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Survey: Industrial Marketers Must Optimize their Digital Mix

The good news is industrial marketers are making the evidence-based decision to invest more in online marketing. On the other hand, they still need to optimize their digital mix. This was one of the key findings from IHS GlobalSpec’s latest research report, 2014 Trends in Industrial Marketing, based on a recent survey of marketing and sales professionals in the industrial sector.

2014 Trends Industrial Marketing

The results provide new insight into the strategies, budgets and tactics industrial marketers use today.

Here are the highlights:

Diversifying the marketing mix
Currently, corporate websites command about 25 percent of online budgets, which amounts to more than twice the spending on any other channel. There’s no question your company website is important and will continue to be, but establishing and maintaining a broad and deep online presence is critical in this age of digital disruption, when technical professionals have at their disposal a variety of digital resources to find the work-related information they seek. Your target audience doesn’t primarily rely on a single channel, so why should you? Industrial marketers should consider shifting a portion of their budget to other online channels such as e-newsletters, webinars and banner advertising on industry websites.

Playing catch-up to customer behavior
Forty-nine percent of industrial companies are increasing their online marketing budgets, but on average less than half (46 percent) of the overall marketing budget is spent online. While this online marketing percentage is up from 40 percent last year and 32 percent back in 2007, it still may not be enough to keep pace with the behavior of your customers. It may also be a contributing factor to the level of satisfaction industrial marketers feel about their online marketing efforts. Twenty-nine percent are still dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their online marketing efforts and 40 percent are feeling neutral.

Customer acquisition is still king
Year over year, customer acquisition tops the list of marketing goals in the industrial sector. Almost half (47 percent) of industrial marketers said customer acquisition is their primary marketing goal in 2014, up from 38 percent in 2012. Related to customer acquisition is lead generation; 29 percent of industrial marketers say it is the biggest challenge in their profession. In addition, customer acquisition is a key measurement of success for 55 percent of companies, along with sales attributed to marketing campaigns (64 percent) and leads (47 percent).

Preferred marketing channels
E-mail marketing using in-house lists, tradeshows, content marketing and search engine optimization are the top marketing channels in the industrial sector. Direct mail using rented/purchased lists, mobile marketing and podcasts are at the bottom of the list. Five of the top six channels used are digital channels, indicating that many marketers understand the importance of devoting resources to a mix of digital channels. Fifty-five percent say they use both inbound (pull) and outbound (push) marketing programs but state they could better diversify their mix.

Content marketing efforts must mature
Sixty-one percent of industrial marketers are now using content marketing as tactic and 54 percent are planning to increase their spending on content creation. This reflects marketers’ understanding that their prospects and customers are hungry for relevant content that will help them do their jobs better and make informed buying decisions. On the other hand, 44 percent of marketers are just getting started with content marketing, just 29 percent have a content marketing strategy, only nine percent can demonstrate how content marketing contributes to sales and only 15 percent align their content with the different phases of their customers’ buy cycle. These results reveal the need for industrial companies to mature their content marketing efforts in order to be more efficient and effective.

Marketers are more social-media savvy
Industrial marketers have gotten more savvy in how they use social media. They are now focusing their efforts on those objectives that social media best fulfills. Seventy-eight percent use social media for branding and 72 percent for content delivery. Only 34 percent use social media to generate leads, down from 59 percent in 2011. The most popular social media channel is LinkedIn. Twenty-seven percent are satisfied with their social media efforts, up from 17 percent in 2012. As industrial marketers continue to get more comfortable using social media and understanding its place in their marketing mix, they will likely achieve better results and their level of satisfaction will continue to increase.

Marketing budgets are steady
Over the past three years, marketing budgets have remained constant. Thirty-five percent are spending more in 2014 than they did in 2013; only 17 percent expect to spend less in 2014. About half are spending the same. For those companies with marketing budgets of $1 million or less, the average marketing budget is $166,000. Forty-two percent of companies have marketing budgets under $50,000 and 12 percent of companies have marketing budgets greater than $1 million. Forty-one percent of industrial marketers are spending at least half of their 2014 budgets for online marketing.

