How to Match Content to Stages of the Buy Cycle

Through research and direct experience, we’ve learned a lot about the engineering buy cycle. According to the IEEE GlobalSpecIndustrial Buy Cycle Study,” a buy cycle averages 12 weeks in length, is continuously beginning anew, and consists broadly of three stages: Research & Analysis, Comparison & Evaluation, and Purchase.

Here’s what else we know:
• Supplier websites, general search engines, online catalogs and colleagues are among the most popular sources of information during all stages of the buy cycle. But in reality, there is no single “go-to” resource preferred by industrial professionals at any stage of the buy cycle, which reinforces the importance of having a multi-channel marketing strategy to connect with potential customers.

• Engineers prefer to search independently for products and services, and make contact with a supplier only later in their buy cycle. This illustrates the importance of providing high-quality, educational, and easily accessible content to your audience so that you are not passed by.

• Purchasing is a collaborative effort, with influence from engineers, management, operations, purchasing and more. As a result, industrial marketers need to have a consistent overall message to market, but they also need to ensure that they are communicating with these different personas, addressing their key concerns and making a connection.

• When evaluating a potential purchase, an engineering team will typically get quotes from three different suppliers. The challenge for suppliers is to make the final three, and to be the supplier chosen. Most of them are using content marketing to attract prospects and move them toward purchase, but not everyone is matching content to the different stages of the engineering buy cycle.
It’s not only important that you reach engineers and provide them with the information they need to make an informed decision – you need to tailor what you provide them to where they are in the buy cycle. Here’s how:

Research & Analysis
Blogs, newsletters and articles help engineers keep up on trends and technologies, and become aware of innovative companies and new products. They learn possible approaches to solving problems and may even discover needs they didn’t know they had.

This is a good stage for offering thought leadership content that showcases your unique approach to solving problems or that distinguishes your company in the market. Webinars, white papers and articles are also good content marketing options.

Comparison & Evaluation
Powerful and persuasive content to provide for this stage includes easy-to-read specifications, data sheets and infographics; “how-to” tutorials or videos that show products in use; and customer success stories or testimonials.
Comparison & Evaluation is also the stage at which engineers are most likely to contact a supplier’s sales team or technical staff. At this point your customers likely have some knowledge of your company and a potential purchase in mind. Make sure your team has the content they need to answer questions from customers.

Purchase
It’s time to make a decision. It could go several ways. If you’re ready with the right content, it’s more likely to go your way. At this stage, you’re more likely to see financial and procurement professionals also be involved.

A customer obviously wants to know about pricing, but also terms of the purchase. Are you selling an annually renewable license or contract? Are any product upgrades included? What is the warranty? What is the technical support? In addition to providing this content, you can gain an advantage if you can offer an ROI calculator or other tool to help customers understand the financial impact of their decision.

Provide the information and the resources that engineers require—at the time they need it—to drive preference for your brand and create loyalty for your products. For a deeper understanding of this topic, download the complimentary white paper “The Industrial Buy Cycle Study” from IEEE GlobalSpec Media Solutions.
 

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5 Key Takeaways from the Industrial Buy Cycle Survey

 Every industrial marketer must be tuned into the industrial buy cycle—a complex, three-stage collaborative process for recommending, specifying and purchasing equipment, components and software, and services in the industrial and electronics space. The three stages of the buy cycle are:

1. Research and Needs Analysis—when you identify specific needs for your company and explore available options. Activities might include web searches, attending webinars, reading white papers, scanning industry news and connecting with peers.
2. Comparison and Evaluation—when you determine the most suitable options for your company. Activities might include comparing specifications, watching how-to videos, testing samples, and interacting with the supplier’s technical staff.
3. Purchase—when you make a specific purchase decision. Many engineers still stay involved when it’s time to negotiate terms, get proper signatures and finalize pricing and scope.

Recently, IEEE Engineering360 Media Solutions conducted the “2106 Industrial Buy Cycle Survey.” Its purpose was to better understand the buying process engineers and other technical professionals engage in, and to provide useful information for industrial marketers who must connect with this target audience. Below are the five key takeaways from the survey.

