Industrial Content Marketing with Purpose

In my last post, I talked about using content to convert website traffic into leads and customers. In this post, I want to continue with a similar theme and talk about why your content marketing must have a purpose.

With the abundance of content available on the Internet these days, it is difficult to rise above the noise and get noticed. Manufacturers and industrial companies cannot be content with just publishing content, their content marketing needs to drive the sales process.

Telling owners and C-level executives at these companies that inbound marketing with content takes time to produce results will only hold them off for so long. They expect, and rightfully so, that their marketing investments produce ROI sooner rather than later, now would be even better. (See Content Marketing: Think Like a Publisher, Act Like an Investor).

However, creating content that will convert traffic into leads in one fell swoop is a challenge since industrial sales typically have long sales cycles and a multitude of stakeholders are involved in the purchase decision.

Consider these suggestions then to overcome the hurdle – change the purpose of your content marketing from conversion to action. What am I talking about?

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You’ve Got Traffic. Now What?

You’ve done all the hard work of optimizing (SEO) your industrial website and now you have a steady stream of traffic to your site. Congratulations!

Sorry to rain on your parade but that is only half the equation. The other half is all about converting that traffic into leads and customers.

I find there is a strong but mistaken belief among industrial companies that somehow their site visitors will interrupt their online activities and pick up the phone to call their sales people. Even though this behavior is contrary to how they themselves interact online, they expect their target audience to behave differently. (See my post, “Do You Believe in Industrial Websites?”).

The reality is that the vast majority of site visitors will do nothing and leave. What they have is a website that is leaking potential leads like a sieve. Whenever I make that statement, there is silence on the other end of the phone or in a face-to-face meeting; I get a look that says, “What the heck are you talking about?”

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Manufacturing Infographics for Content Marketing

Infographics, short for information graphics are hot right now. It seems everyone is creating one these days. Infographics have been around for a while and are used to communicate complex concepts visually and easily. If done right, they can be very effective in content marketing for manufacturers and industrial companies.

In the early stages of lead generation, you are primarily dealing with “suspects” – people who you have not yet qualified as prospects or leads. For top of the funnel content, infographics are very effective because of their focus on educating the reader rather than being product-centric.

Even though suspects may not fit your ideal customer profile, they may be people who will share your content if they find it worthwhile and interesting. Infographics fit the bill the perfectly for this purpose. Shareable content increases awareness about your company and drives more traffic back to your site or blog. Filling the top of the funnel with interested readers is one of the key objectives of content marketing.

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Manufacturers Need Lead Management to Close the RFQ Gap

Talking to manufacturers and industrial companies on a daily basis has convinced me that when they say they need help with their lead generation, they really want more RFQ (Request For Quote) opportunities.

Generating new leads, qualifying and nurturing them until they turn into a RFQ is too much work for them. For a real-life example of this lead generation disconnect, read my post, Manufacturers: Don’t Start a Lead Generation Campaign without Sales.

During my internal discovery process, in nine out of ten cases, I’ll hear the President/CEO/Owner of manufacturing or industrial companies tell me one of their goals is to double the volume of RFQs they generate. To most of these decision makers winning new business is strictly a numbers game. They are convinced that the more they quote, better are their chances of scoring more deals.

I have to politely disagree with them because “activity is not the same as productivity.” It is not an easy sell for me to change this mindset. I have to make a strong business case before I can even get their attention.

Here are the steps I go through to change their minds and have worked well for me:

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Manufacturers: Don’t Start a Lead Generation Campaign without Sales

Every manufacturing or industrial company that I talk to wants more leads. However, there is a serious disconnect between sales and marketing when it comes to defining a qualified lead.

This is not a new problem. Google sales and marketing disconnect and you will find thousands of articles written on this topic. I am here to tell you that it is very real and thriving within manufacturing companies.

