Industrial Marketing: The Definitive Guide

What is industrial marketing? An introduction

A Google search for “industrial marketing” will first show you pages from Wikipedia and Marketing-Schools.org. And both sources consider the term “industrial marketing” to be synonymous with “business-to-business (B2B) marketing” – or the marketing of products or services to other companies, rather than to consumers.

For the purpose of this guide, we’re going to be more specific. We’ve written the content that follows specifically for business-to-business companies in the industrial sector. That means manufacturers, industrial service providers, distributors, builders and their subcontractors.

So if that describes your company, and if at least a few of the following challenges keep you up at night, we encourage you to read on.

  • You lack awareness among your niche audience
  • You’re not seeing enough qualified leads
  • You’re wasting time pursuing unqualified leads
  • You’re fighting a long sales cycle and struggling to close business
  • Your marketing and sales efforts are disjointed
  • You don’t know how to measure marketing ROI

The purpose of this industrial marketing guide

The purpose of this guide is simple: to help B2B industrial sector companies learn how to grow their businesses online. When you’re finished reading it, we’re confident that you’ll be ready to construct a marketing strategy for your company that will generate highly-targeted website traffic, convert your website visitors into real sales leads with names and phone numbers and converge your sales and marketing efforts into a streamlined business development machine.

The Hardworking Inbound Marketing Guide for B2B Industrial Companies

This downloadable PDF will guide you through execution of the industrial marketing strategy you've designed.

Table of contents

This guide is broken up into eight sections, as follows

  1. What is industrial marketing? An introduction
  2. Industrial marketing vs. consumer marketing
  3. Aligning with the technical professional’s buying process
  4. Planning for results before choosing tactics
  5. Designing your tactical marketing plan
  6. Budgeting and staffing for your industrial marketing initiative
  7. Measuring industrial marketing success
  8. Aligning marketing and sales

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Industrial marketing vs. consumer marketing

It should be no secret to you that the buying process of business-to-business industrial sector buyers is very different than that of consumers. And because industrial buyers behave in such a different manner, the marketing approach must absolutely follow suit. Below, we look at five reasons industrial marketing needs to be approached differently than consumer marketing.

1. Industrial buyers are looking for something (very) specific

Your buyer might be looking for steel pipe. But more likely, he’s looking for carbon steel pipe. And even more likely, he’s looking for A-106 carbon steel pipe. The point? Mass marketing doesn’t work when each buyer has such specific (and technical) needs and requirements. A successful industrial marketing strategy requires a much more targeted, niche-specific approach.

2. Heavy research often precedes the purchase

Long sales cycles tend to accompany big industrial B2B purchases. Lots of money is involved. Often many people are involved. And sometimes quite a bit of office politics are involved. As a result, this kind of big purchasing decision is typically accompanied by a significant amount of research by the buyer.

You might argue that many consumer purchases also involve a good deal of research. A new home. Expensive furniture. A car. A computer. But rarely do even these biggest of consumer purchases take the good majority of a year (or multiple years). That leads into the next point…

3. Purchases mean partnerships

When the sales cycle does take months, or a year or more, staying top of mind, earning trust and qualifying your business are all critical steps in the buying process. Successfully catering to these steps is what we call “lead nurturing”. The industrial buyer needs to feel confident in you and know that he is being taken care of.

Often a B2B purchase means that a relationship is about to form. Your buyer may have to work closely with you for months or even years to come. He doesn’t want to start over again next year. He wants to make the right decision, right now. So the relationship matters.

4. The researcher often isn’t the decision maker

The person who discovers you is not always the person writing the check. More often than not, an Engineer, Plant Manager or Procurement staff member is the one looking for answers to questions, solutions to problems, parters and vendors. Your tasks as an industrial marketer are to be sure your company is discovered by that person and to qualify your business in front of him or her first. His trust must be earned before he recommends you up the chain to his C-level decision maker.

5. Contact information is the currency of industrial marketing

Before your sales team can close a new sales-qualified lead as a customer, your marketing team needs to put that lead on the table.

