The 7 core elements of an industrial marketing strategy

Joe Sullivan by Joe Sullivan

Last summer, our industrial marketing agency Gorilla 76 turned ten years old, and over those ten years, the lessons we’ve derived from serving as the marketing partner to a multitude of manufacturing organizations have been immense. Recently, we’ve started to take a close look at our wins and losses, our ups and downs and everything we’ve gathered from it all.

Our goal was boil our conclusions down into the absolute must haves of an industrial marketing and sales strategy. What we found was that seven very specific core elements emerged. These are the pieces of the pie that we believe must be present, optimized and working in sync for an industrial sector B2B company to achieve significant and sustainable revenue growth through marketing and sales. They follow:

  1. Brand Positioning
  2. Website Infrastructure
  3. Website Traffic Strategy
  4. Lead Generation Strategy
  5. Sales Enablement Strategy
  6. Lead Nurturing Strategy
  7. ROI Reporting Process

Each of these individual elements serves a distinct purpose and requires its own unique sub-strategy within a manufacturing organization’s overarching industrial marketing and sales strategy. But the success of each also depends the success of the others. While each core element can live alone, they’ll struggle to thrive without their counterparts. When all begin working in sync, your business development ecosystem will produce a much stronger and more tangible ROI than you may have imagined possible for your business. Let’s dive in.

Core Element 1/7: Brand Positioning

A successful industrial marketing and sales strategy begins with a laser focus on your ideal customer. That means both the company and the individuals who play a role in buying your product or service. The challenges and pain points of these real people must serve as your guiding light in delivering a distinct brand message that resonates specifically with them.

So who exactly is that ideal company you’ve set out to attract? What differentiates them from others? In what industries do they operate? How many people work there? What’s their annual revenue? Do they serve a tight geographical region or does their business operate nationally or internationally? What do they buy from you and your competitors?

Now think about the people whose trust you must earn before a sale – or even before a sales conversation – can occur. Who interacts with your sales team during that company’s buying process? Design Engineers? Plant Managers? Procurement Managers? Presidents and CEOs? What challenges lead them your way in the first place? What are they trying to learn during their buying processes? What questions do they need answered before they can move forward with a purchasing decision? What expertise can you offer that your competition might not?

At Gorilla 76, we’re big advocates of buyer persona profiles, documented in writing. This article – How to create targeted buyer persona profiles – will guide you through that process.

Finally, we have the message itself. Once you’ve identified both the right-fit company and the individuals whose trust and attention must be earned, your job is to make them say, “Yes – this is what I need and this company understands me”.

In Chapter 8 of his book New Sales. Simplified., author and new business guru Mike Weinberg introduces what he calls a Power Statement – a concise structure for communicating the value you deliver, for who, how you do it and what differentiates you from your competition. I recommend picking up a copy. We’ve started using this same approach to help our industrial sector clients develop their Brand Positioning. We’ve even followed it to a tee in creating our own, as you can see in practice on our How We Help You page.

You can use the following structure to write your company’s Power Statement:

  • State in a sentence or two who exactly you help and what you help them accomplish
  • List the most important core benefits you deliver to that buyer and company
  • List the types of problems those companies commonly experience that lead them to you
  • Explain what makes your company different and unique
  • Prompt an action to be taken – like a free consultation

One last recommendation: Pull together your Sales and Marketing teams when you go through this exercise. It’s very important that both are in agreement or their respective strategies will quickly diverge, which in turn will lead to a multitude of inefficiencies in your business development plan.

Core Element 2/7: Website Infrastructure

One giant, critical piece of your industrial marketing and sales pie lies between understanding who your ideal buyer is and actually attracting that person to you. That’s your company website.

Attention, manufacturers: Simply having a website is no longer enough. Your website’s job is comprised of so much more than existing as a digital brochure that outlines your services. It’s the engine for your online business development machine, the online face of your company and the one piece of internet real estate you own yourself.

Your website is the final destination for the qualified prospects you’ll work hard to attract online and the place where you’ll convert those prospects into leads and feed them into your sales funnel. But for that to happen, your website must be all of the following:

  • Built on a flexible content management system like WordPress that enables growth and expansion as your business does the same
  • Mobile-friendly so visitors can effectively consume your website content on desktop computers, iPads, iPhones, Androids and all the other devices they might be using
  • Search-engine optimized so the right buyers can find you in the first place
  • Written specifically to inform and fill the needs of each core buyer persona
  • Designed with intended paths for each of those ideal buyers to land on your site and move toward a form submission
  • Equipped with a robust Learning Center that’s filled with helpful, educational content for each of your buyer personas
  • Written to appeal to each persona at all stages of his/her buying process (whether he/she is researching, evaluating or ready to buy)
  • Connected directly to a CRM (customer relationship management) and/or marketing automation software platform so your sales and marketing teams can easily collect lead intelligence and quickly take action as business opportunities are generated

A static, brochure-style website that describes what you do and how great your company is might have cut it ten years ago. But it’s not enough today. Our B2B Website Planning Handbook will help you plan a website that serves as both a customer-centric hub of exceptional resources for your ideal buyer and an opportunity-generating machine for your sales team.