Recently, a manufacturing client retained me to help them improve their industrial lead generation campaign. This company had spent thousands of dollars in Pay-Per-Click (PPC) and banner ads in niche industry eNewsletters. They had received a fair amount of traffic from those efforts but had little to no conversions. In short, very poor ROI from their lead generation efforts.

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Industrial Marketing Content that Helps Buyers

It is very common to find marketing content from manufacturers and industrial companies that is all about how great their products are or that their technology is innovative. Sellers may be too close to the forest to see the trees and firmly believe their marketing content is helpful to their buyers.

Buyers can easily find information about your products and that of your competition from their online research. So ask yourself this question, “Is my industrial marketing content really helping my buyers make a more informed decision and is it moving them closer to an RFQ?”

I suspect most of you already know the answer otherwise I wouldn’t be hearing and reading the same objections to content marketing from so many manufacturers and industrial companies. They know the “why” but are having a difficult time figuring out “how” publishing content will help them sell more of their industrial products.

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Create a Content Series for Industrial Marketing

Happy New Year!

This is my first post in 2012 and I want to start the New Year by answering a perennial question about content marketing for manufacturers and industrial companies. The question – what do we write about?

The answer – create a content series.

Just like popular TV serials, you want to create a series of short blog posts that revolve around a common theme. There are many advantages to this content marketing strategy. The most important ones are:

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Content Marketing Delivers Lead Insight to Sales

It is true that industrial buyers are more in charge of the buying process today than ever before. Even though the process of buying industrial products and services has not changed much over the years, how industrial buyers prefer to go through their buying cycle has changed dramatically. Content marketing has become indispensable for addressing this changed buyer behavior.

Several studies have found that most engineering and industrial professionals today prefer to use the Internet during the early stages of the buy cycle – Needs Awareness, Research and Consideration & Comparison. It is only at the last stage, Procurement when buyers have already prepared a shortlist of vendors do they contact a manufacturer’s sales rep.

That does not mean that content marketing has reduced the role of industrial salespeople to mere order takers. On the contrary, it makes them more productive by providing valuable insight into the lead. See my earlier post, “Inbound Marketing Must Set the Table for Industrial Sales.”

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Use Content Marketing to Manage Industrial Sales Funnels

B2B and industrial marketers are usually tasked with two main responsibilities:

  1. Fill the top of the sales funnel (ToFU) with high quality leads
  2. Maximize the middle of the funnel (MoFU) for converting more leads into sales opportunities

Achieving those two objectives are difficult enough, now add to that the constant pressure of having to lower the cost per lead at the same time. That’s why more B2B and industrial marketers are turning to content marketing to lift their lead generation ROI.

Several studies have shown that these lead generation challenges hold true across the board in B2B marketing. According to the recent MarketingSherpa’s B2B Marketing Benchmark Survey (June 2011) of more than 1,700 B2B marketers:

52% of the companies reported, “Converting qualified leads into paying customers” (MoFU) as their biggest challenge. This was followed by Lead Generation (ToFU) at 48% and Lead Nurturing (MoFU) at 40% (See chart).

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Making Your Industrial Website Be All It Can Be

Remember the old US Army commercial – “Be All You Can Be?” It was one of the most popular and successful recruiting slogans and the army used it for over twenty years. It was created in 1981 by E. N. J. Carter (he was awarded the Outstanding Civilian Service Award for his efforts) when he was with N. W. Ayer & Son, the first advertising agency in the United States. (Source: Wikipedia)

What does any of this have to do with industrial websites? Plenty as it turns out.

I can’t think of a single conversation about website redesign that I’ve had with industrial companies that didn’t start with or include the following, “We want our website to be on the first page of Google for … (fill in your own keywords and phrases).”

Right from the get go, the entire focus of the site redesign is on search engine optimization (SEO). After all, why would you create a site that no one can find? One of the big draws of inbound marketing with content is that it helps a website get found early and often by its target audience. So what’s wrong with that singular focus on SEO?

