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How Industrial Content Marketing Increases Awareness and Creates True Differentiation

Industrial content marketing can be very effective in solving two common problems that many manufacturers and distributors face. They are:

  1. Lack of awareness about them among engineers and industrial buyers
  2. Inability to differentiate themselves from the competition

Given the fact that today’s industrial buyers prefer to do their own research and rely more on a variety of digital tools, it is critical for these industrial companies to address these two problems because they have a negative impact on their sales. The second problem is more acute among distributors because more often than not, their website content is mainly copy and pasted text from their principal manufacturer’s site.

Industrial content marketing usage and effectiveness

Needless to say, these industrial companies are eager for marketing solutions. They are aware of industrial content marketing and want to implement it, but I’m not sure they understand its full impact and are struggling to use it effectively to meet their goals. I say that based on my daily conversations with manufacturers and distributors from various industries.

That is not just my opinion, take a look at these two charts from 2016 B2B Manufacturing Content Marketing Trends Report from the Content Marketing Institute.

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Industrial Content Marketing Boosts Sales for Distributors

industrial content marketing attracts customersMy conversations with distributors about industrial content marketing almost always start with them needing help in growing their sales. That should come as no surprise.

The real problem however lies in the definition of the problem itself. Most distributors define their problem as “lack of sales.” The solution therefore must be this new-fangled thing called “industrial content marketing” since traditional tactics like cold calling, e-mail blasts and print ads are no longer producing satisfactory results.

So with that mindset, they want to dive right into creating content. The assumption is that the more content they publish, the easier it will be for their target audience to find them in search engines and once they arrive at their site, visitors will be ready to talk to their sales team. (See How Industrial Companies are Stuck on SEO for Content Marketing Strategy).

I wish it were that easy. Conversion optimization is a completely different challenge from discovery optimization even though they are related.

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Sabotaging Industrial Marketing Hurts Sales

Industrial marketing must drive salesWhat is the real purpose of industrial marketing? One can come up with a list of at least half a dozen or more excellent goals. IMO, the single most important function is that it must help drive sales and grow revenues.

I agree the journey is not straightforward from point A to point to B, especially in industrial sales where the sales cycles are typically 4 to 12 months long and there are several decision makers involved, some of whom may never interact with your marketing content.

Within manufacturing and industrial companies, I am seeing some real issues where industrial marketing is hampered and as a result, there is a negative impact on sales and revenues. These problems go beyond the typical marketing cutbacks in a difficult economy.

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Industrial Marketing, Lead Generation and Sales: It’s Complicated

Industrial marketing is complicatedRemember this rom-com from 2009? Despite the critics giving it mixed reviews, it went on to gross $219.1 million worldwide. A hit movie for sure.

Sometimes I feel the same way about industrial marketing for lead generation and its relationship to sales – It’s Complicated!

Every industrial company I talk to wants more leads at a lower cost per lead. Yet, very few have a formal process in place to measure marketing’s contribution to sales and revenue.

It is easy to measure data points such as Visitors, Pageviews, Pages/Visits etc. and downloads but it is not easy to tie them back to actual sales. Measuring ROI or ROMI sounds good in theory but difficult to accurately measure in the real world. According to some marketing pundits, these may be too simplistic to understand marketing’s full impact on sales.

Here are two sobering findings from a 2013 survey done by the B2B Technology Marketing Community on LinkedIn and managed by Holger Schulze (@HolgerSchulze).

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Content Marketing Must Go Beyond Inbound Marketing in Industrial Sales

There is quite a bit of confusion among my industrial clients about the terms Inbound Marketing and Content Marketing. For many, the two are synonymous and it is just a matter of semantics. IMO, Content Marketing goes well beyond Inbound Marketing.

The classic definition of Inbound Marketing focuses on the top of the sales funnel (ToFU) and is built on the principle of being found in search engines and social media, attracting traffic and converting visitors into leads with relevant content. All worthwhile goals and takes a lot of hard work to accomplish them. However, you are likely to be very disappointed if your industrial marketing stayed focused only on ToFU.