Consumer marketing focuses heavily on the end game of driving direct sales. But B2B industrial marketing is often more complex. The focus of industrial marketing lies in generating awareness among a qualified niche audience, educating them, validating your business in front of them, keeping them engaged and converting them from anonymous prospects into hard leads with names, phone numbers and email addresses. In short, industrial marketing exists to feed the sales engine, where real conversations with leads begin and sales are eventually closed.

In the next section, we’ll take a closer look at three distinct stages of the industrial buyer’s purchasing process and how your marketing approach needs to align with each.

The Hardworking Inbound Marketing Guide for B2B Industrial Companies

This downloadable PDF will guide you through execution of the industrial marketing strategy you've designed.

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Aligning with the technical professional’s buying process

Like in many business-to-business verticals, the industrial buying process consists of phases. As we looked at earlier in our comparison of consumer and industrial marketing, the latter typically involves a much more in-depth process. Following a buyer’s realization that he or she has a need that must be filled, three distinct phases of the buying process ensue, as outlined in the following table.

The three stages of the industrial buying process

Stage Buyer’s Intention Role of marketing
Research The buyer begins a search process to discover answers to questions, solutions to a problem or providers of a product/service. The seller (the industrial marketer) should aim to be discovered by the buyer as early as possible in the buying process. The earlier this discovery occurs, the more influence the seller can have on the often long buying process.
Evaluation The buyer develops a short list of products or service providers and begins evaluating each in depth. The seller’s job during this evaluation stage is to qualify his or her business and prompt a sales conversation. It’s important to note that 57% of the industrial buying process happens before contact is ever made with a salesman. Translation – educational, qualifying website content will be critical.
Purchase The buyer has reached the point of decision Marketing should have done it’s job at this point and duties fall into the hands of sales to close the deal.

How to align your industrial marketing strategy accordingly

Because the mindset of a buyer – your potential customer – is very different during each of these three distinct phases of the buying process, we need to carefully consider how we can fulfill his needs and solve his problems during each.

1. Identify your buyer

Who is involved in the buying process within your target audience’s company? Engineers seeking specs? Purchasing departments seeking low bids? Business owners seeking long-term partnerships?

2. Identify the buyer’s need

What problems are they trying to solve? What challenges are they trying to overcome? What solutions do they think they need? What solutions do they actually need?

3. Learn where they go to seek out answers to their questions and solutions to their problems

Where do they gather information online? Search engines like Google and Bing? Industry directories and trade journals? Industrial sector resources like ThomasNet or GlobalSpec?

4. Learn what specifically they’re trying to learn

What keywords do you suspect they’re using in their searches? Are they searching by product? By service? By problem? By solution? Real data can be gathered through sources like Google AdWords Keyword Planner to validate or negate what you suspect to be true.

5. Answer their questions

There’s no better place than your own website to answer common questions and provide the beginnings of solutions to those problems through written, visual or watchable content. Educational content actually helps your buyer and begins to establish trust in a way that promotional marketing language very rarely will.

6. Compel your website visitor to take a lead-generation action

Right now your website visitor is an anonymous person. No face. No name. No phone number. No email address. You need to ensure you prompt a real conversation before that anonymous visitor leaves and never comes back. Gating educational content behind a form allows you to trade something of value for your prospect’s contact information. And this in turn allows you to take control of the sales conversation.

The Hardworking Inbound Marketing Guide for B2B Industrial Companies

This downloadable PDF will guide you through execution of the industrial marketing strategy you've designed.

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Planning for results before choosing tactics

When there are marketing results to be produced, you may be tempted to jump straight to tactics – a website overhaul, an AdWords pay-per-click campaign, an email marketing push. But we need start at the other end of the equation. Remember – the reason we’re doing any of this in the first place is to grow your business. And that means we need to focus on driving revenue before anything else.

Ask yourself this question alone: One year from now, what is the revenue number I need to tie back to online marketing? Start there and work backwards.

