Industrial Buyers – Their Preferences and How to Market to Them

Understanding the mindset of industrial buyers is important if you market to engineers and technical professionals. There are plenty of research reports published on buyer personas and the buying habits of consumers, but they focus mainly on B2C marketing. You can find data on general B2B marketing, but it is somewhat limited when it comes to industrial marketing.

There are four annual surveys/reports that are done specifically about industrial buyers and manufacturing or engineering marketing. I read them regularly and I’m honored to be quoted in some of them.

Sources and tools used by industrial buyers

It shouldn’t surprise you that the majority of industrial buyers prefer digital or online sources and tools for gathering information when making their buying decisions. That was clear from the findings from all the reports that I am about to cite here. It is okay if you are somewhat skeptical about the findings considering the sources of the data, but it shouldn’t take anything away from you gaining a better understanding of the behavior and habits of industrial buyers.

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Using Digital Industrial Marketing for Reaching Younger Engineers

Digital industrial marketing is the norm these days, not because it is fashionable but because that’s how industrial buyers now prefer to interact with their suppliers. I’m sure you are aware of the fact that the industrial buy cycle is made up of four stages. Publishing generic content that is not tailored to each stage is not very effective.

It is virtually impossible to create relevant and engaging content unless you have a very good understanding of the roles engineers play at every stage of the buy cycle. Two more factors that you should be aware of to make your industrial digital/content marketing effective are:

  1. Engineers are time challenged – 44% of engineers are working on more projects now than they were two years ago and 55% of engineers are being asked to do more with less. (Source: IEEE Engineering360 survey).
  2. Understanding the age gap is important in digital marketing for industrial companies – 49% of engineers surveyed are less than 49 years old (Source: 2017 Digital Media Use in The Industrial Sector, IEEE GLOBALSPEC)

For more on point number 1, see my post “Overcoming the Challenge of Marketing to Busy Engineers.”

Role of the engineer in the buy decision

In this post, I’ll focus on understanding the age difference and how it affects your industrial digital marketing strategy and tactics. Before I dive deep into that, first let me give you some anecdotal evidence as to why this is important.

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Why Manufacturers Need a Multichannel Industrial Marketing Strategy

Multichannel industrial marketing strategy doesn’t get that much attention or buzz. It should, because it is a closer reflection of how manufacturing and engineering companies are marketing these days.

It’s a fact that in 2016, manufacturers and industrial companies are spending more of their marketing dollars on digital marketing tactics. This of course makes sense because 53% of engineers and industrial professionals spend 6 hours or more per week on the Internet for work-related purposes.

Manufacturing marketing budgets and satisfaction levels

Here are a few charts from research studies done by the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), ENGINEERING.COM and IHS Engineering360.

Manufacturing marketing budgets and spends

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No Digital Marketing for Manufacturers = Marketing in the Past

Are you marketing in the past without digital marketing for manufacturers?Most manufacturers including precision CNC machine shops and fabricators have difficulty understanding the true value of digital marketing for manufacturers. Some that have implemented it, struggle to produce tangible results, meaning a boost in sales that they can attribute to marketing.

The need for a robust online presence (Website and customer-centric content marketing) is driven by your customer’s behavior and not because marketing consultants are telling you to do so. Today’s industrial buyers are in self-serve and self-select mode, making them virtually invisible and hard to reach. They don’t need or want to talk to your sales people to get product information. Your buyers will engage with your sales team only when they are ready. Hounding them with cold calls or unwanted spammy emails is not going to make them choose you over the competition.

The lack of buy-in for digital marketing is a two-fold problem as I see it with my industrial clients. The first issue is a mindset at the top and the second part is one of incorrect attribution.

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Planning Your Industrial Marketing Strategy for 2015

industrial marketing strategyI hope you have already started planning your industrial marketing strategy for 2015. You may be wondering why you need to spend the time and effort in creating an industrial marketing strategy when you already know the problem – not enough quality leads generated from your current website.

It would be easy to dive right into redesigning your current industrial website. That however could be a mistake because the lack of leads is the symptom you are feeling, the underlying cause of the problem may be something completely different. You need to first identify the root cause and then come up a with plan of action to solve the problem. That plan of action is what I’m referring to as your industrial marketing strategy.

Importance of a formal industrial marketing strategy

Let’s take a step back and see why formulating an industrial marketing strategy is so important. I’m sure by now you have read or heard enough about how content marketing is the best strategy for generating more high quality leads at a lower cost per lead. So making content the cornerstone of your industrial marketing strategy is vital.