This annual survey can help you evaluate your marketing strategies in relation to your competitors, fine-tune your marketing programs and keep pace with your customers and the market. For complete survey results, along with recommendations for industrial marketers, download your complimentary copy of 2014 Trends in Industrial Marketing.

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Why You Need a Social Media Audit

The majority of industrial companies (61 percent) use social media for marketing purposes, according to recent IHS GlobalSpec research. However, only 27 percent of industrial marketers are satisfied or very satisfied with their company’s social media efforts, and only one in five industrial companies have a full-time employee dedicated solely to social media.

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These statistics may mean that your company’s social media use was developed in an ad-hoc manner, with some industrial companies getting involved without having a clear social media strategy or goals. If that’s the case at your company, or even if you have a social media plan, you can achieve better results if you take the time to conduct a social media audit.

Whether you’re a social media solo practitioner or part of an integrated team using social media, a social media audit will help you gain better control over your social media accounts, establish a social media strategy that supports business goals, and execute more effective social media programs.

Step 1: Inventory social media accounts
Start by taking inventory of your existing social media presence. It may be larger and more fragmented than you realized. Social media often starts at the business unit level as divisions create their own social media presence. In addition, new and existing employees open new social media accounts all the time. If your organization has grown through mergers and acquisitions, there could be multiple social media accounts operating under different brand names. If possible, centralize ownership of the accounts.

Step 2: Align social media strategy to business and marketing objectives
Once you have identified your overall business and marketing objectives, determine how social media initiatives can support those objectives. For instance, if one of your marketing goals is to drive thought leadership and establish your company as experts, then a logical social media initiative would be to publish educational and thought leadership content over social channels. If a goal is to better support customers, you might use social media to distribute user tips, invitations to training webinars, or how-to videos. If brand awareness is a goal, you’ll know that part of your social media strategy is increasing the number of followers and shares on your social media accounts.

One way to help shape your strategy is by tagging keywords and listening to what is being said on social networks about your company, products, services, industry, and competitors. You will be able to uncover opportunities for engaging with your audience and the market that you may not have considered.

As part of aligning your social media strategy with business and marketing objectives, you should establish measurable goals for social media, such as traffic delivered to your website, conversions, likes/follows, comments, shares and more. Only with measurable goals can you determine if your social media efforts are working.

Step 3: Determine how your audience uses social media
Are the social platforms you’re using the same ones that your customers use? Your social media efforts will be wasted if you’re not connecting with your target audience. The most popular social media platforms for technical professionals are LinkedIn and Facebook, and Google + is growing rapidly among this audience. You may not have the resources to manage accounts on all social media channels, so in your audit you might have to trim the ones that aren’t relevant.

Step 4: Evaluate your social media content
Content isn’t only what you post on social media, but what’s included in each of your social media profiles. Start by making sure the basics are all there: the appropriate company description, accurate urls and contact information. Next, are the header graphics consistent with your brand? Do individual users have profile pictures?

Then turn to the content itself. Is your messaging consistent? Are you publishing content across all of your social media networks to reach the greatest possible audience? Are you including links in your posts? You’ll also want to track what content is popular (measured by comments, shares, likes, clickthroughs, etc.) and what is ignored. This will provide the intelligence you need to develop useful, relevant content that your audience responds to.

Step 5: Create a social media “playbook”
Creating a social media playbook is an important action item in your audit process. Your playbook should clearly document your company’s social media strategy and goals, identify its accounts, define policies and guidelines for using social media (including any approvals or permissions needed to post on social media accounts), and identify team members and their roles.

Revisit the playbook on a regular basis—whenever there’s a change in your social media strategy, or a new team member comes on board, or you conduct your next social media audit.

