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.

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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 Know When You Need an Advertising Agency

It’s a question every industrial company, both large and small, faces eventually: do you need to hire an advertising agency? Or if your company used an agency in the past, and the relationship ended, for whatever reason, could it be time to revisit that decision?

A good agency can bring a lot to the table: creativity, fresh ideas, expertise in channels, production power, and intimate knowledge of your markets and target customers. On the other hand, your marketing machine might be producing just fine on its own. Or perhaps you’re not sure if an agency is a good fit for your situation. Or you’re reluctant to make the investment in an agency.

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We’ll tackle these questions in a two-part series. This first post will help you determine if you need to work with an advertising agency. In the next article, we’ll offer advice on how to choose the right agency for your needs.

If any of the following scenarios describe your current situation, it might be time to consider searching for the help of an agency.

Internal disagreement. For a variety of reasons—from personal feelings to organizational politics to differing skill sets—you might be dealing with multiple internal points of view on how to position, message and market your company, brand and products. In any company where smart people work, it’s not an uncommon situation that there are differences of opinion.

How an agency can help: An agency offers an external point of view, which can often serve as a fresh breath of air that helps unify your marketing vision and goals. An agency is also accustomed to synthesizing multiple opinions and accommodating the needs of a variety of stakeholders.

A tough marketing challenge. You’ve been wrestling with a marketing challenge for far too long and still haven’t won, such as: Your key marketing messages aren’t resonating. You’re having trouble building brand awareness. Your target audience isn’t engaged. Channels that once delivered have dried up.

How an agency can help: An agency will offer fresh ideas to solve your specific problem. You don’t have to hire an agency to be “your agency of record” and handle all of your marketing. Many good agencies will take on a specific marketing challenge or project work. You’ve probably been spending too much time on one thing anyway.

New channels to master. Almost all industrial marketers continue to shift a greater percentage of their marketing budget out of traditional channels and into digital marketing. That’s a smart move, because digital is where technical professionals are. But there are many choices, digital-wise: websites, online events, banner ad networks, search ads, social media, online catalogs, e-newsletters and more.

How an agency can help: Agencies tend to stay up up-to-date on what marketing channels deliver the best results for different types of businesses. A good agency will have expertise in the digital world.

Major rebranding. There’s a lot of work to do, not to mention risk and uncertainty to bear, in launching a major rebranding of products or your company. Everything has to come together and fit together: look and feel, messaging, marketing strategy. Can you or your team do it all?

How an agency can help: More than just serving as a fountain of creative ideas, an agency can help make sure all of your efforts add up to a unified whole. They will have a long and deep checklist of everything that needs to be done for rebranding, from high level decisions to the smallest, most detailed task. And an agency will know how long things take to get done.

Exploring new markets. Not all markets and industries are the same. Marketing that works in one may not work in another, so you can’t necessarily do things the same old way when you’re trying to break into a new market and you may not have the time or budget to learn as you go.

How an agency can help: Agencies can offer expertise in a variety of markets. They know through experience what channels and tactics might work in a market you aren’t that familiar with.

Lacking ideas. Your marketing has gone dry and stale: you know it, your boss knows it and your customers know it. Same old programs, same familiar message, same middling results. But you’re stuck because you don’t have any new ideas or you’re just not feeling the creativity muse.

How an agency can help: If you’re in need of innovative ideas and creativity, you’ll find them in an advertising agency. And an agency isn’t afraid to offer up radical ideas that would never have been generated within the walls of your company.

Gap to fill. You just don’t have enough people, resources and ideas to get all the work done. Maybe you’re launching a new product or merging two companies or missing a badly needed skill set on your marketing team.

How an agency can help: Many agencies have a surprisingly broad range of expertise in all things B2B marketing related: from identifying viable channels and delivering creative, to producing content, conducting research, growing social media, and building websites, managing programs, buying media and more. If you need it, an agency can probably do it.

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Six Ways to Make Your Content Stand Out in a Crowd

Content marketing isn’t just a hot topic, it’s a must-have strategy in the industrial sector. A whopping 93 percent of B-to-B marketers now use content marketing, and 73 percent are producing more content than they did a year ago, according to recent industry reports. With all of that content being produced and distributed, how do you make your content stand out in the crowd and resonate with your target audience? Here are six tips to help you:

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1. Understand what your audience wants. Every marketing initiative must start with having a thorough understanding of your audience. Content marketing is no different. If you don’t tailor your content to a specific audience, your efforts will be ignored or quickly forgotten, your valuable resources wasted. So step one is to analyze your audience needs. Are you trying to reach executives? Then produce content that talks about their business concerns such as return on investment. If your primary audience is technical professionals, you’ll want to develop content that educates them on ways to solve the engineering and technical problems they face in their work.

