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If you’re tired of hearing “Content is King,” you’re not alone. But the fact that the claim has been worn into the ground does not make it less true (even for manufacturers). Still, we would argue that content by itself isn’t enough. A more complete system is needed to place King Content on his throne. That system is known as inbound marketing. It is complete in a marketing sense not only because it utilizes and integrates cooperating marketing channels, but because it glides smoothly into sales–making peace between the all-too-often warring departments of sales and marketing. In fact, the marketing system that makes up inbound marketing methodology actually has an internal self-correcting system in place, shortening the industrial sales and manufacturing sales cycle and refining processes to improve efficiency and success rate.
In the manufacturing industry, a single purchase order can easily start in the tens of thousands of dollars and rapidly increase in cost from there. It’s no mystery thatthe manufacturing sales cycle is often long and drawn out as potential customers want to take their time reaching a purchase decision. Your sales reps know that many quote requests are dead-ends, and likely recognize that significant time is spent communicating with under-qualified “suspects.” Inbound marketing methodology can help shorten and streamline the sales process, building greater efficiency as well as improving Sales and Marketing interdepartmental communication and cooperation.
Each individual inbound marketing channel—SEO, Content Creation, Content Promotion, Lead Capturing, etc.—is used cohesively to generate, qualify, and nurture leads, moving them along towards a purchase decision with greater intention and control, and at a smoother and rate than outbound marketing efforts which rely heavily on the luck of the draw for making contact with viable prospects. Some of the foundational differences between inbound and outbound marketing, such as detailed buyer persona development with a focus on the buyer’s journey, direct strategy development and lead nurturing in such a way that the ultimate result is higher lead qualification and a more efficient marketing-to-sales hand-off. This allows your marketing team to focus their time on the most effective tasks and, when combined with a dedication to “Closed-loop Marketing”—which we will also discuss—creates a strategy that naturally improves.
Buyer Personas and the Buyer’s Journey
The first step in any successful inbound strategy is defining each of your ideal customers (buyer personas), in detail. Take into consideration each stage of the “buyer’s journey” (or sales funnel) and how each distinct buyer persona navigates each stage. Building out personas to this degree allows you to create a strategy that meets prospects exactly where they are and moves them forward toward purchase. Let’s take a more particular look at the stages of the buyer’s journey and set some general strategic guidelines for each:
In the Awareness stage, your buyer persona needs to be made aware of both your company’s presence and of the need they have which your company can meet. Your inbound marketing strategy will utilize SEO and long-tail keyword research to determine what a prospect at this stage is likely to be searching. Content for these visitors should be built around your keyword research as a mix between brand identification materials and useful guides. At this stage, establishing your company as a trustworthy source of valuable information is the goal. Content such as white papers (think “An Introduction to Paving Equipment Models and Functions” or “The Guide to Your First Construction Equipment Order”) and blog entries that provide similar relevant and useful information will educate these visitors about the market and, implicitly, about your company. Just the fact that you’re providing this information builds your brand’s position as a thought leader.
At this stage visitors need more substantive information about your products.High quality product demos, specifications, product comparisons, and similar in-depth materials are the consumables for these visitors. 70% of buyers return to Google 2-3 times during the course of their research process (Pardot), narrowing searches further and further down toward their most specific pain points and needs. So here too, keyword research and your content editorial calendar are key in ensuring that you’re producing satisfying material for prospects at this stage and moving them forward in meeting their product needs. Additionally, at this stage,researchers are often bringing in additional team members/higher management to assist in final purchase research/decision making. Your inbound channels need to respond to this level of scrutiny. Keywords should fall into a more limited pool and content promotion should be focused on the platforms most likely to draw this quality of visitor. For manufacturers, having an up to date and active YouTube channel, for example, is an important resource at this stage.Demo videos show instead of just tell prospects the value of your products and are an engaging approach to communicating lengthy, technical information.
These visitors are ready to make a purchase and are just waiting to be won over by a single company. Now is the time to do serious brand promotion. Case studies, product promotional videos, and similar brand based materials need to be created and promoted. Your customer experience also needs to be highlighted.Tell potential customers what they’ll receive by working with you. Maybe you offer training, warranties, support, or similar perks. Promotion campaigns surrounding these kinds of perks and customer reviews of your product and company are another example of content directed at this segment of your visitors.
If a free quote is the only way to express interest or get information about your products, traffic falling anywhere and everywhere within (and without) the spectrum of the “Awareness” to the “Decision” stage will be submitting these requests. However, if you’ve created strategies for each stage of the buyer’s journey within each of your target audiences, you will know what content to create to move visitors from “Awareness” to “Consideration” and “Consideration” to “Decision.” You will be able to strategize about where and how to promote material, as well as create content that will help visitors progress along toward their purchase decision no matter where they are when they first encounter your company. The maxim that “70% of the buyer’s journey is complete before a buyer even reaches out to sales” (SiriusDecisions) doesn’t have to mean that your company is not a part of that 70% of the buyer’s journey. With an inbound marketing strategy in place, you stay involved in this huge chuck of your visitors’ experience and progress; qualify visitors more precisely; and provide sales with a clearer picture of who each visitor is and how “hot” a prospect they are. Your sales team will also have excellent sales and marketing materials to assist them in nurturing their prospects.
A final benefit that inbound marketing methodology brings to your internal organization is its ability to maximize the advantages of good “Closed-Loop Marketing.” “Closing the loop,” occurs when your sales team reports their sales activities and results back to marketing. Marketing can then use these insights and data points to refine marketing materials, buyer persona profiles, promotion campaigns and strategy, SEO strategy, etc. This refining process allows the marketing department to qualify leads even more exactly in preparation for the sales hand-off. The results are a continuously improving system of lead generation, capture, and nurturing, and, most importantly, a shorter sales cycle. This increased efficiency will result in a much lower cost per conversion and higher overall ROI. Plus the age-old Marketing/Sales antagonism will mellow out. This is what we call a win-win.