By Ed Marsh
“Our XXXXXXX product/service (e.g. machine, audit service, graphics software or travel agent) helps to reduce costs through greater efficiency.“
An average justification
If you consume B2B marketing you’ve run across plenty of vanilla justifications like this.
It’s poor, at best, for lots of reasons:
So why do companies continue to produce this sort of stuff?
Are customers really so shallow?
Isn’t this a pretty insulting position to take? That a B2B marketing campaign can’t really explain the value (as opposed to standard features and benefits) because customers’ won’t be patient enough or capable enough to grasp it?
Maybe it’s actually projection. Or maybe it’s naiveté. Either way everyone loses – because if it’s a legitimately good product, the manufacturer should be selling it, realizing profits and plowing some back into conceiving, creating, manufacturing and marketing other cool stuff. Similarly the customers whose businesses would net benefit never have that opportunity.
So what’s the answer? That’s complicated, but here’s a hint. It’s not just marketing gimmicks. Insightful metrics and slick marketing automation only really work if the product value, marketing insight and business value are substantial.
Clearly the folks at the tip of your business development spear must be really, really, really good. That means they must possess certain innate characteristics (intelligent, creative and courageous) and be free of others (fear of discussing money, coveting approval, counterproductive personal buying habits.) And very few reps naturally develop the requisite skills. So great sales training is important to polish their performance. (Like that provided by Chris Mott – and here – and Frank Belzer – @fbelzer) But the tip of the spear is really now the very tippy tip – as research shows that the B2B buying process now is nearly 70% complete before a prospect is interested in speaking to a sales rep. So increasingly companies need…
B2B marketing awesomeness
Your marketing used to arrange magazine ads and trade show booths. Maybe you’d buy the phone directories for your reps to hammer on with cold calls, and perhaps you’d design a direct mail piece or two. Now marketing’s role has changed (but often in B2B industrial companies the people – or at least the outlook and skill set hasn’t….) because they need to create (not just collect) sales qualified leads in a very turbulent and ‘noisy’ world….and then they need to sell them virtually because prospects aren’t interested in speaking to your rep!
But underlying them both
…is a need for real-world, broad business experience in the customers market. Can all your staff be veterans of general management P&L responsibility? Of course not. But that means that key roles (like your sales manager and marketing resources) should not only have that experience, but have a demonstrated ability to abstract and apply their lessons learned and accumulated. And further they must be able to coach and to tell the story in accessible ways for all your audiences.
Let me be blunt – most B2B marketing agencies are graphic design, website publishing and marcom/PR shops that have cobbled together buzzwords and technology to create a ‘digital marketing’ entity. That’s fine for some clients. But the disconnect in manufacturing and industrial areas is too big. The approach and messaging simply don’t connect with the target buyers.
A representative justification
So back to the original ‘justification’ – let’s use an example of some sort of factory automation. Of course there is an obvious benefit of increased efficiency and reduced labor cost. Alert the media! There’s a news flash!
But what if it’s a union shop, or a business in an area receiving municipal & state tax credits based on certain levels of employment? What if labor costs are quite low? Should you walk away from those deals?
The point is that only real pain for the buyer (not your shallow assumptions) matters – and even then, only pain which they can fix. So what else might be lurking beneath the surface that you might uncover through questions (or blog posts, infographics, eBooks, videos, etc.) if you really understand their world?
- Maybe there are quality issues – high reject and rework rates. That can lead to lost customers, penalties for late/missed shipments and even jeopardize certain approvals and qualifications. There are real, measurable costs associated with each of those. (How many marketers have QC, industrial credentialing and manufacturing/delivery contract and logistics experience?)
- Perhaps differentials in output between 1st & 3rd shift are even more pronounced than one would normally expect. (How many marketers have industrial HR and production management experience?)
- Maybe certain skills are particularly hard to staff. (How many marketers have HR recruiting and retention experience for manual skilled labor?)
- Perhaps bottlenecks in manual production result in large quantities of WIP inventory – and then as a result maybe there are constraints with commercial lending covenants that restrict investment in critical other areas of the business – or maybe even require expensive storage trailers (and inventory control losses) or are close to requiring an addition or move to a larger facility. (How many marketers have negotiated commercial lending and factory real-estate transactions?)
- And of course maybe demand is rising and there simply isn’t enough factory space to add new lines with the same manual production flow. (How many marketers have lean manufacturing experience?)
Automation could potentially address all of these issues. Some of them may be top of mind for the buyer. Many may lurk below the surface as cascading implications aren’t necessarily obvious. And nobody (whether they are a manufacturing guru or a marketing novice) will really be expert in all of them.
But having adequate business experience to understand the sorts of known and unknown pain points and challenges faced by a client’s customers (not just the client themselves) is critical to delivering real B2B industrial marketing value.
That’s what senior execs at manufacturing companies need to evaluate when they seek a marketing resource – not the portfolio and sample websites.
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image – Mersky, Jaffe & Associates