Marketing for industrial companies: 8 tips for B2B success

All articles | Marketing
Published May 18, 2023 | Written by Osian Barnes

If prospects aren’t opening their doors when your salespeople knock, how can you bring buyers to your door instead? This blog outlines 8 steps to help B2B industrial companies attract and nurture more right-fit leads across long and complex sales cycles..

What are the unique sales and marketing challenges facing industrial companies?

In contrast to consumer marketing and other B2B marketing professionals, industrial marketers face unique challenges in cutting through, including

  • Lack of easily identifiable and accessible audiences
  • Maintaining interaction across long sales cycles
  • Articulating complex technical propositions
  • Navigating multi-layered approval processes
  • Communicating complex price structures

Why manufacturer marketers struggle to fill their pipelines

Whether you’re selling unique robotic solutions to automotive manufacturers or specialist components to electronics brands, you may struggle to identify and speak to the right decision-makers and influencers hidden deep inside organisations. You may also struggle to identify new markets for your services and upsell opportunities to keep revenue flowing through long, unpredictable sales cycles. 

What does your audience want from you?

Research into the manufacturing sector by TREW says that technical buyers in these companies want access to expert advice and information as they make their purchasing decisions. But they are an elusive AND demanding audience:

  • 51% of engineers actively avoid paid ads
  • 46% of engineers filter through at least five pages of search results to find what they need 

Meanwhile, Forrester points out that upto 62% of B2B buyers are consistently disappointed by the vendor content they uncover, saying it’s more “focused on style than substance.”

Why outbound is failing industrial marketers

Faced with these challenges, traditional tactics like outbound calling, email marketing, display, and print advertising are inevitably failing.  And they may never be equal to opening up growth opportunities in the new and lucrative sectors you need to access. 

Using your marketing team to design yet another outbound email or create a LinkedIn campaign just won’t be enough to capture and hold the attention of these hard-to-reach prospects.

In these conditions, you need to turn your traditional approach to sales and marketing on its head.  It’s no use pursuing leads with adverts and endless sales offers. This audience is increasingly ‘switching off’ from the noise.

Instead,  you need leads to gravitate towards you as a trusted source of trusted information and support in their sector.  

But flipping your focus is no easy task

It's worth noting that to change your focus properly; you’ll need to bring all your teams together to see the opportunities ahead clearly.  Marketing, sales and account management must openly share information about their successes and failures.  Sales must articulate the challenges and obstacles in their buyer's way so that content can be designed to help overcome them.  Account management must share results with their teams to unlock new insight and direction for marketing and sales.  You need to emerge from your silos to build an industrial marketing strategy together.

8 steps to build an industrial marketing strategy

So, here are eight steps to help you flip from an ‘interruptive’ to an ‘inbound' mindset, and support your industrial buyers through their long and complex manufacturing buying cycles.

1. Understand who your ideal customer is

Your pipeline may look depleted and underpowered because you’re simply not engaging with the right companies.

It may take time and resource, but looking deeply into your sales data and understanding the nuances and subtleties of your business success is critical.  Asking questions about potential market size and who you can serve best, could help you determine a powerful new positioning strategy.

Before you decide on any marketing strategy or tactics, you need to establish who your 'ideal customer profile' (ICP) actually is.  In other words, the kind of business you want and need to sell to.  Without an ICP, you can waste time and money chasing leads that won’t help your business grow.   

To work out what kind of company you need to sell to and how your industrial product should be positioned, you should ask some fundamental questions:

  • What kind of deals are the most profitable and sustainable for you?
  • What type of business will bring these deals to you?
  • What size is that company likely to be?
  • What sector will they operate in? 
  • Where will they be located?
  • What are their main operational and commercial challenges?
  • What specific needs do they have that only your business can answer?

2. Create detailed buyer personas - and speak to them

Understand your ‘buyer personas', the people whom you will ultimately sell to.

Again, this can be difficult, but collectively understanding exactly who you are speaking to, will pay dividends as you plan the content and campaigns that will appeal to them.

Define these potential customers as people rather than simply job roles. Understand what makes them tick and you'll understand the best way to talk to them:

  • How old are they?
  • Are they male or female?
  • What’s their educational background
  • What are their professional pain points?
  • What are their professional aspirations, hopes and fears?
  • What will professional success look like to them?

If you can work out what motivates your buyers and keeps them awake at night, you’ll have the key to capturing their attention in all the marketing you create.

But don’t just take our word for it. Research shows that 71% of companies that exceed their revenue and lead goals have documented buyer personas. High-performing companies are also 2.3 times more likely to research the drivers of their personas than their competitors.

3. Be there throughout the buyer’s journey

When planning your manufacturing marketing strategy, you need to understand your B2B buyer's journey in intimate detail.  

Where do your buyers go for information and advice?  What publications, websites and experts do they consult? What digital channels, industry news, social media platforms, and podcasts do they trust and consume?  What questions do they ask through Google?  What questions do they ask your salespeople? 

You can do this in various ways, from interviewing tame clients to understand their preferences to using software like Sparktoro to harvest data around the media habits of specific demographics.

Once you understand the information sources your prospects value most,  you can plan to ‘be there for them' in different ways, as they shift between awareness of their problem, consideration of solutions and their final decision-making process.

Your targeted, digital marketing strategy, should ensure you are present and supporting prospects at precisely the right moment in their buyer’s journey.  Your content will be there to greet them as they:

  • Scroll social
  • Search for answers on Google
  • Research service details on-line
  • Select a podcast
  • Open their email inbox 
  • Visit and revisit your website 

4. Create the content your customers crave

The top factor influencing buying decisions is easy access to relevant content that speaks directly to their needs. 

