Industrial buying activity is moving online. Recent research found that 90 percent of industrial purchases are now researched, evaluated and selected online. The uptick in online activity means that manufacturers need to step up their online game.

These days, most manufacturers understand that building an online presence is becoming increasingly important. But just being online isn’t enough. To truly capitalize on the online opportunity — and generate more engagement opportunities — manufacturers need to build-in website elements that meet buyer expectations.

I’d like to share five tips that manufacturers can use to improve their website and capture more engagement opportunities.

1. Structure Your Website to Mirror the Industrial Buying Cycle
The first thing to understand about building a website for the manufacturing industry is that the e-commerce model popularized by online retailers doesn’t work in the manufacturing industry. This is because the industrial buying process is an order of magnitude more complex than a retail purchase — and there are many more individuals (CFOs, engineers, etc.) involved in the purchasing process.

For this reason, Jared Fabac, eSystems Architect of Idea Bright Marketing, believes that a website should mirror the four steps of industrial sales:

  1. Discovery – Site visitors are just starting their research process and are trying to find companies that make what they need.
  2. Research – Visitors are looking for information on product specs, operations procedures and materials used.
  3. Sourcing – Individuals are ready to see detailed pricing and want schematics to ensure that your product works with what they’re building.
  4. Procurement – This will usually happen offline.

2. Immediately Communicate What You Do
When visitors first come to your website, they make a very quick decision as to whether you’re able to serve their needs. You have roughly five seconds to communicate what you do. If it isn’t immediately apparent what you make, then they’re likely to leave and look for somewhere that makes it easier on them to research.

One company that I think does a good job of showing off what they do right up front is Mettler-Toledo Process Analytics. The company’s homepage immediately shows exactly what they make and gives access to a detailed product catalog where more information can be gleaned.

3. Allow Side-by-Side Product Comparisons
Once visitors have browsed your product catalog, they will likely to want to compare multiple products to help narrow down the field of options. At this point, buyers are moving out of the discovery process and into the research phase. As such, they’re looking for basic product specifications, material type and other related information. At this point in the process, visitors should be able to use your website to compare three to five products side-by-side to help them understand their options.

4. Provide Detailed Information at the Product Level
Providing the right kind of content for Steps 1 and 2 of the buying process is core and critical. Getting this content right is what keeps visitors on your website. But having them stay on your website isn’t the same thing as turning them into an engagement opportunity. This means it’s essential to meet buyer expectations when they’re ready to enter the sourcing stage. One of the biggest mistakes that manufacturers make today is not providing enough information about their products. Failing to provide the right detail of information can make the difference between a visitor and an opportunity.

So what do buyers expect at this phase? In addition to wanting side-by-side comparisons in an online product catalog, buyers want to be able to drill down and access granular information individuals products. For instance, if you’re selling clip nuts, they want to know about the panel thickness, what material it’s made out of and the product grip range. They also want detailed measurement and schematics of the product.

Once your visitors are at this phase, you should also place a call to action (CTA) to allow visitors to request more information. This gives the visitor an opportunity to tell you how they plan to use your product. It also allows them to give their contact information so you can follow-up and let them know how you can meet their needs.

5. Allow CAD Files to be Downloaded
It’s also a great idea to provide downloadable CAD files. Providing this information helps attract visitors that are even further along in the sales cycle as it is some of the most detailed specifications that you have available. The visitors that request a CAD file are generally trying to double-check whether your product will fit the model that they’re building out.

Making this information available helps dramatically speed up the research process (and sales cycle) by saving the buyer the trouble of having to rebuild a CAD drawing from your product measurements. This information, however, should not be given away without capturing buyer information. The reason: the majority of the time, this person is ready to buy. They’re essentially at the last step before they’re ready to procure so it’s important to make sure that you can follow up with them and nurture the opportunity.

These are a few of the ways that manufacturers can go from just having a website to having one that can generate engagement opportunities. If you’re interested in reading more about these tips, and seeing a few examples of effective websites, please visit Software Advice where you can find the original article.

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