1. Engineers Have Substantial Buying Authority
Engineers are in the problem-solving business, and if you can demonstrate that your solutions help solve their problems, they will authorize a purchase. Engineers have substantial buying and sign off authority, and they employ this authority to purchase a wide variety of components, software, equipment and services.

Engineers possess an average sign-off authority of nearly US $5,000 when purchasing products and services. In addition, they personally are responsible for an average of $110,900 in spending. Those holding managerial titles are responsible for more personal spending—37 percent more spend than staff engineers—and a commensurately larger sign off authorization level.

2. The Average Buying Cycle is 12 Weeks
The average buying cycle is 12 weeks—although 20 percent of engineers report buying cycles of four weeks or less, and 14 percent of 20 weeks or more. The average annual workload of engineers is four projects per year, regardless of product/service under consideration. When you consider the average number of projects (four) and the average length of buy cycle (12 weeks), engineers are actively involved in buy cycle activities all year long.

This means that engineers and other technical professionals are constantly searching for products and services that will meet the demands of their projects. The question for industrial marketers is: When engineers are searching for solutions like yours, will they find you?

3. Engineers Influence All Phases
While it’s true that the buying process is a team effort, engineers and engineering managers hold the majority of influence—52 percent. They are most involved in specifying, evaluating and recommending products/services to be purchased. Corporate management (particularly financial management) and purchasing are most influential during the purchase stage when terms and conditions are negotiated and the supplier relationship is cemented.

For a supplier, this means that cultivating connections with engineers early in the buy cycle are as important as establishing relationships with the people who ultimately issue the purchase orders.

4. Remember the Rule of Three
Engineering teams are remarkably consistent with regard to the number of suppliers they evaluate or ask to submit quotes. During the buying process, three competing suppliers on average are evaluated and sent RFQs—the “rule of three.” Those spending $1 million or more on products or services are more likely to evaluate or request quotes from four suppliers, but overall this “rule of three” is consistent across product categories, project loads or company sizes.

5. Engineers Have a List of Buying Criteria
Engineers and technical buyers want to work with suppliers that possess certain characteristics. These criteria fall under three general categories (another “rule of three”): supply chain, support and brand.

• Supply chain considerations have to do with product availability, delivery schedule and comfort with the supplier—such as having purchased from the vendor in the past or the supplier being an approved vendor. Lowest cost is also a factor, but not the most important one.
• Technical support is the single most important consideration, with 78 percent of engineers saying it is very important or somewhat important. After-sale customer assistance, design assistance, help with system integration or compatibility with legacy solutions, or simple access to a knowledgeable sales team are all considerations when making a purchase decision. For approximately 40 percent of engineers, the location of a supplier’s manufacturing facilities or service centers is of preeminent concern, especially for those buying services.
• Only half of engineers around the world feel it is critical to deal primarily with vendors with “recognized company names.” This should encourage smaller or lesser known suppliers. However, to win business from the half of engineers who prefer to work with known brands, these lesser known companies must successfully demonstrate there is little risk in doing business with them, both in terms of products and ability to deliver.

Read the Entire Survey Report
Results of the “2016 Industrial Buy Cycle Survey” have just been published by IEEE Engineering360 Media Solutions. You can download your complimentary copy to see all the survey results, read the analysis, and access recommendations for industrial marketers. Click here to download.

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Two Important Measurements that Communicate Marketing’s Value

 More than ever, executives are demanding accountability for marketing expenditures. It’s not an unreasonable expectation. Companies devote significant resources to marketing, and one of our roles is to demonstrate those resources are sound investments that generate demand for your company’s products and services.

There are multiple ways to gauge marketing success. The top three measures for industrial companies are sales attributed to marketing campaigns; customer acquisition; and customer satisfaction, according to the IHS Engineering360 Media Solutions’ 2015 Industrial Marketing Trends research report.

For that top measure—sales attributed to marketing campaigns—you might be underreporting the value marketing is delivering to the business. That’s because when you attribute sales to marketing campaigns, you should be looking at two different types of marketing leads that can turn into customers: the marketing qualified lead and the marketing influenced lead.

