Inbound marketing’s impact on the greater manufacturing community is on the rise. And as big fans of the inbound methodology, our team is pretty psyched about industrial sector firms catching this contagious wave.
Gone are the days of solely relying on “traditional” marketing tactics to attract today’s increasingly empowered prospects. Engineers and other manufacturing industry target buyers and decision makers are online, and they do engage with educational content. Industrial marketing is barreling full-steam ahead into the digital world, and it’s imperative that manufacturing SMB owners and executives adapt in order to continue meeting the needs of their audience.
Having partnered with a number of clients from across this diverse industry over the past 15 years, PMG has seen first-hand the positive impact implementing an inbound marketing strategy has had on their businesses. So you can imagine how we jumped at the chance to team up with HubSpot, Derby Management, Grant Marketing and a few special industry guests to offer an interactive inbound Lunch & Learn for our colleagues in the manufacturing space.
Our little band of marketing and sales experts held “Manufacturing Revenue for 2017 and Beyond” at HubSpot Headquarters in Cambridge, MA last week, and we were thrilled to have such a great turnout! Of course, I spent the afternoon feverishly taking notes and prepping a post that would capture the key takeaways from the Lunch & Learn – so if you weren’t able to make it, feel free to read through this article for the major points!
Mediterranean Food. Networking. Dharmesh Shah. What’s Not to Like?
With 60+ full bellies congregated in one room, HubSpot Co-Founder, CTO and all-around great guy Dharmesh Shah kicked off the ‘Learn’ portion of our day with an excellent introduction to why inbound marketing is a not a nice to have, but a must have for any growing business.
He began by explaining how “the old marketing playbook is broken” – and when you compare the results of traditional outbound marketing to the results inbound delivers over time, inbound activities are far more effective (not to mention cost-effective). But Dharmesh also tied in several common reasons why many manufacturing companies have resisted integrating inbound into their efforts.
Countless industrial firms, including a sizeable chunk of those in attendance, have been around for a long time. Unlike today’s emerging technology and SaaS solutions providers, these businesses were successfully built on a foundation of tradeshows, reputation management and a strong referral network. For decades, word-of-mouth was the number one form of currency. Yes, with the dawn of the Internet, getting online and building a website were, of course, inevitable. But launching a full-blown inbound marketing program? Nah. No need.
But now… there is a need.
As Dharmesh highlighted, an increasing percentage of direct mail is just thrown in the trash without ever being opened, cold emails (no matter how targeted they are) are lost in a spammy sea of messages from unfamiliar companies riding the marketing struggle bus, and brochures and pamphlets can be found at your local museum right next to the dinosaur fossils. Even cold calling doesn’t work so well anymore. And paid advertising, no matter what form it takes, is like paying rent – it’s temporary. The effects only last as long as you’re shelling out the money for it.
“You want to build marketing assets that you own,” Dharmesh asserted. “Inbound provides long-term leverage – and it produces delighted customers.”
He discussed the importance of establishing buyer personas – which, contrary to the seemingly fluffy name, serve a very practical purpose in defining a company’s target audience(s) and streamlining content production. No strangers to relationship marketing, manufacturers can absolutely benefit from fleshing out these semi-fictional ideal customers and referring back to them before cooking up a new campaign. (Side note: If you’re new to buyer personas, heed this advice. And if you’re skeptical about their impact on ROI, check out the hard stats in this post.)
As critical as they are, buyer personas are but a small piece of the modern-day marketing puzzle. Mr. Shah was followed by a Q&A session with a panel of five inbound aficionados who have generated remarkable results for manufacturing companies by following in the footsteps of HubSpot. And they were eager to share their experiences and advice with all of our event participants.
Featured on said panel were Jeff Mogensen of Utopia Sales Partners, a noted provider of sales consulting services and solutions for the capital equipment industry; Adam Chase, President and CEO of Chase Corporation, a leading manufacturer of protective materials for high-reliability applications; Bob Grant, Founder of Grant Marketing and John Routhier, Strategic Sales & Marketing Consultant at Derby Management. Finally, our own Susan LaPlante-Dube, marketing guru and self-confessed data geek, rounded out this group of experts.
These names will provide a little more context for the rest of the article, as I’ll be peppering in specific tips and insider insights from each of them, and I’d like to give credit where credit is due.
Manufacturing and Marketing – What Else Has Changed?
The first question event moderator Jack Derby posed to the panel tackled the topic of change. How have marketing and selling in this industry evolved in recent years?
For starters, with all the new technologies and tools available today, the amount of data we have at our fingertips is monumentally greater than in the past. Marketing has gone from something the typical manufacturer put minimal effort into here and there to a measurable force to be reckoned with.
LaPlante-Dube said, “The inbound marketing process also offers opportunities to test your content – to see what’s working and what isn’t. Content marketing today is highly data-driven.”
