With more of the sales process occurring online, manufacturers must now integrate digital marketing strategies into the mix. Here’s how to create a manufacturing marketing plan that helps you adapt to more online buyers AND integrates your sales team into the mix.
Many manufacturers have relied solely on their sales team to drive growth. However, cold-calling and taking clients out to the golf course can no longer be relied upon as the only ways to drive business. Research indicates more of the sales process is taking place online.
- SiriusDecisions found that 67% of the buyer’s journey was done digitally. They reported their findings in 2013!
- Gartner predicts that by 2025, 80% of B2B sales interactions will occur in digital channels.
Even the most successful sales-driven manufacturers need to figure out how to creastte online sales interactions. This all begins with a marketing plan, one that includes the following steps:
Step 1: Get organizational buy-in
Step 2: Create personas
Step 3: Create a sales story
Step 4: Check your brand and marketing infrastructure
Step 5: Create a content strategy
Step 6: Create a marketing (distribution) strategy
Step 7: Ensure your goals and metrics are in place to measure success
The framework: Using content to create a Digital Twin of your sales team
We’re going to base our marketing plan on a simple framework — Our Digital Twin Manufacturing Marketing strategy.
It’s based on a simple premise: Because so many sales interactions are taking place online, we’re going to use content to create a Digital Twin of your sales team.
In manufacturing, a Digital Twin is a digital recreation of a machine or a process. It’s used to prototype new machinery, test new materials, or experiment with process changes.
For a sales-oriented organization, creating a Digital Twin of your sales team is an approach that will help you retain your successful sales methods while gaining a foothold in the digital world. (We’ll link you to the full Digital Twin Manufacturing Marketing approach at the end of this article.)
Step 1: Get organizational buy-in around “the baby”
Most marketing initiatives for sales-driven organizations arrive dead in the water. You may have the right goals, the right strategy, the right metric — but they lack one critical element: Company buy-in.
If everyone isn’t on board, you won’t move forward. To get that kind of buy-in, we have a simple solution:
Companies are like families. You don’t get to pick and choose everyone in your family/company. You may have different opinions on things, and this can lead to disagreements. Strong disagreements.
However, there’s one thing that brings the family together: A baby.
Everyone rallies around the baby. They love to hold the baby. The family is unified in its support of the baby and will do anything for it.
So to avoid internal disagreements, make the customer the baby. Any suggestions that are made and opinions expressed all need to be for the baby. And they need to be tested on the baby to see how he/she reacts.
Start by asking the family what the baby needs
To really understand the baby, you need to shift your company’s focus away from itself. That begins with asking them these simple questions:
1. Who are our customers? (likely 3-4 for a manufacturer)
2. What are they buying from us?
3. Why are they buying — what problems are we solving?
4. How do we know that’s why they’re buying from us?
5. What makes your company unique in its ability to solve their problems? (differentiators)
Send out a questionnaire asking these questions to key stakeholders in the company. Be sure to get a representative from all departments of your organization, including:
- Engineering/Product Design
We recommend sending out the questionnaire first, then bringing all stakeholders together to really clarify thoughts.
This is the first step in the Digital Twin framework. We’ll use internal feedback to help understand what type of content you should create to build that Digital Twin.
Step 2: Build your personas
From the first exercise, you’ve likely identified 3-4 customers (er, babies). Now we want to really flesh out the details for these customers by creating personas for them.
There are many organizations that produce in-depth personas, giving the persona a name, identity, etc. We don’t. We prefer to give some more generalized descriptions and focus on the core problems and challenges they face.
We find it’s more useful to just create a series of skimmable bullet points that will keep you agile if you need to make changes. Here’s an abridged example of a persona for a person in Procurement:
Example of a manufacturing buying persona:
Who they are
Works with engineering to make purchases. Approves vendors list and coordinates entire process.
What brings them to us
Needs a new supplier
Wants backup for parts purchase
What are their goals
Want to find a vendor they can trust
Looking for long-term lowest price per part
What are their pain points/frustrations
Don’t want ongoing back and forth
Want one point of contact
What questions do they ask and objections do they raise
Do you have an extended warranty?
Can I speak to your customers to verify your performance?
Why do they buy from you
24×7 technical support, including on-site visits
Low price match
Step 3: Create a sales story
Right out of the gates, you can create an actionable document by using a one-page template called the sales story. This is a concise narrative that not only summarizes all the questions you’ve just asked, but the sales team can use it as the basis for their approach.
Mike Weinberg created “The Sales Story” in his brilliant book New Sales. Simplified. Mike wisely pooh-poohs the elevator speech concept and instead focuses on the sales story. It’s only one page, and it will sit at the beginning of the document.
What I love about Weinberg’s sales story approach is that it puts the customer first. This runs contrary to how most manufacturers think: They just want to talk about their capabilities and their products. They only want to know if you can help them.
No one cares how smart you are or how great you think your company is. They want to know what’s in it for them. No one argues this point. When I share these concepts with clients, everyone nods and agrees. But intellectual assent isn’t enough. That conviction must get carried into the sales story we use.