2. Tap into industry trends—uniquely. If there’s hot news breaking in your industry, jump right on it. You can write a quick blog post, initiate a social media discussion, or distribute a press release that offers your company’s point of view on what’s happening and what it means to your customers. You’ll gain the advantage of your content being timely and demonstrate that your company is tuned into the market. But remember, you need to offer a unique perspective. Otherwise you’ll just end up saying what everyone else is saying and your content won’t stand out. Take a stand, be unique, and foster your own voice to attract an audience for your content.

3. Distribute content on channels your audience prefers. Two effective channels for distributing content are e-newsletters and online events. According to IHS GlobalSpec’s “Digital Media Usage in the Industrial Sector” research report, technical professionals subscribe to an average of 5.8 digital publications versus only 1.8 printed publications. In addition, nearly two-thirds of technical professionals said they attended at least one webinar or online event last year. Twenty-six percent said they went to four or more.

Also consider social media as a distribution strategy. Reading work-related content is the most common activity for technical professionals on social media. The most popular social media platform among this audience is LinkedIn, with 74 percent having an account. Distributing your content through your company’s LinkedIn page or through a LinkedIn Group that you host is a good way to connect with your customers and prospects.

4. Use multiple content formats. Produce content in the formats that match your audience’s preferences. Some want to read white papers and articles, others prefer to watch videos, and others want pictures and diagrams. Visual formats such as infographics can grab attention and are gaining in popularity. Most successful content marketers re-purpose content from one format to another. This not only helps you match up to your audience preferences, but saves time and allows you to maintain a consistent voice and message.

5. Make content easy to share. Be sure to include ‘share’ buttons on website articles and blog posts—and don’t be afraid to ask your audience to share. It’s easy to add a sign off that says something like “Did you like this article? Share it with others.” Also, format content so that it can be easily viewed on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, which are increasing in usage among technical professionals.

6. Visually brand all content. A visual identifier, graphic, and consistent look and feel can help your content stand out in the crowd. This goes beyond simply adding your company logo to content. It involves coming up with a distinctive identity that threads through all of the content you produce. It could be using the same colors and fonts, or using images that have unique shapes or styles, or any other graphic approach that stamps that content as belonging to your company. You want anyone who sees your content to be able to say: “That’s from Company X.”

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Marketing Planning for 2014: 6 Ways to Evaluate Your Media Choices

It’s time to take off the gloves and get tough with your 2014 marketing planning. That means taking a hard look at your media choices and drilling down to find out what really works and what doesn’t. Last month, in Part One of this annual two-part series, we posed six questions you should ask about your marketing efforts. You can access the article here. This month, we give you six criteria to evaluate your media choices to help you choose the right channels to meet your goals and objectives.

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You have many choices about where to spend your marketing dollars. Digital channels. Traditional channels. Some combination of the two. It almost makes you long for the days of being limited to trade publications and printed directories. However, those channels have reached their twilight years.

Today industrial professionals are online looking to discover products, services, and suppliers. In a recent IHS GlobalSpec survey, 81 percent of engineering, technical and industrial professionals reported spending three or more hours a week on the Internet for work-related purposes, with more than 31 percent indicating the spend nine or more hours a week online.

But before you allocate your marketing budget for 2014, hold each of your media choices up to the light of these six criteria:

1. Reach. At its foundation, effective marketing is about reaching as many of your target audience as you can: long reach, right people, right time. Do you know how many people you’re reaching with your marketing programs? Are they the people who will specify, recommend, and purchase your products and services? Also, consider this often overlooked question: do you reach your target audience at the right time, when they are actively looking for products and services?

More than 70 percent of engineers use the Internet to obtain product specifications, and more than 80 percent are online to find components, equipment, services, and suppliers. Online catalogs and searchable databases of datasheets and product pricing and availability, like Datasheets360.com, help you effectively reach active searchers.

2. Frequency. It’s the digital era. It’s a global economy. Who knows when engineers might engage in a quest to discover products and suppliers? The answer is anytime, all the time. Which means your target audience must be able to find you 24/7. Channels that offer continuous frequency include your company website, search engines, and online catalogs. Compare that to print directories that are typically published once a year or an annual tradeshow.

3. Timing. Don’t underestimate the importance of timing in your marketing programs. Timing is about making a connection with your prospects when they are proactively seeking products and services. In other words, hooking them when they’re hungry. There are many good channels for connecting with active searchers, including your company website, online catalogs, webinars, and online events. Print catalogs and print directories will help you reach active searchers, but you’ll miss out on reach, frequency, and the ability to measure ROI.

4. Return. ROI can be complex to measure, but it’s often smart to start by answering a simple question: For the marketing dollars you spend, what kind of return to you get in terms of brand awareness and engagement opportunities? For example, programs such as webinars tend to have high return because prospects have proactively registered for the event, which already indicates their interest. Inquiries on your website from existing customers also offer high return; it’s lower for new customers. Searchable online catalogs tend to deliver good engagement opportunities because only your target audience would be using them, as opposed to general search engines.