Superfluous copy and a pretty website simply aren’t going to cut it. Implementing an inbound marketing program is about helping prospects solve problems, becoming your audience’s go-to industry resource and nurturing leads down your sales funnel with tested content that addresses each stage of the buyer’s journey. Susan gave emphasis to how the numbers tell a specific story, but she warned that with all the analytics tools you can use, it’s important to know how to decipher them so you’re getting a clear picture of performance.
The three tools she recommended using in combination are:
- Google Analytics
- Google Search Console (or what used to be Webmaster Tools)
- and HubSpot – which has an impressive array of data and reporting functionality
When you have such comprehensive analytics readily on hand, your manufacturing firm’s leadership is enabled to make better decisions for the business. Adam Chase agreed that by using inbound and HubSpot, he’s now able to track his customer acquisition cost, his cost per lead and other important metrics Chase Corporation couldn’t easily identify prior to using the software.
Of course, this conversation about change was ultimately steered into answering the question: what about tradeshows – how relevant are they today?
Derby polled the crowd on how they feel about attending tradeshows, and the consensus was that they’re expensive. However, with inbound marketing, it’s so much easier (and SO much cheaper) to quickly generate a larger number of qualified leads – and you’ve got a slew of automation tools to help you out, too!
LaPlante-Dube affirmed that one Precision Marketing Group client (a manufacturer of plastic bearings) has completely eliminated a $200,000 line item in their budget specifically allocated to tradeshows, simply because their inbound marketing strategy has worked so well. Now just think what your business could do with an extra $200K!
Chase has also decreased the company’s participation in large-scale industry events. For his team, attending tradeshows is now more about nurturing relationships and getting face time with clients and colleagues, rather than attracting new prospects.
The moral of the story here is… yes, tradeshows can absolutely still be a part of your marketing strategy – even Dharmesh Shah is on board with that, particularly if it works well for you and your customers (or potential customers) are attending and looking for solutions like yours. BUT, tradeshows should more so be a supplement to inbound, not the other way around.
Attracting Qualified Traffic – Start with a Blog
On taking that first leap into inbound marketing, perhaps Dharmesh said it best when he so delicately told the audience: “If you don’t have a blog, you should have a blog.”
When you look at the big picture, the benefits of blogging are numerous. And contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be an awe-inspiring writer to produce a good blog. All you have to do is be helpful. If your reader can glean one actionable takeaway from your post, you’ve successfully provided value and made that person happy.
“But what the heck do we write about??” says the hypothetical business owner.
Well, I’m glad you asked.
Dharmesh recommends starting off with publishing two kinds of posts. As many old-school and family-owned manufacturing companies have a truly compelling story to tell, sharing that story (or even repurposing and building on your existing About Page content – and then posting it as an article) makes for great blog material. He also suggested writing about your ideal customer, and incorporating a snippet’s worth of a client story or testimonial in there, as well. And if you’re worried about your competitors finding out that information… chances are they already know it. So don’t hold back! The whole point of a blog is to be helpful, showcase your expertise, build trust and credibility with your audience, and provide a window into your company culture.
What does not appeal to the typical engineering audience, however, is “fluff” or flowery marketing speak. Instead, focus on facts and figures, and when partnering with a marketing agency, pair your subject matter experts with content marketers who have the writing chops to translate your SMEs’ insights and expertise into easily digestible how-to’s, Q&A interviews and thought leadership pieces, each addressing a topic your intended audience cares about.
Note: a blog is NOT meant to actively promote your products! That’s what the rest of your site pages are for. Need a little more help getting started? We’ve created this comprehensive eBook all about B2B business blogging that will give you all the advice you need.
How Much Does SEO Matter?
In terms of driving more traffic to your website, the presenters also discussed search engine optimization (SEO) and social media as important inbound marketing components to accompany a blogging strategy – as well as how all three elements harmoniously work together.
For example, let’s say you publish a blog post and promote it via social media. Presumably, this blog post incorporates a keyword your prospects and customers use when searching online for a solution you offer. Followers and fans click, share, like, favorite, and retweet your social post, sending “social signals” to Google and other search engines that indicate your article boasts a certain degree of website page authority. They visit your blog page and start perusing your site for related resources, potentially filling out a form that turns them into a lead. Score!
Meanwhile, Google is also crawling your website while on the hunt for fresh, relevant content that provides value to searchers looking for information on the topic you covered. Provided the user experience for reading the post is respectable and those who click through to your post aren’t immediately bouncing back and looking for another article, Google is likely to rank your blog post higher in the search results. Over time (or perhaps quite quickly), you’ll have a good chance of ending up on page 1. Obviously, there is a lot more to SEO than this basic breakdown, but blogging and social engagement are certainly contributing factors.
