B2B Marketing Guide
Influencing the industrial buying process
Today’s digital world has led to changes in the buying methods used by industrial professionals. According to the study IEEE Globalspec Digital Media Use in the Industrial Sector, 52% of experts, engineers and buying departments do not contact suppliers until the final phases of the sales cycle. Another study, published by LinkedIn, revealed that 90% of buyers fail to react to unsolicited sales contacts.
When referring to industrial companies, we like to include more than the traditional secondary sector. We believe that mining and resource exploitation businesses (fishing, forestry and agriculture, etc.), outsourcing, software and construction services all face the same challenges as companies operating in the metal and timber sectors and specialised engineering or infrastructure concerns including ports, water and energy. Indeed, they all need a specialised industrial marketing approach. Read on to find out more.
Information for professionals
Buyers conduct their own information searches, assessing suppliers and collaborators long before making any initial contact. This means that there is work to be done to ensure that potential clients not only hear about you, but also do so sufficiently in advance in order to influence the process. In other words, making sure your information is uppermost in their minds.
It is clear that industrial product and service buyers’ behaviour is radically different from that of retail consumers, and therefore also requires a different marketing approach. Indeed, industrial buyers display a series of clearly differential features.
INDUSTRIAL BUYERS ARE LOOKING FOR SOMETHING (VERY) SPECIFIC
Mass outbound marketing and advertising fail when each buyer has highly specific technical requirements and needs. A successful industrial marketing strategy demands precision when transmitting messages and a niche approach.
BUYERS RESEARCH LONG BEFORE MAKING THEIR BUYING DECISIONS
Large-scale B2B industrial buying is characterised by long sales cycles involving considerable investments, as well as numerous professionals and departments. As a result, the buying decision is often preceded by in-depth buyer research.
THE INITIAL CONTACT DOES NOT ALWAYS MAKE THE FINAL DECISION
Very often, the person who makes the initial contact is not responsible for making the final decision. An engineer, plant manager or member of a department is only seeking answers to questions, solutions to problems, partners and suppliers. Before attempting to close a sale, it is essential to gain their trust and confidence.
BUYING REQUIRES MAINTAINING LONG-TERM RELATIONSHIPS
In the case of sales cycles that last for several months, maintaining good relations is essential in order to remain on the buyers’ radar, gain their trust and be of ongoing use. It is therefore essential to generate and hold interest for the weeks and months during which the entire process unfolds.
Adapting to the industrial sales cycle
As with many other B2B operations, the industrial buying process can be broken down into several phases. Once the buyer detects a need, the buying process takes place over three clearly differentiated phases, as shown in the following table.
|Phase||Buyer’s Need||Marketing Strategy|
|Research||Research is the initial phase of a process in order to solve a problem, find answers or seek suppliers.||Sellers have to work hard to ensure that they are identified quickly, turning them into the first reference. The sooner they are located, the greater their influence on the sales process will be.|
|Assessment||Buyers start to filter and rule out products and services, following an in-depth analysis into each.||Sellers must provide the best possible information, delivering quality and informative content to ensure that buyers consider their brands as potentially useful. At this phase, having a customer-oriented website and a finely-tuned communication strategy is essential.|
|Buying||Buyers have already made their purchasing decisions.||In order to close the deal, the marketing team must work closely with the sales team right through to the end.|
Buyers’ motivation varies considerably at each of the three buying phases, requiring careful planning in order to meet their needs and deliver the solutions they require at any given time.
Identify the buyers
Who is involved in the buying process in the companies with the capacity to acquire your products or services? Are they engineers in search of data? Are they buying departments on the hunt for offers? Or the owners of businesses seeking long-term partnerships?
Determine buyers’ needs
What specific problems are they seeking answers to? What are the challenges facing them? What kind of solutions do they think they need? What kind of solutions do they actually need?
Find out where the answers lie
You have to be where the professional buyers in your sector are searching. Of course, this means Google, but also specialised directories, sector-specific journals and online catalogues.
Determine their exact needs
What keywords are they using in their searches? Are they searching by product? Service? Problem? Solution? Real data available via sources such as the Google Ads Keyword Planner can provide the answers to these questions.
Answer their questions
There is no better place than your own website to respond to FAQs and offer solutions via copy, visual or reading content. Quality informative content really does help your buyers and will generate trust and confidence naturally, free from the tensions surrounding advertising and promotions.
Convert your website traffic into buyers
Website traffic starts off as anonymous visitors whose contact details are unknown to you. It is therefore vital to start a personal dialogue before these anonymous visitors abandon your website, never to return. Your visitors will become potential customers if you offer that extra something that will encourage them to give you their contact details, enabling you to take control of the sales conversation.
Get to know your buyer persona
It is essential to distinguish between accounts and buyers. In this sense, it is important to realise that your customer is never Company X, but rather the person within that organisation who decides to acquire your products or services. Let’s take a moment to elaborate on this. Your industrial company may do a lot of work with a plant that forms part of a large corporation, but which is unsuccessful at closing deals with other business units, despite the tremendous satisfaction potential for both buyers and sellers. Another possibility is that your company is a major supplier for the maintenance department of Company Y, but the production department fails to take you into consideration. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Your buyers are people: real, living human beings with their own concerns and problems to solve. These real people should lie at the heart of your industrial marketing strategy.
Not everyone involved in the buying process speaks the same language or has the same interests. Your company will often be faced with a succession of people who question your sales ideals. This includes engineers, buyers, plant managers, managers and even HoDs. Without forgetting the company’s senior executives or owners.
Each of these professionals have their own voice, face their own challenges and work to meet their own specific goals. They all require your attention, but are all different. Indeed, there is a voice and a message for each one. It’s not a question of “one size fits all”.