Step 6: Consider using a social media management tool
If you’re committed to using social media for marketing purposes, then you may need to get more serious about managing your accounts and your content marketing efforts. There are a number of social media management tools (some of them free) that can help you be much more efficient on social media and gain centralized management of your entire social media presence. From a single dashboard you can schedule posts across multiple channels, publish content, track results and more.

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Three Steps to Get Media Attention When You Have No News to Report

Media attention is one of the best ways to build brand awareness and demonstrate thought leadership for your company in the industrial sector. Respected third-party mentions of your company can help influence potential customers, and those relevant links back to your website are like gold. But what if your company doesn’t have any breaking news to write about for a press release? There’s a way around that problem. You can still gain the interest of editors, bloggers and writers. Just follow these three steps.

1. Identify the relevant media properties and journalists
If you have any kind of public relations or marketing strategy you probably already know (and read) the relevant websites, blogs, online publications and other media outlets that cover your industry. Make a list and start to dig deeper. Find out who the reporters, writers and editors are that cover the topics most closely related to your subject matter expertise, products and services. Get their contact information. Their email addresses are usually published next to their names.

Next, examine any media kits or editorial calendars these media outlets have available. Even mission statements can reveal special areas of interest. See where your company and expertise fits in. You have to plan because most media properties publish editorial calendars six months to a year in advance, plus it takes time to establish contact with editors and writers, build a relationship and pitch your story.

2. Generate and develop story ideas
This is the step where marketers sometimes get stuck because their company doesn’t have any breaking news to report. But there are always good stories waiting to be discovered and told. Here are a few ways to find them:

  • Piggyback on the issues currently trending in your industry. It might be a technology breakthrough, a shift in market dynamics, new regulations, a key merger or acquisition, or other issues in the news. What is your company’s position on these issues? Do you have a point of view that’s unique or under-reported? Develop a story around it.
  • Offer up an in-house expert to analyze or comment on trends or other recent news. Prepare a compelling bio for your expert that you can submit to editors. What’s special about your experts and what they have to say? Why will it be important to the readers of the publication?
  • Conduct a survey or other research and promote the findings to relevant media outlets. What have you uncovered in your research that may be of interest to the writers and editors—and the readers? You can also use the research tactic to produce white papers, webinars, articles and other marketing content.
  • Choose a topic that’s recently been covered. It might be an article about one of your competitors. Look for a side of the story that hasn’t been reported on and develop a new idea around it. Journalists like to report every side of a story and may be interested in follow-up articles.

3. Make Your Pitch
You have your list of targeted media outlets and contacts. You have your story idea and you’ve turned it into a compelling pitch. Now it’s time to reach out to reporters, bloggers, writers and editors. You need to personalize your pitch to each individual—don’t send out a spray-and-pray mass email. Introduce yourself and your company, pitch your story idea, and tell them why their audience will be interested (answer the always-relevant question: Who cares?). Offer background materials, which you should have at your fingertips ready to hit the send button. Do everything you can to make their jobs easier and make saying “yes” easier for them.

The fact is, the media in any industry is a story seller’s market for you, not a buyer’s market. Every media outlet is looking for the next great story to give to their readers. If you’ve got it, and you can make a convincing case for it, they will want it. Of course, not every idea you pitch will hit the strike zone. Sometimes your story won’t get picked up. But even if it doesn’t, you’ve cultivated relationships with important media contacts in your industry and have positioned yourself as a go-to resource that could be called upon in the future for quotes, opinions and interviews for other stories.

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How to Respond to the Evolving Industrial Buy Cycle

Recent research has shown that the widespread availability and use of digital resources is resulting in changes to how technical professionals approach their buy cycle. The stages of the cycle are still the same, but the timing of contact between buyer and seller has changed.