1. Revenue Target

Whether a revenue target was given to you by your boss or you’ve created your own goal, you should begin with a tangible number in mind. For the sake of an example, let’s say your target is $3MM in revenue growth over the next year.

2. Sales-Qualified Leads Target

Next, we need to figure out how many sales-qualified leads we’ll need to generate in order to reach $3MM in revenue growth. Setting a qualified leads target requires us to answer a few questions first:

  1. What’s the value of a new customer? $1000? $100,000? $1,000,000?
  2. What’s your sales team’s close rate among sales-qualified leads?

Let’s say we’ve answered these two questions as follows:

  • Your average customer is worth $100,000
  • Your sales team closes business with 50% of their sales-qualified leads

Doing the simple math, we now know that our marketing initiatives must contribute to the acquisition of 30 new customers (worth $100,000 each) over the next year to reach $3MM. And with a 50% close rate, doing so will require 60 sales-qualified leads (an average of 5 sales-qualified leads/month).

3. New Contacts Target

How incredible it would be if every form submission that came through your website produced a qualified lead. Unfortunately, those kinds of expectations are unrealistic.

When inbound marketing starts working as it should, you’ll get your fair share of qualified leads requesting quotes and downloading your content. But you’ll also get your fair share of form submitters that you’ll classify as spam, vendors trying to sell you something, students conducting research and competitors trying to figure you out.

For the sake of a round number, let’s say 1 in 10 contacts you generate through your website is a truly qualified lead. Since we’ve already determined that we need to produce 5 qualified leads/month to reach our $3MM new revenue target, and we’ve made the assumption that 1 in 10 contacts we generate will be qualified, we can conclude that we’ll need to produce 50 total new contacts/month.

4. Website Traffic Target

Finally, we can ask the question – How much website traffic do we need to generate in order to produce those 50 new contacts each month? Our experience shows that an industrial website that’s sufficiently equipped for lead generation should yield a 2-3% visitor-to-lead conversion rate. Using that percentage range as a benchmark, you’ll need to produce 1600-2500 visits/month to generate those 50 new monthly contacts.

Now we’re getting somewhere tangible. The example we’ve talked through here is illustrated in the table below:

Targets Question to ask yourself Example
Revenue target What revenue do I need to generate from my inbound marketing initiative over the next year? $3MM
Sales-Qualified Leads Target How many sales-qualified leads do I need to generate for my sales team each month to reach that revenue target? 5 sales-qualified leads/month
New Contacts Target How many total new contacts do I need to generate each month to produce that many qualified leads? 50 new contacts/month
Website Traffic Target Assuming a 2-3% visitor-to-lead conversion rate can be established on my website, how much monthly website traffic do I need to produce that many new contacts? 1600-2500 website visits/month

So what next?

NOW, it’s finally time to get tactical. You’ve set your targets and your end goal. The next step, as we investigate in the section that follows, is to design the plan that will get you there.

The Hardworking Inbound Marketing Guide for B2B Industrial Companies

This downloadable PDF will guide you through execution of the industrial marketing strategy you've designed.

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Designing your tactical marketing plan

Now that we’ve established the desired results, we can build a tactical plan. In the table from the last section, we established the following goals for our sample marketing initiative over the next year:

  • $3MM in new revenue
  • 5 sales-qualified leads/month
  • 50 total contacts/month
  • 1600-2500 website visits/month

Now only one question remains:

What is the absolute best combination of marketing activities I can implement to produce 1600-2500 visits/month at a 2-3% visitor-to-lead conversion rate?

The first table below outlines the tactics that can help you generate the traffic. The second table outlines the tactics that can help you generate the conversion rate.