Set your business goals
A plan is an essential requirement in marketing for industrial companies. One of the most frequent errors is to focus on the tools before actually knowing what they do. Before revamping a website, creating social media accounts and sending out emails, it is essential to design a strategy that aligns all aspects with your specific goals. Your company needs a marketing plan even if it doesn’t sell to retailers, and regardless of whether it is an SME or a large corporation.
Nobody knows your company’s reputation, positioning and sales targets better than you. No consultancy firm or marketing agency is more familiar with your sector, your customers and your products’ sales cycles than you. Anyone who claims they do simply isn’t telling the truth.
- Business goals
- Marketing Plan
- EXECUTION of actions
- Measure and Adjustment
Communication, marketing and PR agencies can provide you with help and advice on the things we do well: communication, marketing and PR. Nothing more and nothing less.
When you are completely sure of your business mission and vision, you can start to set specific marketing goals. And that’s where we come in as external consultants. In most cases, these objectives can be one or more of the following three blocks:
Sales teams need informed potential customers with the capacity and interest in buying. Needs that can be met via online marketing.
Not only your potential customers need information, but also your sector, subcontractors and suppliers, as well as public administrations. And once they know you, what is their perception of your company? Brand building takes time and effort.
Positioning your company as a sector expert will turn you into a key resource for your audience. Keep them up-to-date with what’s going on in your business. That way, when they are ready to buy, you’ll be firmly positioned on their radar as a buying option.
Make the most of digital marketing
The long and complex process involved in B2B industrial sales must be underpinned by effective marketing. Having established that advertising is not the way to reach professional buyers, it’s time to start talking content marketing as part of an inbound strategy. Content marketing is a strategic approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant and coherent content capable of attracting and retaining a clearly defined target market, and eventually launching a profitable customer action.
The idea is to show your potential customers how to move forward with their buying processes, providing answers to their frequent questions, helping them to solve problems and indicating possible solutions. Content marketing is intended to back up the traditional sales process, not replace it. Effective content that contributes value will capture more and better qualified prospects, attract their attention and gain their confidence, as well as generating real sales conversations that otherwise would never have taken place.
Inbound marketing is the best possible marketing approach for industrial companies selling complex solutions to many people over an extended period of time.
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Build long-term relationships
Not all customers are ready to buy – in fact, this is the case of the majority. In many B2B markets, the sales cycle can take months or even years. So what’s the solution for the potential customer who isn’t yet ready to close a buying agreement? The answer is lead nurturing: building up real, value-based long-term relationships with potential customers in order to accompany them throughout their buying process.
Essentially, it is what any seller would call “keeping in touch”, and it continues to be an invaluable source of information for your audience. There are many tools and tactics based on delivering content that works.
Educational articles or blog posts enable potential customers to discover your website via search engines, specialised journals, social media or other platforms. These posts will inform your visitors, familiarising them with your organisation and generating empathy.
Blog articles intended to satisfy customers’ curiosity, providing well-designed, specific and useful content, will make their work easier and are also in line with a Google positioning strategy. These searches produce clicks, leading new visitors to your website contents. In addition, website calls to action will result in newsletter signups. It is then that you can start delivering key feed.
GUIDES, CASE STUDIES AND TUTORIALS
Top quality e-books and guides will contribute real visitor traffic to your website and deliver contact details. This premium content generates sufficient value for your potential customers, encouraging them to share their name, email address and telephone number.
Case studies prove that you can deliver solutions that work. They will position your business as a potential solution for possible customers. They must include a basic, well-defined structure that provides the essential information without breaching data protection agreements or confidentiality. Professional buyers are always interested in knowing who you work with and how you go about it and whether you are a potential partner for their company.
As your email list gets longer, you will need to sort subscribers into groups so you can personalise the information you send to each. The most common solution is to create a workflow using a marketing automation tool that will keep up a steady, but not excessive, stream of mails.
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Use social media
B2B companies tend to be reluctant to join and be active on social media, no doubt due to their misunderstanding of how social media can and should be used in business. If tools such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn are disregarded as mere distractions, then in all likelihood these companies are missing out on many excellent opportunities.
Social media must be considered as an extension of face-to-face meetings, alternatives to commercial publications and the classic notion of PR. The reason for using social media tools is not different from any other marketing tactic – namely to achieve your commercial goals.
Social media are an opportunity to extend sellers’ regular relations (keeping in touch, attending trade fairs, taking part in congresses, making presentations, etc.) to the digital environment. They are also a platform for dialogue with individuals and organisations that would otherwise be inaccessible. What’s more, they enable us to listen to the market, analyse trends and find out what the competition is doing.
“But my customers don’t use social media”. Really? Practically everyone has a social media profile. Facebook has millions of users actively seeking information of all kinds (business, as well as leisure and recreation), and LinkedIn is great for B2B contacts. Even if your customer is not present on social media, don’t underestimate their potential for capturing the attention of journalists, sector organisations, specialised journals, as well as industry bloggers and influencers. They all have large numbers of followers and are extremely focused on the things that interest you. If your content is relevant and they spread your message for you, your audience will soon hear about you.
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If you have a modern, attractive website that uses cutting-edge technology, with a blog that delivers lots of highly specific, quality content, then you’re on the starting block. But if you also have a well-defined conversation channel and generate leads, then you’re a real contender.
However, patience is also required, as digital marketing for industrial companies takes time to seep through. When your potential customers are ready to buy, you’ll be uppermost in their minds, convinced that you are the expert that can help them.
Trust the professionals
Everything described so far takes planning and a skilled team that is totally committed to the project. Human and financial resources have to be assigned and it is essential to place your trust in professionals with proven experience.
Contact us if you’d like to know how we can help you achieve your marketing, communication and PR goals.
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