Industrial content marketing success for most manufacturers and other industrial companies is usually measured by an increase in the number of RFQs/RFPs. Arguments about quality vs. quantity tend to fall on deaf ears because these companies with long sales cycles need a certain volume of quotes to keep their pipelines full and active.
Often, their stated goal for content marketing is “We want to increase awareness among engineers and industrial buyers and generate new contacts.” You’ve probably heard the same or something similar if you are part of an in-house marketing department or an outside industrial marketing consultant like me.
On the surface, it looks like a well-defined marketing goal but if you look closely, you’ll see that it takes many interim steps between raising awareness and converting traffic into qualified leads. It is this lack of understanding of what it takes to go from point A to point B that causes owners and decision makers at these industrial companies to get frustrated from the lack of quick results and shocked by the price tag.
Growing pains in industrial content marketing
According to Engineering360’s online survey addressing the marketing trends, challenges and expenditures within the engineering, technical, manufacturing and industrial companies, thirty-nine percent were just getting started with content marketing and only 12 percent can show how content marketing contributes to sales.
The 2016 B2B Manufacturing Content Marketing Trends found that 50% of manufacturing marketers are in the Young to First Steps phase.
Time crunch in industrial content marketing
The fact is it takes a lot of time to create a variety of content assets for every stage of the buy cycle, repurpose them into different formats and then distribute the content via channels most often used by engineers and industrial buyers. No wonder my clients almost always ask me how much time they would need to spend on their end even though I’m doing the bulk of the work as an outsourced provider of industrial content marketing services. They just don’t have the internal bandwidth and neither do they want their in-house subject matter experts (SMEs) tied up in marketing. That’s not their day job!
Now factor in the time to develop a thoroughly vetted and documented industrial content marketing strategy that must come before implementing any tactics. Strategy development itself has many steps such as auditing existing content, identify gaps, creating buyer personas, recognizing their challenges and you need the time and the knowledge to measure the right KPIs in order to refine your strategy and tactics regularly.
It is definitely worth it though, even if the to-do list is long and can be overwhelming. According to the IHS Engineering360 Industrial Buy Cycle Survey, 83 percent of buyers review up to three pieces of content before making a decision on purchases under $1,000, while 70 percent of buyers review four or more pieces of content on purchases greater than $10,000.
Here is an example from ThomasNet that shows how content addresses the needs of the buyer at every stage of a long and complex industrial sales cycle involving multiple decision makers.
Industrial content marketing for sales enablement
There are two common complaints about industrial content marketing that I hear from manufacturers and engineering companies. They are:
- It is impossible for them to generate sales qualified leads (SQLs) without first having a conversation with a lead.
- They don’t want to wait for their audience to find their content, they want to reach out to people and companies they already know. (Industrial companies usually deal with a small pool of known prospects that are a good fit for their products and services).
The truth is that industrial content marketing cannot do it all on its own. I say that based on my 25+ years of hands-on experience in industrial lead generation.
Building a database of contacts with top of the funnel (ToFU) leads primarily from content downloads isn’t enough. Most manufacturers, distributors and engineering companies do not consider it a lead until they receive an email with product or application specifications and an inquiry for viable solutions. For them a lead is not a lead unless it is an RFQ/RFP. (See In Industrial Lead Generation, a Lead is a Lead, Right?).
Lead nurturing vs. lead qualifying
Marketing Automation is a big help in creating drip marketing campaigns for lead nurturing and scoring leads based on pre-set rules of interactions, but you still need a structured process to determine if an inquiry is a viable project or a massive engineering change order. There is a big difference between nurturing leads versus qualifying leads that can turn into sales opportunities and profitable customers.
Qualifying requires direct interaction with the customer by someone like an in-house Applications Engineer to make that evaluation and provide a crucial human touch. I call it the critical “last mile service.” Industrial content marketing helps you create more opportunities for productive conversations necessary in industrial sales.
The ultimate goal in industrial content marketing is to get to that RFQ or RFP but you will struggle if you are using that as the sole criterion for a qualified lead. Discovery optimization and conversion optimization are related but are completely different, requiring different content marketing strategies and tactics.
For more on this, take a look at two of my earlier posts, Industrial Content Marketing’s Role in Sales and How Manufacturing Content Marketing Sets the Table for Sales.
Making a business case for industrial content marketing
Traditionally, manufacturers and distributors have relied on adding more sales people in an effort to increase sales. Content marketing does cost money and it takes time to produce results. However, that is no different from hiring a new sales person who could take anywhere from 8 to 12 months to ramp up and you still have to pay that person while s/he is not being particularly productive. Traditional ways of marketing also take time to build relationships. (See Digital Marketing for Manufacturers: Making a Business Case).
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, industrial content marketing is not a quick fix for sagging sales.