I’m just as ready as the next guy to put 2020 in the rearview mirror.
No need to elaborate on that point, so I’ll skip the fluffy intro and get right to meat of it.
Below, I’m gonna break down a simple, three-step framework for what we believe a midsized B2B manufacturer should be doing to fill the sales funnel in 2021 – another year where trade shows and in-person meetings will be largely sidelined.
Here are the three steps.
- Focus. Simply stated, pick an audience segment. Dial in with a laser focus on one of the best, most profitable types of customers you serve. And specifically, focus on the most important buying process influencers inside of those types of companies. (Mechanical engineers? CNC machinists? Plant managers? CFOs?).
- Create. Make amazing content that speaks to the things these people care about the most (the triggers that lead them into the buying process, their biggest challenges, the questions they most commonly try to get answered during sales calls).
- Distribute. Expose that content to as many of these people in your total addressable market as possible by strategically choosing content distribution channels that will guarantee consumption.
Let’s dive into each step.
We’ve consulted hundreds of mid-sized B2B manufacturers over the 14 years of our company’s existence. And I can probably count on one hand (definitely two!) the number who have told me “we only serve one or two core audiences.”
Instead, I hear, “Well, we serve 15 different verticals. And they’re all important.”
But let’s be real here. Not all customers are created equal. And even if somehow they are, you can’t win the marketing game without focusing.
One of the most important pieces of advice I can give you is to consciously choose an audience segment. Maybe two. Then get ready to go hard at that type of buyer.
If you don’t, you’ll spread your resources thin. You won’t have enough budget or manpower to make a significant impact with any segment. And worse yet, your message won’t speak to anyone in particular – positioning you as another interchangeable generalist.
Here’s a tool to help you create focus. (Note: no form fill required, but you do need to be logged into your Google account to access this spreadsheet). Document your ideal customer profile at a company level on tab one. Document the profiles of those most important buying process influencers on tab two. Then get ready to channel your energy in the months ahead.
One more important point here. Focusing your marketing effort doesn’t mean that you no longer serve all those other segments. That’s not at all what I’m saying.
But it does means that for the next three or six months, you’re committing your organization to winning business with a specific type of customer via an intentional, dialed-in marketing strategy.
Now that you’re locked in on a specific audience segment, you’re going to create amazing content that speaks to the things that type of person from that type of company actually cares about.
So, how do you figure out exactly what those “things” are?
Go talk to five or 10 current customers who fit the profile you’re targeting:
- Why did they choose you?
- What sets you apart from your competitors that they didn’t choose?
- What problems have you helped them solve?
- What problems do they wish you could help them solve?
Then go talk to your sales team (if that’s not you):
- What are the most common issues they’re hearing about regularly from these types of customers and prospects?
- Where are those buyers struggling? And what things are they trying to achieve?
- During particularly consultative sales calls, what questions are those people asking time after time?
Now, take all of these insights, organize them in tab three of the same spreadsheet from above, and start creating.
- You could write blog posts that break down everything you’ve learned from these conversations.
- You could launch a recurring webinar series where your subject matter experts teach about these topics every other week in front of a live, hyper-targeted audience.
- You could bring a videographer in for two days and film your experts talking about these same things while the camera rolls.
- You could start a podcast where you interview experts inside your company (as well as industry influencers from the outside) who can help your target audience be more successful in their jobs.
You know how you get sucked in by a great TV show and start binge watching episode after episode? If your content is compelling, you can achieve the exact same thing as a B2B manufacturer.
Here’s a short clip from my recent podcast conversation with our Senior Strategist Matt Sciannella about what he calls the “Netflixing” of a B2B manufacturer’s content:
In summary, choose a medium.
Then start creating amazing content, and with consistency.
OK, listen up, my friends. Because this, is where most companies miss. Even the ones that are focused and are creating great content.
Here’s the thing:
If no one sees your content, it might as well not exist.
And that’s exactly why you need a plan for content distribution.
“What asset am I making? And how am I getting it in front of my audience in the most effective way possible – to guarantee that they’ll actually consume it.”
This is how our Senior Strategist Matt described content distribution in our previously mentioned podcast conversation.
So what channels should you utilize? I’ll touch on two.