1. The Marketing Qualified Lead
This is a lead that marketing has generated through one of its campaigns and passed on to the sales team after qualifying it. Qualification may come from any number of processes, depending on how you’ve established lead handling practices. It could be from survey questions, telemarketing follow-up, or a lead score based on attributes such as company size, industry, need, buying time frame or other criteria.

Qualified leads are gems. Marketing should be proud of them. You’ve generated interest from a potential client, and routed that prospect through your lead qualification process. And your sales team wants qualified leads that require less effort and are more likely to convert into customers. Qualified leads are the glue that binds marketing and sales. There’s no diminishing their importance.

2. The Marketing Influenced Lead
The marketing influenced lead is sometimes overlooked because this lead hasn’t gone through the qualification process and been handed off to sales. It’s less visible than the marketing qualified lead.

However, the marketing influenced lead is any person who engaged with your marketing content before becoming a customer. For example, they downloaded a white paper, watched a webinar, interacted on your social media accounts, subscribed to your newsletter, visited your website or performed some other engagement activity with your company due to your marketing efforts.
Marketing influenced leads likely far outnumber marketing qualified leads. That’s because in the early research phases of their buy cycle, engineers and technical professionals are often quickly gathering information from a variety of potential suppliers without yet making any formal contact. According to the 2015 IHS Engineering360 Digital Media Use in the Industrial Sector research report, the majority of engineers and technical professionals don’t make contact with a potential supplier until the latter stages of their buy cycle.

If these future customers haven’t filled out a form (such as a registration), you may not even know about them yet—but they know about you, and they are being influenced by your marketing content. When they eventually make a buying decision and become a customer, your marketing efforts helped define their path and contribute to their decision, and marketing should get credit for this marketing influenced lead.

Putting the Leads Together
The distinction between these two types of leads is important when trying to demonstrate marketing’s value to the business, and both must be counted. The distinction also has several other implications for your marketing efforts:

• Diversify your digital marketing presence as much as possible to expose your company to more potential customers who can be influenced by your content
• Content marketing has a crucial role to play in any industrial marketing strategy
• Track interactions with your marketing content: clicks, views, downloads, shares, comments and more
• Work with your sales team to document effective processes to qualify leads and pass them to sales

Next time you’re asked to communicate the value of marketing to the business, be sure to mention both qualified and influenced leads.

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The Early Stage Buy Cycle is When the Relationship Starts

The early stage buy cycle for engineers and technical professionals is the equivalent of the top of the sales funnel for the manufacturer’s and supplier’s sales teams. It’s the beginning, when a buyer becomes aware of a problem or need and then begins to conceive of and search for a solution. If your company is already known to them, or becomes visible and sparks interest during a search, that’s when your relationship starts with a potential customer.

man with bouquet flowers
Begin your relationship with prospects early as generating initial awareness is critically important to the success of your sales and marketing efforts.

Because of the vast amount of content available from digital sources, it’s easier than ever for early-stage technical buyers to discover and research information about products, services and suppliers, and to narrow down their options before getting a vendor involved.

In this early stage, you might not yet have any personal contact with your prospect, you may not even have captured their name, but this is when they enter the top of your funnel.

Generating this early-stage awareness is critically important to the success of your sales and marketing efforts. You must connect with potential customers early in order to be a contender later when they are ready to make a purchase decision. Beginning the relationship early, even an anonymous one, offers key benefits to your organization:

  • You make a positive first impression on potential customers. If your company name comes up when they begin their search, it’s only natural that they gravitate toward you. Your widespread visibility in itself instills a sense of expertise and fosters trust. For example, the engineer searching for new diode laser technologies will be interested if they keep coming across your name (especially if it’s linked to quality, useful content … but more on that in a bit).
  • You stay top of mind. If you put consistent effort into branding and visibility tactics that raise awareness and help to widen and populate the top of the funnel, prospects will be exposed to you more often and will keep your company and products in their mind when they have a need.
  • Perhaps most importantly, marketing for the early-stage of the buy cycle can help to shorten the sales cycle for your sales team. Your prospects will already be aware of your company and what you offer. They’ve been accessing valuable content that’s helping to educate them. This means your sales people are speaking to an informed prospect and don’t have to start from the very beginning every time.