The industrial buy cycle consists of distinct stages: Research & Needs Analysis, Comparison & Evaluation and Purchase. The cycle can be long and complex, involving multiple decision makers, recommenders and influencers; or it can be short and straightforward, with a single person presiding over a purchase decision. However, regardless of length or complexity, the buy cycle is evolving.

Technical professionals today use digital resources at every stage of their buy cycle, particularly during the Research & Needs Analysis stage. The most popular resources are general search engines, supplier websites, online catalogs and industry-specific search engines such as GlobalSpec.com. Because of the vast amount of useful information available from these digital sources, it’s easier than ever for customers to discover and research information about products, services and suppliers, and to narrow down their options before getting a vendor involved.

In 2014, only 41 percent of technical professionals are contacting a supplier in the early Research & Needs Analysis stage of their buy cycle. Thirty-eight percent wait until the Comparison & Evaluation stage and 21 percent don’t contact a vendor until they are ready to make a purchase.

The evolving nature of the buy cycle has a number of implications for suppliers, including:

  • You must connect with potential customers early in their buy cycle in order to be a contender later when they are ready to make a purchase decision. This means you must build and maintain a strong online presence on those digital resources your customers use most in the early buy cycle stages.
  • From a sales perspective, think of your digital presence as a way for potential customers to add themselves to the top of your sales funnel when they are searching for products and services. They will then engage with you as they advance through the funnel.
  • Don’t make the mistake of thinking if you choose not to provide relevant, educational content to customers early in their buy cycle, that they will contact you earlier in order to get that information. Instead what will happen is customers will forget about your company and instead focus their attention on those suppliers who are meeting their needs for content over digital channels.
  • You should publish a steady stream of content on digital channels for your prospects and customers, including blog posts, product information, white papers, webinars, videos, web pages, spec sheets and more. Your audience is eagerly searching for this content as they engage in their buy cycle.
  • Your digital presence is required to build brand awareness and visibility so that when a customer recognizes a need and begins their research, they will already have your company top of mind and be able to find you easily, which will increase your opportunities to be under consideration from the beginning of the buy cycle.
  • When a customer or prospect does contact you, they are likely to be more educated than the person who reaches out to a supplier at the beginning of their buy cycle. This fact may affect your processes for handling engagement opportunities. Some prospects may be more sales ready. Most of them will have specific questions at this point and want detailed information, including product availability, specifications, pricing, testimonials, ROI calculators and other content that will help them make a purchasing decision.
  • Technical professionals rely on different digital resources at different buy cycle stages, according to the research. General search engines, supplier websites, online catalogs and industry-specific search engines such as GlobalSpec.com have increased in importance to support the Research & Needs Analysis and the Comparison & Evaluation stages of the buy cycle. In the Purchase stage, industry-specific search engines and online catalogs increased in importance.

The industrial buy cycle has been around as long as there has been industrial commerce, but the nature of it continually evolves. Stay on top of the current evolution by creating a strong digital presence and providing technical professionals with the information they are looking for. To gain greater insight into your customers’ digital behavior, download a complimentary copy of the new IHS GlobalSpec research report 2014 Digital Media Use in the Industrial Sector.

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Find the Perfect Balance of Content in Your Marketing Efforts

Now that most industrial marketers are deploying a content management strategy, they’ve also discovered how much work it is to produce and publish content. There’s also the question of what type of content you should put out there.

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Content types fit into one of three general categories. Thought leadership content that your company produces. Curated content that others produce and you share with your audience. And promotional content that focuses on your own products and services. Each type has its place in your content mix. There are no rigid rules about the mix, but we think a balance and appropriate breakdown looks something like this:

  • 30 percent thought leadership content
  • 50 percent curated content
  • 20 percent promotional content.