Core Element 3/7: Website Traffic Strategy

Once you’ve laid the foundation for your industrial marketing and sales strategy with focused Brand Positioning and a Website Infrastructure equipped to produce the right kind of business opportunities, you can shift your attention to funneling qualified website traffic out of the online wilderness into that machine.

If your company has been around for a while, you’ve probably engaged in some combination of the following somewhere along the way to generate awareness:

  • Attended trade shows
  • Sent direct mail to targeted lists
  • Ran print ads in industry trade journals
  • Paid for banner ads on hand-picked websites
  • Ran a Google AdWords pay-per-click campaign
  • Blasted out email newsletters
  • Cold called, knocked on doors and cold called some more

None of these are necessarily wrong when executed strategically, in the right volume and with a plan for tracking results. In fact, many of our industrial marketing agency’s clients prefer to keep some of these traditional push marketing tactics in play. And we’ll respect that.

But as this IEEE Engineering360 study about digital media use in the industrial sector confirms, buying power within manufacturing organizations continues shifting to younger engineers and technical professionals. And 89% of those professionals go first to search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo to gather information in their daily jobs. It’s time for manufacturers to shift their awareness generation strategies accordingly.

Website traffic generation – comprised of tactics like search engine optimization, content marketing, guest authorship on industry trade journal websites and social media marketing give manufacturers highly-targeted, 100%-measurable channels for attracting buyers who are already looking for something.

The accessibility and ease of online publishing through your website has afforded you the power both to transform your organization into the absolute best resource for your ideal buyers and proactively expose them to your incredible content. You own the ability to organically grow an audience of targeted and engaged prospects that will result in qualified website traffic growth. And that growing volume of targeted website traffic is the necessary precursor to Core Element #4 – Lead Generation Strategy.

To learn more about Website Traffic Generation strategies and tactics, download and read Chapter 3 of our Hardworking Inbound Marketing Guide for B2B Industrial Companies.

Core Element 4/7: Lead Generation Strategy

A majority of our industrial sector clients do not sell widgets. Their websites are not e-commerce stores. In fact, their websites will never sell a thing. However – their websites do own the responsibility of generating tangible leads through form submissions. For their businesses and yours, all the website traffic in the world will never carry a tangible value unless you can effectively convert those visitors into real, live business opportunities.

So the solution is simple, right? Put a Contact Us or Request a Bid button in the top right corner of the website and wait for the phone calls and form submissions to pour in. Sadly, this describes the online lead generation “strategy” most manufacturers deploy even today in 2017. And it’s far from sufficient.

Because industrial products and services often come in the form of highly technical, customized and complex solutions for unique customer applications, buying decisions for those customers rarely happen in the snap of a finger. According to IEEE Engineering 360’s 2016 Industrial Buy Cycle Study, the average industrial buying cycle is 12 weeks long.

And because those buying decisions carry heavy implications, a significant amount of research goes into making them. According to a survey by Forrester, 74% of business buyers said they conduct more than half of their research online before making an offline purchase.

Think about that for a second. That means you’ll never even learn who three-quarters of your prospects are until they’re more than halfway through their buying processes!

So the big question is this:

How do you generate a lead from a pool of website visitors who are sales qualified, but not necessarily sales ready?

The answer in the land of inbound marketing is to deploy a Lead Generation Strategy that appeals to your buyers all throughout that long buying process – with a particular focus on those who are still researching, learning, comparing and evaluating their buying options. Those who are researching want to learn. So you can feed them problem-solving content in the form of white papers, e-books and other tools for which they’ll be willing to trade their names and email addresses. Those who are comparing and evaluating partners and solutions seek proof that you can solve their problems. So you can feed them case studies, buyer’s guides and ROI calculators, again in exchange for contact information.

While your competitors sit around chasing cold leads and waiting for their phones to ring, you’ve proactively inserted yourself into that first half of your prospects’ buying processes. You’re already conducting problem-solving conversations and needs analyses that will influence the remainder of their research and evaluation stages.