Traffic-generating marketing tactics

Tactic The role it plays
Keyword research and on-page search engine optimization

Utilize real data to learn what keywords your audience is using to search for solutions

Optimize the individual pages on your website so they’ll be discovered when your audience searches through Google and other search engines

Content marketing

Help Google understand that your business is a strong source of information for the topics related to the keywords you’re targeting

Educate visitors and qualify your business in front of them after they discover you

Inbound link building: guest authorship, content syndication, directory listings Establish the credibility of your website in the eyes of the search engines. Links from other credible, industry-centric sites to your site are seen by Google as votes of confidence for your site, and directly impact your search engine rankings
Paid search engine marketing Drive traffic quickly through paid advertising in search engines. Examples include Google AdWords pay-per-click ads and retargeting
Social media publishing Intersect buyers as they gather information and seek solutions in online social networks like LinkedIn

Lead-generating marketing tactics

Tactic The role it plays
On-page visitor-to-lead conversion paths: Calls-to-action, lead-capture landing pages, forms Compel visitors at all stages of their buying processes (research, evaluation, purchase) to become real contacts with names and phone numbers rather than anonymous website visitors
Lead magnets (valuable resources gated behind forms) Create a variety of opportunities for visitors to trade their contact information for something of value to them in their buying process (examples: white papers, case studies, buyer’s guides, webinar registrations, email subscriptions)
Quote / consultation prompts Compel visitors who are close to making a buyer decision to reach out and start a sales conversation with you

Because we could literally write books about each of the line items in the table above, we’ll avoid going into each in depth here. But we encourage you to download our Industrial Marketing Tactical Execution Guide explore some of these tactics in more detail:

The Hardworking Inbound Marketing Guide for B2B Industrial Companies

This downloadable PDF will guide you through execution of the industrial marketing strategy you've designed.

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Budgeting and staffing for your industrial marketing initiative

Industrial marketing success will result from a sound strategy designed around the pain points and needs of your niche audience, complemented by smart execution. And all of this will require significant manpower. Below we break down three routes to executing your industrial marketing strategy:

  1. Execute with your existing staff
  2. Hire an internal marketing employee
  3. Partner with an industrial marketing agency

The table below outlines the pros and cons of each, as well as associated costs.

ROUTE 1:
Execute with your existing staff
ROUTE 2:
Hire an internal marketing employee
ROUTE 3:
Partner with an industrial marketing agency
Overview Make use of existing staff members who are strong strategic thinkers and have some level of experience with marketing and business development Hire a salaried staff member with a background in marketing Hire an outside agency that specializes in marketing and lead generation specifically for B2B industrial sector companies
Pros

No additional expenditures

Little to no learning curve about the business

40+ hours/week of availability on site

Multiple skill sets: (strategy, SEO, design, writing, web development)

Lower total cost than an internal full-time hire

Established processes and strategies that have worked for other companies with similar business growth challenges

Existing expertise in marketing and lead generation, specifically for industrial sector B2B companies

Cons

Potential non-marketing expert filling a marketing role

Staff member’s time diverted form his/her primary job

Multiple marketing skills sets are rarely present in one person (strategy, SEO, design, writing, web development). Will likely require outside help to fill these skill sets

Salary cost, plus payroll taxes, benefits, equipment, training, etc.

Multiple marketing skills sets are rarely present in one person (strategy, SEO, design, writing, web development). Will likely require outside help to fill these skill sets

Existing B2B and/or industrial-specific marketing experience may be limited or nonexistent

Investment of time required to learn your business (and your customers’ businesses)

Agency retainer costs

Taking a leap of faith by investing in a partnership with a third party company, often requiring a 12-month+ commitment

Investment of time required to learn your business (and your customers’ businesses)

Cost $0

$85,000+ /year total:

$60,000 – $75,000 base salary

$25,000 benefits, payroll taxes, equipment, etc.

$60,000+ / year

Each of these three routes can be viable. And as outlined above, there are pros and cons for each. Because every company is different – from business growth goals to marketing budgets to staff skill sets – the route you chose depends on your particular situation.

The Hardworking Inbound Marketing Guide for B2B Industrial Companies

This downloadable PDF will guide you through execution of the industrial marketing strategy you've designed.

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Measuring industrial marketing success

The tough news for most marketing professionals in this digital era is that they can no longer hide behind subjective results. Today’s marketing and business development ecosystems are data-driven and entirely measurable. The B2B marketer who tries to justify his price tag by helping you “build a stronger brand image” is just taking your money.