5. Contacts and Inquiries. Do your marketing channels deliver contacts and inquiries in real time or is there a lag between prospects expressing interest and you finding out about it, leading to stale data? Also, do you get contact information for individuals and do you know their expressed area of interest? Work with media partners and choose channels that provide real time contact information containing useful data. This will get you that much closer to a qualified prospect from the beginning.

6. Branding. Branding and awareness are key components in the marketing equation. A highly visible brand helps build trust with customers and can reduce the time between inquiry and closing a sale because your brand is already recognized by prospects. Your company website, along with webinars and other online events and e-newsletter advertisements, offer solid branding opportunities.

A final recommendation as you prepare for 2014: Get a complimentary copy of the IHS GlobalSpec 2014 Industrial Marketing Planning Kit. This valuable and trusted resource will help you make the most of your marketing budget and choose the optimal channels to reach your goals and objectives. Download your copy today.

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3 Rules for Developing a Digital Media Strategy

It’s the digital age. Engineers and other industrial professionals are spending more time online than ever before. They use a variety of digital resources to perform work-related tasks, transforming their buy cycle and, in turn, challenging traditional marketing and sales processes for suppliers and manufacturers. This phenomenon, often called the Digital Disruption, has ushered in a new digital era and a mandate for suppliers to develop an effective digital media strategy.

The Digital Disruption is fully explored in the new IHS GlobalSpec white paper: “A Strategic Approach to Digital Media: How to Develop a Budget, Create a Strategy and Measure ROI.”

The majority of industrial marketers already use digital channels to connect with customers and prospects. However, their efforts do not always generate desired results. Only 35 percent of industrial marketers are satisfied or very satisfied with their online marketing efforts, according to the research report “2013 Trends in Industrial Marketing.”

1. Take a multichannel approach
The main reason there is so much room for improvement is that many marketers think of digital as a single tactic. They are not taking a holistic or strategic approach to digital marketing. Just as “traditional” (print advertising, trade shows, direct mail, etc.) was never a single marketing channel, “digital” is also a broad term encompassing many online marketing strategies and tactics.

Because industrial professionals have many digital tools and sources of information at their disposal—from general search engines to specialized search, from industry websites to supplier websites, from online events to e-newsletters, digital catalogs, social media and more—suppliers must deploy a multichannel digital marketing program to be successful.

Of course, you can’t be everywhere, but you can make strategic decisions about where to allocate your resources. You should focus on the channels that:

1. Your target audience prefers
2. Align with your goals and objectives
3. Match your customers’ buy cycle behavior

One point to consider: Many industrial buyers do not initiate contact with a vendor until they have completed the early stages of their buy cycle and are close to a purchase decision. Therefore, it’s important to build and maintain brand visibility and awareness as part of your multichannel approach, so you can be discovered by customers at all times during their research.

2. Create a digital media budget
The first step in creating a budget for digital media is to consider reallocating resources from marketing programs that have performed poorly or are difficult to measure into digital channels that your target audience is using.

Industrial marketers are making the shift to digital, some faster than others. Fifty-four percent of manufacturers report they are spending more for online marketing in 2013 than in 2012. However, half of companies are devoting at least 36 percent of their overall marketing budget to online media and only 30 percent are devoting the majority of their marketing budget to digital efforts. With a target audience that has already made the shift to online resources, industrial marketers have to ask themselves if they are committing enough budget and resources to reach and engage their customers and prospects through digital channels.

3. Meeting the Challenge of Measuring Marketing ROI
Many marketers swallow hard when the discussion turns to measuring marketing ROI, and there’s no question that this measurement is a challenge. At the same time, there’s no doubt that marketers need to be more accountable.

Here are several ways to get started measuring ROI:

1. Commit only to measurable programs. Fortunately, the best-performing programs today are digital media. And digital media by its nature is measurable. You can track impressions, clicks, inquiries, conversions, time on page, length of view, and more.

2. Focus on those measurements that provide valuable insight leading to decisions that will improve your marketing program. These include the volume of engagement opportunities, the value of a lead in terms of revenue it helps to generate, the speed with which a lead converts, cost per inquiry, and brand awareness (such as reach and exposure numbers).

3. The industrial buy cycle can involve multiple decision makers and include many marketing touch points. It’s not easy to determine which touch point(s) contributed to a sale, even for companies using sophisticated marketing automation software and having the benefit of tight integration and communication among sales and marketing to share data and insights. Most likely, all touch points contribute to a sale. You may need to assign a weighting to different tactics to help measure ROI.

The white paper, “A Strategic Approach to Digital Media,” includes four additional tips for measuring ROI. Plus recommendations on developing a multichannel marketing approach and reallocating your budget to the digital side. It’s a valuable resource for every marketer. Download your complimentary copy.

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