Many manufacturing businesses have traditionally relied on a direct or distributor sales force to generate growth. The founders, especially 50+ years ago, were essentially inventors – solving customers' pain through developing innovative solutions to problems in a way the competition couldn't. They did not need a marketing department to succeed, just pure guts and determination.
This traditional approach has continued through the decades with the role of marketing failing to evolve much beyond product brochures, maintaining the company website and tradeshows. It is not surprising, therefore, that many CEOs do not understand what marketing can do to help grow the business.
Andrea Belk Olsen suggests that, while our grandfathers were the inventors of the past, marketing is now "the catalyst for invention, through customer insight and engagement".
Marketing can support sales by driving people to your website and guiding them through the sales funnel - eventually becoming ready to buy. Let's explore the three stages of the sales funnel and how marketing can help close leads to sales.
Not everyone who visits your website is ready to buy. A common pitfall is to only focus on bottom-of-the- funnel offers, such as "request a quotation" calls to action. Kevin Phillips, writing for The Sales Lion, uses the analogy of online dating to demonstrate the flaws in this approach: "You come across someone's dating profile, like what you see, learn a few things about them... so you contact them to propose you get married."
The goal at this stage is to draw traffic to your site and convert browsers into visitors, who read or download your content. Marketing needs to develop a clear keyword strategy, which gets your content in front of a wider audience.
Marketing can support sales by nurturing top-of-the-funnel leads with a diverse range of awareness stage content offers, such as blogs, eBooks, checklists and video. This should include a combination of gated and ungated content - depending on the value of the content being offered.
At this stage, the prospect may not yet be ready to speak to a salesperson; their pain might not be acute enough, or they may need to seek approval before moving to the next stage. The role of sales here is as a trusted advisor. Sales need to wait patiently, but remain available and ready to answer any questions the prospect might have.
The prospect is now prepared to identify themselves to your company by completing a form, in exchange for a piece of information, or TOFU content - but they are still not ready to be sold to.
This is the research/education stage, where the prospect has a better understanding of their needs and is beginning to educate themselves about available solutions. To continue the dating analogy, you've taken the prospect on a date or two; now they are ready to see your house, or maybe meet your friends. In a manufacturing context, content offers such as webinars, case studies, research reports and product videos work well here.
Any conversation at this stage needs to be exploratory, to determine if the prospect is a good fit for your product or company. Before sales consider picking up the phone, they need to do their research. HubSpot suggests there are 14 places to research a prospect before a sales call. Buyers no longer have the patience to answer basic questions, especially if the answers are readily accessible with the most cursory searching, nor do they have time to fill you in on their challenges (HubSpot).
The prospect has been wooed by your marketing efforts so far. They understand their requirements and are ready to make a decision. They may have a short list of providers to compare.
It is the language used on your site that will make all the difference at this stage of the process. It is still not a given that the prospect is ready to be sold to. Sales Hacker suggests the main reason prospects do not commit is doubt! They're scared to make a mistake. They're afraid of being wrong. If sales go in heavy handed now they are likely to scare the prospect away. Sales need to continue in their role as trusted advisors and actively listen to a prospect's doubts and provide solutions.
Well-crafted landing pages offering value orientated bottom-of-the-funnel offers, such as consultations, product demonstrations or free samples, are much more likely to achieve a higher conversion rate than a generic "request a quotation" form.
Marketing tactics to close leads to sales
Mike Lieberman suggests using several marketing tactics simultaneously:
- Effective lead nurturing: even your best prospects, who become sales-qualified leads, might not be ready to buy immediately. But by nurturing them, you provide additional insights, you help them see challenges and the true cost of those inefficiencies, and you continue to remind them of the solutions.
- Highly efficient sales process: giving [sales] the processes, technology and tools to move those prospects along quickly and efficiently and in a way that helps them feel safe with your company will produce more opportunities.
- Lead scoring and attribution insights: create a scoring model to help you focus your attention on the best prospects with the most opportunity. Lead scoring can be based on demographic information or psychographic information like attitudes, opinions or past behaviours.
Importance of marketing data
Marketing can use analytic tools to measure: website traffic, user intent, click-through rates, conversion rates and bounce rates. Along with a deep understanding of your buyers personas, market sector and competitors, this data can help you make marketing and sales decisions not based on gut feelings and past experiences, but rather on live prospect behavioural data (Mike Lieberman).
This data can also inform manufacturing decisions by highlighting potential product improvements, innovations for new products and on building an ironclad forecasting process for the factories.
The landscape is changing. Industry 4.0 is looming, global competition is growing, budgets are tightening. Inbound marketing helps you to get found online, earns you permission to connect, builds trust and authority, and, ultimately, delivers marketing qualified leads to your sales team. Developing an inbound marketing strategy could make the difference to your manufacturing company's legacy lasting another generation.