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Content Marketing for Industrial Companies – Authenticity is Mission Critical

Authenticity in industrial content marketingMarketing sometimes gets a bad rap of being deceptive. There is a fine line between persuasion and deception. Stretching the truth, exaggerating the positives and putting a positive spin on the negatives have been staples of marketing for a long time.

Today’s industrial buyers are far better informed and using deceptive marketing practices won’t get you too far with them. Authenticity and maintaining transparency are critical for industrial companies to succeed with content marketing. (See my previous post, “How Industrial Content Marketing Builds Stronger Relationships Based on Trust”)

Your buyers don’t have to take your word for it, they have various social and online channels to check and confirm your claims. The quickest way to lose credibility is for you to say/write things that you can’t validate. The old adage of “Buyer Beware” has been turned on its head to “Seller Beware.”

Authenticity and transparency in industrial content marketing sound great but are they realistic goals? Do profits, revenues and short-term goals take precedence? The honest answer is probably yes. So how can you be authentic with content marketing and still meet your business goals?

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Understanding the Age Gap is Important in Digital Marketing for Industrial Companies

If you are using digital marketing (You are, aren’t you?) to market your industrial company, its products and services, then you need to understand the importance of the age gap and its impact on digital media usage.

I’m sure you have read many of the dire headlines about the critical skills gap in the industrial sector and how it could threaten the competitiveness of manufacturing in the U.S. If you read between the lines, the underlying cause of this problem is the age gap. Here are a few recent headlines and direct quotes to drive home my point:

  • New talent needed as baby boomers age and jobs continue growing in the industry. (U.S. News & World Report)
  • “The senior geologists will soon retire and there is no one to take over except much more junior geologists. The age demographics among geologists has resulted in a skills, mentorship and leadership gap, which is becoming a concern.” (Deloitte)
  • The demographic age gap is expanding at an alarming rate because the aging workforce will be retiring within the next 5 – 10 years and not enough young people are finding the industry attractive enough to join. (World Petroleum Council)
  • Oil field workers are retiring in huge numbers, leaving a workforce that’s younger and — more importantly — less experienced. (NPR)
  • “When the Deepwater Horizon exploded, no one in the BP engineering team had been on the job for more than six months.” (John Konrad, author, ‘Fire on the Horizon: The Untold Story of the Gulf Oil Disaster’)
  • Put simply, we are experiencing a growing age gap in engineering-focused fields. (Boston.com)
  • The reasons for the dearth of qualified job candidates are varied. Both Mercer and Manpower cited age, disruptive technology like hydraulic fracturing and education as key drivers of the problem. (NBC News)

I don’t want to get into a debate about all this being just a ploy for companies to ship jobs overseas for cheaper labor. The fact is we have a problem. Enough said!

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Industrial Marketing Can’t Succeed Without Sales

Industrial marketing and sales - mythbustersI can assure you this is not another post about sales and marketing alignment. Plenty has been written on that topic already.

I am sure you’ve read many articles about today’s industrial buyers completing most of their decision making long before they ever contact anyone in sales. Various statistics show how Sales is not involved until the final procurement stage, thus making a strong case for using content in inbound industrial marketing to bridge the gap.

I read an article where recent Forrester research found that 75% of the buying cycle is completed before sales is engaged.

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You Need Sherlock Holmes to Solve Industrial Marketing Mysteries

Detective Sherlock HolmesI’m a big fan of “Whodunit” movies and TV shows. I can sit through reruns of one of these mysteries even though I know who’s done it. What’s the connection with industrial marketing and why Sherlock Holmes? Humor me; I’ll connect the dots in a bit.

For industrial companies, all marketing mysteries revolve around one thing – the need to generate more high quality leads that turn into sales opportunities. That is the starting point of all my conversations with manufacturers and industrial companies.

There have even been times when some people have taken the time to write several paragraphs describing their marketing issues while filling out my online form. In return, I was expected to provide instant answers to solve their lead generation problems. Sorry, it doesn’t work that way.

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Why a Content BOM is Crucial to a Successful Industrial Web Design

Content BOM is not a typo in my headline. Read on…

I am amazed how often I find that creating content is an afterthought for people who are considering an industrial web design (more commonly a site redesign). Somehow, they assume the web designer will take care of content creation and the cost is included in their proposal for designing the site.

It is not surprising then that many of these industrial web redesigns are nothing more than a cosmetic facelift with copy-pasted content from their old site and/or outdated marketing collateral. Beyond the initial “looks nice” reaction, the new site doesn’t produce the results that were promised and expected.

