For the past 10 years I have been assisting in the strategic planning and execution of a variety of manufacturers’ online marketing campaigns. One thing I know for sure is that it's a progressive process with new strategies, techniques, products and services available and changing each year. Some good, some bad, and some great! Our most successful clients employ a mix of being both proactive and reactive with their inbound lead campaigns and the data derived using these products and services. That's the nature of online marketing as a manufacturer today; putting yourself out there for all of the products and or services you offer, driving the correct buyers or distributors to your site, and nurturing the sales process until they become customers.
A common theme is that manufacturers feel limited in what they can do, especially if they think they have to rely mostly on their distributors to sell their products. Although there is some truth to that in many of cases, we have many clients that use the web and the various software platforms and services to accomplish more in driving customers, distributors, company brand messaging and revenue opportunities for their business.
In thinking back over the years of all the strategies that have worked for manufacturers, I want to highlight 3 philosophies that haven’t changed; the details are different according to your business, but not the theories.
Company Name Recognition
I cringe when I hear firms like ours talk about “branding,” it's such an old school marketing term that companies often associate with expensive PR Firms. I prefer to use the term “visibility.” Because I work with both manufacturers, distributors and end users, I know for certain that if you, as the manufacturer, are more visible on the web, then your customers appreciate that; especially your distributors. The majority of buyers, suppliers, purchasing agents and engineers who are actively sourcing will use the web to help qualify who they want to start a sales process with. More so if they know or have an idea of what they need but don’t know who they should get it from and why.
Your distributors appreciate they are representing a line that is making an effort to promote themselves, which in turn will help them sell your products to end users. End users appreciate a company that comes across as an expert in their industry. Distributors often tell me when end users (other manufacturers, government, military, municipalities, OEMs etc…) mention they were searching for, say a centrifugal pump, and they came across the website of the manufacturer that distributor represents, it makes the sales process for the distributor much shorter. BUT ONLY if the manufacturer’s website was easy to use, attractive and informative. So if you are still using the same black and white logo from 50 years ago, it may be time to give it a reprise, along with your website and how it's used. I can’t tell you the amount of times I have worked with a company that uses a competitor's site to look up information because it had more content, technical data, product info and was just plain more helpful in finding what they needed. Don’t you think your customers are using that site for the exact same reason? Who do you think they are going to buy from? Your antiquated website and the information therein or the competitor that gives them everything they need when they want it?
Inbound Lead Generation
Above we talked about the image your website portrays to the public at large. In order for people to see who you are, we have to assume you are doing what's necessary to get them to your website, which we will generalize as “Inbound Lead Generation”. There are many ways of doing this - SEO (Search Engine Optimization), Paid Search (PPC), Blogging, Remarketing, Banner Advertising, Online News Publications, Press Releases, Email Marketing, Amazon, Ebay etc…
Lets just lump all that into “getting you to show up online when people search for your products and services.” Whether that is a distributor looking for a new line to represent, an engineer looking for a custom application or a purchasing agent looking for a standardized product, you need to show up. And you need to show up with a clear message, attractive website and a better mousetrap to convert them. A conversion can take the form of a simple contact us form, detailed RFQ, technical or white paper download, joining your weekly newsletter, phoning your company, etc. All of this should be looked at as the starting of a sales process. In a nutshell that is what you are trying to do, use the web to sell direct or to support your distributors in selling more of your product.
Now, the trick has become automating this entire process from website design and development to inbound lead generation to a conversion to your CRM. I will save the explanation of “marketing automation” for another post.
Use A CRM To Decipher The Sales Opportunities
Having a website that people like to use while increasing your online visibility is only half the game. There are a lot of firms that can do that for you. What separates a great online marketing firm from the majority is having the ability to understand your business process and to help you sell what you make. Increasing your revenue using the web is the end game.
I don’t know how you specifically sell your products and services, but chances are it’s one of, if not all, of the following:
- Everything is customized by engineers and made for OEMs
- Everything you make is standardized and sold through distributors and e-commerce
- You want to deal with the big opportunities direct (custom or not), but sell majority of your products through distributors
- A combination of all 3 and maybe more
All of these ways of starting and ending a sales process can have different conversion actions throughout. What you need to do is parse out the conversion data into who it is, what they want and what information you need to give them to make the buying decision that you are the company they need to work with. Organizing all of this information in order to automate the process is crucial. A properly used CRM will save you time, money, and increase your sales opportunities.
We work with manufacturing clients that sell direct and clients that sell through distributors only. If you want to increase your direct sales, then the process is a bit more simplified. You would drive more qualified traffic to your e-commerce site and other outlets that you sell your products and increase the conversion rates for higher ROI. That is, of course, the overly simplified version.
If you sell through distributors, you would want to implement a campaign to help them sell more of your products. For example, if your distribution is broken out regionally, then you can collect quotes and conversions into your CRM and pass them on as sales opportunities to the distributors that service the respective regions. Follow up on all the leads you give them and see how it's affecting your bottom line. If a distributor represents more than one line of products that are essentially the same as yours, then give them reasons to sell more of your product and not the others. What better way than to have dominant online visibility and offer them more sales opportunities? You can also use reverse caller ID and phone call tracking to know who has called into your company asking questions based on campaign. Many of the manufacturers that we work with give their distributors all of their sales opportunities through website and phone call inquiries. Some follow up on the large opportunities themselves, and pass the rest on to their distribution. Keep your distributors happy and they will sell more of your product, but do not rely 100% on someone else to market your products.
Whether you sell direct and never actually talk to your customer, or you become heavily involved in the consultation of what they need, both scenarios have a level of follow up (customer service) and reverse marketing. A CRM will do this for you.
I could break all of this down to the ridiculous, but for now I hope this was helpful. To learn more on this topic, request a free assessment of your current sales process below. Happy selling!
This blog is part of a series of blog posts prepared for industrial manufacturers to gain insight on how to improve your business using modern internet marketing tools like marketing automation software and customer relationship management (CRM) software. Read other blogs in this series: