What is B2B Manufacturing?
B2B manufacturers cover a wide range of companies - from niche CNC machining firms to giant ODMs building white-label products. They can be ‘turn key’ EMS (Electronic Manufacturing Services) providers, designing and manufacturing cutting-edge devices in collaboration with innovators. Or they can be hyper-scale operators like Foxconn who assemble and distribute millions of consumer products on behalf of iconic B2C brands.
These companies are OEMs, CEMs, private label manufacturers, EMS providers, component makers and packaging specialists - and their number includes:
Jabil, Flex Ltd, Foxconn, Wistron, Rheinmetall AG, Sanmina, Compal Electronics and FANUC computing, to name just a few.
But while these companies differ wildly in size and specialism - they have one thing in common. They’re not exactly household names.
Why marketing for manufacturers is different
As the loyal partners of other brands, B2B manufacturers have traditionally flown beneath the radar.
It’s the way clients liked it, and their suppliers obliged - choosing, instead, to become the unsung heroes of industrial growth.
But for many manufacturers, this status as discrete middlemen has placed them on the sales and marketing back foot. While Tier 1 companies dominate markets by virtue of their size, others have become increasingly invisible and interchangeable in fiercely competitive global marketplaces.
With their ‘supplier status’ many B2B manufacturers have struggled with differentiation. Invisibility in the market has made it harder for them to generate demand and nurture potential leads.
Just look at the sales and marketing collateral in the sector. It’s the same old story. Websites are often no more than brochure-ware. Blogs and social media make announcements about client wins, services offered, and not much more.
But in the world of Industry 5.0, customers are demanding more from their manufacturing partners. They need leadership and education around the opportunities of AI, green tech, additive manufacturing, supply chain navigation and a thousand other topics.
And most manufacturers have not risen to the challenge.
Marketing strategies have not evolved, and marketing tech has not been exploited effectively.
It’s left many manufacturers unresponsive to customer needs and slow to adapt to market change. For many, it’s left promising sales opportunities untapped and caused growth to flatline.
B2B sales and marketing challenges in manufacturing
The challenges that face different B2B manufacturers are not all the same - and some are feeling the heat of the ‘undifferentiated middle’ more than others. But most industrial companies are looking for new ways to grow and face off potential disruption.
The differentiation dilemma
ODMs and OEMs own the IP that can differentiate them in the marketplace. If you’re ASML and you are the only company in the world that makes the extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUV) machines that are required for semiconductor production, then your value proposition is obvious.
But contract manufacturers’ offerings can be more undifferentiated.
The client concentration conundrum
Specialist equipment manufacturers often struggle to expand their client base and find new ways to grow - leaving them at risk when they lose key clients. Contract manufacturers can also find themselves focused on servicing a small number of demanding customers at the expense of building their pipeline. Even Tier 1 EMS providers like Foxconn are challenged by over-dependence on single ‘hero clients’.
Attracting the right clients
Private label manufacturers might be able to achieve quicker sales and turn around orders more rapidly because they’re selling generic products.
But OEMS and turnkey contract manufacturers working with innovating brands need to develop deeper relationships to sell more complex products. The deals they are seeking can be large, but timescales can be long. They need to attract, identify and convince multiple contacts buried deep in organisations - and they need to nurture and convert these relationships over time.
Decoding the modern marketing maze
In an ‘on-demand’ world, buyers are harder to reach and harder to engage than ever before. Outbound marketing is often a bust with manufacturers - who consciously avoid and reject sales contact. But choosing the right channels to reach and engage with ‘right fit’ prospects is challenging when media habits are so fragmented and individual.
Adapting to market change
No business can afford to stand still in a world where competitive threats can blow up seemingly overnight. In the manufacturing industry, there is always challenger tech emerging that can threaten business in previously uncontested spaces. Even the semiconductor foundries of Taiwan are seeing their monopoly threatened as big tech brands look to take their own chip design and production in-house. Manufacturers need to be constantly looking ahead, testing new markets, and able to identify and pivot to new opportunities. To avoid disruption and keep generating demand, they need to be customer-oriented.
The power of brand value
In a world where perception can drive value, how do contract manufacturers craft a compelling and distinct brand narrative? The contract manufacturing landscape is crowded. Having a strong product or service is just the starting point. The real challenge lies in crafting a compelling brand narrative that resonates with potential clients and sets you apart from competitors.
The manufacturer’s buyers’ journey got more complex
In case you hadn’t noticed, B2B manufacturing buying decisions have become complex.
As the devices companies are designing, have become more sophisticated - buyer’s choices and questions have multiplied.
And it’s making decision-making a lot harder and a lot longer…
Gartner says the typical B2B buyer’s journey now has six stages.
- Problem Identification
- Solution Exploration
- Requirements Building
- Supplier Selection
- Consensus Creation
And they’re not linear. They’re crossing over, looping back and circling around. They’re terminating at key moments and shooting off in all directions. They can’t be contained in standard workflows.
In these industries, sales and marketing must operate in parallel, not serial, fashion.
But many manufacturers haven’t got the strategy or tech stack in place to navigate and control interactions with these buying networks.
Industrial marketers are getting left behind
Right now, manufacturers are going all out on the digitisation of production lines and supplier management to meet these new customer demands. They’re looking to use AI, Quantum computing, robotics and additive manufacturing to collapse timelines and de-risk supply chains.
But while these companies have been digitising and automating production, they’ve not been doing the same with their marketing and sales capabilities.
There’s an imbalance between technical and marketing investment that is leaving them ill-equipped to deal with complex buyer networks.
- 93% of companies believe AI will be pivotal technology for driving growth and innovation (Deloitte)
- The AI market in manufacturing is expected to grow from $2.3 billion in 2022 to an anticipated $16.3 billion by 2027 (Manufacturing)
- The average supply chain has a digitisation rate of 43% (McKinsey)
Why marketing is central to manufacturing growth
With limited growth options for manufacturing companies in a crowded and mature market - mergers & acquisitions can often seem the only way to continue growing your business.
But if manufacturers are going to attract the right investment for the future, they need to ensure they have the strategies in place to keep generating demand and build more sustainable pipelines.
Right now, many manufacturers are relying on the sales team to fill pipelines, chasing harder-to-reach leads with only pricing levers to win new business. They’re using marketers to help run the same outbound campaigns and produce collateral for the same old trade fairs.
With complex buying networks, long buying cycles and emerging markets to navigate, this approach can only yield diminishing returns.
Sales teams can’t plot a growth strategy without pooling their insights around customer needs with marketing and account management teams. Sales and marketing alignment is central to identifying changing customer needs and new opportunities. And marketing is critical to developing the content that speaks directly to these needs.
But to achieve all this, manufacturers need a market-oriented rather than a service-oriented approach. They need a customer-first marketing strategy.
For many companies, this requires a complete sea-change in thinking about the role of marketing in their organisation - where marketers are deeply involved in:
Building a growth-driven manufacturing marketing strategy
Together, commercial teams need to understand how their capabilities match customer needs so they can generate demand and build more sustainable pipelines.
Market research and sizing
A customer-focused, sales and marketing-led approach to growth challenges can uncover new and unexploited opportunities. Market research and sizing can reveal opportunities - identifying untapped opportunities and highlighting where your business can make a significant impact.
Understanding the target audience and buyer personas
Deep knowledge and research about ideal customer profiles and buyer personas can show you how to reach and market to them more successfully. It’s not just about knowing who they are but understanding their pain points, needs, and how your manufacturing solutions can address them.
Understanding your competitors is as crucial as understanding your customers. Identify your closest competitors and consider where the unique strengths and weaknesses in these rival offerings lie. By analysing competitors, you can identify gaps in the market, benchmark your offerings, and differentiate your brand.