Thought Leadership Content

Thought leadership is original content produced by your internal team. It’s usually educational in nature. It’s always relevant to your audience. Thought leadership is powerful stuff because it:

  • Demonstrates your expertise in specific areas
  • Showcases your opinion and point of view on issues
  • Builds customer and market perceptions of your brand

Thought leadership content is also the hardest to produce. It requires the most resources in terms of generating ideas, writing, illustrating and more. It requires the most time and money. But you need to produce thought leadership as part of your content marketing strategy, and if only thirty percent of your content is thought leadership, you should be able to handle the effort especially if you repurpose your content in multiple formats. For example, a white paper can be the basis for a blog post or a product demo can evolve into a YouTube video.

Curated Content

To curate means to pull together, organize, sift through and select for presentation. Curating content from other sources and sharing it with your audience offers a number of benefits:

  • Requires fewer resources on your part to pull together
  • Faster to get it out because you don’t need to produce it
  • Gives your audience other perspectives
  • Also builds thought leadership because of what you choose to share and how you share it

If you’ve ever retweeted and commented on a link in Twitter, or shared an article on Facebook and added your commentary, then you’ve curated content. You’ve also gone one step further by adding context for your audience with your comment on what you’re sharing. That little extra—a comment added to the share—can help put your own spin on curated content.

You can easily discover content to curate. Follow other industry leaders and industry news sites. Track relevant hashtags on Twitter. Use Google Alerts to be notified when specific keywords appear in the news. Evaluate what you find and then share with your own audience what you consider to be the most useful and relevant content. If 50 percent of your content is curated, you’re letting others do a lot of the heavy lifting for you—and you’re working smarter.

Promotional Content

Because you share thought leadership and curated content you “earn” the right with your audience to publish promotional content. And by keeping the mix at 20 percent of your overall content, you are unlikely to anger your readers for occasionally tooting your own horn. They’re following you for a reason: they’re interested in what you have to say.

You need promotional content mixed in because you need ways to talk about new and updated products, or enhanced and expanded services. You need to get your target audience interested in what you sell. You need to make offers, generate engagement opportunities and keep your sales and marketing teams excited. And you can do all of this through content marketing, as long as you keep the percentage down.

Even promotional content can offer value. If you know your audience’s desires well, you can make your promotional content more targeted and increase the likelihood it will be accepted.

Where, What and How Often to Share

You have three basic choices on where to share content: your social media channels, corporate website or blog and e-newsletters. That’s a start. You may want to look at webinars, online events, banner advertising, press releases and third-party list rental to help promote your content to a wider audience.

What to share includes your own or third-party curated articles, blog posts, white papers, eBooks, presentations, videos, infographics and more.

How often should you share? As often as you can as long as your audience continues wanting to hear from you. If you find comments, likes and shares increasing on your content, you’ve got your audience’s interest. If people are dropping off, you’re sharing too much or what you’re sharing isn’t relevant. Find out what’s right for you.

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Digital Media Use Survey Shows Different Work Habits by Age

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost half the engineering workforce will be eligible for retirement in the next few years. A younger generation of technical professionals will be taking their place, a group that exhibits different online work habits compared to their older colleagues.

This finding from the 2014 Digital Media Use in the Industrial Sector research report will impact your marketing strategy. You must make an effort to attract and cultivate younger technical professionals early in their careers as they form habits and opinions about their industry and the suppliers and products available to them. You can download a complimentary copy of the survey results including charts, detailed analysis and marketing recommendations.

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Trends Among Younger Technical Professionals

  • At greater rates than older technical professionals, those under 35 years old use the Internet for collaborative design, career research, to compare products across suppliers, for competitive information, to download software demos, and to purchase parts.
  • Forty-two percent of technical professionals visit more than ten work-related websites each week. In the under 35-year-old age group, significantly more respondents than any other age segment visit more than 20 websites each week.
  • Younger technical professionals are more likely to use the Internet for research and product comparisons, whereas the older crowd is more likely to be obtaining product specifications and finding components, equipment, services and suppliers.
  • Year-over-year comparison shows the growing importance of general search engines, industry-specific search engines and webinars among the under age 35 group, whereas online catalogs and supplier websites grew in importance among those over 35.
  • Technical professionals are mostly passive users of social media. They prefer to read and watch rather than to create content or join discussions. However, younger technical professionals are more likely to actively participate in discussions than are older technical professionals.
  • Technical professionals under age 35 conduct significantly more product searches and read more news and e-newsletters on their smartphones than their older colleagues do. We can expect the use of mobile devices to continue to grow. Suppliers should consider creating websites and e-newsletters that have response design features, which improves rendering and increases their usability on mobile devices.
  • Industrial professionals over age 49 have more autonomy with purchasing decisions than do their younger colleagues, regardless of the spending amount.