Meanwhile, when those right-fit prospects with whom you haven’t yet spoken are ready for a sales conversation, who do you think they’ll call first? You – the company that’s been helping and teaching them all along the way? Or your competitor who was too afraid or uninformed to do so? Our money is on the former.

Chapters 4 and 5 of our Hardworking Inbound Marketing Guide for B2B Industrial Companies will help  you design your strategy for creating an inbound lead pipeline that feeds your sales professionals qualified opportunities while they sleep.

Core Element 5/7: Sales Enablement Strategy

Perhaps the biggest (and one of the most surprising) challenges we’ve encountered as the marketing partner to our manufacturing clients is the difficulty in handing off a qualified inbound lead from Marketing to Sales.

Highly-skeptical sales professionals are the norm. They push back on our lead generation initiatives because from their past experiences, “internet leads” never amount to anything. Put simple, they’re a waste of time to pursue.

As critical as we marketers may be of this stubborn, old-school mindset, those salesmen may very well be justified in feeling the way they do. Why? Because the cold leads they’re used to chasing and the inbound leads we’re helping their companies generate are not the same beasts. Far from it. And because those salesmen have made a living pursuing the former and not the latter, they’ve almost certainly never been properly trained or fitted with the right tools and processes for successfully pursuing inbound leads.

The biggest difference between a cold lead and an inbound lead is that the inbound lead already has a need. As we examined in the previous Lead Generation section of this article, he/she might not be sales ready, but is very likely sales qualified. A cold lead, on the other hand, may have never experienced a need in the first place. All you know is that he/she appears to fit your ideal customer profile. But to that person, you’re no different than the telemarketer who keeps interrupting your family dinners with pushy phone calls, trying to sell you something you never wanted in the first place!

Here’s what ends up happening when sales professionals see their first inbound leads start trickling in through the company website and into their inboxes:

  • Salesman calls Inbound Lead
  • Inbound Lead sees an unknown phone number and ignores the call
  • Salesman leaves a voicemail outlining the company’s value proposition and requesting a meeting
  • Inbound Lead isn’t ready for a meeting and therefore doesn’t return the call
  • Salesman concludes that Inbound Lead is not interested and moves on

Preposterous! According to marketing software leader Hubspot, 44% of salespeople give up after one follow-up and 80% of sales require five follow-ups.

And don’t forget what we learned in the last section of this article – that 74% of business buyers said they conduct more than half of their research online before making an offline purchase. Those prospects are guarding themselves because they’re not ready to hear your pitch. But salespeople don’t like hearing that. They’ll tell you they don’t have time to develop warm and cool leads. After all, how can they be patient when their success is being judged by whether or not they meet their quarterly sales targets?

Well, here’s some good news. Today we have not only a multitude of CRM software platforms to help us track our engagement with leads, but also a growing number of really good inbound sales enablement tools (including a great one by the previously mentioned Hubspot) that allow us to prioritize the time of our salespeople.

These tools allow us to collect lead intelligence (like what pages individual leads have viewed and what actions they’ve taken on the website). They let us score and segment website visitors based on the types of content they’ve consumed on your website, the types of buyer personas they most closely match, the forms they submit, the industries in which they operate and so on. And they enable us to personalize email messages to individual leads, all while automating the distribution of those emails.

The technology you need to create more touch points with your contacts (and on a more frequent basis) is at your fingertips. And the best part is that all of this activity can happen in the background, warming up and nurturing your warm and cool leads while your salespeople spend their time pursuing the hot ones.

Regardless of whether you choose to automate some percentage of your inbound lead prospecting, you do need a process. This article – How to followup up with B2B inbound leads will help you formulate one.

Consider looking at what Hubspot Sales Pro has to offer. We at Gorilla use this tool religiously (and with a lot of success) for ourselves and have begun enabling the sales professionals at our industrial clients’ organizations to do the same for their sales teams.

Core Element 6/7: Lead Nurturing Strategy

Your Sales Enablement Strategy occupies the sales side of inbound lead pursuit. Your Lead Nurturing Strategy serves as its marketing counterpart. Both focus on your existing contact database and share the same core goal of moving leads through their buying processes to the point of purchase. But Lead Nurturing picks up where sales leaves off. As we’ve already discussed, many of your inbound leads naturally won’t be ready to buy anytime soon. And those that do buy soon, might not buy again for five years or more.

