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Industrial B2B marketers have an untapped digital opportunity

B2B lags in digital. In some places more than others.

Some B2B companies love their tried-and-true strategy. They have always gone to market with big trade events, airport advertising, and field sales reps to follow-up on all those leads. If a client needs something, an account exec gets a call, whips out their cape and flies over to the client to solve the problem or make the sale. So, where’s the need for digital?

Well, if customers didn’t have personal lives that might be okay. But they’ve noticed that B2B digital experiences aren’t keeping up with their expectations. No, you don’t have to be the Amazon of your industry. But simply having a really well-designed website no longer cuts it. And you know this too.

We especially hear from industrial prospects all the time: B2B has lagged and it’s costing them. The overall marketing budgets for industrial firms are already slim, often well below 5% of revenue and the digital component of that is even smaller. Making any appreciable progress is difficult, though we are seeing signs of progress.

Where B2B companies have a large transactional business they have a pattern that they readily copy from the B2C world. But what if you’re a mid-tier manufacturer of intermediate goods that have very long sales cycles. Where’s your pattern? 

Why laggards haven’t seen the problem previously

The urgency of finding the right pattern and building the right platform to support it is becoming increasingly important. It’s not because there was some grand awakening and now your prospect’s and customer’s behaviors have changed, it’s because of demographics. Your customers are getting younger. 

Ten years ago when B2B began to become digital today’s Procurement Managers were just graduating from college. They were in junior roles and their complaints about having to meet with sales and account reps from major suppliers were met with eye rolls. It’s a different world now that they’re the boss.

The customers that have been with you for decades, maybe GE and Boeing, know how to find you. But if the up-and-coming businesses like Tesla aren’t contacting you, this may be a sign that you don’t have the right customer experience model. New companies and younger employees are digital natives. They’re not wedded to familiar patterns. As the buyers change so must you.

Now imagine you work at a scrappy small player in your industry. Or imagine you’ve started a new company from scratch. It’s hard to differentiate your product in the marketplace against well established contenders. It’s a whole lot easier to distinguish yourself with an awesome customer experience. Sure buyers may be more concerned about features and pricing but every human also wants a bit of “awesome” in their lives. Is your business delivering an awesome overall experience?

What does awesome look like?

Being findable is the first step to awesome. Even if much of your B2B buying still happens through a sales rep, buyers increasingly want to find information themselves. Over 75% of B2B buyers consume three or more pieces of relevant content before even talking to a salesperson. They want to qualify themselves. How’s your SEO game?

The next step to awesome is what they find when they’ve landed on your site. They want answers to increasingly difficult questions. They want to progress digitally through their journey to a goal. That goal will change. 

The journey starts with informational needs. White Papers and Case Studies. Next they move on to commercial investigation. How easy is it to buy or to get started? Finally, they’re in transactional mode. Who do they need to talk to in order to buy? At each stage of their journey they have goals and need to complete tasks. Your job is to make that transition easy.

There are many technologies to help you with this challenge. Some are complex. Some are expensive. You need to sort through which are right for you. But getting started is often the hardest part of your journey.

Get digital: Break it up. Start small.

The first step to solving any problem is recognizing you have a problem. The next step is getting your boss and the finance folks to recognize that it’s a problem. If you’re like many of your peers getting the budget allocated to invest in new things is very tricky. So, you have to take steps that allow you to demonstrate value.

The first step, of course, is to define a business goal that can be measured. You likely have a content management system that allows you to manage both your sales and marketing content. You probably also have an analytics system that tells you how that’s working. 

In many cases, folks are just measuring the basics. Think about two basic journeys on your site (e.g. technical buyers and business buyers), identify the content that matters to them, and identify the goals of those journeys. It’s probably something like downloading a white paper or filling out a contact form. Learn how to instrument those actions. Get a baseline. Now let’s focus on getting more of those things.  

How do you achieve that business goal? Being findable starts with external findability, so you’re going to have to start with SEO and making sure your content is getting recognized by the right industry sources of information. But keep in mind, that 30 year old procurement manager is probably more likely to go to Google than

Internal findability is a bit more of a challenge. Many of the most advanced technologies by large vendors are costly and difficult to implement. But there are plenty of smaller best-in-class capabilities that could give you some of the important capability without having to buy, install, and maintain a large integrated suite. Start small.

Once you have some progress you have data that will help you with the budget folks. The journey will not be short. There will be no grand awakening with those first signs of success, but the world is changing, it’s time to change with it or risk being left behind.

Want to leapfrog ahead of your competition by using tech to improve internal findability? Connect with SoloSegment for a free consultation.

Steve Zakur

With over 20 years of experience in marketing and digital technology, Steve is now CEO of SoloSegment. SoloSegment is a marketing technology company that uses machine learning and natural language processing to improve engagement and conversion for large enterprise, B2B companies.

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