Findings Applicable Across All Age Groups

  • Technical professionals average six hours per week on the Internet for work-related purposes, with 29 percent spending nine or more hours.
  • The primary uses of the Internet for technical professionals are to find components, equipment, services and suppliers (74 percent); obtain product specifications (73 percent); compare products across suppliers (69 percent); find pricing information (68 percent); and perform research (66 percent).
  • The top digital resources technical professionals use for work are general search engines (89 percent), supplier websites (79 percent), online catalogs (76 percent) and industry-specific search engines such as GlobalSpec.com (54 percent).
  • Only 41 percent of technical professionals contact a vendor in the early needs analysis/research stage of their buy cycle. Fifty-nine percent wait until the comparison/evaluation or purchase stages. You must connect with potential customers early in their buy cycle in order to be a contender later when they are ready to make a purchase decision.
  • Almost half of all technical professionals (49 percent) did not attend an in-person tradeshows in 2013. On the other hand, seven out of ten technical professionals attended at least one webinar or online event. Thirty-two percent said they went to four or more. Webinars and other online events continue to be effective marketing programs in the industrial sector.
  • Technical professionals subscribe to an average of 4.9 digital publications, such as e-newsletters and digital trade magazines, versus an average of 1.5 printed trade magazines, a difference of more than three-fold. Digital publications make it easy to connect with your target audience.

Access All Survey Results

The Digital Media Use in the Industrial Sector research report offers industrial marketers valuable intelligence you can use to help evaluate your own marketing strategies and optimize your marketing programs. The age of your target audience has become an important consideration when making marketing decisions.

Our new research report includes all survey results, along with charts and graphs and key recommendations for marketers. Get your complimentary copy today.

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Follow the Three V’s of Managing Your Engagement Opportunities

In this era of marketing accountability, industrial marketers need an effective framework to manage and measure their engagement opportunities. You can’t measure everything—and you don’t want to measure everything. You want to focus on specific measurements providing valuable insight, which in turn can help you make decisions to improve the performance of your marketing program.

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According to Forrester Research, the hallmark of top marketing performers is their ability to generate marketing leads at the right velocity, volume, and value. These three metrics are key indicators of funnel health—and a healthy funnel generally means healthy revenue.

  • Volume is the count of engagement opportunities or deals delivered by a marketing program.
  • Value is how much an engagement opportunity is worth in terms of dollar value.
  • Velocity is the speed at which an engagement opportunity converts to a sale.

What marketers must determine is how much weight and priority to give to each of the three V’s in order to optimize your marketing efforts and maximize your return. The answer is different for every company, based on your marketing goals, the makeup of your sales force and the nature of your customers’ buying behavior.

The dream world of every marketer is that the volume and value of engagement opportunities is high and the velocity of conversion is lightning speed. However, we all work in the real world, not the dream world. Therefore you must put these three V’s in perspective, understand how they align with your goals and use them to help make marketing decisions.

Volume, value and velocity intelligence can also help you segment engagement opportunities. For example, if a marketing program produces a high volume of opportunities, chances are many of those opportunities are not yet sales ready. They should remain with marketing in a lead nurturing program until more qualified. It might make sense to assign high-value opportunities to a salesperson for one-on-one cultivation and personal attention. Handle high-velocity opportunities in whatever manner will close the sale quickly.

