Within the manufacturing buyer process, there are really only two sales funnel stages. The top of the funnel is where you market to engage with (or gain attention from) the people in the target audience. As mentioned in my book, The New Way to Market for Manufacturing, by determining the sweet spot of engagement, you introduce your brand and offering to the target audience using educational content that helps the people in your target audience relieve a pain, fan a passion, or just be better in their day-to-day professional activities.
When those same people in your target audience are ready to buy the thing you manufacture, they drop down to the bottom of the funnel, where you tell them about your product and your company. Just before they are ready to make the purchase, they want and need to know about the details of your product, features, and the firm itself. If you have been successful at the top of the funnel and your competition is not better than you at engagement, you will get the business as long as your product lives up to expectations.
What about the middle of the funnel? You cannot map the buyer’s journey to the middle because there is not a common path between the top and the bottom.
I am proposing that the sales funnel for most manufacturing companies has only two parts, engagement at the top and product information at the bottom.
What happens in between the top and bottom is not predictable nor is it controllable. In many cases, people will bounce around in the funnel, moving from top to bottom then back to the top. Most manufacturing companies are very strong at the bottom of the funnel.
The fundamental problem with the old go-to-market strategy is in trying to engage with the people in the target audience who are not ready to buy when they see your first message that pitches products. It does not work anymore. The basic premise of the new way is using knowledge-based content in the engagement phase. Most manufacturing companies are still using the old way, and they are perplexed as to why they cannot grow their businesses. Be the early adopter, and you will win.
The new way sales funnel = no middle
Engagement is where you can take advantage of the big opportunity that exists right now within most manufacturing market spaces. The firm that does the best job in engaging with the people in the target audience will win. In the minds of your target audience, the factory that produces the product is inconsequential. Your product looks just like your competitor’s product. Trying to differentiate the product during the engagement phase is a waste of time. Save that for the bottom-of-the-funnel interactions. The product does not matter and the company does not matter during the top-of-the-funnel engagement phase of your relationship with a new prospective customer.
The secret to success for engagement lies in a thorough understanding of the pain that is common to the people in your target audience and the expertise that resides within your firm that can help relieve that pain and make their lives better. You may recognize this statement as the definition of the sweet spot of engagement we discussed earlier. Helpful information or education shared freely with the people in your target audience sets your firm apart from all of your competitors that are still pitching their products at the top of the funnel. Successful engagement positions your brand top-of-mind with your audience. Your brand gains a higher level of credibility than your competition because your firm is positioned as the expert in relieving this particular pain point. The information and education you share is a gift. Offering a gift evokes a desire in your audience to reciprocate. Reciprocity manifests in a purchase from your firm and not your competitor.
TOMA + Credibility + Reciprocity = Higher Growth Rates, Larger Market Share, and Higher Profits
At the top-of-the-funnel stage of engagement, you must not propose that your product is the solution to their pain. Save that idea for the bottom of the funnel. Your expertise around the product, not the product itself, is what they want to hear about. Here are a few examples to illustrate the idea:
If your firm manufactures particle measuring instruments for clean rooms, the expertise you may want to share is explaining the different classes of particle measurement and how they relate to different classes of clean rooms. Or you might teach the folks in your target audience about the regulatory environment for pharmaceutical clean room operation.
If your firm manufactures paper air navigation charts or tablet apps, for higher engagement teach the people in your target audience how to read a VFR chart on paper and/or in the tablet app. You teach them how to be a better pilot by helping them to be more proficient with airplane navigation.
If your firm manufactures irrigation equipment for industrial farms, share your expertise about efficient irrigation of large farms so they can be more profitable by being more efficient with irrigation.
It takes more than just one offer to earn TOMA, credibility, and reciprocity. Your engagement strategy must be ongoing, have a regular cadence, and be consistent in supporting the engagement mission. The process of regular touch points is called nurturing. Nurturing is defined in dictionary.com as “to support and encourage, as during the period of training or development; to foster.” The primary assumption is that your engagement strategy is aimed at those people who do not know your firm or have forgotten about your firm. By nurturing them with a regular dose of helpful information, you are building a powerful relationship so that when the day comes around (assuming you have chosen your target audience well) and these people whom you have been nurturing are ready, willing, and able to buy the product you manufacture, you will get the call and you will usually get the business. That is why engagement grows market share, increases growth rates, and improves profitability.
- Has your marketing department defined the buyer’s journey in multiple stages? Determine if it is accurate and useful. If not, propose the simplified two-stage funnel.
- Determine how your competition is attempting to engage with the audience. Chances are they are pitching products at the top and at the bottom of the funnel. This is your big chance. Read on to learn how to take advantage of your product-pitching competitors.