As little as 10 years ago, Canadian business-to-business (B2B) manufacturers didn’t worry about marketing. They concentrated on producing the best possible products, then hired good salespeople to spread awareness and sell them. Salespeople were essentially the company’s evangelists. And that system worked well. But the world of B2B buying and selling has shifted. Today, 94 per cent of B2B buyers are doing their own research online before they want to talk with salespeople, according to a 2014 Accenture procurement study.
Marketing has become the new front line for manufacturers, and they have to get serious about it. Here are five key trends:
1. The old sales tactics don’t work. Gone are the days when cold calling and participating in a few trade shows each year generate enough leads to keep salespeople producing. Cold calling doesn’t work anymore because no one answers their phone, and many trade shows have become prohibitively expensive based on the results they generate. Manufacturers that want to attract leads need to embrace digital marketing, and that means going online where their buyers live, with a great website, strong content and campaigns to pull in prospects. The good news is digital marketing tactics are much more cost-effective than many of the old marketing methods that manufacturers once relied on.
2. Marketing builds reputations and credibility. According to a Stanford University study, 75 per cent of people judge the credibility of a company based on its website alone (see Business.com, “Just Say No: 7, Website design mistakes that can hurt conversion”). A good reputation and strong credibility are critical to the success of any business – and especially in B2B. Because manufacturers sell vital equipment and components, buyers need to trust their suppliers. Their own companies and jobs are on the line. So even if a manufacturer comes highly recommended, an amateur website or unprofessional sales collateral can make a poor first impression.
3. Essential support for the sales team. Today, marketing plays a larger role in the selling cycle than it used to. B2B sales people lean more heavily on marketing support to help progress their deals. Case studies, ROI calculators and other materials are essential to keep conversations going with prospects, demonstrate a vendor’s value and guide buyers along their purchasing journey. As the number of decision makers involved in each B2B purchase continues to expand and the sales cycle gets more complex, marketing helps companies stay in touch with prospects more cost effectively than the sales team.
4. Marketing helps attract talent. By 2020, manufacturing will have nearly 3.5 million job vacancies to fill in the U.S. alone (Deloitte, “Help wanted: American manufacturing competitiveness and the looming skills gap”). Despite the shift to automation, manufacturing jobs still rely on uniquely human skills such as critical thinking, creativity and ingenuity. But when it comes to attracting talent, especially millennials, manufacturing doesn’t hold the same allure as other industries. Manufacturers need to learn how to build and market their culture in addition to their exciting product plans to acquire and keep the brightest stars.
5. Marketing increases a manufacturer’s corporate value. Many owners of small and midsize companies are baby boomers. They’re at a stage in life and career where they’re thinking about exiting. If that’s the case, marketing helps increase the value of the sale in three ways:
• Enhancing the company’s image and raising its profile to provide more curb appeal.
• Raising the profile puts the company on the radar of more potential buyers.
• Good strategic marketing generates leads and increases sales.
A growth story is easier to sell than a company in decline. Marketing helps grow revenues, increase profits and diversify the client base – all of which increases valuation. It’s not uncommon for small, midsize and even large manufacturers to expect their salespeople will increase awareness and pull in most of the leads. But that’s not the way the world works anymore. Buyers are turning to marketing to guide their decision-making and manufacturers need to embrace that truth.
Lisa Shepherd is the founder of The Mezzanine Group, a B2B marketing company.