What’s your existing database of 1000 or 10,000 or 100,000 people used to seeing from you in their inboxes? A company newsletter that’s jam packed with first person pronouns? Lots of “I, me, my, we, us, our”?
That ain’t gonna cut it. People care about themselves. And their problems and goals. Not you and yours.
But if you’ve followed the strategy laid out in steps one and two above, now you’ve got something to distribute that your existing contacts will actually care about.
So turn your currently self-serving newsletter into a digital delivery vehicle for targeted insights and resources. Think of yourself as a media source for your specific audience.
LinkedIn and Facebook ads
Here’s the deal with social media:
Most companies use their company pages on LinkedIn and Facebook to talk about all the things you can buy from them, what new machinery they’re touting, how unparalleled their customer service is, and so on.
And do you know what their followers are doing?
Scrolling right past those posts.
Just as problematic is the fact that probably about 0.01% of their total addressable market is even seeing these posts.
So what if I told you that you could reach 50% or 75% (or more) of your total addressable market with your message? And bypass everyone else who’s not relevant? And deliver a message that makes them stop and pay attention for 30 or 60 or 90 seconds? And do that a few times every week?
This is the power of putting media dollars into these social media channels to distribute your insights instead of haphazardly posting links to self-serving promotional noise, hoping someone takes notice (and for some reason cares).
And people, please – it’s time to stop with the print ads. This is not 1996 anymore. You’re throwing money down the drain. Print ads aren’t measurable. They’re not reaching enough people. And they’re not delivering a message that anyone cares about.
Let’s start spending money with the expectation it will return tangible results. No more spray and pray.
In regard to Facebook (no, I didn’t forget that I’m talking to midsized B2B manufacturers. And yes, I did just write “Facebook”), here’s something for you to chew on…
In the podcast episode that I continue to reference (which is appropriately titled “Content Distribution: Getting Your Ass(ets) in Front of People Who Care”), Matt says:
“If you want to go find a manufacturing engineer on Facebook, guess what? You can target them by that job title. If you want to find a welder on Facebook, guess what? You can target them a job title. If you want to find a CNC machinist on Facebook, guess what? You can target them by job title”.
Your buyers are on Facebook.
No, they’re not going there to research your product or find a solution.
But when they’re sitting on the couch watching SportsCenter at 10PM, iPhone in hand, and a 45-second video of one of your engineers comparing two solutions to a problem they’ve been struggling with all week slides into their Facebook feed, chances are they pause and watch it.
Here’s a little more on the topic:
As far as LinkedIn goes, the value of doing the work organically can be incredible. Look at the audience size and engagement that manufacturing folks like Jake Hall and Tony Gunn and Titan Gilroy have built.
But that kind of attention isn’t acquired by accident. It takes serious work to build a following. And even harder work to post insights (and engage through comments) multiple times a week that will earn enough attention to move the needle. On top of that, at the time I’m writing this (December 2020), company pages carry little value. Your individual people need to be doing the work.
My point isn’t that you should drop what you’re doing (especially if your job title doesn’t have the word “Marketing” in it) and start breaking your back on LinkedIn.
Instead, I’m advocating that you shift the dang print media budget into these digital content distribution platforms and let them do the work for you.
Reallocate that $2000 or $5000 or (heaven forbid) $10,000 per month that you’ve been spending for the last 20 years on trade journal ads that are getting you nowhere.
LinkedIn will show your content to people with specific job titles from specific types of companies in specific geographic regions with specific interests. So will Facebook. But you need to be willing to invest.
Ready to do this thing?
Focus. Create. Distribute.
Any smart manufacturing organization with differentiated expertise and a willingness to invest (either in dollars or in the time of their people) in a real marketing program can put it this strategy in motion.
Need some help designing that strategy? Consider doing a Road Map with our crew at Gorilla. We’ll get you on the right path so you know where to channel your time, energy and budget before you dive in.
And in the meantime, I highly recommend giving the full episode I did with Matt (from our podcast, The Manufacturing Executive) a listen. He did a fantastic deep dive on this topic – particularly steps two and three from the framework I outlined in this article.
Here’s the full video on YouTube.
And here’s the audio version on all the major podcasting platforms.
Hop to it!