Volume requires ironclad processes
Volume is historically the metric that gets the most attention, deservedly or not. What sales team doesn’t want more engagement opportunities? Some marketing programs are designed to maximize the volume of engagement opportunities. The upside of this approach is that you have more potential customers to convert and more of your target audience exposed to your message, which helps increase brand awareness.

On the other hand, the greater the volume of engagement opportunities, the more you need sound lead management processes. You must be able to separate real prospects from tire-kickers, prevent good opportunities from slipping through the cracks and avoid inundating your sales team with unqualified prospects who will never convert.

Value can trump volume
A highly targeted or specialized marketing program may not deliver a high volume of engagement opportunities. It can still be a strong program because the engagement opportunities generated should have a higher conversion rate and produce a higher amount of sales.

If your company’s objective is to close bigger deals or sell highly customized products or services, you’re likely looking at implementing a program that delivers fewer, but highly motivated prospects. You’re looking at quality over quantity.

Velocity offers intelligence
Velocity—the speed at which a prospect converts to a sale—can be considered independently or in relation to volume and value. Velocity is often directly related to your customers’ buy cycle and the nature of what you are selling. A long, complex purchasing process involving multiple decision makers and a significant investment may not have much in way of velocity. But if you’re selling parts or components that the market considers a commodity, you should expect high velocity.

No matter what you are selling, if you have a hot prospect motivated to buy, treat them as a high-velocity engagement opportunity. By tracking the velocity of deals, you can gain valuable intelligence on the length of your sales cycle and how well your marketing and sales processes are performing.

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Two Types of Content that Must Be in Your Marketing Mix

Content marketing is an essential strategy now that buyers do so much of their research online before contacting a supplier. Industrial marketers know that technical professionals crave a constant flow of useful content that helps them do their jobs better. But not everyone knows this content should fit into one of two categories: informational content or decision-making content.

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You need both types of content in order to match up to the different stages of your customers’ buy cycle. Early in the buy cycle, when customers are becoming aware of their needs and researching how to meet them, informational content plays a big role.

Informational content is more educational in nature. This type of content might enlighten your audience on a problem it faces, such as an article on “Five Ways to Avoid Pressure Sensor Failure.” Another might be a webinar titled “Evaporation Methods Used in Industrial Coatings.” These types of content are focused on providing your audience with information that will help clarify their needs or point them toward further research in finding an appropriate solution.

Informational content would also include general information about a type of product or industrial process: “Breakthroughs in Diode Laser Technology” or “How Motion Sensors Work.” Background information on your company, product lines or services would also come under the realm of informational content.

Your goal in producing informational content is to help answer the initial questions your customers might have in the early stages of their buy cycle and to get them on the path to purchasing:

  • How does X work?
  • What types of products should I consider to do Y?
  • What are the common approaches to solving problem Z?
  • Which companies offer . . . ?

Informational content sets the stage for your potential buyers. It helps build awareness and affinity for your company and products. It puts you in the position of being an expert. It delivers insight and value to your audience, without putting pressure on them to buy before they are ready.

Decision-making content is designed for the later buy cycle stages, when customers have narrowed down their choices to several possibilities and are close to making a buying decision. With decision-making content, your goal is to answer your customers’ final questions and put you in position to win the business.

  • Does this product have all the features I need?
  • Will it do everything I need it to do?
  • How much does it cost? What will be my return on investment?
  • Why should I buy this product and not that product?
  • Why should I choose this company and not that company?
  • What kind of customer support will I get? What warranties?

At this point, buyer’s guides that walk customers through the factors to consider when making a purchase are useful content. As are specification sheets, competitive differentiators, product comparisons, ROI calculators, warranties and customer service policies.

A catalog that buyers search by specification can offer you an advantage by helping customers quickly find exact products that meet their needs. A responsive web page that details important product features would be directed to an audience in the late stage of the buy cycle. Any potential customer close to making a purchase decision is sure to be spending time on your company website looking for that “X” factor that will sway them one way or the other.

