Finding new customers is like fishing. You can cast a big net and hope you catch something edible, or you can bait a hook and wait for the right fish to come to you. If you're a manufacturing company you're particular about the kind of fish you want, and that's why you should use inbound marketing as bait.
Inbound marketing is about creating something that attracts the prospects you want to talk to. It starts with a website that's easy to navigate, and adds quality content that gives those prospects a reason to visit. Done well, you’ll have them asking you to get in touch!
Why and how you should do this
The ways of marketing manufacturing company websites have evolved beyond the old fashioned marketing tactics. Cold calls go to voicemail, mailshots go straight in the bin, emails are deleted on receipt. No one has time to talk to a salesman but everyone wants answers to their problems.
Inbound marketing is about becoming the source of those answers. If potential buyers know you have knowledge and information that will benefit them they’ll come to you. So you need a two-pronged approach: become that source of information, and let the world know about it. Your goal is to be so useful that potential customers keep visiting your website, and tell others to do the same.
Stop talking, start doing
We've researched this topic thoroughly, and believe us, there are a lot of ideas out there. To save you time and effort, we've distilled our accumulated learning into 21 killer insights. Study these and make your website a lead generation machine!
- Your prospects are almost certainly using Google, and maybe LinkedIn. When it comes to business products Accenture found that 19 out of 20 buyers said they do some research online before actually purchasing. In parallel, market research specialists Forrester say that three in every four business buyers, “... conduct more than half of their research online before making an offline purchase.” The takeaway? Your business must have a web presence.
- You need to be on Page 1 of the search results. There are books on this subject, but the main points are: identify the key words or phrases, update frequently, optimize pages and create content. Google is especially interested in fresh content with technical “meat,” so that's what you must provide if you're to top the rankings.
- The customer chooses the channel. They don't all want to use the phone. Some are too busy, others might not speak English or might be twelve timezone away. Some will email, others might want to text, message on LinkedIn, or use an online Chat service. Your opinion of these is irrelevant. If that's how the customer wants to work with you, follow or risk sending them to a more accommodating competitor.
- Inbound marketing need not mean selling through your website. Don't confuse the two. Your website promotes the products you make, but that doesn't mean you have to sell them online. Indeed, many B2B buyers still expect and even prefer to discuss their needs before raising an order the traditional way.
- Have a strategy – make it a process, not a project. Inbound marketing takes work, and you won't maximise the return on that effort with a shotgun approach. Work through how you're going to do this, assign responsibilities for each step of the process, and build it in to the way you work.
- Define some measures. Do you measure page views now? Do you check where you appear in Google searches for the things you make? Putting that kind of stake in the ground is an absolute minimum, but you should go further. How many prospects contact you each day through your website? What proportion do you convert to customers? These are just some of the things you should be measuring, because if you don't measure, how will you know what effect all your inbound marketing is having?
- B2B buyers work in teams. It's rare to deal with the same person from initial enquiry to shipping and payment. You're more likely to be handed off from one person to the next. Perhaps an engineer makes the initial contact, and having established you have the widget they need, passes you off to Maintenance or Purchasing. In other words, making one sale almost certainly means dealing with several people in an organization.
- Establish buyer personas. When you're making a physical product it's usually sold to another business that incorporates it into their product. Think about the people at these businesses who are searching for your product. It's probably a mix of scientists, engineers, maintenance and production managers, maybe also senior buyers and purchasing managers. Create personas for each of these describing who they are, what their needs are and how they go about their work.
- Align content with customer's interests. Having worked out who you want to visit your website, think about what they actually want. It's not the amazing features of your product that they care about, at least not at first. What they're after, and the reason they might be willing to spend some money, is the solution to a problem. So put yourself in their shoes and work out what problems your potential customers are trying to solve.
- Use the customer’s words to describe challenges and potential solutions. If you use specialized terms and expressions that your customers don't know you'll get a mismatch between the content you're producing and what they're searching for.
- Answer basic questions and needs. Making yourself useful means answering questions and helping customers understand how they could and should use your product. If you sell pumps you might explain the different types and the situations where each is most appropriate. It could include explaining how to size a pump, and maybe some advice on installation procedures. This isn't information the customer should pay for. If you don't provide it a competitor will, and anyway, your goal is to be a valuable resource.
- Be credible. Engineers and scientists who visit your website won't appreciate shoddy, inaccurate content. It's essential to get your facts and figures right and to convey them in an authoritative manner. There again, you don't want to come off sounding like a textbook. The ideal blog has technical “meat” but delivers it the way your knowledgeable friend would.
- Create quality content. Blogs, white papers, web pages must all be useful, not sales-y. Your potential customers will see through marketing and promotional material. You have to give them solid technical content that helps them do their jobs, (and in the process, explains where your product fits in.) Keep blog posts simple and relevant, one idea per post, and focus on addressing those customer challenges.
- Make good content a priority. Creating thoughtful blogs or white papers with technical depth is not something to delegate to the receptionist or a student working with you for the summer. That said, few engineers and scientists, (the people who know your products best,) enjoy writing or have much talent for it. That means you'll have to find a competent writer with in-depth technical knowledge, or put your writer to work with your techies.
- Determine the most appropriate content formats. Engineers and scientists like solid technical info presented in papers. Engineers in particular appreciate pictures and diagrams too. Infographics tend to lack depth for a solid technical conversation, but they can have a role. You might even consider short videos explaining aspects of your product.
- Social publishing. You might have the best content in the world, but it's of no use if people don't know about it. Don’t just hope it gets picked up and spread around, promote it! LinkedIn is an effective tool, but Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all have a place. Put out posts letting the world know you've published some useful new tool, graphic or white paper.
- Invite interaction. Ask for comments, feedback, questions, and respond to them! Every stand-up comedian knows the importance of interaction. It helps them do a better job, and the same goes for your blog and other content. Invite feedback, ask for application stories and pose provocative ideas, (which needs handling carefully if you don't want to come off looking foolish.)
- Incorporate calls to action. “Request a Quote” and “Learn more now” buttons make it easy for customers to ask for information. In the process they become leads by giving you their contact information. Just make sure the firstname.lastname@example.org mailbox is monitored and enquiries get a quick – and relevant – reply.
- Learn from competitors and build on what they are doing. Don't ever duplicate content though! That looks bad and can land you in all kinds of trouble. Instead, see what the competition is doing to be useful, and go further. If they mention that lubrication is an important part of product maintenance, discuss the most appropriate viscosity of oil to use.
- Capture names and emails with gated content. This is material your readers have to sign up for. Providing you've established your credibility, many visitors are happy to do this in exchange for a white paper or other technical literature they can study at their leisure.
- Your catalog is not enough. After using it to describe what products they make, many manufacturers think its enough just to put their product catalog online. That's useful but it's an end-step in inbound marketing. Your content will discuss customer problems and explain how they can be solved with your product. Then you might provide a link to that particular item. But the catalog itself is not much of a reason to visit your site.
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Content catches customers
Most B2B buyers do their initial research online. You’ve got a website, but high quality content baits the hook. Sharing useful, relevant information keeps customers and prospects coming back and turns your website into a lead generation machine!
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