The keys to early-stage success

The first thing to realize is that if a potential buyer does not know about you or find out about you in their early stage, they will not be contacting you in a later stage. They will be contacting one of your competitors. To be the brand that matters to your target audience, you should:

  • Build and maintain a strong online presence on those digital resources your customers use most in the early buy cycle stages. Research shows that general search engines, supplier websites, online catalogs and industry-specific search engines and information resources such as Engineering360.com are the most popular digital channels for engineers and technical buyers early in the buy cycle. Diversify your presence across these channels.
  • Produce and publish a steady stream of content on digital channels for your prospects and customers. Your audience is eagerly searching for content as they engage in their buy cycle. They are looking for white papers and technical reports, watching webinars and product demos and reading articles, newsletters, blog posts and more. At this stage, your content should be educating prospects on a high level by, for instance, comparing approaches to solving problems, explaining how something works or commenting on trends. Your goal is to get in the game by demonstrating knowledge and expertise. It’s too early to be selling and trying to close the deals.
  • Recognize and respond when prospects move to later buy cycle stages, such as consideration and comparison. At some point, either the buyer has dropped out or you will have generated an engagement opportunity, with your prospect registering for a webinar, subscribing to your blog, or initiating contact with your company. You should have in place a plan to manage your engagement opportunities, either through ongoing lead nurturing programs or escalating a prospect to your sales team if they are giving off indications they are ready to buy. Don’t waste those early stage efforts—make sure you know how to move prospects through the funnel.

Industrial marketers can sometimes overlook the importance of their customers’ early buy cycle. By focusing resources on building brand and raising visibility, you’ll attract more prospects at the top of your funnel, helping to ensure you have a pool of potential customers when it’s time for them to make a purchasing decision.

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How to Craft Content for the Three Types of Industrial Buyers

The industrial buy cycle can be long and complex, and can involve any number of recommenders, influencers, gatekeepers and decision makers who all have a say in the final purchase decision. It’s a daunting task for a marketer to create content and design communications that are relevant and that resonate with these various audience types.

To make your job easier, you can segment all of those involved on the customer side into one of three buyer types: the analytical buyer, the economic buyer and the technical buyer. Speak to the needs and interests of these three types of buyers and you can simplify your communication efforts while increasing your opportunities for winning the deal.

industrial buyers

The Analytical Buyer: Will it Solve My Problem?
The analytical buyer is the technical professional who has a problem to solve. They need, for example, an oscillating pump or a diode laser or a circuit board to perform a specific function. The analytical buyer is often the first point of contact your company has with a potential customer. They’re the person who has performed initial research to identify the suppliers, products or components that could meet their needs.

The biggest question on the analytical buyer’s mind is whether your product or service will solve their problem. They’re asking: What functions does the product perform? What are its specifications? Why is your product better than another product? Or: How does your service meet my needs?

Analytical buyers want facts and solutions. They respond to content such as demos, how-to videos, problem-solving webinars, and white papers.

The Economic Buyer: Will We Earn ROI?
The economic buyer’s greatest concern is return on investment. They often have significant sway in any large or long-term purchase. Economic buyers asking that if their company buys your product or service, will the return they earn in terms of economic benefit be higher than the price they pay?

The benefits to economic buyers might be measured in terms of expected time savings, increased efficiency, uptime, product lifespan, reliability, warranties, opportunity cost (if they purchase your product over a competitive one, how do they gain or lose) or other factors.

Effective content for the economic buyer might be interactive ROI calculators, case studies showing demonstrated success and benefits other customers have achieved, analyst reports, depreciation schedules, and executive briefs. The content should be numbers oriented and benefit focused.

The Technical Buyer: Is it the Right Fit for Our Company?
The technical buyer is often behind the scenes and may not come into play early in the buy cycle. They are concerned with the bigger picture of whether your product, component or service will fit into the larger technical infrastructure, environment or policies at their company. For example: Are your products compatible with other products the customer uses? Do your products integrate well or will modifications elsewhere be necessary? How is support provided? These questions are particularly relevant with software and hardware purchases, but also for other industrial products.