Here are the sections:
Overview — Tell us what you do to help a customer
Questions — List out the problems that customer faces
Capabilities — Identify your capabilities
Differentiators — Identify your differentiators
Remember, this is brief and skimmable. Here is ours, as an example. Be sure to buy Mike Weinberg’s book to learn more about writing these.
Action-Step: Validate to see if your sales story and persona descriptions are correct
Earlier, we not only asked WHY your customers buy your product, but also “How do you know?”
The answer to WHY has got to be more than an assumption from your or your team. It needs to be validated by your customers. Doug Lambert, Advisor and Entrepreneur, explains:
Let’s assume you know you have a great product or service. If you know WHY your customers buy it, you’ll be more effective at selling it. So ask your customers, then actively listen for the answers. Make sure you have qualitative and quantitative data to answer your question. When you have the unfiltered facts from real, current customers on your side, then you truly know your customer and WHY they buy.
To do that, you’ll need external customer feedback to inform your Digital Twin. We recommend reaching out to the customer in the following way:
Conduct 1:1 interviews with 2-3 key customers or prospects. Ask them if the problems they face and why they buy from you match your assumptions. Their answers will allow us to form a hypothesis as to why they buy, which we can next validate.
Run online ads to test response. Using paid advertising, you can test the WHY messaging. If people click on the content, you’re on your way to really building up the quantitative data Doug Lambert was talking about.
Conduct in-depth research. All of that data can be used for more advanced studies, such as a quantitative research poll, or even better, an emotional data study, like the one used by Grant Gooding and PROOF Positioning.
PRO TIP: Make this an ongoing process, repeated over and over again as we get to know our customers more and more. It’s a way to continuously stay in touch with the customer, and make sure we’re changing as our customer changes.
You’ve done all the legwork to really understand your customers. Before we get into the marketing aspect, we have to pause and make sure you have a solid marketing foundation in place.
Joe Sullivan of the marketing firm Gorilla 76 describes what those foundational pieces are in the video below. Some we’ve discussed here (research, positioning), but he also points out some areas you may need to re-examine (website, CRM):
Step 5: Create a content strategy using Digital Twin framework
Now we’re ready to create our content strategy for the Digital Twin. The long-established adage in sales is people won’t do business with you unless they know you, like you, and trust you. Our content will follow the same formula:
Know You content: Identifies your customers’ problems
As you generated internal company feedback and conducted one-on-one external interviews with customers, you have a solid sense of many of the problems and challenges facing prospects.
Create content that answers those customer questions, problems, and challenges. It should be informative, not salesy. You want to get people to Know You, and that happens when you talk about them and their problems, not your own products.
PRO TIP: Create collaborative content. Quote experts and interview them for your content, like I’ve done here with the various experts featured throughout the piece. It helps validate your position and may lead to co-promotion opportunities for your content.
Like You content: Provides tools to help them identify potential answers for their problem
It’s one thing to help identify your customers’ problems. You’ll get on their radar for that. But to make your customers really like you, you have to give them a tool.
Think of your neighbors. The ones you really love and trust are the selfless ones who are happy to lend you a cooking ingredient if you’re running short, and a ladder for a home improvement. Be that selfless neighbor with your content.
Create tools that can help customers. These can include:
Product configurator: This allows them to create a digital version of a product (yes, a Digital Twin) like this 3D CAD model produced by CADENAS PARTsolutions. Their software provides interactive CAD & BIM downloads in 150 formats.
Checklists, templates, calculators: Marketers like Lindsay Ojeda, Director of Marketing for Maysteel Industries, value marketing templates. They help her make her job easier. You can also use efficiency tools like checklists. (We offer an interactive case study checklist, for example.)
I love marketing templates. They make my life easier by providing a quick and easy way of organizing all the insights from customer research, strategic planning, persona building and more. (Do any of us really want to spend hours formatting a document?) And when it comes time to share marketing plans and strategy with the rest of my organization? Templates help me do that too.
Guides, white paper: There’s nothing like an in-depth white paper to help customers find answers and even sell solutions to their management team. You can combine lengthier “Know You” posts into a white paper.
Trust You content: Shows your expertise and ability to solve their problem
After you have customers knowing you and liking you, it’s time to create content to help them trust. There are three important content elements for manufacturers:
Case studies in your customers’ words: Your case studies are a manufacturer’s version of Google reviews. It’s important that this doesn’t come strictly from you.
Make sure you’re integrating customers’ words into the content and telling their story, including qualitative and quantitative gains you’ve helped them achieve. (Here’s our post on how to write a case study effectively.)
Capabilities communicated with clarity: Make sure your capabilities pages are loaded with the types of specs engineers and designers are looking for, with an emphasis on clarity. Remember, these folks want the facts. You don’t need to pump up what you do — just communicate it clearly.
About page — show your people: Customers will want to know your story and learn about your team. The About page on your website is the place to tell them everything about you. Give them your company history, and showcase your leadership and their expertise.
