Sales and Marketing ProcessIndustrial manufacturing buyers are using the Internet more and more in their day-to-day work-related tasks. The wealth of information available online, allows engineers and technical consumers to conduct online research, and locate products, services and suppliers on their own. This ability for the customer to “self-educate,” has transformed their buying cycle and challenged traditional manufacturing marketing and sales processes for suppliers and manufacturers.

According to recent research from the business research company, CEB and Google, business-to-business buyers are 57 percent of the way through their buying process before ever contacting a vendor. These B2B prospects are doing web searches, browsing company websites and social networks, and comparing suppliers to learn technical specifications, build requirements lists, form opinions and narrow their options, all on their own, with little influence from a company sales rep.

By then, the prospect is mostly decided about what they want out of a supplier, and the job of the sales rep is simply to take their order and fulfill it at the lowest price. Or worse yet, they decided to contact your competition, and you didn’t even know they were looking.

While they still rely heavily on traditional marketing methods, such as trade shows and ads in industry trade magazines to promote their business, many manufacturers are shifting to more online, inbound marketing strategies. According to the Thomas Net Industry Marketing Barometer, 62 percent of manufacturing companies say their websites have more impact than any other business-building tactic, online or offline.

As a manufacturer of engineered products or a provider of technical services, the company website plays a critical role in attracting prospects and converting them into customers. Traditional, “outbound” marketing methods have become less effective at generating leads because the Internet makes is so easy for customers get exactly the information they want exactly when they want it.

To get on the prospect’s short list of preferred vendors, industrial manufacturers need to influence their decision early in their process. Manufacturers are shifting marketing away from traditional “outbound” techniques, in favor of more “inbound” or “content marketing” methods to generate traffic and leads online, and nurture new prospects by connecting with them throughout that 57% of their decision-making process that happens on their own.

The goal of any marketing for B2B companies is to generate sales leads. With an inbound marketing strategy, this involves four basic components:

Create Website Content

Content is the fuel for an effective inbound marketing machine. For B2B companies to attract visitors to their site and keep them interested, they need a professional website with loads of relevant content. The company blog is a perfect way to offer an ongoing stream of relevant content.

In terms of spending on marketing channels, industrial companies are increasing investments in videos, search engine optimization and content creation, according to the 2013 Trends in Industrial Marketing report from GlobalSpec. Whereas the largest decreases are coming from direct mail, printed directories, podcasts and trade magazine advertising. This indicates a shift toward digital channels for manufacturing marketers.

How-to, or opinion articles, videos, audio and photos are a great way to position a manufacturing company as a thought leader and an industry expert.

Convert Visitors and Generate Leads

While companies that blog get 55% more website visits than those that do not, all that anonymous traffic is meaningless unless it generates leads. By offering downloadable whitepapers, eBooks, case studies, and other information that a customer would find relevant, marketers can request the name and email address, or other qualifying information from the prospect that would be helpful to their company sales department.

Nurture Leads

Cultivate a professional relationship by follow up with a visitor after they have found your content. Send an occasional follow-up email to prospects to offer other related content that they may also find interesting. Just checking in from time to time with a prospect can provide a reminder to keep your company brand in mind as they evaluate their purchasing options. This process can be automated and integrated with customer relationship management (CRM) software for a complete, “closed-loop,” sales workflow.

Measure Results

Finally, you can’t improve what you can’t measure. One of the biggest benefits of inbound marketing is the ability to monitor the success of every element of a marketing campaign and continuously prove and improve the ROI of one tactic over another.

Inbound marketing for manufacturers provides invaluable information that many industrial manufacturing companies are missing. By improving their company website to attract more traffic, and obtaining the contact and demographic information on leads that are visiting their site, manufacturers can more clearly understand their prospects, exactly who is interested in their wares and exactly why they’re buying.