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Inbound Marketing Must Set the Table for Industrial Sales

In my conversations with industrial companies about inbound marketing, I find my audience agreeing with me up to a certain point and then there is a big disconnect.

I see heads nodding in face-to-face meetings or hear plenty of “Uh-huhs” on the phone when I talk about the benefits of inbound marketing. They agree it helps them get found in search engines early and often, drives hordes of traffic to their site and fills the top of their funnel with qualified leads at a lower cost per lead.

Then comes the silence because they are having trouble connecting the dots between inbound marketing and sales.

I can’t help but think that the person at the other end is silently telling me, “Show Me the Money!” just like in the movie Jerry Maguire.

This is when I have to take a step back and start talking about how the job of inbound marketing does not end with lead generation but extends into setting the table for sales so they can be more productive.

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How Blogs Help Manufacturers Enter New Markets

The current economy and a global supply chain have forced many manufacturers to reevaluate how they do business these days. Traditional sources of new business – word-of-mouth referrals and repeat business from existing customers have slowed to a trickle for many of these industrial companies. They now find themselves in uncharted waters where they have to think of and appreciate marketing as something more than mere sales support.

Business owners and executives crave stability and predictability but expectations and behaviors of industrial buyers have changed. It is time to get out of your comfort zones and rethink your industrial marketing strategies and tactics if you want your company to survive and thrive. That is an important and sometimes painful lesson that many manufacturers have learned over the past couple of years.

Entering new markets (49%) is cited as one of the top three areas where manufacturers and industrial companies will be spending more time and effort in 2011. (Source: 2011 Economic Outlook Survey by GlobalSpec.)

How do you enter a new market where you have no brand awareness, credibility or customer references?

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Industrial Blogs for Lead Generation Using Inbound Marketing

If you are an industrial or a manufacturing marketer, you know all about the constant pressure of generating high-quality sales leads. Upper management asking you to fill the pipeline with ever-shrinking budgets is a given these days.

There are three key ideas in the headline of my post – 1) Industrial blogs, 2) Lead generation and 3) Inbound marketing. In this post I’ll talk about how the three work together nicely in industrial and manufacturing marketing.

Various studies and my own experiences with industrial clients show that filling the top of the lead-gen funnel is still the number one goal.

A study of over 1,400 small and mid-sized businesses found that marketers with blogs generated 67% more leads. (Source: HubSpot).

Industrial marketers who don’t use a blog are missing a key component of feeding the top of their sales funnels. The single biggest benefit of blogging that I know of is getting found early and often when engineers and industrial professionals are researching solutions using search engines.

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How Manufacturers can Resurrect Product Content from the Dead Zone

In general B2B and technology (software and IT) marketing, there is usually a well-defined path for lead generation and nurturing with content. These B2B marketers seem to have a bottomless well of content to tap into.

I’m sure that’s not by accident but the result of forward thinking and a lot of hard work on the part of content marketers in those industries.

Manufacturers of industrial products struggle when it comes to generating a steady flow of fresh marketing content. Most manufacturing websites are packed with product data sheets and catalogs, a few case studies, some application notes, may be a technical article or two and not much else. In other words, their content is very product-centric.

There is a good reason for that – see my earlier post, “Details Matter in Creating Content for Engineers.” In my opinion, product-centric content is and will always be very important in manufacturing marketing. However, their biggest impact is in the late stages of the industrial buy cycle and are not very effective in the early phases.

How can manufacturers resurrect their existing product content and join the content marketing revolution? Here are some ways that I can suggest:

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How to Coax Content Out of Engineers

Keeping a steady flow of content coming out of engineers and in-house technical experts is a challenge.

You know your work is cut out for you if you are a Content or a Marcom Manager at an engineering or manufacturing company.

Engineers are known to be passive participants when it comes to generating marketing and social media content of any kind. What can do you do if you are tasked with maintaining an active industrial blog that needs fresh content regularly?