Today, marketing results must be tangible to be credible.

In the earlier section of this guide called “Planning for results before choosing tactics”, we looked at how to set goals for each of the following:

  • Revenue
  • Sales-qualified leads
  • Total new contacts
  • Visitor-to-lead conversation rate
  • Website traffic

When you take that critical step of establishing tangible goals before you build your marketing plan, you naturally put benchmarks in place against which you can measure results. Have your reached each of these targets? And most importantly, have you met your revenue goal?

Tools for measuring marketing results

Thankfully, today a plethora of measurement tools exist for marketers (from free to very expensive) that serve a variety of purposes. The table below outlines a few of our favorite tools and what they help you measure.

Tool What it measures Cost and description
Google Analytics Comprehensive measurement of website performance
  • Free
  • The most readily-available and comprehensive measurement tool available
  • Measure your traffic growth, how visitors are finding you, their geography, what content on your website they’re consuming, what content is generating leads, and much more
Hubspot Comprehensive measurement of website performance, lead intelligence on individual website visitors
  • $200+/month
  • Measure your entire inbound marketing funnel from discovery to lead generation to closing of customers
  • Collect intelligence on the behavior of specific individuals that enter your sales funnel
Moz Search engine optimization
  • $100+/month
  • Identify keyword-targeting opportunities
  • Track your performance ranking for these keywords
Hotjar Website visitor behavior, conversion of visitors into leads
  • Free-$89/month
  • Document click and scroll behavior of website vistors through visual heat maps and video recordings
  • Identify where on your site visitors drop off before converting into leads
Google AdWords Keyword Planner Keyword search volume
  • Free
  • Generate large lists of keywords
  • Collect real search volume data on keywords related to the products, services and solutions you offer and the problems your prospects are trying to solve
  • Determine monthly search volume by location

Data is useless unless you take action

Tools that help you collect and interpret data make it easy for us to say “awesome – this worked” or “dang – this didn’t work.” But that’s not enough. Data collection and analysis must ultimately be used to hold your marketer accountable and enable positive change. If something didn’t work, why? What went wrong? Can we correct our tactical approach or do we need to revisit our higher-level strategy? How about the things that are working? What did we do right? Where can we replicate those successful strategies and tactics?

An effective marketing plan is always in flux. The smartest marketers deploy their strategy, collect data, interpret the results and refine on a consistent basis. The tools above are designed to help you do just that.

The Hardworking Inbound Marketing Guide for B2B Industrial Companies

This downloadable PDF will guide you through execution of the industrial marketing strategy you've designed.

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Aligning marketing and sales

Having worked with many industrial sector companies, our agency has observed one challenge that stands above all others: the integration of Marketing and Sales. Although the success of both departments will be measured by their impact on the growth of the business, Marketing and Sales so often fail to align their goals and strategies. We have four theories on why this disconnect is so frequent.

Why the great marketing-sales divide exists

1. Sales professionals like to do things their own way

It’s no secret that sales professionals are a unique breed. For many, when something starts working, that by default becomes his or her way of doing it forever. And frankly, we can’t blame a successful sales professional for not seeking out new methods or embracing change. Why fix what’s not broken?

2. Lack of real marketing data until recent years

There was a time, even in the business-to-business world, when marketing was about targeting the masses with “push” advertising. You hired creative guys to execute direct mail campaigns, printed trade journal ads, die cut brochures and flashy ads with catchy headlines. Then you’d hope the phones started ringing.

Today it’s a different world. As we explored in the previous section (Measuring Industrial Marketing Success), marketers can’t hide behind subjective results when so much real data exists. But many organizations simply don’t realize how much valuable data marketing can bring to the table, and the direct effect that information can have on generation of qualified leads. The end result? No one takes the marketing team seriously.

3. The two departments don’t know (or care) what the other does

You have your job to do. And so does the guy down the hall. When the pressure is on to produce results, the last thing you need to worry about is how he’s spending his time.