But writing technical and educational content for this audience can be a challenge. What do your buyers in these industrial companies need to know that no one else is telling them? When and how can they access that information most easily from you? 

Your inbound marketing strategy should address your customer’s business challenges with uniquely helpful content at critical stages of their business cycle.  In short, you should adopt a media mindset.

Think like a media brand with your content marketing strategy

Power your strategy by thinking like a media brand. Plan your content to educate, inform and delight your buyer persona rather than sell to them:

  • Identify critical themes and topic areas of interest to your buyers on their journey. Build a mix of helpful content: Create educational and informative material (‘Why’ and How-to Guides), industry news, infographics, social messaging, FAQs, case studies and whitepapers. Tell a compelling brand story across your digital real estate.
  • Speak to your customers in a voice they recognise: tell your stories from your prospects’ point of view and make their pain points your focus. Make your prospects the hero of your story. 
  • Reflect how they choose to consume information: Use video, social media, podcasts, blogging, short and long-form written content. Slice and dice it. Repurpose and reuse it across platforms to reinforce your key messages.  Don’t be afraid to experiment and push the boundaries.  As you understand your audience in more detail, unexpected opportunities for interaction may arise.  Social media marketing is fast becoming a fecund and exciting vehicle for technical content distribution:

    “Engineers love learning and researching on YouTube. It’s a great platform for vendor-created and community-sourced product demos, deep-dive topical learning, and the occasional wacky project build. Hot take: keep an eye on TikTok, I have a feeling it’s poised for major growth in the science & technology space.”

    Daniel Bogdanoff, Resident Geek, Keysight
  • Optimise your website design, content and structure for SEO (Search Engine Optimisation). But don’t write and create content simply for Google to rank.  Create content and organise it to be found and used by the people you want to engage with most. 

Get this right, and prospects will naturally gravitate to your brand, bringing the right traffic to your website and ultimately, your sales pipeline.

5. Align sales and marketing activities

The whole point of your industrial marketing strategy should be to deliver qualified leads to your sales team.

But you won’t be able to achieve this unless your sales and marketing team are aligned and working together:  

  • Agree your lead scoring criteria so everyone knows what the right ‘customer fit’ looks like.  
  • Agree when MQLs (marketing qualified leads) should become SQLs (sales qualified leads). 
  • Use the right CRM software to push the right leads through the sales cycle efficiently
  • Ensure your lead nurturing is automated and consistent. 

Your sales and marketing teams need to share insight regularly. Sales should provide feedback to marketing about successes and failures, so the buyers’ journey can be tweaked and optimised. And Sales can fuel marketing with content ideas too. Marketing needs to share insight and validate ideas with their sales teams.

6. Marketing automation to nurture leads

No one likes being ‘sold to’, bombarded with cold calls and chased by salespeople for months.  And what’s more, it’s expensive to service this kind of intensive one-on-one activity across a long and complex sales cycle. Research shows that B2B clients want to self-serve as much as possible as they explore their options.  They want to gain confidence in your brand before hearing directly from your sales team.

So, use automation more effectively. Lever chatbots, personalised email, social media messaging, blogging, and other content offerings (audio, video, whitepapers) to establish trust and guide next steps.

Automate customer service, data collection, lead scoring and prospect nurturing to help prospects access the content they need when they need it. Use smart content to tailor what buyers see based on previous visits and interactions. Ensure smart CTAs (calls to action) progress leads through the sales cycle in a logical and 'human' way.

Once your leads are fully qualified and ready to talk, you can hand them to your sales team. You’ll have the information you need to have meaningful conversations with them, and they’ll be more knowledgeable about your solutions, receptive and better primed for your message. 

7. Measure your marketing success 

Too often, businesses set up marketing campaigns and let them run without ever analysing their success.  Ensure all your activity is designed with measurability in mind.  If you have SMART goals for every campaign you run, you’ll be able to monitor and compare your successes and failures.  With these metrics in place, you can experiment with new marketing messages, techniques and technology, constantly iterating and improving as you go.

8. Become a brand  and share your purpose 

The idea of becoming a ‘manufacturing brand’ may seem a bit over the top for industrial companies with dirt beneath their fingernails.  For contract manufacturers in particular, who have traditionally operated ‘below the radar’ - the idea may even seem outlandish.  

But in a sector where you and your competitors are often invisible and taken for granted, building brand awareness could pay dividends. Becoming synonymous with a set of values and a unique service culture - all expressed through the targeted content you produce  - is one way to differentiate yourself as an industrial company to notice.

But building a brand and creating the marketing messages that will resonate, requires a deep understanding of what your customers want and value from a manufacturing partner. 

Right now, pressure is bearing down on manufacturers to innovate greener solutions, reuse and recycle, and value engineer for greater efficiencies. Forward-thinking manufacturers  are responding to profound existential challenges by building for repairability, servitisation and sustainability.  

Businesses can and should use these kind of credentials to differentiate their brand and underpin their marketing messages.

An authentic and powerful sense of brand purpose in the world is a big reason for your customers and prospects to believe in you and your services.

Conclusion: Become the brand your customers can’t do without

Successful manufacturing marketing has to be more than choosing a logo, a few catchy straplines, sending emails, and hitting the phones. It’s about becoming an expert and dependable presence in the lives of existing clients and future customers.  

Focus on becoming an authentic and authoritative voice in your sector through marketing. Make your brand the place where your customers and potential customers come for information, insight and support. Achieve that, and you’ll start organically generating and nurturing right-fit leads in a way you’ll never manage by hammering on doors expecting to be let in.

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Published by Osian Barnes May 18, 2023
Osian Barnes