If you are a marketing department of one, I suggest you do whatever you can to hone your journalistic skills. You will need to become good at:

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Manufacturers Use CAD and 3D Parts Catalogs to Generate Leads

For a while now, manufacturers have been using online searchable product catalogs to generate new leads and sales. Downloadable CAD files have played a major role in components and parts being designed in – a key and necessary step in the industrial buying process.

I have written about the benefits of creating an online CAD library in several of my posts in the past. See my previous article, “Details Matter in Creating Content for Engineers.”

I believe it was ThomasNet that had pioneered the use of online CAD drawings in the industrial sector. Their unique CAD technology allowed manufacturers to put 3D CAD models of their products directly into the hands of more than 100,000 engineers and architects who had registered on their site. That was back in 2005. I’m sure that number has grown significantly since then.

I found it quick and easy to search through the more than 67,000 categories listed in their CAD library. With just two clicks, I was able to narrow down my search to Pumps, Valves & Accessories > Valves: High Pressure. I could then select a specific manufacturer’s CAD library to view.

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Most Industrial and Manufacturing Websites are Still Stuck in Web 1.0

Lead generation from their Websites is the number one objective of most manufacturers and industrial companies that I talk to. Yet, their existing Websites have little to no lead generating capabilities.

That statement may come as a shock to many site owners because they are convinced that sales leads will just roll in because their site includes a toll free number in a big bold font, there are links to the “Contact Us” page everywhere and/or there’s a RFQ form on the site.

Here’s what’s wrong with that picture:

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Don’t Let Lack of Content Stop You from Blogging

The mantra for effective business blogging is to regularly pump out fresh content that is reader-centric and not focused too much on you, your products or your company. I agree.

More power to you if you already have a horde of avid readers who visit your blog every time you post new content. For others, the bulk of your blog traffic, in some cases as much as 80%, will come from first-time visitors. These people find your blog while searching for answers to their current problem or visit via social media.

It is not just your latest post that draws traffic. Your blog posts will remain online in perpetuity. A post that is a few months old to you may be news to someone else, as long as it is not time sensitive.

As an industrial marketer, you recognize the importance of constantly publishing fresh and relevant content to attract qualified visitors and convert them into leads.

However, at the end of the day, every manufacturer or distributor of industrial products wants to sell more widgets and not just publish more content. (See my earlier post, “Content Marketing: Think Like a Publisher, Act Like an Investor.”)

Many manufacturers and industrial companies tend to back away from launching their business blog because of this content dilemma.

Is there a way for industrial marketers to solve this “Catch-22” problem for blogging? There is!

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Industrial Content Reengineering for Improving WIIFM Relevance

The challenge for many industrial marketers is making their content relevant to their prospects and customers. Industrial sales cycles are usually several months long and involve numerous people in different roles.

Identifying where a prospect is on the buying cycle is sometimes difficult because there are long periods of silence with little to no online activity to track. It is not possible to automatically trigger content when there are no regular behavioral patterns to measure and score.

Yet, these are qualified prospects so you can’t just discard them.

One solution that I’ve found to work well is to reengineer your existing content to focus on answering the “What’s in it for me (WIIFM)?” question for each of the stakeholders involved in the industrial buying cycle.

Why is industrial content reengineering important?

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How a Global Distributor’s Online Community for Engineers Pays Rich Dividends

Building a thriving online community around your social media strategy takes a lot of hard work. Sometimes it feels like you are operating in a vacuum where nobody seems to be listening or responding to your initiatives.

It is heartening then to read about an industrial company’s success in building an engineering community, which in turn generates leads, produces sales and increases the company’s awareness among its target audience.

A recent article by Paul Gillin (@pgillin) and published in BtoB Online, caught my attention because it talks about how engineers can have fun while doing serious business.

In “Who says engineers don’t know how to have fun?” Paul reports on the phenomenal success of element14, an online community for electronic design engineers.

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