The rise of the internet and the inter-connectivity of the world around us has had an incredible impact on almost every aspect of our lives. From the time-intensive social media that consumes our personal lives to the convenience of online shopping, we have all had our lives affected by the waves of virtual change. In business terms, inbound marketing couldn’t exist without this development so when you’re dealing with manufacturing, electronic and technology companies, it plays an even bigger role.
For many, the changes offered are profound, but for others, particular in those industries, the ripples have been much more subtle, but equally far-reaching. When it comes to the manufacturing sector, the harsh economic conditions we’ve lived with for many years, mean that the way purchasing is done, especially B2B sales and marketing, restraint is the key, no matter how technically advanced we get.
The biggest change business leaders have in the manufacturing industry will have felt is the removal of borders. The internet has broken down the geographical boundaries between businesses. You are no longer tied to local suppliers and can now source the best materials from anywhere in the world, all of which are just an email or a website click away. Inbound marketing even makes it easier to find what you want, part of a collective drive that offers exactly what you need.
The removal of these borders has meant that, for many businesses, the sourcing of the materials they need is no longer the sole-preserve of the Engineering or Technical Departments. There is simply more at stake to allow this to continue unabated. It’s become a multi-faceted, multi-discipline affair.
There’s no denying that the engineering and technical aspects of many specialised products mean that their involvement in buying decisions is a necessity. The thing is, with the opening of global procurement, the decision can’t be theirs alone. It’s no longer enough to buy a product solely on the strength of its engineering capability. Of course, the item in question needs to be fit for purpose, but you’ll also need the commercial procurement team to consider the life-cycle management, the Return on Investment and the total cost of ownership. You need to look at the impact on the business as a whole. How has the internet changed this mindset? Let’s take a closer, deeper look at the impact it can have.
With the removal of walls separating buyers from suppliers, the role of the sales person has changed more than any other. They may be called the same thing, but their role to simply facilitate a sale between parties has developed enormously. They used to simply be a giver of information. If you wanted to buy something, a sales rep would come and speak to you about it. Job done. Now, with the growth of online commerce, if you want to know about their product, you can go online and review it without ever contacting anyone from that company.
It’s this important change that means a salesperson needs to add value, not just to potential customers, but their own company too. They are no longer curtailed by how far they can travel on the motorway. A global market means customers demand more and they expect more, so your sales team has to deliver more. They need to be consistent in their approach and transparent in their dealings, despite the differences in culture, language or process. A standardised approach is essential to your success.
In many ways, this approach exemplifies how you need to approach inbound manufacturing marketing. If you’re the company selling the item in question, your inbound efforts will solidify this need. You’ll have the the cream of the industry visiting your site on a regular basis to share experiences and engage with you. You will have positioned yourself as the ‘go to’ company in the field, thanks to inbound. If you’re the buyer, then inbound will offer so much more to look at that a specification sheet. It’s a win/win for all.
The biggest hurdle members of your sales team need to overcome is the fact that professional procurement will take them out of their comfort zone, but this should be an opportunity to grow, rather than a reason to retreat.
Businesses need to learn to communicate their technical advantages more broadly, targeting areas specifically to meet the needs of the differing teams. Use terminology that will be beneficial to all, whilst remaining specific where necessary. Acronyms should only be used where appropriate and when it will add value to the communication process between like-minded people.
Finally, whilst we’re on the subject of value, let’s look why it’s the biggest challenge many businesses face when moving from a technical, product-centric sales approach to a value-based, customer-centric one.
The value that a new purchase can offer will be measured differently by different departments. If you’re buying a piece of equipment that gives you a longer production run, then that value will be clear for the manufacturing team, but it’s a narrow point of view. If it also means that, in the longer term, the time between shutdowns is extended or that the shutdown itself is shorter, then suddenly it becomes much more obvious to more people. The sales team can sell more, the Quality team can check more and Maintenance team may have less work to do. This benefit can work up and down the internal value chain. Less down time might also mean a reduction in costs which allows the Purchasing team spread outgoings more effectively. If the product coming of the line is better in quality and can be made quicker, the customer will also benefit. Of course, this is only a hypothetical scenario, but it illustrates how a small change can make a big difference.
When it comes to B2B, skilled teams understand how these seemingly disparate changes in how we work can impact the company as a whole. A salesperson need to be more than a talking brochure, they need to understand the customer to be able to offer something more than a sale. It’s an approach that will sell itself.