I prefer the broader definition of Content Marketing because it addresses every phase of the buyer’s journey, both before and after the sale. I found a very fitting football analogy by Joe Pulizzi (@juntajoe) – the Founder of the Content Marketing Institute and the author of the books Managing Content Marketing and Get Content Get Customers, in a blog post Joe wrote, “If content marketing were a football field, inbound marketing would get you to the 35-yard line. Definitely critical, but hard to score from that distance.”

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Inbound Marketing won’t Boost Short-term Sales for Industrial Companies

Inbound marketing is a frequent topic of discussion in my daily conversations with Owners, CEOs and Business Development professionals from manufacturing and industrial companies. Irrespective of the size of the company, they all have one thing in common – they want to boost sales as quickly as possible.

These industrial professionals have heard about inbound marketing being the “in” thing these days from marketing consultants like me and from other sources. However, it is a shock to them when I tell them “Inbound marketing is not a short-term fix. It is a long journey.”

They don’t want to hear that, they want their phones to start ringing, RFQs coming in and their sales team involved in deep conversations within 30 days.

Those are unrealistic expectations in my opinion. Here’s why; unlike a one-off ad or direct mail campaign, inbound marketing requires assessment of your current marketing programs to identify weaknesses, developing a strategic plan of action, implementing tactics, auditing existing content to identify gaps, creating new content and repurposing old ones, tracking, measuring and refining the process. These steps take time, at least six months for all the moving parts to mesh together like a finely tuned engine that will drive lead generation and generate sales.

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E-commerce: An Important Channel for Industrial Sales

I am seeing more and more manufacturers and industrial distributors using e-commerce as a sales channel for growth. The adoption rate has been much slower as compared to the online retail industry but B2B marketers are catching on fast.

According to a survey conducted in 2011 by BtoB and Rainmarker Systems, while only 35% of B2B marketers are involved with selling directly online, 58% of those companies have an increasing commitment to the channel.

Manufacturers have used e-commerce to sell components, spare parts and off the shelf industrial products for a long time. However, I have noticed a growing trend among industrial companies using e-commerce as their primary sales channel.

Industrial sales are different from online consumer retailing and so the e-commerce experience has to be different too. Manufacturers and industrial companies need to be mindful of differences such as:

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Inbound Marketing Must Set the Table for Industrial Sales

In my conversations with industrial companies about inbound marketing, I find my audience agreeing with me up to a certain point and then there is a big disconnect.

I see heads nodding in face-to-face meetings or hear plenty of “Uh-huhs” on the phone when I talk about the benefits of inbound marketing. They agree it helps them get found in search engines early and often, drives hordes of traffic to their site and fills the top of their funnel with qualified leads at a lower cost per lead.

Then comes the silence because they are having trouble connecting the dots between inbound marketing and sales.

I can’t help but think that the person at the other end is silently telling me, “Show Me the Money!” just like in the movie Jerry Maguire.

This is when I have to take a step back and start talking about how the job of inbound marketing does not end with lead generation but extends into setting the table for sales so they can be more productive.

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Have Digital Marketing and Social Media Killed the Industrial Sales Job?

Remember the very first music video ever played on MTV? It was called “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the British band The Buggles and was aired at 0001 hours on August 1, 1981, the day the cable station was launched in the U.S. Every disruptive technology is known to cause major upheavals in any industry. And digital marketing and social media are as disruptive as they come.

Even though the widespread adoption of social media in industrial marketing has been slower than general B2B and B2C marketing, it has had a serious impact on industrial sales, especially on the traditional role of the outside sales rep.

Digital marketing has also changed how industrial and technical buyers behave, search and consume information that they need at different stages of the buy cycle. They are time-challenged and want to interact with salespeople based only on their needs and schedules.

The impact of digital marketing on complex sales

I am deliberately making a distinction here between simple transactional sales and complex industrial or technical sales. The first type uses a self-serve model and is typically completed in the very first sales interaction, be it in person or online.

Complex industrial sales require many face-to-face meetings with several stakeholders within the customer’s organization. Often closing the deal requires participation by many members of your sales team. Read more