Everyone wants to grow but very few companies want to change the way they have been doing things. Or more accurately, they do not know what to change to connect with modern buyers and grow their business.
There is a proven and measurable marketing approach which manufacturers are successfully implementing.
The ideal manufacturing marketing process proactively:
The beauty of this transition for manufacturers is that as manufacturing marketing improves results, it simultaneously creates a framework of analytics and metrics which allow the customer relationships and revenue generation to be measured and managed just like operations.
Two key trends require your attention as a leader interested in manufacturing marketing:
“Engineers are now going to the internet to do their research, and waiting until later in their buying process to contact companies like ours.”
- Mike Thomas, President, Tube Form Solutions
Today buyers control their buying process. They search the internet;research solutions; educate themselves on options; and compare suppliers all before speaking to a rep. They’re buying on their own, yet you’re still trying to sell to them.
Two key ideas guide manufacturing marketing:
The first idea means you need to change the way you think about marketing, sales, and service and in fact, the role of everyone in your company.
The second relates to your approach to the market, your strategy and how you execute it.
What you do for your customer is what your mission is, the mission is not what you make. Your mission is tied to what your product or service delivers in terms of outcomes for your ideal buyers.
A few examples from our clients from a previous article we wrote:
A packaging equipment company's "why" is to help companies reduce damage and waste in the supply chain helping their customers save money while contributing to making consumer packaged goods more sustainable. They happen to build packaging machines to do it.
A laser system manufacturer enables product personalization and unique item level identification, facilitating sales as well as internal and external process controls. They enable the transfer of data from a PC to an item's surface made of virtually anything.
Another client builds tube and pipe fabrication equipment that enables product designs, for form and functionality,to be converted into reality. They build machines that turn designs into things that can be manufactured.
One more develops fuel additives that protect and improve fuel so vehicles and engines keep running when they are needed. Their products deliver insurance that engines will keep running and have a minimum of maintenance due to fuel issues.
Why are you here?
Why is your business one a customer should choose?
Why should your people care, much less your customers?
When you know your "why" or your mission it makes it much easier to communicate what you do to who you want to hear those messages as well as pointing to the tactics of how you go to market.
What do most manufacturers think about if they need to grow their businesses? The first impulse is to hire a salesperson, add a rep agency, bring on distributors, go to a trade show or spend money on paid advertising.
But these are all inside out approaches.
The best place to start is to look at your whole organization and understand if your employees, partners, and suppliers are aligned with what buyers really want. Throwing money or people at the problem of growth will only perpetuate your existing mediocre results unless you align everyone in the business behind what your buyer really wants.
Start outside and work your way back from the customer.
“Many companies recognize the need to change marketing tactics, to use content, develop a digital marketing presence, and adapt to the ability of buyers to control the process. Few see it as fundamental to the operation, structure, and strategy of the entire organization.”
- Todd Hockenberry, “Inbound Organization”, (Wiley 2018)
People want more from the companies they buy from including yours. We are trained by our experience with brands like Amazon and Apple; we now bring these expectations to B2B and manufacturing purchases, too.
A mindset shift is required to build a manufacturing business that will succeed with buyers today. Industrial companies must realize that they are not just selling a product, but delivering an entire customer experience from the first touch until the buyer no longer uses the product. Each step with the buyer either adds to or detracts from the experience and everyone is the company impacts the buyer’s experience either positively or negatively.
"The first and most important step is to shift the organization’s mindset to focus on solving for the customer. Make decisions based on what’s in their interest — because what’s in the customer’s interest is in the organization’s interest too."
- Dharmesh Shah, HubSpot, Inbound Organization, Wiley (2018)
As Peter Drucker once said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Manufacturing marketing starts with a culture of customer focus, solving for the customer, with everyone aligned around the needs of the customer, with everyone making sure customers are successful is the way to grow your business in this age of buyer control.
Invisible is irrelevant in the world of the information empowered buyer. The first problem companies need to address is getting found. In a world where 95% of manufacturing and industrial buying starts with an Internet search, your content needs to be relevant to the online research your audience conducts at the very beginning of their buying process. You must master search - and today’s SEO, or search engine optimization, requires focus on creating relevant and interesting content from your ideal buyer’s point of view and doing so regularly and with a long-term commitment.
The first step in getting found by buyers is to understand that buyer in far greater detail than you likely do today. Most industrial, manufacturing, and technical people think of innovation as improving features compared to competitors, rarely is innovation thought of in terms of helping customers achieve their goals, faster, better, and more completely as well as finding new ones to achieve. Innovation is now critical for industrial companies in the area of marketing, sales, service and delivering a great customer experience. The product is no longer enough. Spray and pray is not a good strategy. You must focus on a specific persona.
Adele Revella, globally recognized expert at developing buyer personas says,
“so many of our clients are in mature markets where frankly there’s at least a half a dozen other companies that can solve the problem pretty well from the buyer’s perspective. Let’s have the buyer’s ability to trust us and get their questions answered be the differentiator in terms of our ability to win that business.”
- Inbound Organization, Wiley (2018)
A persona is the embodiment of the buyer you exist to serve. A persona is a description and understanding of your ideal target person that needs your help the most.
Ask yourself these questions...
A manufacturing marketing strategy without a defined target ideal customer and a developed buyer persona is bound to be less effective than one that does. You can't be everything to everyone, you have to choose who you best serve and then focus on them.
Do you have a narrowly defined target persona and understand how they bring about the changes internally required to buy your product? If not then you are probably talking product, features, and benefits and not about buyers want to talk about - their issues, their problems, and most importantly what they need to do to be successful personally and professionally.