What went wrong? The short answer – no content BOM (Bill Of Materials). Let me explain by using my personal experience.

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The More Industrial Marketing Changes, the More it Stays the Same

I’m not trying to be clever or facetious with my headline. 67 percent of manufacturers, industrial and engineering companies stated that customer acquisition or lead generation is their primary industrial marketing goal in 2012, the same top two marketing goals for the past six years.

That’s one of the findings from a survey done by GlobalSpec during the first quarter of 2012. The online survey addressed the marketing trends, challenges, and expenditures within the engineering, technical, manufacturing, and industrial communities.

The primary goal of industrial marketing has not changed even though marketing strategies and tactics have changed significantly in the past 5 years. Either that or we industrial marketers haven’t quite figured out the lead generation puzzle yet.

Here are some other key findings from their report:

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Lead Generation: What’s Working – Tactics, Budgets and Preferences

Summer is a good time to look back at what has worked for lead generation and compare yourself with your peers as you plan for the second half of the year. You could use some of these findings to validate your own industrial marketing strategy and/or find some new ideas to fine-tune it for the remainder of 2012. With that in mind, here are some useful data and charts from various sources. Click on each chart to see a larger image.

MarketingSherpa: (www.marketingsherpa.com)

What were the most effective SEO tactics used for lead generation in 2012? Here are the results from a survey of 1,530 B2B marketers during this year’s B2B Benchmark Study to find what works in online and offline marketing.

MarketingSherpa

In another survey of nearly 2,000 B2B marketers, participants were asked, “Please indicate the expected changes to your lead generation budget for the following channels for 2012.”

And the survey says…

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The Real Value of Content Marketing for Industrial Companies

In today’s uncertain economy, manufacturing and industrial companies are taking more than a hard look at their marketing spends. These companies have always thought of marketing as sales support, so it requires a lot of convincing to change that mind-set. Upper management and key decision makers are skeptical about inbound marketing with content being able to generate qualified leads and set the table for sales. According to them, that has always been a job done by sales and not marketing.

As I’ve written before, just publishing content won’t move the needle. (See Content Marketing: Think Like a Publisher, Act Like an Investor). I am also convinced that these executives really want sales opportunities and not more of marketing qualified leads (MQLs). Read my post, “Manufacturers Need Lead Management to Close the RFQ Gap.”

Given this situation, how do you sell the value of content marketing to industrial companies? For the moment, I am going to set aside analytics and ROI measurements and focus on the real value of content marketing as it relates to industrial sales. Let’s look at three scenarios that are very common in the industrial sales process.

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Don’t Underestimate Industrial Marketing’s Contribution to Sales

The more I talk to manufacturers and industrial companies, the more I’m convinced that RFQs and sales conversations are all that matter to them. I get it that industrial marketing must be held accountable and I firmly believe that it should make a direct contribution to growing sales and revenues. However, ignoring industrial marketing’s role in creating sales opportunities is a fallacy in my opinion. (See Manufacturers Need Lead Management to Close the RFQ Gap)

Industrial companies are having a difficult time adjusting their mindset to the new realities of buyer behavior. I have had many conversations where I have heard the other person tell me that they’ve never had to actively market their products and services before. They are accustomed to customers calling them for RFQs/RFPs. They’ve always depended on a constant flow of referrals and repeat business. Obviously, those channels have dried up, otherwise we wouldn’t be having a conversation about needing my industrial marketing consultation in the first place.

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Inbound Marketing won’t Boost Short-term Sales for Industrial Companies

Inbound marketing is a frequent topic of discussion in my daily conversations with Owners, CEOs and Business Development professionals from manufacturing and industrial companies. Irrespective of the size of the company, they all have one thing in common – they want to boost sales as quickly as possible.

These industrial professionals have heard about inbound marketing being the “in” thing these days from marketing consultants like me and from other sources. However, it is a shock to them when I tell them “Inbound marketing is not a short-term fix. It is a long journey.”

They don’t want to hear that, they want their phones to start ringing, RFQs coming in and their sales team involved in deep conversations within 30 days.

Those are unrealistic expectations in my opinion. Here’s why; unlike a one-off ad or direct mail campaign, inbound marketing requires assessment of your current marketing programs to identify weaknesses, developing a strategic plan of action, implementing tactics, auditing existing content to identify gaps, creating new content and repurposing old ones, tracking, measuring and refining the process. These steps take time, at least six months for all the moving parts to mesh together like a finely tuned engine that will drive lead generation and generate sales.

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