It’s no fun reading about the state of the economy. The bad news seems to be everywhere: layoffs, cutbacks, closings. If you are feeling anxious or panicked, you’re not alone. But my intention isn’t to pile on the negative news; it is to provide you with the latest research that can help you create a solid plan to succeed in the current economy.

In January of this year, GlobalSpec conducted an economic outlook survey of its North American registered user base of engineering, technical, manufacturing and industrial professionals. Not surprisingly, survey results reinforced what we already know: the economy has had a measurable impact on the industrial sector, and companies.

On the brighter side, the research also revealed pockets of market opportunity for suppliers and manufacturers. Yes, some industries are hit harder than others but engineers and technical professionals are still specifying and purchasing products and services. There is still demand out there, and that’s positive news. But today’s reality is that you have to work smarter and harder to win your share of business.

GlobalSpec put together a white paper analyzing the survey results and offering specific recommendations for suppliers to succeed in this economy. You can download your copy here: 2009 Economic Outlook Survey—How Industrial Companies can Succeed in the Current Economy.

I found the survey results provided valuable insight that you can put to use right away in three key areas:

  1. Knowing which industries offer the most market opportunity
  2. Aligning your products and services with the current needs of engineers and what they are buying
  3. Right-sizing your marketing efforts to put you in the best position to connect with potential customers

In terms of industries, automotive, semiconductor & electrical components, and computer, systems & peripherals are hardest hit by current economic conditions, while biotechnology/pharmaceuticals, utilities/energy, and aerospace/defense are the least impacted.

If you sell primarily into the hardest hit industries, explore if your products or services are applicable to other, more vibrant industries. If your products aren’t a good fit for these industries, you’ll need to ramp up marketing efforts in order to capture diminished demand in hard-hit industries. On the other hand, if you sell to a broader spectrum of industries, focus your marketing efforts on specific sectors that are less impacted by the economy. This will give you an opportunity to grow your market share.

It is also useful to know what kind of projects engineers are working on and what they are buying. Top areas where engineers will be spending more time and effort include entering new markets, researching future projects, projects to save energy, and new product design & development. Some of these longer term projects do not require immediate purchases, but the research and specification stage is going on now and you must maintain a market presence where customers can find you. Otherwise, you risk losing out on future sales opportunities when projects do get funded. It’s yet another reason to maintain marketing efforts during an economic downturn.

Other work effort by engineers will lead to near-term spending and immediate sales opportunities for you. Fifty percent of engineers are spending more time on projects to save energy, 48% on projects to reduce waste/scrap, and 47% on projects to decrease quality rejects. Can your products and services help test current production processes? Or reduce waste, rejects and energy consumption? Or otherwise help customers save money? That’s where you need to focus. You may need to re-invent your positioning and re-purpose application notes, case studies and white papers around these initiatives to let potential customers know how your products can be used in these applications.

One common and emotional misconception about a downturn is that the economy has come to a standstill. But that is not true at all. Engineers and technical professionals are still specifying and purchasing products and services. Electrical components, mechanical components, calibration & testing services, and electronic components are all product and service areas where engineers will be spending the same or more money in 2009 as in 2008.

Rather than hold back and do nothing because the economy is suffering, now is the time to put in place an intelligent plan to help you win the business that’s out there. A big component of that plan should be online marketing. The survey revealed that engineers are performing an increasing amount of work, research and product search online. Forty-two percent spend six or more hours per week on the Internet for work-related purposes and 62% visit six or more work-related Web sites each week. Online media represents four of the top five resources used by engineers to search for suppliers, products, components and services.

The conclusion to draw is that to succeed in this economy, you must “right-size” your marketing spend. The data demonstrates that your customers and prospects are online, and you need a strong and broad online presence in order to compete and earn customers.

My final point: don’t despair, take action. I strongly urge you to download a copy of GlobalSpec’s new white paper to discover the details, analysis and recommendations that will help you get through this challenging period. You can get your copy here.

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