Lead generation in the modern age requires modern technology. You may rightfully question this assertion, especially if your manufacturing marketing team is still operating with spreadsheets and other relatively antiquated technology. The reason advanced technology is essential for the new way to go to market is that people do not go through the purchasing process (or the buyer’s journey, if you prefer), in the same way we did even five years ago. The people in your target audience go through the same purchasing process you do, and we all do. We start out with an Internet search using Google, Bing, or Yahoo. We gather information from various websites that show up high in organic search results or from ads that show up on the search engine results page (SERP). We check in with colleagues, family, and friends via social media or old-fashioned conversation. We check for any online reviews or adverse reports and finally end up contacting a few companies that offer similar products. As a final step, we approach a few companies that offer what appear to be extremely similar products.
Note that the final step is contacting a few companies directly after all the research and self-education is completed. This is a critically important point. The manufacturing firm that has been providing useful and helpful content during the investigation phase has established a relationship with the prospective customer well before that prospective customer contacts the company. The helpful company has established TOMA, demonstrated credibility, and evoked a sense of reciprocity with the person before the other companies even get a look from the consumer. The company that gets the call out of the blue and has not been practicing the new way has only one option, which is to offer a lower price. If one of your competitors is offering helpful content during the customer’s investigation via the Internet and you are not, you will probably not get the business, even with a lower price.
Modern marketing technology is the apparatus that enables engagement during the investigation phase of the customer’s buying journey.
Many manufacturing companies still operate their sales and marketing departments as if the Internet did not exist. Yes, most have a website, but these days a website is table stakes. Many manufacturing firms depend on a field sales team that pitches products in reaction to a direct inquiry or a tip from a trusted confidant. As we depicted in the paragraphs above, by the time the field sales person reacts to an inquiry, the firm operating in a new way has already established a relationship through TOMA, credibility, and reciprocity.
Do you see the problem? Your prospective customers are buying like it is 2017, but most manufacturing companies’ marketing and sales technology are from the late 1990s. You cannot operate a modern marketing function able to capitalize on the new way without marketing technology.
I fondly remember my younger days, when I was a bag-toting salesman traveling all over the country peddling my employer’s products in the early 1990s. My company sent me to a sales training class put on by a franchise called Sandler Sales Institute. Dave Sandler founded the business, which used to be based on a selling method built around the idea that the salesman held the power of information and the prospective customer did not have access to this important information. The buyer needed the salesman’s knowledge about the industry, new technology, competitors’ choices, and pricing. Sandler taught us to use this leverage to gain commitments from the buyer and to forge a bond with the buyer to facilitate a perception of trust and reliability. The buyer’s purchasing process involved contacting the vendor about 15 percent of the way through the purchasing process. This gave the salesman and the company a lot of room to build a personal relationship with the customer. In most cases, the salesman whose personality was the best fit for the prospective customer got the business. Some salespeople still try to operate in this manner, but they will fail if they do not adapt.
In 2016, most research shows that prospective customers do not contact your sales team until they are 70 percent or more through the purchasing process. Without modern technology, you have no idea who needs your product until they have nearly made their final decision. All things being equal (in other words, assuming no one is offering helpful content virtually), the decision comes down to price, and we all know how fighting for the lowest price works out for business. Not too good.
The Internet is now the primary source of information for individuals and companies during the early phases of the buying cycle. One could argue that the function of a field sales professional is heading toward extinction. For example, we as buyers can scan a barcode with our iPhones and immediately know pricing and availability around the globe. We can go to Yelp and instantly see reviews about a certain restaurant we are considering. We can search with Google, MSN, Yahoo, etc. and find a white paper about any and all technical topics. We can immediately post about our satisfaction or dissatisfaction with a product, service, or company on Facebook, where we have potential access to more than 1 billion people around the world!
If your firm is going to adopt the new way, you must embrace technology. You cannot engage with your prospective customers while they are in the self-education phase without modern marketing technology. Specifically, this is the technology you must have to convert to the new way:
An Interactive, Up-to-Date Website - I’m not talking about a 1990s website with a bunch of outdated, static pages. You need a content management system (CMS) behind your website, built with the visitor in mind. You should include a blog, complemented by a subscription-based enewsletter. The site must be intuitive, easy to navigate, and offer a useful and valuable experience to the visitor. WordPress is probably the most prevalent and easy-to-use CMS for manufacturing companies. Your website is the main place where you engage with your target audience while they do their self-education. If your site is offering valuable content and your competitor is not, you get the TOMA, credibility, and reciprocity, which means you will likely get the business.
A Customer Relationship Management (CRM) System - A CRM is essential for a few different reasons. First, this is your database of record for customers and prospective customers. Yes, I understand most companies have a database for accounting purposes, but you must have one for sales and marketing purposes. Salesforce.com is probably the most prevalent CRM in manufacturing. If you are one of those companies where your sales folks keep their super-secret spreadsheet of customers and prospective customers, please, please stop that practice and get a proper CRM. That one step alone will launch your business into a higher growth rate. Ultimately, when you have a modern revenue-producing marketing function in place, you will want to be able to track marketing spend and return on investment. You will need a CRM that tracks opportunities to close to accomplish a return on investment for marketing spend.
An Email Service Provider (ESP) - The primary tool you will use to engage with your target audience is email. Do not use Microsoft Outlook as your email tool. Outlook is great for one-on-one communicating, but it is not equipped for mass email sending and tracking. If you use it that way, you will damage your email reputation and end up on a slew of blacklists that prevent your emails from getting through firewalls. An email service provider is specially designed for email marketing. It has built-in safeguards and manages your unsubscribe list and bounce lists. Some of the more popular ESPs are Constant Contact, MailChimp, and Emma.
A Marketing Automation Platform (MAP) - Marketing automation includes email marketing as one component of a greater set of marketing tools. Other features added with a MAP are landing page design and hosting, website visitor reporting, lead form creation, lead management, ROI reporting, and more. If you are new to modern marketing, you should start off with an ESP and as your marketing team matures, move into a MAP. Marketing automation is a powerful tool, but it should not be adopted on a whim. Some of the more popular MAPs are Marketo, HubSpot, Oracle/Eloqua, ActOn and Salesforce/Pardot.
There are thousands of different marketing technology offers to choose from. One word of caution: avoid the shiny new object syndrome. It is wise to remember that a piece of technology or a new tool will never solve your problems by itself. All tools require a strategy for implementation and use, a way to measure results, and at least one super-user who owns and loves the technology. The marketing team leader and the team culture should be conducive to adopting and integrating technology into the team and the strategy. If you think your team is not willing or able to embrace technology, you need to look at the team composition first.
- Audit your current technology status. Look for a CRM, MAP, ESP, and other tools. If you lack any of these tools, it will be difficult to determine where the customer database and the prospective customer database reside. Do you have access to one, both, or none?
- As you lay the groundwork for the new way, be aware of what new tools you will need to bring on board and the requirements for implementation of such tools. Depending on the structure of your firm, it could be easy, hard, or next to impossible to implement a platform such as a MAP. If you fall into the category of “next to impossible,” do not give up. You could be facing an uphill battle against product culture and we have a solution for that issue too.