We all want to attract, engage and win business with the right people from the right companies in the right industries. But we don’t always lay the foundation for those kinds of opportunities to materialize.
As a marketing agency that’s been working with industrial sector companies for over ten years, we’ve seen time and again that a laser focus on your target audience is the often-overlooked first step in building a sustainable, ROI-driven business development system. Think about it for a second. Before you commit valuable resources to business development –from time to manpower to capital– don’t you want to feel certain that you’ve clearly identified exactly who you’re targeting and what they care about?
If we skip this step, we’re setting ourselves up to throw darts. We’re thinning out our efforts across a wide variety of sales and marketing channels, trying to speak to anyone and everyone that might buy from us and hoping something we do produces the results needed to meet our business growth goals.
I think it’s fair to say that we all want (and need) to optimize our most important resources, not create waste. So in this article, we’ll look at how you as a B2B manufacturing organization can clearly identify and concisely document:
- The types of companies you’re selling to (your ideal customer profile).
- The types of people at those companies you need to reach (your buyer persona profiles).
We recommend downloading these free worksheets if you’d like to fill in your own profiles as you read. And if you’d rather watch than read, the video we recorded below covers the same topic:
Defining your ideal customer at a company level
Think about your customer base. Who are your most profitable customers – those who spend considerably, but at the same time aren’t draining all your resources? Who are the customers you look forward to visiting? Those who don’t cause you to wake up with cold sweats in the middle of the night? Who are the ones that aren’t making your team hate their jobs? These are your ideal-fit customers. Now imagine waking up three years from now and only having to do business with companies like this.
What are the shared characteristics of those organizations? Where do common threads lie when you think about the following?
- Annual revenue.
- Number of employees.
- How much they spend with you.
- Their location.
- Location of their customer base.
- Size of their customer base.
- Technology they use.
- Level of access you have to their decision makers.
- Intangibles like their company values and how you feel when you’re working with them.
- Real life examples of companies that fit this profile.
Now write these things down. Flesh them out and refine them. This is your ideal customer profile.
When you focus your business development efforts on these types of companies, a few things will start happening:
- Your volume of inbound leads will go down. Yep, you read that correctly. But here’s why that’s ok…
- The leads you start attracting become much better fits. That means your sales team is spending their time pursuing business that’s more likely to close, while simultaneously not settling for customers who you probably shouldn’t be working with in the first place.
- The leads who are ideal fits begin perceiving you as an expert in their space rather than a generalist. Now you’re differentiated from competitors who used to be comparable alternatives to you.
Case in point: We’re a marketing agency. But we’re not a full-service marketing agency with a wide array of services for a wide variety of businesses. We’re an industrial marketing agency that helps manufacturers grow their businesses online. And we’re constantly told by clients and prospects that this specialization and the resulting experience matters to them.
Defining your ideal customer at a human level
Very few of our clients at Gorilla sell widgets that are perceived as commodities in their respective marketplaces. Instead, most sell highly-customized, often-complex products or services with big price tags, targeting very specific audiences.
As a result, the following three points usually ring true:
- Their customers’ buying processes are long (weeks, months or even years rather than minutes, hours or days).
- Their sales processes are very consultative.
- The buyer on the customer’s end is not one person, but a committee.
And that third point is key to this “ideal customer” conversation. Yes, eventually someone on the customer’s end will make the decision and write the check. But well before that happens, someone else at that company is out there looking for solutions that include a handful or more of your competitors (and hopefully you!). And still others from that company are evaluating their options from a variety of perspectives – cost, technology-fit, ease of use or implementation, and so on.
So it only makes sense that both your marketing and sales efforts address the different stages of the industrial buying process, as well as the individual human beings who will inevitably influence it. We call these your buyer personas. For many of our clients, those buyer personas look something like this:
The Information Gatherer
This person is tasked by his or her boss (or some decision marker) to find a solution to a problem. The Information Gatherer doesn’t know exactly what he or she needs, which leads to a thorough search (more often than not online) that involves heavy self-education and an exploration of potential solutions. Even though the Information Gatherer is rarely a decision maker, he or she is very influential in the decision-making process. And because you want your name on the short list of potential partners that he or she delivers to the boss, you need to assure the Information Gatherer finds you.
The Spec Seeker
This person is often an Engineer, Plant Manager or technically-minded individual. The Spec Seeker usually has a better idea of what he or she needs and how that solution will work within the company’s facilities and operations. This person tends to be the evaluator and qualifier of options that the Information Gatherer brings to the table.
The Decision Maker
This President, CEO or C-Suite Executive is rarely the person out in the digital wilderness trying to directly solve the problem at hand. Instead, he or she oversees that process and makes the final buying decision. The Decision Maker usually cares most about ROI, long-term cost of ownership and building sustainable relationships with knowledgeable, efficient partners.
At least one or two of these buyer types might sound familiar to you. Maybe there are others for your company. Regardless, once you define who those key buyer personas are, here are the points you’ll want to document for each:
- Common job titles.
- Role played in the buying process.
- Level of authority and decision making power in the buying process.
- Common pain points / problems / challenges he/she needs to address.
- Type of buying experience he/she seeks.
- What he/she values about you.
- Level of education needed about what to buy and/or how to make that buying decision.
- Where he/she typically seeks information during the buying process (Google, peers, industry resources, etc.).
- How he/she usually discovers you in the first place.
- Potential objections to hiring you.
- Keywords he/she might search for in Google (problem he/she needs solve, product or service he/she needs to find, provider he/she needs to discover).
- Real life examples from your customer base (individual people) who fit this persona type.
Documenting your ideal customer profile and buyer persona profiles
Now you’re ready to create those two core documents that will steer your marketing and sales efforts: Your Ideal Customer Profile and your Buyer Persona Profiles. Under perfect conditions, below is how you do it. But first, if you haven’t yet, download these free worksheets for each to help you organize everything.
Step 1: Gather your team
From upper management to internal (and external) marketing and sales staff, this process should be collaborative. You’ll want these key stakeholders in your business development process to be in agreement about who your ideal customer and buyer personas are.
Step 2: Define your ideal customer and buyer personas
This is the most difficult step – deciding who that ideal customer is and who those individual influencers in the buyer process are. You might butt heads here, but you’ll need to reach common ground before you move to step three. Use the guidelines earlier in this article to stimulate your brainstorming process.
Step 3: Draft your profiles
Put it all in writing.
Step 4: Share with your company
Once your business development team is on board with your ideal customer and buyer persona profiles, it’s time to get everyone else at your company on the bus. So share throughout your organization.
The last step is to go get started! This process will take brainpower and some patience. But you just can’t skip over it or you’ll be backtracking somewhere down the road, and you’ll have thrown away a lot of time and money in the process.
Need a hand working through this process?
If you want to enlist the help of a consultant who’s been through this process with many industrial sector companies, consider requesting a consultation to get that conversation started.