Technical professionals tend to use a variety of digital resources during their buy cycle journey. Supplier websites and online catalogs are used during all phases. Online events, e-newsletters and webinars tend to attract technical professionals earlier in the buy cycle when education and awareness are critical. Choose the channels that work best for you and develop both informational and decision-making content to increase your opportunities to connect with potential customers at all stages of their buy cycle.

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Five Ways Your Sales Team Can Effectively Use Social Media

Social media has an established presence in the industrial sector. Technical professionals use social media to search for contacts, keep up on news and technologies, find product reviews and new suppliers, and for other work-related activities. If your sales team isn’t using social media yet as a tool to help uncover engagement opportunities, you can get them started.

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While not a one-to-one tactic such as email correspondence or a phone call, social media has a number of advantages as a B2B selling tool. It fits with the way buyers conduct research today: They go online and use a variety of digital resources to become informed about solutions that can meet their needs. Social media is also asynchronous, which means it is non-disruptive; you can use it to establish connections and help educate customers and prospects without interrupting them. In addition, intelligent and judicious use of social media can help establish a salesperson’s credibility and authority, and help to raise the visibility of your company and its offerings.

However, many salespeople don’t know how to effectively use social media in support of their selling efforts. It’s marketing’s job to educate salespeople and make them comfortable using social media. Here are five ideas to make it easier:

1. Develop internal guidelines for posting, sharing and responding on social media channels, and train your salespeople on the guidelines. Important topics to cover include frequency of posting, how to respond to tricky questions, how to avoid getting into online arguments, what company information can be posted and what is confidential, and where to find relevant content to share. It’s a good idea to hold social media training sessions, such as a “lunch-and-learn” or internal webinar.

2. Educate salespeople who aren’t yet comfortable using social media on a simple three-step social media process: find, listen and engage. Salespeople should start by finding their customers and prospects, as well as relevant industry sites, by seeking them out on LinkedIn, Twitter, Google +, Facebook and other social platforms. Next, they should “listen” by following their customers and prospects on social channels to discover their interests and concerns. Finally, salespeople should begin to engage customers, prospects and industry experts by responding to their posts, participating in discussions, answering questions and creating their own original posts.

3. Your sales team is busy; they can’t use every social media platform, but you should encourage them to use the ones they are comfortable with and that their customers and prospects use. Hint: Your entire sales team should taking advantage of LinkedIn; it’s the most popular social media platform for engineers — 74 percent of technical professionals have LinkedIn accounts.

4. If salespeople use a social channel, they should engage with it to its fullest. For example, on LinkedIn, they should keep an up-to-date profile that includes information and links about your company and its products and services. They can use LinkedIn to find and connect with key decision makers at customer and prospect companies—especially important when multiple people are involved in making a purchase decision. Your salespeople can follow customer and prospect pages (as well as your own company’s page), join relevant groups, and participate in discussions by adding their expertise and answering questions that demonstrate their problem-solving knowledge. At the same time, it’s important to be a helpful participant without shilling for your own products and services.

If a salesperson uses Twitter, they can follow their customers and prospects, respond to their news, and retweet their news to their own followers. They can also follow industry news and retweet it to their followers. With any social platform, the more you use it, the wider your network and influence will grow, increasing your visibility and reputation—all benefits for a salesperson.

5. As a marketer, you should provide your sales team with content that is ready to share on their social media accounts. This might include offers to register for webinars, links to whitepapers or relevant articles, new videos, press releases, blog posts and more. Not only are you helping your sales team with some of the most challenging aspects of social media use—generating ideas and deciding what to post—you’re also maintaining some control over the message.

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How does your sales team use social media to drive engagement opportunities? How do you help them utilize social media? What tips or strategies would you pass along to your peers in industrial marketing? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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