B2B manufacturers are facing global forces that will change the underlying nature of the manufacturing business. The rise of disruptive technologies—3D printing, advanced robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT) and machine learning—are introducing radical new opportunities and threats to the manufacturing marketplace. Industry 4.0 may not have a common definition, but manufacturers around the world recognize that fundamental changes are at hand.
These forces are causing leading manufacturers to rethink entire go to market strategies—everything from which markets they serve, to the role of the channel and the relationship with the end customers.
Digital marketing initiatives need to anticipate and take advantage of these larger trends. Marketers within manufacturing organizations are faced with three significant strategic changes:
- The shift to new customer acquisition. Technical innovations and geopolitical decisions are working together to make long-standing supply change arrangements more fragile. The competitive landscape is altering, and previously secure supply channel relationships threaten to fragment. Thoughtful manufacturers are shifting marketing focus to the pursuit of new clients, rather than the historical orientation toward deepening share of wallet with existing customers. This shift changes the demands on digital marketing and challenges firms to reinvent the relationship between sales and marketing, particularly as digital commerce pushes customers to prefer self-serve options during the buying decision and delay identifying themselves in the sales cycle.
- The rise of direct to customer strategies. Since the dawn of the commercial internet, manufacturers have experimented with disintermediation—cutting out the channel and going direct to end customers. More recently, the imperative for going direct to customer (D2C) has shifted. Rather than being about efficiency, the desire for a more sophisticated relationship with end customers is now driven by the strategic need for knowledge. To take advantage of disruptive technologies, manufacturers need to better understand the needs and behaviors of the final users of their products.
- The Amazon effect. Amazon has trained an entire generation to expect more at each stage of the client relationship, which is causing firms to invest in user experiences—real-time order status, mobile access to data and data transparency—in a way that has never been true before.
For marketers to meet the challenge of these changes, they need a new toolkit of tactics and systems. Traditional approaches are fading in their power to deliver results; experimentation with new ideas and the borrowing of concepts from business to consumer leaders is becoming the norm. Manufactures need to draw inspiration from leading B2C retailers and brands such as Amazon or Nike rather than duplicate them.
The Shift to New Client Acquisition
Corporate strategies may correctly define new client acquisition as critical, but without the right strategies, tools and tactics, marketers will struggle to translate the strategy to reality. By definition, reaching new customers requires starting a relationship with a firm they are not intimately familiar with.
“Building new relationships is difficult for manufacturers as supply chain relationships are complex, decision-making cycles are slow and trust is critical to getting a deal done,” said Ed Kennedy, Sr. Director of Commerce at Episerver. “Marketers who recognize this reality have been increasingly pursuing inbound marketing approaches, highlighted by the adoption of account-based and content marketing.”
Why Account-Based Marketing for Manufacturers?
Manufacturing marketers are rapidly adopting account-based marketing (ABM) principles. ABM tactics focus energy and efforts on a relatively small number of ideal new customers. This focus enables deeper alignment between marketing and sales activities for manufacturers. It also allows marketing to clearly illustrate the value of their activities in supporting the strategic shift to new client acquisition. To be effective, marketers need to understand the new client buying process from awareness through closing —and design tactics to support each stage in that process.
Why Content Marketing?
This need to market through the entire buying process is part of what is driving manufacturers to invest in content marketing. A 2018 study found that 86 percent of manufacturers are pursuing a strategy of creating and distributing valuable, relevant content to a well-defined audience. And many of these—38 percent—are increasing their investment this year.
“Figures like these are not surprising, as content marketing is particularly valuable to manufacturing marketers who are making the shift to new tactics for client acquisition that are in line with how business buyers shop today,” said Kennedy.
Here’s how content marketing works to engage customers while benefiting a company’s sales process:
- It builds trust in new clients by exposing them to how the manufacturer views the world long before the traditional sales cycle begins.
- It reaches higher up the organizational chart, engaging with senior level decision makers rather than procurement
- It reveals the hidden sales cycle. Sirius Decisions has found that as much as 67 percent of the sales cycle is over before a prospect actively engages with sales. Creating compelling content – and distributing it to target accounts – allows marketing to influence this hidden two thirds of the sales cycle.
Infrastructure for Success
Driving success from ABM and content marketing strategies requires specific technical infrastructure.
- Simple publishing and distribution. Frequent and consistent publishing of content requires near-frictionless content management technology. The system must make content creation and distribution easier, not more difficult.
- Vendor level personalization. Putting the right content in front of the right audience is at the core of both ABM and content marketing tactics. Infrastructure that allows personalization of content based on company IP is critical. Personalization rules must be easy to configure and their effect very easy to measure.
- A|B testing. At some point in the buying cycle, manufacturing marketers must ask visitors to identify themselves (i.e., to become leads). Testing and optimizing these forms—whether they be for a webinar, a whitepaper download or a demo—is critical to driving measurable benefit from marketing activities.
- Marketing automation. Staying in front of target clients throughout the entire buying process— from awareness to close—is at the heart of account-based marketing. The ability to integrate account behavior analytics with marketing automation systems is a critical foundation for success.
- Sales enablement. ABM tactics enable to marketing to empower sales to make new client calls. To do this, infrastructure is needed that collects and transfers information on account behavior that prepares sales to have a meaningful conversation.
Despite its complexities, marketing for B2B manufacturing is not unlike marketing for B2C organizations. The premise of both sales cycles—even with varying lengths, decision makers and channel partners—is the same: get people the information they need and in the moment they need it by knowing who they are, what they are looking for, how they are accessing the site and when they typically buy.
“While this is often not as simple as turning on a switch, there are solutions that solve B2B manufacturers’ problems in a single platform, which quickly brings fragmented parts together and works in unison to deliver commerce, marketing and sales enablement,” said Kennedy.
Randy Woods is SVP of Marketing and Service Strategy at Valtech North America.