Crafting a unique value proposition
Every manufacturer has something unique to offer, but understanding and articulating that uniqueness is where many fall short. Questions to ask yourself are:
- What specific value do you bring to your customers when they engage with your manufacturing company?
- How do you address their challenges and pain points more effectively than your competitors?
Armed with this information, manufacturers can understand the unique value they represent to their ideal customers and the buyers they are selling to. There are lots of tools that can help manufacturers identify their customers’ fundamental needs and map them against their products and services to define their unique value proposition. The value proposition canvas (invented by Strategzer) is a simple but powerful tool to help with this process.
Begin with understanding your customer's 'jobs to be done' (JTBD) - the core tasks they aim to achieve with your business, which can be functional, social, or emotional. For instance, an OEM might aim to deliver products on time, maintain quality, and win suitable clients. They face challenges like factory upkeep costs and supply chain management but can gain benefits like meeting quality targets and focusing on sales.
The value proposition canvas helps manufacturers map out how their offerings alleviate these challenges and provide these benefits. By aligning their services with the customer's JTBD, manufacturers position themselves as a unique solution in the market, transcending commodity status and establishing a competitive edge.
With all this in place, manufacturers can develop a marketing strategy focused on growth.
Creating a compelling B2B manufacturing brand
A compelling brand can differentiate you from your competitors, build customer loyalty, and drive business growth.
The importance of brand identity in manufacturing
Contract manufacturers need to transition from being invisible suppliers to proactive partners.
This transformation requires a customer-oriented, digitised, and data-driven approach, aligning sales, marketing, and account management towards common goals.
But the cornerstone of this change is the brand.
A strong brand identity is more than just the image you project. It includes a deliberate choice about how you will conduct your business and how you will appear to anyone considering partnering with you. This involves being clear about your company's mission, vision, and values.
Establishing a strong brand position
Brand positioning involves understanding your brand's unique place and purpose in the market. It can help you tell the stories that will win the attention of right-fit OEMs and engage them over long and complex sales cycles.
You need to know your particular strengths and express them to customers in a way that makes sense to them. They aren't just buying a solution from you. They are buying every aspect of how you deliver that solution.
Armed with your ideal customer profile, your competitor research and your value map, you can clearly see the position in the market where you will be able to thrive. This is the clear ‘blue ocean’, the place where you can successfully grow your brand away from predation by competitors, confident in the value you alone can offer your customers:
Developing brand messaging
Your brand messaging communicates your brand identity and helps potential customers decide whether you can meet their needs. It should attract OEMs whose problems you can solve while subtly signalling to unsuitable OEMs that you would not be a good partner for them.
It should include information about how your specific services and company culture alleviates the customer pains you have identified. Be explicit about customer gains and what it is that you are uniquely able to provide.
The blueprint for an effective B2B manufacturing website design
Your website is more than just a digital business card. It's a pivotal tool that can make or break potential partnerships.
Designing user-friendly manufacturing websites
Intuitive navigation, responsive design and fast-loading times are all important. But a user-friendly design isn't just about aesthetics. It's about creating a holistic digital experience that resonates with visitors and builds trust.
This means taking a customer-centric approach. Creating a successful manufacturing website isn’t about showcasing your company’s achievements but about addressing the needs and concerns of the OEMs you want to work with. By focusing on User Experience (UX) design, you can put customers first by creating a flow and journey that is meaningful and relevant.
Iterating designs and optimising conversion rates with growth driven design
Growth Driven Design (GDD) is a dynamic approach to website design that emphasises continuous improvement and agility. It involves constantly researching, testing and learning about visitors to your website to inform a programme of continuous improvements.
Instead of relying on assumptions, GDD focuses on real user data to guide design changes. This ensures that every tweak or overhaul addresses genuine user needs and preferences.
For example, by monitoring the percentage of visitors who take a desired action (like signing up for a newsletter or downloading an ebook), you can gauge the effectiveness of calls-to-action and other conversion elements and make tweaks as you see fit.
