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.
Changing the mindset of digital marketing for manufacturers
According to ThomasNet’s 2014 Industry Market Barometer, over half (60 percent) of the manufacturing companies in North America (mainly in the US) are small, with up to 100 employees or less and 58 percent have annual revenues of less than $25 million.
These SMBs are often family owned and operated companies. The person at the top built the business by building relationships using his/her personal contacts. In the past these manufacturers and distributors have relied on adding more sales people in an effort to increase sales. That used to work but now their sales teams are having a very difficult time getting in front of their audience, be it face time or on the phone.
Second and third generations of family members are now telling their leaders at these industrial companies that it is time to transition into digital marketing for manufacturers. It is not an easy task to change a deeply ingrained mindset that has always looked at marketing as mere sales support.
Don’t expect a major shift in thinking to happen overnight. You are not going to get too far if you walk into a planning meeting armed with only top of the funnel (ToFU) stats like traffic and content downloads (Marketing Qualified Leads – MQLs). You have to start by building a strong business case in terms that make sense to a company owner/executive.
I don’t know of any manufacturer, distributor or an engineering company that wants to become content publishers, they want to sell more of their products and services. Unless you can show them how ToFU activities translate into qualified sales opportunities, your industrial digital marketing will have failed from their perspective.
Read my post Digital Marketing for Manufacturers: Making a Business Case to gain some valuable insights and actionable tips.
Attribution problem in digital marketing for industrial sales
A committee of stakeholders usually makes industrial buying decisions and buying cycles can be 12 months or longer. I have seen companies with sophisticated CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems like SalesForce, attribute a sales opportunity or win to the contact sending in the RFQ/RFP. Attributing a sale to the last click is the norm among industrial companies. This fails to recognize marketing’s role in triggering the RFQ in the first place.
Here is a common example for manufacturers; a Design Engineer who is primarily concerned with product specifications, performance data and standards plays a strong role in the buying decision. However, you receive the RFQ from the Purchasing Manager whose primary concern is to contact suppliers from an Approved Vendor List (AVL) and/or those whose parts are included in the BOM (Bill of Materials).
As a manufacturer, you are not going to get that call or email unless your parts are first “designed in” by the Design Engineer. He is the specifier and the second person is the functional buyer. The Design Engineer is the one who is interacting with your marketing content whereas the functional buyer may never visit your website.
Unless you can track the complete buyer journey, you will fail to correctly recognize marketing’s role in setting the table for your sales team. This in turn will make it difficult to prove ROI and marketing’s contribution to sales and revenues.
Relationships are still critical to industrial sales but how they are started, nurtured and strengthened has changed because of your customer behavior. Successful sales people will tell you that trust is the key to building strong and sustainable relationships. (See How Industrial Content Marketing Builds Stronger Relationships Based on Trust).
That is exactly what digital marketing with content will do for you. Content that emphasizes your expertise differentiates a manufacturer when there’s parity in Value Propositions. Your competition can copy your marketing tactics and outspend you but they can’t easily duplicate your expertise.
Understanding the age difference is important. Younger people are taking on more decision-making roles on the customer side. Your sales team can’t rely on old relationships.
Your website content must win the mindshare of the younger generation who are more reliant on the connected world. They don’t respond very well to the traditional means of communication such as phone calls and face-to-face meetings. (See Understanding the Age Gap is Important in Digital Marketing for Industrial Companies).
You may be marketing in the “past tense” if you continue to operate in the old ways just because they worked in the past. Digital marketing for manufacturers can help bridge the gap between Baby Boomers and Adult Millennials.