With pressure to demonstrate return on investment (ROI), industrial marketers often focus most of their attention and resources on the end of the buy cycle: the purchase decision. When you can build a marketing ROI case based on sales it’s easier to justify marketing expenses.

But there are two pitfalls to this approach:

1. The industrial buy cycle consists of distinct stages: needs awareness, research, consideration and comparison, and procurement. It’s important to use marketing to build awareness and connect with customers in these earlier stages or you probably won’t be a candidate to win business when decision time comes.

2. You can establish goals and track metrics for marketing programs that reach prospects in the earlier stages of the buy cycle. In this way you can use awareness and engagement opportunities as additional evidence to demonstrate ROI for your marketing efforts.

Why the early buy cycle stages are important
Fifty-six percent of industrial buyers don’t contact a vendor until at least the consideration and comparison stage of the buy cycle, according to the “2013 Digital Media Use in the Industrial Sector” research report. Nineteen percent don’t contact the vendor until they are ready to make a purchase.

Before making a purchase decision, buyers rely on a variety of digital resources to discover and research information about products, services and suppliers. They use this information to narrow down their options prior to even getting a vendor involved, which means you must be found in the early stages of the buy cycle and support customers with helpful, relevant content to make it onto a buyer’s short list of vendors.

Buyers use different information resources in different stages. During the needs awareness and research phases, the most frequently used resources are general search engines, supplier websites, online catalogs, and GlobalSpec.com. In addition to these online platforms, other resources, including colleagues and printed directories, are used in the consideration and comparison stage. During the procurement stage, the resource used most often is supplier websites, followed by online catalogs and general search engines.

Establish your presence on these digital channels to reach customers early in the buy cycle and you will be able to create a large pool of engaged opportunities for your sales team to work on closing.

Measure Success Throughout the Buy Cycle
Calculating ROI by tying sales to marketing programs can be an effective way to justify marketing expenses. But you can also demonstrate ROI when marketing supports customers in the earlier buy cycle stages.

For example, web page views, clicks, content downloads, video views, webinar attendance, and mentions or shares on social media can all be tracked and tied to your marketing efforts. These important metrics measure customer awareness, interest and engagement with your brand, products and services.

This type of ROI measurement is every bit as important as tying to sales, because without effective marketing in the early buy cycle stages, you won’t gain nearly as many opportunities for your sales team.

Keep in mind that early in the buy cycle customers want content that educates them and helps them do their job and move closer to a decision. Think about producing and distributing white papers, “how-to’s,” case studies, blog posts and product demo videos, rather than technical specifications or pricing and ordering information which can come later in the buy cycle. You can even measure the effectiveness of your content by tracking what gets downloaded, clicked on or shared the most.

It’s true that everyone wants immediate results. But the reality is that the industrial buy cycle can be long and complex, and might involve multiple decision makers. Plan your marketing to connect with customers early on in their buy cycle and you will have more engagement opportunities for your sales team to close in the later stages. You’ll also have the metrics as evidence to support your marketing decisions and justify your investments.

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How do handle the early stages of your customer’s buy cycle? What tips and ideas would you pass along to your peers in industrial marketing? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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