Mastering content marketing for manufacturers
Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach that focuses on creating content (like blogs, guides and videos) to attract, engage, and retain right-fit customers - and ultimately drive revenue.
On average, content marketing strategies cost 62% less than traditional B2B marketing programmes, while generating approximately three times the volume of leads - Content Marketing Institute (CMI)
Inbound marketing as the bedrock
Inbound marketing serves as the foundation for content marketing, emphasising the attraction of right-fit customers through genuine value rather than direct promotion.
While content marketing provides the means - the blogs, guides, videos and other content - inbound marketing provides the strategy that guides how, when and why this content is produced and shared.
Leveraging content marketing to generate leads and nurture relationships
Content marketing isn't just about producing content. It's about creating value. By addressing the pain points and needs of potential clients, your content can serve as a magnet, attracting and retaining interest. Over time, this not only generates leads but also nurtures existing relationships, positioning your business as a trusted partner in your industry.
Creating valuable content for each stage of the buyer's journey
Every potential client is on a journey, from becoming aware of a problem to considering different solutions, and finally, to making a decision.
Tailoring content to each of these stages ensures that you're addressing the specific needs and concerns of OEMs at each particular phase.
- At the Awareness stage: Create content that educates about the basics of contract manufacturing, industry trends, and challenges.
- At the Consideration stage: Create content that digs deeper into possible solutions, showcasing how they can address specific challenges.
- At the Decision stage: Create detailed case studies, testimonials, and comparisons that help potential clients choose your services confidently.
Utilising different content formats
By producing content assets across a range of mediums, you will engage customers in ways they value. At a time when noise is the enemy, this matters.
- Blogging: Make your website a valuable resource for customers through regular blogging.
- Pillar pages and topic clusters: Craft a central resource page, or pillar page, that delves deeply into a topic and links to related high-quality content, enhancing SERP rankings.
- Podcasts: Elevate your insight and knowledge in more digestible formats.
- Webinars: Educate, inform, or persuade potential customers about a particular topic.
- Research-based content: Conduct research on important issues for customers and share the results.
- Reports and guides: Create long-form content that provides in-depth information on a specific topic relevant to your audience.
- Magazines: While most content has gone digital, print provides an extraordinary opportunity to cut through.
- Video: Ideas include video demos, expert interviews, educational and explainer episodes, case studies, event promotion and sales videos.
Distributing and promoting content effectively
Creating content is just half the battle. Ensuring it reaches the right audience is equally critical.
- Social media: Share and promote content on platforms where your potential clients are active.
- Email marketing: Regular newsletters can keep your audience updated with the latest content.
- SEO: Optimise content for search engines to ensure it ranks well and attracts organic traffic.
- Paid advertising: Boost reach and visibility for key pieces of content through targeted ads.
Social media marketing for B2B manufacturing companies
By strategically positioning your company on the right social media platforms, you can connect with OEMs, showcase your expertise, and drive meaningful business engagements.
Selecting the appropriate social media platforms
Where are OEMs spending their time? As a contract manufacturer, LinkedIn is likely to be the most important social media platform for you. But you may also want to consider other social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, TikTok or Facebook.
Creating engaging and shareable content on social media
Focus on creating posts that resonate with your audience. Think informative articles about industry trends, infographics breaking down complex processes, and videos showcasing machinery in action. The goal is to provide value, encourage shares, and foster engagement.
Leveraging paid advertising channels for targeted reach
Organic reach is valuable, but paid advertising can supercharge your efforts. LinkedIn and Facebook offer targeted advertising options, allowing you to reach specific demographics, job roles, or even particular companies. By investing in paid campaigns, you can ensure your content reaches those who matter most, driving more qualified leads.
Analysing and optimising social media campaigns
Don’t forget to regularly review the performance metrics of your posts and campaigns. Social media platforms provide insights into engagement rates, click-throughs, and even conversion metrics. By analysing this data, you can refine your strategies, optimise content for better performance, and ensure a higher return on investment.