Fitting into environment also includes questions such as: Is this kind of company we want to do business with? If the customer has a policy to prefer suppliers that engage in “green” business practices, or that manufacture only in the United States, you’ll find this out from the technical buyer. Also, if the customer requires a certain type of support, such as on-site or 24/7, the technical buyer as well as the analytical buyer will be looking for that type of information.

Technical buyers want specifications, but they also want to see your policies and procedures. They can nix a sale for any number of reasons, and so you’ll have to produce content that answers their questions.

The Buyers Together
You might produce individual pieces of content for each type of buyer or you might try to communicate with all your audiences at once. There are no set rules other than to be clear and relevant to your customers and to address their concerns: Does your product do the job well, deliver required benefits, and fit seamlessly into their environment?

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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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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.

digitalmediause

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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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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How to Meet the High Expectations Technical Professionals Have for You

Technical professionals are hard-working problem-solvers. They thrive on finding the right solution. They live for that challenge, and the more challenging, the better they like it. This group of professionals is constantly evolving—always looking for what’s better, faster, cooler. And they want information that’s going to keep them up to speed. They don’t just want it—they expect to find it when they go looking for it.

technical professional

As marketers, it’s important that you provide your audience with this information. Suppliers who can satisfy engineers’ vast appetite for content and meet their audience’s expectations will be in a much better position to win their business.

Nowhere are those expectations higher than they are in the digital arena. The reason is technical professionals spend more time online for work-related purposes than ever before. They seek access to content, resources, products and suppliers. Be there for them and yours can be the company that exceeds the expectations of your target audience. Here’s how:

Provide content for all stages of the buying cycle
Technical professionals go online during all stages of their buying cycle, from the early research phases to the later procurement phases. In fact, they do so much of their buy cycle work online that many do not contact a supplier until they are ready to make a purchase.

In the early research and identification stages of the buy cycle, technical professionals want to learn about different approaches to solving their problem. What processes or products work best? Who are the innovative suppliers in this area? What used to work but no longer does? This is the time to offer white papers, articles and videos, host a webinar or exhibit at an online event.

As they enter the consideration phase, they may look for case studies, testimonials, product demos, CAD files and other documents that can demonstrate benefits and set you apart from the competition.

Later in their buy cycle, technical professionals will be seeking information to help them make an informed and confident purchasing decision. Information such as ROI calculators, checklists and specification sheets all are helpful at this point.

Focus on educating and informing
Technical professionals can be obsessive about staying up-to-date. They never want to be the last person to hear about what’s new in their world. To stay educated and informed, they go online to read industry news, follow the latest trends and discover new technologies.

Suppliers who are engaged in building thought leadership and brand awareness have a chance to be noticed for their positions on industry topics that are important to their audience. These suppliers focus on publishing articles and interviews on industry websites and blogs, sponsoring and speaking at relevant online events, and hosting educational webinars. The key here is to establish your expertise by being educational and informative to your audience.

Maintain a presence where your audience can find you
Technical professionals use a variety of digital resources in their quest for information: industry websites, e-newsletters, online catalogs, YouTube and other video-sharing sites, online events and webinars, blogs, social media and more.

While it’s likely you can’t be everywhere, you should build and maintain a highly-visible presence on those digital channels that work best for you. You’ll have a much better chance of connecting with technical professionals and creating a strong brand.

Additionally, you can often re-purpose content for use in multiple channels, helping to save you time and money. For example, a white paper on your website can become the basis for a webinar or an article for an online industry publication. A video customer interview can become a case study. You can promote the same content in multiple ways: e-newsletter ads, banner ads, social media, blog posts, etc.

Be considerate and helpful
At the end of the day, marketing’s goal is to help contribute to the growth of your company. How you do that is open to interpretation. If you want to meet the expectations of your audience, our suggestion is to avoid the hard sell.
In the industrial sector, there’s very little impulse buying. There may be some incentive purchasing—volume discounts, end-of-year orders and such, but for the most part technical professionals don’t make a purchase until they have a specific need and only after they’ve done careful research. In addition, multiple decision makers are often involved. If with every marketing touch you are asking potential customers to “Buy now!” or forcing them to register for every piece of content, technical professionals will quickly turn away and look for another source of information.

