"Half of the money I spend on marketing is wasted, I just don’t know which half."
A popular statement, no doubt; however, in 2016, it should be a statement from the past. The world of industrial manufacturing and distribution is driven by data and automation. The rise of industrial robotics, smart manufacturing and the Internet of Things is changing the ways we produce and move products around the world. As a result, businesses are improving efficiencies, limiting downtime and reducing the costs associated with getting a product into a customer’s hand.
The buzz surrounding the latest efficient technologies on the warehouse floor is exciting, but what often gets lost in this excitement is the cost of acquiring a customer. The B2B sales cycle is traditionally longer. Sales teams are forced to navigate a confusing process, which can result in missed opportunities and lost revenue. However, the same digital and data-driven revolution that is leaving its mark on industrial distribution systems is having an equally significant impact on industrial sales and marketing efforts.
Largely this is due to a change in B2B customer behavior. A recent report from the respected global consulting firm, Bain & Company, interviewed 370 marketing and sales executives working in the industrial and technology sectors. The numbers are impressive. Almost half of those surveyed said that digital capabilities have significantly changed their customer’s behavior. The report estimates that nearly two-thirds of all industrial B2B buyer research is now done online, meaning that customers have access to more information, and as a result, more power than in the past.
This power shift has by no means left industrial sales and marketing teams in the dark. Instead, for the most successful businesses, the lights have never been brighter. Digital capabilities allow industrial marketers to do more with less, resulting in more effective efforts that better connect and engage with buyers. As buyers spend more time online, businesses are able to paint a clearer picture of their behaviors and buying habits. Bain & Company suggest that most businesses are already sitting on a wealth of customer data, however only the most successful are using this information to their advantage.
Industrial buyers conducting research online provide valuable information for sales and marketing teams. It is easy to understand what customers are interested in, which pages or lines of business on a website get the most attention, and which products or offers are proving to be the most effective. For industrial businesses that make proper use of this information, it is impossible for marketing efforts to go to waste. By monitoring what’s working best, where customers are coming from, and what impact those efforts are having on sales, industrial businesses can turn once blind marketing efforts into well-oiled sales machines.
And the impacts of the digital revolution don’t stop there. While it is now possible to build and measure B2B marketing campaigns with incredible accuracy, industrial sales teams are still faced with managing a traditionally longer sales cycle. Unlike B2C sales, B2B purchases are rarely made on emotion. Instead, they are the result of a lengthy review process, often by many different people within an organization. Products are assessed, compared and sometimes tested before a major purchase is made. All of this can be exhausting for sales teams and valuable opportunities can be overlooked or lost during the extended process.
Marketing automation tools have changed this. Automation helps sales teams to understand what B2B customers are interested in and how close they are making a purchasing decision. It also allows sales teams to send automated communications to buyers throughout the sales cycle, ensuring that no leads are forgotten, while alerting sales teams when a prospective customer returns to a website or looks at a new product. All of these factors combine to improve efficiency, allowing sales teams to focus efforts on the leads that are most likely to buy, without losing track of leads that may not be as far along in the buying journey.
B2B manufacturers and industrial distributors are on the front lines of the digital revolution. Technologies which improve production and distribution system efficiency are becoming essential to compete on a global scale, but that is only half the picture. The most successful industrial distributors are also implementing data-driven marketing technology to understand customer behavior and streamline the sales process by reducing wasted efforts and scoring the best opportunities — all resulting in a lower cost to acquire new customers.
Fred Yee is CEO and Founder of ActiveConversion