Now, some of you might be thinking “it’s the paid ads that get all the attention.” Fortunately for inbound marketers, the stats show that just isn’t true. While paid ads are now the first four results to show up at the top of the page (depending on how sought after the keyword is), 90% of links that searchers actually click on are organic search results. Not advertisements.
B2B buyers absolutely use Google to do their marketing research, no matter what industry they’re in – and if you think about the niche fields that fall under the wide umbrella of manufacturing, the people searching for your solutions are much more likely to have a stronger purchasing intent. It’s just a matter of creating content Google can understand as high-quality, and enticing prospects to stay once they’ve clicked.
Once again, the key to capitalizing on SEO and Google’s ranking algorithms is to make people happy.
Google’s job is to serve up the best content possible for any given search, and it’s getting “smarter” about doing so. While it’s impossible to know exactly how it ranks websites (changes are constantly being made to their secret ranking recipes), we do know that a positive user experience is more heavily weighted these days. Dharmesh Shah suggests to Google a search term or phrase you’d like to rank for and go see what’s currently showing up in the SERPs. If you can produce better content than what’s listed on page 1, you have a good chance of beating out the results sooner than later!
My additional two cents would be to pay attention to meta descriptions. These are the 150-character summaries of any given page’s content that show up underneath the Page Title in search results. Most website and blogging platforms include a way to edit the meta description for each individual page, so make sure you fill it out with something that 1) facilitates a message match with the search topic, and 2) is succinct and compelling. If you leave it blank, it’s a guessing game as to what Google will automatically pull in from the page.
Top Tips for Getting Social
Point blank, everyone is on social media. That just can’t be denied or ignored anymore. Our Lunch & Learn moderator polled the room, and nearly all attendees were at least somewhat active on LinkedIn. And although not everyone is using social media at work or for research purposes, it’s still a great way to generate engagement and build relationships.
To quote panelist Jeff Mogensen, “You don’t have to connect on things pertaining to the industry. If you’ve got a customer [or prospect] that’s a golfer, communicate in his language and post something about golf. […] You’re trying to connect with his human side. Win him over as a friend, and you’ve got a better chance of winning the sale.”
Mogensen’s tip also applies to your manufacturing firm’s branding efforts. Like he says, social is a great avenue for showing the friendly side of your business; it’s a way to humanize your company. Manufacturers need to remember, just as any other B2B business does, that people want to buy from people – and not only that, but from people they trust... from people with whom they’ve forged some type of relationship.
But which channels should you concentrate on? There are so many!
As Bob Grant mentioned, it’s important to go with what works for your audience. Your social strategy isn’t going to incorporate every major channel, nor should it.
It’s worth mentioning that we’ve found great success using LinkedIn Sponsored Posts, and PMG has had several clients that have boosted posts on Facebook to efficiently generate traffic and rake in leads. Twitter, on the other hand, isn’t so great for reaching engineers personally, BUT it’s a reliable way to connect with the engineering press.
What’s great about social media today is that it’s become highly targeted. On the paid side, you’re able to affordably boost posts (perhaps marketing a specific resource, webinar, white paper, etc.) to a very precise demographic of people. Like Google, Facebook is also getting better at figuring out user interests – and this knowledge also organically influences what shows up in someone’s FB newsfeed.
Finally, John Routhier from Derby Management suggested an alternative way to connect with customers and prospects via social and increase your following. What he’s done for clients is to strategically comment on third party content, targeting specific users and engaging with the posts that they publish. Not only does this take a little pressure off your own content production engine, but it facilitates an actual conversation with a person with whom you’d like to network or do business.
Converting Visitors into Leads and Customers
Now that you have all these prospects landing on your website, what do you do next in order to convert them into leads, and ultimately, paying customers? Jeff Mogensen stated that upon arriving at your website, 70% of people are not yet ready to buy, and the average prospect from the manufacturing industry requires 28 touches before they feel comfortable making a purchase. Yet another great thing about inbound is that it supports your company’s efforts to shorten that sales cycle.
It’s important to leverage your blog and other free educational assets to draw your audience in. But one of the most essential parts of your inbound marketing strategy is to have more in-depth gated content and resources available on your website for which visitors can exchange an email address and other contact information, thereby converting them into leads.
As marketers, we build landing pages with user-friendly forms to facilitate this “transaction”. Once you have that contact information, you can further nurture the new lead with additional offerings, ask for more info to feel out his or her business interests, and send them exactly what they’re looking for!
Great content can take many forms – white papers, eBooks, infographics, industry reports, data sheets, pricing guides, whatever your prospect is going to find valuable along the buyer’s journey. That being said, the two types of content that were specifically highlighted during the talk were video and interactive content (like calculators and tools... people LOVE calculators and tools). Both may take more time to develop, but the engagement, time spent on your website and overall impact are worth going the extra mile.