Account-Based Marketing for B2B manufacturing companies
With long sales cycles, a one-size-fits-all marketing approach often falls short. Account-Based Marketing (ABM) is a focused strategy that treats individual accounts as unique markets.
Understanding the concept and benefits of ABM
ABM is a targeted sales approach that concentrates resources on a set of ideal customers. Using highly personalised campaigns, it attracts, engages, and converts pre-identified key accounts to secure transformative revenue growth.
Contract manufacturers must often persuade complex networks of engineers and other specialists to engage with them, typically months or even years before they are actually ready to buy. A personalised approach may be required to get your message through.
Identifying high-value target accounts
The success of ABM hinges on finding the right accounts to target. Start by analysing your current customer base to identify characteristics of your most profitable and long-term clients. Consider factors like company size and past purchase behaviour. Collaborate with sales teams to create a list of potential high-value targets that align with these criteria.
Creating personalised marketing strategies for key accounts
Once you have identified the high-value target accounts, the next step is to implement the ABM strategy. This involves creating tailored campaigns for each target account. This can mean creating personalised content and leveraging multi-channel marketing. To be effective, ABM will require a close alignment between sales and marketing teams.
Measuring and evaluating ABM effectiveness
The goal of an ABM strategy is to close big deals. It takes more time and effort, and there’s a lot riding on it as a result. So it’s important to measure and report on your efforts. Track key metrics such as engagement, conversion rates, and ROI. Use these metrics to optimise your campaigns and improve your ABM strategy.
Taking a Revenue Operations approach to growing the business
Revenue Operations (also known as RevOps) ensures alignment and accountability across the three departments responsible for driving revenue - sales, marketing, and customer service.
Moving from traditional sales operations to a RevOps model:
A successful RevOps model is focused around three pillars:
- Process: RevOps creates uniform processes to foster accountability and trust. As your teams combine to convert prospects into customers, you will see shorter sales cycles, improved retention, and a higher volume of upsells.
- People: You need people to bring together and manage your process and platforms - this may be a specific RevOps team, or accountabilities may be distributed amongst existing team members.
- Platform: Access to accurate information is key to success. By connecting and aligning your technology, you create a clear and precise story around your revenue pipeline, so your teams have clear directions for how they can impact the pipeline.
The alignment of processes, people and platforms in the RevOps model leads to maximised revenue. It ensures that all teams are working together to optimise the customer journey and drive growth. And as the business grows, the RevOps model ensures that operations are streamlined and aligned across all teams, enabling the business to scale efficiently.
So now you know how to get your B2B manufacturing marketing off the ground. But what are your options for implementing it all?
Do it yourself
You could take control of your digital marketing strategy by making it a focus for your existing marketing team. While keeping it in-house means you have full control over where your efforts are focused, success will be dependent on having the right skills and expertise.
Hire someone in-house
Maybe you don’t have an existing marketing team or individual responsible for marketing within your company. You may therefore decide to look for outside help and hire a Marketing Manager to join your company who can take control of the strategy and build a team around them.
Hire an external manufacturing marketing agency
A marketing agency works with a variety of clients. Sometimes they will work with clients across a broad range of industries, but ideally, you will want one who specialises in manufacturing marketing. The agency will help you create the strategy and deliver the tactics needed to achieve your goals.
A marketing agency will work with you on an ongoing basis, often as an extension of your team. However, employing an agency does come with some management requirements. And as with any supplier relationship, you will need to ensure they understand your business goals and maintain a high-quality level of work.
In this ebook, we’ve explored how the ‘servant status’ of contract manufacturers has led to struggles with differentiation, visibility in the market, and the generation of demand. And how this has caused promising sales opportunities to be left untapped and growth to stagnate.
We’ve proposed that the only way out of this deadlock is to adopt a growth-driven B2B marketing strategy. By identifying your unique value proposition, creating a compelling brand, building an effective website, leveraging content marketing, social media campaigns, ABM and a RevOps model, manufacturers can overcome these challenges and drive sustainable growth.