Social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic might be measured in feet, but today, the distance between industrial manufacturers and their prospects and customers is measured in something closer to miles.

Because in-person sales calls are still limited, how will manufacturers’ sales reps remain top-of-mind for their customers and prospects?

It’s time to level up your marketing. And no, we’re not talking about another catalog.

Instead, it’s time to get strategic. Here are some proven ways to make your marketing efforts more effective in this new era of virtual and online selling, along with a few tips on how to arm your sales reps with the right marketing materials to grow your sales. Many of these strategies are taken right from the trenches: We sat down for a chat with Marco Morgado, Director of National and International Business Development at Pilot Precision Products, where he shared several of his best practices.

Strategy 1: Focus Your Strategy

Before you jump into writing blog posts or creating videos, conduct a SWOT analysis to discover your strengths and weaknesses. Uncover your marketplace opportunities and threats – these have likely shifted or changed during the pandemic.

“We spent two months just sitting down and identifying where our markets were, where we’re not, what our strengths are, what our weaknesses were, and what we want to be as we grow in our market,” explains Morgado. “We spent a few months of hashing that out first before we did anything to build our marketing direction.”

Once you know where you stand and where the market stands, then you can create a go-to-market strategy for approaching your target market using both digital marketing channels, your independent sales reps, and distributors.

Pilot turned to LEVY, a marketing agency that specializes in the manufacturing industry, to help with building out a comprehensive go-to-market plan that would support their goals. A smart move if your internal resources are limited (or if you’re a marketing team of one!).

Strategy 2: Partner with an IMR if Needed

The best marketing assets in the world won’t do you much good if they never get in front of your ideal customer. But reaching those customers is getting more and more difficult, especially in the COVID era.

That’s where an industrial manufacturers’ representative (IMR) agency can give your marketing efforts a huge head start.

A rep that already has great relationships with distributors and end users can get your marketing materials not just in the door, but on the desk of the decision-makers. IMRs also have the valuable marketplace expertise and product knowledge you need to land new accounts and penetrate existing ones without spending a dime up front.

Strategy 3: Create Marketing Assets to Empower Sales Conversations

Prospects and customers are unlikely to hop on a Zoom call to review your latest brochure or catalog with a salesperson, IMR or distributor.

Instead, start by creating marketing assets that open doors or help reps have meaningful sales conversations. We’re talking about educational content like white papers, case studies, use cases, pricing calculators, and other sales enablement tools that your IMRs and distributors can use to bolster their sales efforts.

As Morgado explains, “I took the mindset of ‘Let’s create digital marketing that drives them to have a reason for engagement, whether it be a phone call, a video call, whatever … but it gives them a reason to engage. So that was the premise of how we developed and hashed out our marketing plan.”

Strategy 4: Build Out Your Website

As a manufacturer of industrial tools or products, you should expect that the first place people go to learn about your company and your offerings is your website. This means you must start building out your website so that it meets the needs of the many types of visitors you want to attract (end users, IMRs, distributors).

The days of the one-page manufacturer website are dead. Today’s successful manufacturer websites follow a few best practices:

  • Know your visitor. Answer their questions, address their challenges, meet their needs.
  • Become a destination. Fill your website with helpful, practical resources that help visitors in their buying journey. Make your navigation easy to understand. Create content and assets that are attractive and have a high perceived value.
  • Differentiate. Tell your visitors early and often about your unique selling proposition, your unique product line, your narrow industry focus, or anything else that demonstrates that you deliver a focused offering.
  • Write for search. Remember some of your visitors will find you through search engines—or at least that’s the idea. So, optimize your text and images to attract search engine traffic.
  • Offer value. Don’t treat your website like a corporate brochure or a product catalog. Instead, offer value. If your readers don’t understand how your products will help them, they’re not going to stick around. Think benefits, not just features.
  • Aim for conversion. One goal of your website, especially while much of the world is in some level of lockdown from the pandemic, is to generate leads. Do this by offering lead magnets and by featuring prominent calls to action that persuade visitors to hand over their email addresses and phone numbers in exchange for something of value.

Strategy 5: Become an Inbound Marketing Machine

If you want to generate leads with your website, you need visitors. If you want visitors, you must either drive them to your website with paid ads (immediate but costly), or with inbound marketing (slower but next to free). Inbound marketing is activity that uses content rather than budget to attract visitors to your brand. Think blogs, videos, articles, and social media.

To create this content, think about the questions your customers might have throughout the sales cycle – and then create content that helps answer those questions. If you have an FAQ, that’s a good place to start looking for potential topics. Your sales reps or IMR firm should also be able to tell you what questions they’re getting, from high-level right down to the nitty-gritty of use cases or success stories.

Then create that content and those assets. (Or find a reputable inbound marketing agency or content writer with experience in manufacturing.)

Strategy 6: Invest in Marketing Tech

If you want to scale your marketing efforts to boost productivity, invest in marketing technology that’s designed to boost your effectiveness. This includes:

  • Customer Relationship Management platform (CRM), such as HubSpot, to manage your relationships and interactions with customers and potential customers.
  • Marketing Automation software to automate repetitive and time-consuming marketing tasks (such as email marketing, social media posting, and website personalization). Many of these platforms also have reporting functions, so you can see what topics and types of content resonate the most with your readers.
  • Integrations, such as integrations between your CRM and your Enterprise Resource Planning platform so that you eliminate data silos, boost effectiveness and generate meaningful insights.

“That’s where some of our secret sauce is,” reveals Morgado. “We use a lot of automation and dashboards, which creates helpful processes and plenty of transparency.”

Strategy 7: Create Synergy

OK, so synergy is a buzzword, but stay with us here.

Your goal is to create synergy between your marketing efforts and the efforts of your IMRs and distributors. After all, your marketing raises awareness and generates leads, but it is your IMRs and distributors who close the deals. If you cooperate more, you all win.

Look for opportunities to create marketing campaigns, sales initiatives and other programs that directly involve and incentivize (another buzzword, sorry) your IMRs and distributors. This improves program adoption and increases your visibility into which marketing initiatives work—and which ones don’t.

For example, Pilot Precision Products rolled out a Regional Champions distributor program.

“In the past, manufacturers expected their key distributors to carry inventory,” says Morgado. “Our Regional Champions distributor program takes this a step further by integrating our marketing activity with the distributor’s inventory management. We were getting phenomenal results with our marketing, but we couldn’t trace that activity to sales success because our distributors are the ones who close deals.

“This program gets our distributors to run alongside us with our marketing. We created an entire marketing portal that contains all the marketing assets they need to promote our products. We co-brand these marketing assets whenever needed, offering distributors rebates and other incentives to collaborate closely with us with our marketing campaigns and giving them the marketing tools they need to champion our products.”
– Marco Morgado, Pilot Precision Products

In the age of social distancing and lockdowns, the sure way to boost your industrial sales is to boost your digital marketing. Start with a fresh marketing strategy, create assets that start sales conversations, partner with an IMR agency, build out your website, become an inbound marketing machine, invest in the right martech, and create synergy with your IMRs and distributors.

And if you want to grow your sales pipeline and increase revenue—without the cost and hassle of managing a full-time sales force, learn about the benefits of outsourcing your sales.

Digital Marketing Strategies for Manufacturers