However, you don’t need to get fancy for content marketing to work in your favor. Bob Grant highlighted a client of his who launched a campaign revolving around a new white paper, and that campaign brought in 400+ leads. Jeff Mogensen also recounted his days partnering with PMG while working for an SPI machine manufacturer: in just a few months, monthly traffic increased from 300 to 1,900 visits and lead conversions jumped from around 10 to a whopping 230, primarily due to actively creating and promoting both ungated and gated content.
Inbound is all about homing in on the needs of your prospect. Grant Marketing Communications Director Cam Mirisola-Bynum made a great point from the audience – you need to provide content for prospects that addresses their specific needs at every stage of the funnel. Educational white papers for those just starting out their research process, webinars and case studies for those who have decided they need a solution, and competitor comparison charts, product guides, or free samples with instructional videos for prospects who are truly ready to buy and need encouragement to buy from you. Deliver each piece of content at the right time through the right channel, and you’ve got a seamless lead nurturing workflow that can continue to run and support your sales team.
A few more lead conversion and nurturing tips? Sure thing! Here are some extra to-do's from the panelists:
- Segment your database. Your prospects are much more likely to engage with and respond to more targeted content. Use your landing page forms to gather information about your lead’s industry, job function, company size or any other properties, and tailor your emails and other content using that data.
- Set up automated emails. With tools like HubSpot, you can create automated workflows, follow-up emails and thank you messages to save yourself a lot of time. Then you can focus on other priorities while your email marketing works in the background.
- Streamline conversion paths. Do some user testing on your website and find out how easy it is for a visitor to obtain the information they need. This should only take a couple steps. Convenience is key to website user experience, so simplify conversion pathways as much as possible.
- Don’t drive PPC traffic to your home page. You might as well be burning money. Instead, create a separate landing page that specifically aligns with the copy used in your ads.
- Always use an explicit Call-to-Action. Tell your prospect what to do next! Otherwise, they’ll most likely read your content and then leave. If there is a next step, or a related resource, point them in the right direction on your website.
Aligning Sales and Marketing Efforts
One of the biggest challenges many manufacturing companies face is a lack of communication between Marketing and Sales. They aren’t using the same data. They aren’t reporting the most helpful information to each other. Marketing isn’t delivering the right leads. Sales is jumping in too soon – or not soon enough.
One tip to resolve this is for marketers to incorporate sales team members into the content creation process. Ask your sales reps what kinds of questions they frequently answer. Get them in on the buyer persona development process. Use the information they have to offer and translate it into a blog post or resource. And above all, map your marketing and sales processes together!
Both Susan and Jeff advocated that sales reps need to be equipped with the same mentality as marketers. How can they provide real value to the prospect? Sales should be using all the information they have to deliver a more personalized approach – an approach that makes the prospect feel like they’re talking to a peer and not to a sales pitch.
To facilitate this two-way street between Marketing and Sales, Dharmesh Shah was firm about manufacturers investing in a CRM. A CRM system ensures that marketing and sales teams are referencing and contributing to the same exact sets of data, eliminating some of the friction that’s created between the two departments. With a contact or customer record being updated in real-time, everyone is on the same page.
Interestingly, about half of our Lunch & Learn participants admitted to not having a CRM. So perhaps jumping on the CRM bandwagon will be a turning point for some of these companies. John Routhier pointed out that having these analytics and tools also makes sales conversations much more productive, as your reps are fully informed – and they know exactly what website pages a prospect visited, what emails they opened (or didn’t open), how many times they’ve perused the website, and what marketing offers they’ve chosen to engage with.
Dharmesh also suggested to visit GrowthBot.org – his personal project (which is basically a virtual marketing assistant) that can fully integrate with your CRM. FYI, here are a few ways you can use it for marketing and sales in 2017.
Last but not least, as pointed out by the panel, sometimes people just don’t want to talk to a sales person. They’re simply looking for a technical document or access to a technical team member. Don’t shove sales collateral down their throats just because they’ve reached out to your company for help.
Don’t Sell Products, Solve Problems
“As manufacturers, we all see ourselves as problem solvers.”
This quote from Adam Chase could not be more in line with our philosophy (seriously, we have a content marketing eGuide for manufacturers centered around the concept of solving problems).
If you can take away one thing from this article, it would be to create content that focuses on helping the prospect resolve an issue they are regularly encountering. Promoting your product features and all the bells and whistles isn’t going to speak to the needs of most prospects. How does your solution solve a problem? How do your customers benefit? Tapping into those needs is the key to successfully marketing your industrial manufacturing business.
That's a wrap! Please reach out if you have any questions about the Lunch & Learn event or the themes addressed in this article. Have something to say about the topic? Leave a note in the comments! We’d love to hear from you.