It may not be obvious but each customer has a unique buying journey. There are similarities, but each person follows a slightly different pace, intensity, breadth, and process before they buy. Understanding how and when buyers move from one stage to the next in the journey is important in order to help them facilitate the changes needed to receive the help your product or service provides. Does your sales team act as a change agent or a product information regurgitator? You cannot help buyers change if you don’t know the hurdles, barriers, roadblocks, and challenges on the journey they will take.
There are many ways to outline a buyer journey and buyers today do not tend to follow a straight line path from prospect to lead to customer. The journey can be short and intense or long and messy. But all journeys tend to go through 3 main stages plus one after the sale.
Awareness - the buyer understand they might have a problem and starts to research possible solutions, typically started online even for complex B2B issues.
Consideration - the buyer is beginning to define the problem and seeks specific possible options to solve it.
Decision - the buyer evaluates the best options and makes a choice.
Success is the fourth stage and is the the time when customers actually achieve the goals they set out to reach by hiring you in the first place.
A great customer experience is intentionally created - it does not just happen. Superior customer experiences are intentional and come from a strategy that includes a specific, focused persona description and a buyer journey mapped and understood so your team is able to deliver the right help at the right time.
The reason you should focus on this helping strategy of persona and buyer journey first is this simple stat and the reason behind it.
74% of sales go to the first company that was helpful (see source here).
The reason this is so was described by Dr. Robert Cialdini in his book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, where he talks about the 6 principles of persuasion, the first of which is reciprocation.
“The implication is that you have to go first. Give something: give information, give free samples, give a positive experience to people and they will want to give you something in return”.
Manufacturing marketing is build on the foundation of content. Free, helpful content that is shared, optimized, and targeted to ideals buyers (both online and directly by salespeople) that shows them how to solve a problem, understand an issue, or frame their situation in a way that leads to improvement.
One of our clients is a company in the midwest that manufactures and distributes capital equipment for the tube fabrication industry. I recently visited their open house with customers from all over the country. They had just launched a new laser cutting line and were showing it off to existing customers.
A gentleman, who happened to be the President of a large existing customer of my client, walked up to the owner and said, “We’ve looked at a bunch of laser manufacturers and have narrowed it down to two companies, you and another. We eliminated 3 others based on features, price, and reputation by reviewing content we could find online. Can we talk about a specific proposal?”
This EXISTING CUSTOMER did not talk to a sales person of my client for this $500k+ purchase.
They ELIMINATED three other vendors using online searches and other available digital information.
They only reached out to my client when they were ready to get into the details and specify a machine.
Are you using content to engage prospects BEFORE they reach out to you? Inbound Marketing is a well-established methodology and framework for creating, optimizing, sharing, and using content to engage with a market before they pick up the phone and call.
The core principle of Inbound is to attract instead of interrupt. Be where your best prospects are looking for information as they educate themselves about their situations and possible paths to improvement. Manufacturing marketing always includes a large inbound marketing component. Why? Because that is how your buyers want you to market to them - with helpful, relevant, and optimized content that they can find when they need it.
Marketing and sales teams must:
Two key metrics that drive strategic success are cost of customer acquisition and lifetime customer value. Adopting a manufacturing marketing success model and investing in a team to manage customer achievement of their goals results in lower cost of customer/revenue acquisition and increases lifetime customer value. Both results that should get senior leaders attention.
Manufacturing marketing does not end with the sale. It is just getting started.
Your goal is customer success. That is what you promised with your marketing and sales efforts and once the sale is made it is time to deliver on that promise.
Do you manage your customer’s journey or do you deliver and then sit back and wait for the phone to ring when they need something?
Do you plan every step of the onboarding, installation, or startup process so that new customers are impressed with your expertise and experience at starting new relationships?
Do you track, study, and improve the customer startup process?
Do you measure customer loyalty (this does not mean just sending a survey) but using tools like NPS (Net Promoter Score) to measure, track, and improve?
Do you continue to educate your customers with helpful information on a regular basis?
Do you have an up to date database of all of your existing customers? Don’t laugh, I have clients that have had to go back and rebuild their customer contact lists after ignoring them for years.
Does your marketing and sales team share with your account management team the specific goals, expectations, and the promises made to the customer during the pre-sale process?
You determine your manufacturing strategy. Your buyer determines your tactics. It is as simple as that. You decide what you are going to do your customers tell you where and how they want to engage with you.
Most manufacturing companies come to us and ask us to help with the tactics (website, content, SEO, social media, video, etc) BEFORE they think about the strategy. The strategy of who they are, who they help the most, and how they help them achieve their goals. We call it chasing the shiny thing. Many manufacturing leaders want to implement a quick fix tactic and see magical results. Many do not want to do the hard work of focusing their business on helping. They just want growth without understanding how modern buyers reward companies with their business.
We have seen many different tactics work for manufacturers to reach and connect with their target audience and there is no one size fits all for manufacturing marketing tactics.
Some things are foundational and should be included in any manufacturing marketing strategy implementation plan.
Your culture must be aligned with buyers in order to be successful with a manufacturing marketing strategy. Focus on your ideal buyers and understand their journey before you spend time and money on marketing tactics. Think Inbound and create attractive content that your ideal buyers want to consume. Sounds easy…but we know it is not.
We do this for a living. We know how to help you develop a manufacturing marketing strategy and then to implement it successfully. We are here to help, just ask. We are passionate about manufacturing and we want to help you grow today!