Business-to-business (B2B) selling is hard. It has always been hard. Selling is particularly hard for manufacturers. It won’t be getting any easier. The pandemic has made selling harder than ever.
There was a time when sellers attended or hosted tradeshows and made sales visits. These all came to an abrupt end in 2020 when restrictions and closures occurred around the globe. Supply chains were disrupted, workers were sent to work from home and sellers were forced to change the way they did business. Many had been working the same way, for a long time.
The ongoing effects of the pandemic on the economy have made buyers continue to be cautious. Companies like manufacturers have seen their budgets pulled back or slashed and buying decisions are more heavily scrutinized, questioned and sometimes reversed. Gartner’s annual CMO Spend Survey 2021-2022 revealed that Despite an optimistic outlook for many in 2020, marketing budgets as a percentage of company revenue fell from 11% to 6.4%.
What’s more, buying now routinely involves more people and time than ever before. Today, teams of people from across an organization - each have their own wants and needs from a supplier. Not surprisingly, these changes have also resulted in much longer timeframes for deals to close.
Marketing is no longer about catching the attention of the person with the most senior title, who often has the final say. Sure, individuals with more senior titles still have a lot of influence on final purchasing decisions at manufacturing companies, but more and more, junior people, who are often tasked with researching and locating products and services, are being relied upon to influence these decisions.
How can marketers today get their products noticed and considered? By targeting the people doing the research.
These researchers are often Millennials and Gen Z - people who are newer to the workforce and grew up in a digital-first world. They have always had access to information at the touch of a button. Often from a device already in their pocket. They are quick to come to their own conclusions and recommendations from what they discover for themselves. If they want to learn more about a product or service they will consult a companies’ website, social media channels or reviews before ever picking up a phone or sending an email. If they can’t find your company in a few button taps, they are likely to move on to other opportunities.
Manufacturing companies need to find ways to incorporate digital options into their marketing efforts. Even if they take a while to show a good return on investment.
What is working and what isn’t
As digital opportunities to engage with customers have increased, we have seen a sharp decline in the use of sales visits to sell products and services. Manufacturers who do not embrace the shift to a mostly digital workplace will miss out on huge opportunities. Companies that once relied heavily on their salespeople will find their sales teams are now only one of the many options buyers expect from them.
How can manufacturers leverage this knowledge? By using the channels, language and references their buyers already use to get their company and products noticed.
There’s a lot to keep up with, but the options are not all brand new. Did you know - email is celebrating 50 years. After all this time, it is still among the most effective tools for B2B marketing. Here are some tips to enhance email engagement.
Along with email, your website needs to be up to date, redesigning it will help to keep your brand current. Your site should also be optimized for search engine optimization (SEO) so customers can find you when they search the web. Try opening social media channels and evolving them over time to further add to your customer engagement opportunities and build new working relationships.
What’s harder than B2B selling?
B2B buying is even harder.
The pandemic has resulted in manufacturing deals taking longer and getting more complicated. It’s not uncommon for deals to fizzle without warning or recourse to the seller. This can be frustrating and nerve-wracking to the most seasoned buyer/seller. The role of both sellers and buyers will continue to change and evolve.
A recent study of more than 400 B2B sales professionals shows that 46% of respondents believe it has become harder to close deals since the pandemic began because B2B buyers are putting buying decisions on hold, while 43% say it’s because buyers have reprioritized.
To survive, sales teams must embrace a digital mindset for everything from product promotion and information to responding to inquiries and providing simple e-commerce solutions. Gartner’s Future of Sales 2025 report predicts that by 2025, 80% of B2B sales interactions between suppliers and buyers will happen over digital channels. We’ve watched this happening throughout 2020 and 2021 and agree that this has become the new normal.
Virtual selling is here to stay even after the pandemic ends. Companies must be able to sell to customers no matter where they are. Many companies’ sales strategies, processes and resource allocation have shifted and the new expectation is that manufacturers are buyer-centric and no longer seller-centric. This means offering engaging, interactive and simple transactions for suppliers and customers in almost real-time. This also necessitates a shift from old-school analog processes to automated, digital-first customer engagement.
During the recent keynote address at the Gartner Marketing Symposium/Xpo 2021, Carlos Guerrero, Senior Director, Advisory at Gartner said, “Marketers must also find ways to engage with their customers beyond transactions.”
Marketers in manufacturing companies can help sellers by providing the tools they need in the ways their customers want and expect them. This means:
- Recognizing and accepting that the rules of traditional selling are ending,
- Diversifying digital selling tools and channels to help sellers build engagement with customers in a way they prefer,
- Reconsidering how customers buy and making transactions more fluid across the buyers’ journey with e-commerce tools, and
- Providing tools to help customers make decisions digitally including offering online assessments, ROI calculators and more.
As you roll out opportunities, remember to avoid overwhelming sellers with too much change, too quickly. Make them part of the decision to make changes and get their buy-in long before they start to use new tools. Manufacturers that find the sweet spot between the technology sellers need to use and the volume of content they will be expected to share when doing their jobs, will discover that their sellers can and will adapt and may even welcome the digital era. Like depositing a paper cheque vs. receiving an e-transfer, change gets easier over time.
Whether you’re a seasoned marketer or setting up the very first marketing program for your manufacturing company download Marketing Matters for Your B2B Company: How To Get Started for more on how to effectively market your business.
Are you interested in learning more about how to effectively market your manufacturing business? We can help. Contact us today.
Mezzanine B2B Growth Agents specializes in B2B demand and lead generation for companies that have complex sales. It’s all we do, so we have the depth and breadth of experience to help your manufacturing company continue to grow. Get to know Mezzanine B2B Growth Agents and learn how we can help your manufacturing company.
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