It’s better to err on the side of being helpful and considerate. Wait for buying signals from your prospects, such as attendance at an important webinar or a certain number of website visits or other criteria you set. Until that point, focus on providing useful and relevant content that fulfills their expectations.
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Four Best Practices to Optimize Your Lead Nurturing Efforts

In this digital era when technical professionals have more sources of information and a broader choice of vendors than ever before, many do not contact a supplier until they are close to making a buying decision. Other potential customers contact every possible vendor that could serve their needs. In either situation, and everything in between, you end up generating leads from technical professionals who could be anywhere in their buy cycle—from early research to late stage.

lead nurturing

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To convert more of these leads to sales, to keep your sales reps happy with qualified leads, and to improve marketing ROI on your campaigns, you need a solid lead nurturing program to help prospects move along to the next stages of their buy cycle. The word nurture means to nourish, protect, support and encourage. And that’s exactly what you need to do with your leads:

  • Nourish—provide them healthy servings of relevant, useful information
  • Protect—keep them interested so they don’t abandon you for another supplier
  • Support—stay in regular contact always ready to meet their needs
  • Encourage—give them offers to help them move forward in their buy cycle

An effective lead nurturing program will fulfill all of these goals. Here are the best practices you need to follow:

1. Segment and score leads
Sales and marketing need to work together to define different types of leads; for instance, leads that are sales-ready versus leads that belong in marketing’s nurturing program. Use any criteria that work for your organization to segment and score leads. It could be demographics, product interest, buying timeframe, purchasing authority, budget, size of potential deal, location, digital behavior (such as website visits, webinar registrations, white paper downloads)—or any combination of these attributes. You can apply weights to different lead attributes and come up with a lead score. Example: leads that score a one, two or three belong in marketing; leads scoring four or five are ready for sales.

The way that you score leads—and adjust their scores over time—is the foundation for all other best practices in lead nurturing.

2. Maintain prospect interest
If you do a good job of segmenting and scoring leads, you will gain a solid understanding of your prospects’ interests and needs. Your goal then is to feed them a steady supply of content and offers related to their needs and interests. Technical professionals are looking for information that will help them solve the problem they are facing, which is directly related to the reason they contacted you in the first place. They want to know how things work, how your product helps them complete a task, what their different options are and what are the latest technologies and newest products.

You can deliver this information in a variety of ways. New leads might be most interested in educational content such as infographics, blog posts, articles, white papers and webinars. Prospects that score a little higher would be looking for demos, product overviews and technical specs. The next level might include buying guides, ROI calculators and competitive differentiators. Get the right information to the right prospects and you will keep them engaged.

3. Watch for signs of progress
One reason lead nurturing programs exist is that the buy cycle can be long, complex and involve multiple decision makers. Prospects do not want to be pressured into making quick decisions. You must keep the long view and respect their timelines in your lead nurturing programs. That said, look for signs of prospects moving forward, and when they do, take appropriate action, such as passing them off to a sales representative or sending them a customized offer.

To do this requires that you keep track of what your prospects are doing and adjust their lead scores along the way. For example, a lead that scores one upon initial contact with your company could become a three after spending three months in your lead nurturing program, based on their digital behavior. Therefore, you must continually monitor your prospects, track their behavior and look for signs of progress that indicates a change in the status of their readiness to engage.

4. Use Marketing Automation
It’s possible to develop and execute a lead nurturing program using manual processes or spreadsheets, but marketing automation software is becoming a common tool and an investment might make economic sense. The fact is, your prospects are everywhere on digital media—websites, social media sites, online events, blogs, webinars, video sharing sites and more. They are downloading, clicking, reading, streaming, watching and commenting. Plus you’re likely using multiple digital channels in your quest to connect with prospects.

Marketing automation software allows you to capture all of this action across digital channels. It is built to excel at lead management and nurturing. It can help you manage all of this complexity by scoring leads, creating landing pages, tracking prospect actions, triggering automatic emails, reporting on the effectiveness of various content, producing analytics and much more.

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How do you nurture leads? What tips or strategies would you pass along to your peers in industrial marketing? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Buy Cycle Industrial Marketing and Sales Lead Management Marketing ROI Marketing Strategy