Step 6: Create the marketing strategy for the content
Once we’ve created this content, you need to market or distribute it online. If you don’t, no one will know your market exists, much less consume it. Joe Sullivan sums it up nicely:
We need to go out and proactively find those people where they consume content online and proactively get the stuff in front of them to build trust and brand affinity. We want to open the door to sales conversations for when those people enter the sales cycle, which a majority of your audience is not in yet. So capture demand where it exists, create demand, where it doesn’t yet.
Finding where your customers consume content is like having your Digital Twin getting out there and prospecting. There are essentially two ways to do this, Paid and Organic:
Paid: Advertisements in social media, trade pubs, Google AdWords
If you’re going to use advertising to help distribute your content, think of it in these terms:
Advertise Know You and Like You content to build an audience, then consistently serve them Trust You content for the moment they’re ready to buy.
You probably won’t generate many direct conversions into sales, as these people may not be ready to purchase at the moment.
Use your Know You and Like You content to get them to join your mailing list or add them for a retargeting ad then you can hit that built audience with Trust You buying messages for when the time is right.
Organic: Search engine optimization, social media, email, placement (guest posts)
Organic can be distributed for “free” in the sense that anyone can post online content on a webpage or social media. But it requires resources to build, both in terms of time to post content and write content, and money to pay a team to accomplish both functions.
Nevertheless, the Digital Twin content types can be applied to organic content.
Social media: Use content to make connections and extend your referral base.
Search engine optimization: Rank for, which builds links to help you rank for key “money” terms.
Email: Build your list by offering a valuable monthly newsletter or exceptional tools / downloadable materials, then use follow-up emails to stay in front of prospects.
Placement (guest blogs): Share content on other websites, which extends your brand reach and also drives inbound links back to your website.
Look where you can effectively and efficiently reach your prospects after you’ve identified them and developed your message. It’s just plain dumb to pick a medium first and then hope your market is there.
There are hundreds of possible tools you can use to reach prospects. And here’s something very important to remember: They all work for somebody! Anybody who tells you to put all of your marketing dollars into one tool is simply trying to sell that tool to you.
Step 7: Metrics: Ensure the right metrics are in place to measure success
ROI depends on closing the loop
Everything in the first four steps of your marketing plan matters little unless you have the correct metrics in place to measure success.
Keep in mind that your ability to measure true ROI will be tied to your organization’s tools and commitment to “closing the loop.” In other words, do you have a mechanism for attributing the marketing source that brings in leads and closed sales?
This can be anything from a spreadsheet to a full-blown CRM, but without something in place, establishing your ROI and pinpointing the most efficient marketing channels will be difficult.
That being said, it’s best to focus on a “critical few” metrics as you establish your marketing KPIs. Our critical few boil down to three areas that follow the Digital Twin framework:
Know You goals
Website: Traffic and inbound links
Social: Likes, profile views (LinkedIn), impressions
You want people to get to know you, so you’re not expecting sales at this point. You want to get your name out.
Like You goals
Website: Downloads, e-newsletter signups
Social: Connections, followers
These are signs that people like you and the content you are producing. They want to learn more about you.
Trust You goals
1:1 Meetings or demos
You’ve got a meeting or a demo. Mission accomplished.
CRM metrics to close the loop
If your volume of leads and budget warrants it, a CRM will help you close the loop on the leads to determine the marketing channels that are proving to be the most effective. It allows you to be able to determine a number of additional key metrics:
Marketing-qualified lead goals: Includes leads that are credible and worthy of a sales follow-up.
Deals closed goals: This is a bit subjective. You may want to break this out into the number of leads accepted into the sales pipeline, then finally conclude with the number of deals actually closed that resulted in business.
Setting your quantitative goals: The rule of 3
A key to the overall success of your plan is to integrate your organization’s sales goals into the overall plan. But how does that translate into actual metrics? We’re talking about filling that sales funnel, integrating both sales and marketing.
Additional metrics to consider
There are additional metrics to consider for an organization besides the direct impact on the sales.
Brand equity: This is a tough metric, but you could look to your Google Analytics to determine if there are increases in branded search on your website, or more visits to your company’s LinkedIn page. Brand equity is always a tough one to measure. You can use these as an index to determine marketplace awareness.
Marketing value to organization: Have you ever heard the line, “Why doesn’t anyone measure the effectiveness of accounting?” The same can hold true for marketing efforts. Are there things that your marketing department can do to move the entire organization forward, such as:
- Improve customer insights
- Enhance internal communication
- Build morale
- Build your marketing infrastructure
These get a bit squishy, but every organization needs certain things done that we know will improve the company’s culture and cohesiveness. Don’t underestimate these
Adjust qualitative strategies to meet quantitative goals
In creating your manufacturing marketing plan, we’ve created qualitative strategies that will help you achieve the quantitative goals of the sales pipeline.
Those quantitative goals will indicate whether or not your qualitative strategies need to be revised. If you don’t meet the numbers, readjust the marketing strategies that you’re using to reach the customer. It’s all about benchmarking, executing, then adapting.
The key is that you’re moving forward and adding in online strategies to meet the digital needs of your customers. Remember, those are your babies. Do everything you can to make them happy!