How to stand out when you feel invisible: adopt an inbound methodology

All articles | Marketing
Published Mar 14, 2023 | Written by Keith Errington

For most businesses, one of the most powerful ways to sell themselves is talking about who they’ve worked for - and the jobs they have done, especially if those jobs are for well-known and respected names within their industry.

In-depth case studies and prominent client lists can be powerful qualifying resources for prospects.  Potential buyers can look at your client roster, and if they see peers they respect on your list, are more likely to consider doing business with you. The thinking is: “If they are good enough for them, they are good enough for us”.

But what if a contractor can’t do that? What if you work for clients in the background, as a contract manufacturer for example? How can you sell your business if you can’t talk about what you have done and who you have done it for?

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How do you market an invisible business?

Inbound marketing can be a powerful way to gain leads, prospects and, ultimately, customers. It’s an ideal tool for contract manufacturers to increase sales. And inbound marketing is now even more effective because the nature of buying has changed.

Before the Internet, the main ways to find a contract manufacturer was through peer recommendation, attending endless trade shows or via direct sales calls.

But the world has changed.

B2B buyers behaviour has changed

Now buyers have switched to carrying out research online – partly because they can and partly because they hate being badgered by sales calls. The trend has been compounded by the changes in behaviour instigated by the pandemic and then permanently adopted because they made more sense. Searching the Internet is quicker, cheaper, less time-consuming and more productive than visiting a trade show or 'phoning round' and listening to endless sales pitches.

B2B research: customers are making big decisions online

In fact, in 2020 Forrester research into B2B customer buying habits found that:

  • 68% of B2B buyers now prefer to research online on their own
  • 75% of B2B buyers use social networks to learn about different vendors

Today, buyers are online, looking for solutions and advice, comparing offerings and only approaching suppliers once they are pretty clear on what they are actually looking for.

And here's the killer stat for those who doubt whether content marketing makes much difference to the final B2B buying outcomes. 

  • 62% B2B buyers develop selection criteria and finalise vendors based solely on digital content

If their digital content fails to impress at the outset, many vendors will simply fail to make the final cut.

Focus on being found

Looking at this new pattern of buyer behaviour, it becomes obvious that being found during the research phase of the buyer’s journey is crucial to capturing prospects. And the only way you will be found is if you have the right kind of content out there – the kind they are looking for during their buyer’s journey. It needs to be accessible, helpful, appropriate, and timely.

Besides having content that matches up with what they are looking for, you have to ensure it is search engine friendly too – if your content doesn’t show up in search engines, then you will truly be invisible.

So, inbound clearly matters – but what does that mean in practice? Let’s look at some of the potential inbound marketing content that might help to win prospects and why it works.

Overviews and reviews

The first type of useful content you can create and publish will help potential customers make sense of the industry landscape.


These sorts of articles can cover the different sorts of companies that are operating within the same market – categorising potential suppliers into types for example. This can be expanded to discuss why some types of suppliers may be better for some types of work, and why they will be unsuited to other types of work.

This type of content could also include an overview of the main companies who are offering solutions, with a run-down of the generic pros and cons of their different approaches.

Other articles that are aimed specifically at anyone new to the buying role, can cover the basics of the industry and the typical issues buyers face. Whilst there may not be many of your prospects in that category, those that are, will be very thankful for basic information and greatly appreciate it.


Or how about content that specifically reviews rivals' capabilities?

It may seem counterintuitive for a company to talk openly about the strengths and qualities of rival products.  But an honest and balanced review of the pros and cons of a competitor's product  can be an extraordinarily powerful testament to your honesty and reliability as a potential partner. 

These articles are some of the most successful form of content marketing you can undertake.  They can help prospects 'self qualify' using your content, ensuring that you don't waste time on chasing 'wrong fit' leads later on.  Some of our clients have also found that a review with their rival's company name in the title, can mean they are appearing high up in the returns when prospects are looking to research or contact them.  Intercepting organic search in this way is an interesting and cost-effective way to ramp up your own brand awareness.

Overview and review content establishes you as an authority, and as a helpful company that really knows its stuff.  This type of content will help attract prospects, maybe making them aware of you for the first time and leading them to consider you as a potential supplier.

In-depth information

Content that covers the different types of available solutions in detail is valuable to buyers who already have a good sense of what they are looking for. Similarly, content that looks at the typical issues facing your prospects’ businesses is relevant and attractive.

Another kind of content that will draw in prospects, are articles that look at the bigger picture around various solutions – such as the resources they might require, management time, training, budgeting, long term implications, and other issues that should be considered, beyond just buying into the solution.

Helpful content

Prospects put a high value on helpful content. Whether that’s how to specify a service, industry explainers, glossaries of terms used, a background to industry standards and the like, or in fact anything that makes a prospect’s work life easier – all will be valued and stand your business in good stead.

Demonstrating Capabilities

Whilst direct sales content is known to be ineffective, talking about your capabilities in a helpful way can be very useful to a prospect. Content that explains what is possible – what your capabilities might mean for their business in real terms – is valid content. Always create this with the prospect’s business in mind. Don’t write about what you can do, but what taking advantage of your capabilities allows them to do, or enables them to do better.

Case studies

As a business that can’t publicly talk about what you have done for other businesses, you might be tempted to think that you can’t publish case studies.

Part of the power of a case study is that it talks about an actual client and therefore, a generic case study is not seen to be as powerful. But just because it isn’t as powerful, does not mean it isn’t useful and of benefit in winning business.

You have to understand that context is everything. Your prospects are expecting privacy and confidentiality, so publishing an anonymous case study is exactly what they would expect and is still useful content; demonstrating solutions and expertise in areas relevant to their issues and challenges.

Such case studies should be as detailed as you can make them whilst still respecting the confidentiality of the client. Just like a normal case study, you will need to work closely with the client to clear permission for what you can and cannot say.

Try to create case studies that cover the elements, issues and questions that your target buyer would be facing.

Demonstrating your capabilities and publishing case studies both help to establish your credentials.

Establishing authority

Writing about the industry in general, recent developments, technological advances, future trends and different approaches to common issues, will all help establish authority. This type of content gives the prospective buyer confidence that you know what you are doing, which in turn generates trust.

Read the Guide to Developing a Content Strategy and Framework

What do you stand for?

Another significant type of content – one that might not seem to be particularly important – is writing about your mission, what your company stands for. In a highly competitive market, the more you can differentiate yourselves from your competitors, then the more you will stand out. Especially if that differentiation comes through positive messages.

Buyers are increasingly looking for suppliers that prioritise sustainability, care for the environment and those who look after their staff and their local community. It might not be part of their primary criteria, but if all suppliers meet those criteria, then those secondary, ‘nice to have’ factors will become crucial.


The options for marketing a contract manufacturing business may appear limited because of clients requiring confidentiality and because traditional sales approaches are becoming less effective and even detrimental to gaining prospects.

However, the new trend of buyers researching suppliers before contacting them will work in your favour if you have the right inbound content present when they are searching. The examples above illustrate why inbound matters and why.

In fact, inbound doesn’t just matter, it is crucial to standing out and gaining a competitive advantage, bringing in new prospects and growing your existing business.


Inbound marketing guide

Published by Keith Errington March 14, 2023
Keith Errington