Did you know that recent studies show that 67% of the buying process is done online, regardless of product type, service type, size or cost? That’s right, two thirds of the buying process are happening before you ever even talk to your consumer. Today, buyers are researching and completing their decision making process via online editorial content, social media connections, consumer reviews and just about any information they can get their hands on. Today’s consumers are well-researched and educated. They know what they want, when they want it and are often more educated than your sales people when it comes to competition, product specs and pricing. That’s scary data for manufacturers that have sold via relationships for the past 100 years. The sales process has changed and it's changed in a big way. No longer do manufacturers control the sales process. Today, the buyer holds control and, if you are not adapting to this paradigm shift, you could be in big trouble.
As a lead generation and online marketing professional, I belong to several manufacturing business groups and attend trade shows and education events on manufacturing profitability. From my perspective, no other industry is better primed and least prepared for such a rapid transformation in the sales and marketing arena. Since the industrial revolution in the early 1900’s, manufacturers have primarily relied on distribution channels, internal salespeople and external sales reps to sell products. All three of these channels rely predominantly on relationship-building activities, such as: cold calling, trade shows, direct mail and face-to-face meetings. While this process is very important, it is nearly impossible to reach all of your prospective customers in this manner. YOU have been selling this way for decades and it's not working the way it once did. It is no wonder that every event I attend regarding manufacturing sales improvement is packed with people looking for answers to their sales problems.
It's time to make changes. It's time to consider your buyer and what they want, when they want it and how they buy. To be effective in today’s market, manufacturers must stop selling and start educating their customers long before they buy. You must be relevant during the 67%. So how do we get there?
1. Leverage Technology
Data is your friend. The ability to aggregate data on every part of the sales and marketing spectrum is critical. With new software available in Marketing Automation (think HubSpot) or Customer Relationship Management (CRM) (think SalesForce), manufacturers can now track online activity, identify potential customers, engage those customers and send the data to the sales teams for relationship building. Today, the lead generation and demand generation aspect of sales is transitioning to the online marketing team, allowing sales reps and distributors to spend more time completing the sale. Without marketing automation and CRM, you will never hit your full potential.
2. Be Relevant Online
If buyers are spending 67% of their decision making process online, you must be relevant, and to be relevant, you must educate others. As marketers, our mantra is to never “sell” online. Buyers don’t want to be sold, they want information, and the company that educates the buyer and answers all of their questions gets the sale. Education comes in many forms, such as articles, story telling, videos, spec sheets, etc. Ask your reps all of the questions that a buyer asks and answer these questions online.
3. Marketing and Sales = Smarketing
Your marketing and sales teams work together. Marketing must know what a qualified lead looks like and sales reps must know how to use the data provided by marketing. These two teams must work together for continuous improvement and knowledge sharing. An easy way to separate responsibilities is this: marketing is responsible for brand awareness and lead generation; sales is responsible for building relationships and closing sales.
4. Discover What Works for Your Business
While Facebook may work for some companies, LinkedIn may work better for others. Social media is a critical component to your success, but email marketing may prove otherwise. Experiment with different approaches and see what works best. Using marketing automation and CRM makes measuring this much easier. Most of all, give it time.
5. Build a Plan
This is a marathon approach, not a sprint. It may take 6-8 months to realize the successes you want. Create goals, build a plan and track your progress. Identify key performance indicators to help you measure success factors. Adapt, modify and improve your strategies and tactics for goal attainment.