B2B manufacturing organizations are having a rough go of it lately due to rampant global competition and a tepid economic recovery just to mention a couple of challenges. Is it even possible for a B2B manufacturing firm to ‘Win Big’? Let’s preface the conversation by saying that to ‘win big’ means to grow market share annually in the double digit range along with a healthy profit margin. Let’s also stipulate that manufacturers, as a group, have the infrastructure, supply chains, production and most other critical production and delivery functions in good shape as a whole. Because manufacturers have been focusing on their products, i.e. the production and distribution for so many years, they are good at it and attaining an edge in these particular areas is very difficult at best. In most cases, even if a firm is able to gain an edge in production or distribution, it is not perceptible to the market audience.
So, what is left? Marketing may be the final frontier where manufacturers can gain an advantage. Manufacturers can win big by being better at marketing their offering. By marketing, I don’t mean setting up more trade shows, re-configuring the web site, creating a new brochure or coming up with a clever advertisement. That’s not the type of marketing that will make any difference at all. [By the way, trade shows are one of the worst marketing activities a manufacturer can do with respect to return on the investment. More on that in a separate post.]
Here’s how B2B manufacturing can win big with marketing:
- Stop pitching products and start helping the people in your target audience. At this point, many of you who are in manufacturing might say a cuss word and delete the post. I encourage you to keep an open mind and read on. This stuff has been proven over and over to work and, if used consistently, is the secret to winning big in your market. Now is where I share the tough love. The people in your target audience, I mean the ones who will some day buy the thing you are making from you or from your competitor, don’t care about your product, your company, your CEO or you. They care about what’s in it for them. It doesn’t matter how much you try to convince them that the features of your product are good for them and superior to all other products on the market. You have to prove to them that you can help them to relieve pain, help them to be better at their professions or help improve their lives. It’s like dating and marriage. You don’t talk about marriage, the house you will live in or how beautiful your kids will be on the first date. Just to be clear, I’m talking about early engagement with the people in your target audience to position your firm and your brand top of mind. Of course, your sales people will have to talk about the product features and advantages later in the purchase cycle. The secret to winning big is in positioning at the top of the sales funnel. You don’t use that stuff to engage with the broader audience as they first get to know your company. You win big when you don’t pitch the product at the top of the sales funnel.
- Share your expertise. Many manufactures guard their expertise like it’s the gold in Fort Knox. If you feel this way about your B2B manufacturing firm’s knowledge and expertise, then I’d like to suggest that you’re living back in the 80’s and 90’s when manufacturing firms could control the information and use that control to their advantage in growing the business. Now, in the year 2015, there is no such thing as proprietary information. It’s all out there somewhere, so why not share it freely and be fully transparent. By sharing your expertise freely with everyone in your target audience, you will become perceived as the go-to expert, increase your credibility and, ultimately, gain market share from your competitor who refuses to share his expertise. Sharing creates a feeling of reciprocity. What good does reciprocity do? Here’s how it works; if you have chosen your target audience well, one day they will buy the thing you produce. They’ll buy it from you or your competitor. Sharing expertise positions your firm as the first and best choice. When the day comes around and that person in your target audience is ready to make a purchase, the manufacturing company that has helped the prospective customer to be better by giving the gift of expertise will most likely win the business, even at a higher price point. What’s that, you’re worried about your competitor getting your valuable information? Foggetaboutit. They already have it, compliments of the world wide web.
- Focus on the people in the target audience. Most manufacturers will swear they focus on the customer. “Customer is king”. “The Customer is always right.” “The Customer can fire us all.” But do they really focus on the needs and wants of the people in their target audience or do they just try to figure out ways to convince them that their widget is the best and call that customer focus? Do you see the difference? Another common refrain we hear is that the manufacturer (usually sales reps) are out there asking the customers what they want and/or need. I ask you, is that really customer focus or is that just trying to figure out what else you can sell to them? Customer focus is when the manufacturer really understands the pain points of the audience and helps them to relieve that pain by sharing expertise even if they never buy anything. I can see the eyes rolling and hear the curse words flying after that last sentence. Hang in there. This type of attitude, helping them even if they never buy anything, is deeply engaging with those people in your target audience. If you act like they will never buy anything from your firm, but help them to relieve their pain anyways, guess who they will call when they have a need to make a related purchase. That’s right, your firm gets the call and usually gets the business. That, my fellow B2B manufacturing marketer is customer focus!
- Embrace the Marketing function as a highly valuable, strategic partner within your organization. Your marketers are smart. They know about how to engage by sharing expertise. Embrace your marketing professionals and let them be the professional marketers they long to become. I’m not talking about the marketing function you have right now, those folks chained up by your lack of faith in marketing in the back who set up trade shows, make some brochures and create PowerPoint templates. I’m talking about creating and embracing a Marketing leader and his team as a revenue generating machine. Yes, this means investing in the marketing function. It means finding a marketing leader who understands the strategic and the tactical aspects of marketing, how that function can generate revenue and how to discuss it with the executive leadership team. Embrace the marketing function that knows how to use modern digital tools for engagement and measurement. Embrace a marketing team who can drive revenue 10x more than the field sales force and manufacturers reps combined. It can be done and, in fact, it must to be done to win big. Marketers are smart and they get it if you would only listen to them once in a while.
- Walk the walk when it comes to innovation. Most B2B manufacturing leaders consider innovation to be about new products or new processes within the production and distribution lines. There is no area today more ripe for exploiting innovation than in Marketing. After you embrace Marketing as a strategic function, let them innovate and support that innovation. When the Marketing leader comes to the next leadership meeting and requests funds for a strategy that does not pitch the product, give it to him! Listen to him with an open mind and an authentic, innovative heart. Discard all of that old product culture baggage and try something new and innovative in marketing.
So that’s how to win big in B2B manufacturing. Marketing is the last organic revenue growth frontier in manufacturing. I know many manufacturers have a hard time getting their arms around the fact that marketing could make any more difference than a line item on the expense side of the ledger. It’s a hard cultural change in most manufacturing organizations. My final piece of advice is to do this thing before your competition does it. First movers will be the big winners.