Is Manufacturing's Marketing Mindset Off Target?

Manufacturers have traditionally depended on sales teams to drive their lead generation efforts from beginning to end. Yet today’s business environment has changed this model.

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Andrea OlsonAndrea Olson

Marketing and manufacturing aren't often uttered in the same sentence. With a "good-ol-boy" mentality, it's perceived that manufacturing doesn't need marketing — sales are won by relationships, often long-term ones.

Yet is this really the case?

Manufacturers have traditionally depended on sales teams to drive their lead generation efforts from beginning to end. Marketing has always provided "sales support" (the fluffy, make-it-pretty stuff) and was not expected to engage in the process any further.

Yet today’s business environment has changed this model. With the advent of digital technologies (can you say Google?), purchasers go through their buying journey very differently, operating in a self-service capacity by using a variety of digital sources of information.

In a recent study done by IHS (2016), the top three information sources buyers use to find products are Search Engines (78 percent), Supplier Websites (76 percent), and Online Catalogs (72 percent). This visibility requires an engaged and active marketing team to develop and generate SEO optimized content, along with a website that provides simple and easy access to information to facilitate a sale.

In addition, most buyers don't simply utilize a single source of information to make their purchasing decision. The IHS study showed that buyers who made purchases under $1,000 viewed an average of 2-3 pieces of content before making a decision, while purchases between $1,000-$10,000 had an average of 3-5, and purchases over $10,000 had an average of five or more. While your sales team must be part of the process, this statistic indicates that the need for increased content marketing is essential. This content, generated by marketing, serves as the bridge with self-service buyers to start the sales cycle rolling.

Smart manufacturers know this is essential. The IHS study showed that manufacturing organizations using content marketing primarily used it for generating sales (87 percent), increasing brand awareness (84 percent), and lead generation (82 percent). You'd be hard pressed to facilitate any of these critical areas without a strong, engaged and productive marketing team.

Yet it doesn't end there.

Manufacturing buyers interact with providers in a variety of ways throughout every phase of the decision-making process. At their recent summit, SiriusDecisions proposed a new B2B Buying Decision Process Framework with three types of buying scenarios:

1) Committee - Requires agreement an executive level for a purchase decision. Typically involves 6-10 people and takes 1-2 quarters for a final decision.

2) Consensus - Requires agreement across teams, functions or departments for a purchase decision. Typically involves 3-5 people and takes 1-2 quarters for a final decision.

3) Independent - Requires agreement among individuals for a purchase decision. Typically involves 1-2 people and takes less than eight weeks for a final decision.

While the complexity of the B2B purchase process isn't new, this categorization helps clarify the types of sales engagements a company might encounter. Traditionally speaking, the "Independent" buying scenario is frequently tackled by the sales team, but when it comes to "Consensus" and "Committee" based purchases, a single channel of attack is insufficient.

All the players in the purchase process need information, often of varying types (think of the "technical" decision maker versus the "strategic" decision maker — what information do they want that will help them make a decision?). This requires marketing to help sales teams create a deeper engagement - through content, brand awareness, engagement tools and much more. Sales just can’t do it alone.

Buyers (and often others) are in control for a larger and larger portion of the B2B sales process. Instead of viewing and treating marketing as an afterthought, the two need to take a more strategic partnership approach to succeed in the long term.

Andrea Olson is founder of marketing and communications strategic consulting firm Prag'madik.

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