transforming their industrial sales and marketing strategies to better align with customer expectations.
I came across the article “Industrial Firms Need to Give Their Customers a Digital Experience,” published in the Harvard Business Review which cited several good examples. Here’s one:
“Linde, a global industrial gases and engineering solutions company, developed an augmented reality (AR) application to engage customers and facilitate the sales conversion process. Their tool uses AR to give customers a ‘live’ experience with the company’s cryogenic freezers by projecting an image of the freezer into the customer’s factory setup. While clarity on dimensions within the actual production space had previously driven a lengthy sales process, Linde’s use of AR has helped customers get over the conversion hump and improved the overall purchase experience.”
Also, read my earlier post, “Manufacturing Marketing in the Age of Industry 4.0.”
The importance of mapping the industrial customer journey
Google the phrase mapping customer journey, and you’ll get 245,000,000 results as of writing this post. Obviously, there’s a ton of information out there. However, information or someone’s opinion doesn’t easily translate into actual action.
The point is, there are no shortcuts when it comes to understanding the customer journey. Apply those insights to rethink your industrial marketing strategies and sales processes to deliver a better experience to your customers and align well with their expectations.
You can read some of my earlier articles on industrial content marketing to learn more about using this strategy for engaging with industrial buyers at every stage of their customer journey.