There is no escaping the fact that there has been a seismic shift in the way customers buy, and the manufacturing industry is no exception. Research shows nearly 90 per cent of B2B buyers begin by doing their own research online.
Manufacturers can no longer rely on a direct or distributor sales force to generate growth. Traditional sales and marketing tactics, such as print advertising, trade shows and cold calling don’t work like they used to. It is also difficult to calculate the ROI of such methods for manufacturing companies with typically long sales cycles. The famous quote: “I know that half the money I spend on advertising is wasted. My only problem is that I don’t know which half” rings very true. In an industry which relies heavily on measurability of processes and systems, this is something of a discord.
Some of the more modern marketing methods such as online paid advertising and pay-per-click promotion, while 100% measurable, only offer a short-term solution; the minute you stop pumping money into a PPC campaign the lead flow stops.
You need a different approach, and adopting an inbound marketing strategy could be the answer.
Sales need to position themselves more as advisors; providing informative and educational information to assist buyers in their decision-making process. Information that goes beyond what can be found online; that adds value, that addresses buyers’ needs, aspirations and fears. Only then can you begin to gain a buyer’s trust.
An inbound approach to sales and marketing focuses on creating relevant, high-quality content that pulls people to your company, attracting traffic that you can convert to leads and close to sales over time. So, it's perfect for the longer sales cycles associated with manufacturing. After all, long and complex sales cycles require strong relationships.
With an inbound strategy, you build a baseline to measure future progress more accurately - and specific, measurable and attainable goals. These goals inform the tactics you'll need to achieve these outcomes.
Follow these seven steps to develop your Inbound Marketing Strategy
1. Establish a baseline audit, goals and timelines
A strong, successful inbound marketing strategy should be based on clear business goals. In your manufacturing company, you probably rely on production forecasts based on sales figures to determine how much product to produce? You understand the importance of measuring your processes and systems? Well, your marketing should not be the exception.
To start measuring your marketing, you need to conduct a comprehensive baseline audit. Questions to consider are: how much monthly traffic does your website currently generate? How many visitors convert to leads? How many leads convert to customers, for example.
2. Explore your competitive landscape
In this new digital era, it is relatively easy to conduct research on your competitors and measure how you stack up. How many followers on social media do they have, and how active are they? Can you learn anything from their content – what offers do they have? How does their website compare to yours, not only in look and feel but also in performance?
3. Brand messaging and positioning
This is an area that can help manufacturers stand out from the crowd. Many businesses still think a brand is about logos and colour choices. But it goes much deeper than that. You need to dig deep and develop a core message that your customers relate to, that demonstrates who you are and what you stand for, and that stands you apart from the competition.
4. Define your Buyer Persona and Buyer’s Journey
To be able to create content that resonates with your customers, it is essential you first understand who your customers are. Buyer personas are representations of your target customers based on real-world information and educated guesses. Their likes, dislikes, habits, behaviours, motivations and concerns, as well as their job function, where they spend time online, decision criteria, and more.
Even if you only manufacture one product, you are still likely to have more than one persona. For example, the marketing or purchasing department is likely to be researching on the C-suites behalf, and both groups may have an influence on the final decision.
If you have a complex and varied product offering, you may have several personas that represent the different verticals you sell into. If your sales process relies on distributors, you may consider developing personas for both the distributors and the end customers.
The best way to define personas is to include as many of your key personnel as possible in the process. Devise and circulate questionnaires and once the responses are collated, organise a brainstorming session with your team to define your final personas and then circulate the final versions to all of your staff.
Inbound marketing cannot work without content. With typically long sales cycles in manufacturing, developing well-considered content at each step throughout the sales funnel enables you to develop multiple touch points with prospects, keeping you front of mind as they conduct their research.
Is your content well balanced, covering topics for each stage of the buyer’s journey? And is there a variety of formats? Not everyone has the time or patience for eBooks. Have you considered other formats such as quick guides, blogs, video and infographics?
Develop a content plan that plugs any gaps in your content offering, ensuring that you are writing with a persona in mind at all times. Identifying existing resource and potential budget for outsourcing here is important as content creation can be a challenge. Do you need to recruit someone, or possibly hire the services of a content writer?
6. Exploring optimal website performance
This is another area where many manufacturers fall down. It is not enough to have a visually appealing website or an online catalogue of your products. Your website needs to be about your customers, not your services, features and benefits.
In order to rank highly on Google there are some fundamental basics your content must include, such as keywords, H1 titles, meta descriptions and title tags. Your website must also be responsive and optimised for mobile, have sound security, a fast page load time, to name just a few.
By considering a platform such as HubSpot, you can take your website to a whole new level by using smart content. The smart content functionality in the HubSpot platform is a powerful tool that enables intelligent personalisation by data segmentation, device, location, persona type and lifecycle stage.
7. Close the loop with inbound sales enablement
Inbound marketing will generate new leads for your business, but the way in which your sales people deal with these new inbound leads may need to adapt. An inbound lead is more informed and more qualified than an outbound lead.
The final step of the inbound marketing strategy is to conduct an audit of your current sales process and look for areas of improvement. This could include reviewing your sales literature, product brochures, pricing guides. An alignment between sales and marketing is needed to ensure your marketing provides relevant content and enables Sales to focus on the prospects in their pipeline that will close.
Platforms such as HubSpot enable Sales to use event-triggered technology to spot the signs that someone is ready to buy and spend time with the right prospects.
Marketing teams can provide email templates for salespeople to use, and tools such as sequencing can automate follow up emails, so salespeople no longer need to keep track of follow-up with prospects.
Most modern CRM systems can record email correspondence and calls and log activity reducing the need for manual data entry.
By following these steps, you will build a strong inbound marketing strategy for your manufacturing company. Implementing an inbound strategy will help you to reach more of the right people, at the right time, on their terms. It will create a clear structure for your sales and marketing efforts from which you can build a strong inbound marketing foundation for your organisation.