4. Lack of accountability and direction from above

As a marketing agency, we’ve had the opportunity to look in from the outside of many manufacturing and industrial sector organizations. And the lack of accountability from those overseeing marketing and sales is often very apparent. More often than not, no one enforces the necessary Marketing-Sales integration that will produce growth for the company. Unfortunately, when the boss doesn’t buy in, it’s unlikely that anyone else will either.

How to close the divide

1. Open up dialogue and align your goals

The first thing to do is simple: start talking. Agree to a sit down with all key players on the Marketing and Sales teams. If you’re one of the Marketers, come prepared to brief Sales on the objectives of your new marketing strategy. Help Sales understand that you’re in their corner and are setting out to produce a consistent stream of sales-qualified inbound leads.

Then listen. What does Sales want to accomplish? What are their revenue targets? How many deals will they need to close to achieve those targets? How many sales-qualified leads will they need on the table to close that many deals?

2. Define together what “Sales Qualified Lead” means

Lots of website traffic and resulting leads are meaningless if they’re not qualified. Marketing must be responsible for understanding who Sales needs to attract. Begin by asking the right questions:

  • What types of people are involved in the buying process?
  • What are their job titles?
  • What do those people care most about?
  • What are their pain points?

With a clear understanding of your Sales team’s target prospect, the Marketing team can execute more effective and targeted lead generation work. And with a clear understanding of what the Marketing team has set out to accomplish, the Sales team will be much more inclined to play a role in assisting the Marketing team.

3. Put the right tools in place

Strong data will go a long way. So get the right measurement tools in place now. We covered this topic in detail in the previous section titled “Measuring Industrial Marketing Success”. Install Google Analytics for measuring website traffic, its sources and engagement with specific content on the website. Use an inbound marketing software like Hubspot to begin gathering intelligence on specific leads that visit your site. Agree upon a CRM (customer relationship management) software platform that will be used consistently throughout the company to track the status of leads in the pipeline and the stage of deals that are in the works.

Getting any of these systems in place can require significant time investments themselves, but are critical in gathering the information that must be shared between Marketing and Sales.

4. Establish a WRITTEN process for sharing data

Both structure and consistency will be key in aligning Marketing and Sales. That’s why a documented process for sharing information is critical. Here’s an example of how such a process could work:

  • At the end of the month, the head of the Sales team compiles a Sales Report spreadsheet documenting all business that closed that month. Separate columns are created for the name of the company, the name of the customer contact(s) at that company and the revenue generated.
  • This Sales Report spreadsheet is provided to Marketing, who backfills the revenue data into the marketing software database so revenue can be traced back to the origination of corresponding leads. Now we can learn which leads were generated through marketing activities.
  • The head of the Marketing team compiles a separate Lead Generation Report spreadsheet, documenting all all leads generated that month.
  • This Lead Generation Report spreadsheet is provided to Sales, who marks each lead as Unqualified, Maybe Qualified or Sales Qualified. Sales then sends that spreadsheet back to Marketing, who backfills that lead qualification data into the corresponding lead profiles in the inbound marketing software database. Now we can learn how many qualified leads were generated and what marketing activities played a role.

5. Schedule recurring Marketing-Sales team meetings

On a quarterly basis (minimum), the Marketing and Sales teams should sit down together (or use a screen share software like GoToMeeting or join.me) to do two things:

  1. Review a report from the Marketing team. This report should document how many qualified leads were generated over the past quarter and who they were. And it should also document which marketing-generated leads closed as customers, how much revenue can be attributed to that pool of customers, how they originated and what marketing activities played a role in closing them.
  2. Continue the open dialogue. The Sales team should use this meeting as an opportunity to provide feedback to Marketing on which new leads and customers were most ideal and why. Marketing should use this as an opportunity to share any plans for refinement of the marketing strategy.

When all (or at least most) the this begins to happen, two company departments that once existed in their own separate silos will begin to operate as a cohesive business development unit with one ultimate goal in front of them: business growth.

The Hardworking Inbound Marketing Guide for B2B Industrial Companies

This downloadable PDF will guide you through execution of the industrial marketing strategy you've designed.