The role of your Lead Nurturing Strategy is to:

  • Continue helping and teaching the warm and cool (but potentially qualified) contacts who have moved off your sales team’s short-term radar
  • Continue establishing thought leadership for your business, and building trust bit by bit
  • Keep your business top of mind so these contacts think of you first when the time finally comes to make a buying decision

The execution of a Lead Nurturing email strategy can come in many forms. Monthly newsletters create consistent touch points with your contacts and provide a channel for exposing them to new educational content. Blog subscriptions let your more-engaged contacts receive new content as it’s published. Automated email drip campaigns can trigger email sequences based on actions taken by leads as they come and go from your website.

The Hubspot blog serves as a good starting place for learning Lead Nurturing strategies. Here’s a link to the content that falls into this particular category.

Core Element 7/7: ROI Reporting Process

In its simplest form, a manufacturer’s Marketing team exists to generate qualified sales opportunities and its Sales team exists to close those opportunities as customers. Together, the joint goal of these two teams is to drive sustainable business growth for the company.

But how do we track that success? How can we understand and quantify the end result of all these initiatives into which your company has poured energy, valuable time and money? What is the dollar value that has been produced for your business from each of the following?

  • The individual articles and blog posts you’ve published on your website
  • The content you’ve continuously pitched for guest authorship in industry trade journals
  • The hours you’ve spent optimizing individual pages on your site to grow the visitor-to-lead conversion rate from 1% to 2% to 3%
  • Your sales team’s pursuit of inbound leads through marketing automation
  • Your email nurturing campaigns

Ten years ago, this kind of understanding was very difficult to attain. Not anymore.

Aligning Marketing and Sales for tangible ROI Reporting

At this point, we’ve come full circle in our exploration of these seven core industrial marketing and sales strategy elements. Looking all the way back to Element 1/7: Brand Positioning, we said that a successful industrial marketing and sales strategy begins with a laser focus on your ideal customer. If your Marketing and Sales teams reached an agreement from the very beginning regarding who that ideal customer is and which individuals at that company must be reached, then the first step in the ROI Reporting process is complete.

Now what you need are three things:

  1. Sufficient analytics tools
  2. A written process for sharing data between Marketing and Sales
  3. A recurring Marketing-Sales team meeting where open dialogue can occur

Sufficient analytics tools

You can’t measure success if you don’t have the data in the first place. Because this topic is a beast in itself, we won’t explore it in depth right here. You can learn more about the individual tools in the Measuring Industrial Marketing Success section of our Industrial Marketing: The Definitive Guide.

But here a few first steps you can take. 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.

A written process for sharing data between Marketing and Sales

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.

A recurring Marketing-Sales team meeting where open dialogue can occur

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.

Even when the data is there and everyone involved is chasing the same business growth goal, this kind of interdepartmental collaboration can be difficult to achieve. But we can’t emphasize its importance enough if you truly want to gain an understanding of the value your industrial marketing and sales strategy is delivering.

How to audit your company’s seven core elements

You’ve made it this far, so we applaud you for taking the time to learn. This stuff is thick. Now you need to get started. But where?

Our recommendation is to begin with an audit of your company’s current state across these seven core elements of industrial marketing and sales strategy. If you’d like a hand conducting that audit from a professional with viewpoint from outside of your company’s walls, consider requesting a consultation with one of our Industrial Marketing Strategists at Gorilla.

Or if you prefer to perform that audit yourself, that’s ok too. If you go that route, our one recommendation is to be sure you’re honest with yourself during the process. Look for your strengths, but look harder for your weaknesses. When you’re done, you’ll know where your team’s investment of time and dollars should be prioritized.

In our soon-to-be-published follow-up article, we’ll paint a picture of what it looks like for a manufacturing organization like yours to be weak, status quo or exceptional in each of these seven elements. We’ll also give you a system for rating the current state of your business in each category so you can  begin the process of optimizing each.

If you haven’t yet, subscribe to our newsletter at the top of our Industrial Marketing Strategy Learning Center home page and we’ll deliver this next article to your inbox when it’s ready. And if you haven’t yet read our flagship guide – Industrial Marketing: The Definitive Guide, consider heading that way next. Thanks for reading!

 

Joe Sullivan

Joe Sullivan

Joe is a founder of Gorilla 76. He was named as one of St. Louis’ “Top Young Entrepreneurs” by the Small Business Monthly and to the 2012 St. Louis Business Journal’s “30 Under 30” class. Passions include cooking, eating other people’s cooking, the Green Bay Packers, organizing, craft-beering and tag teaming Grace’s and Jack’s diaper changes with his wife, Julie. Joe is a dual-degreed graduate (business and art) of Washington University in St. Louis.

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