No matter what your role is — sales, marketing, operations, or leadership — you have a lot to accomplish.
So do your buyers.
By understanding what your buyers have on their plates, you can more easily accomplish one of the most important things on yours — generating more leads. Here’s what you should know to meet their needs and create more meaningful connections to win more business.
The Industrial Buying Cycle Is More Complicated Than You Think
From a supplier’s perspective, the industrial buying cycle is really a two-step process: the buyer realizes there is a need, and he or she comes to a supplier to purchase the product or service.
That’s a tremendous oversimplification. At a high level, the process that they go through actually involves six distinct phases.
- The buyer defines need for a product or service
- The buyer performs research to learn about possible solutions
- If executing a new design, the buyer researches product data
- The buyer evaluates potential suppliers
- The buyer creates a shortlist of the best suppliers
- The buyer makes a purchase from the winning supplier
Through our research with Strategyn, we were able to go even further, identifying 15 distinct steps within the buying process.
While moving from phase to phase and from step to step, buyers must accomplish a series of more than 225 smaller tasks.
Sounds exhausting? This is what buyers do every day.
Impacting Prospects Before The Sales Funnel
Let’s start right at the top of the funnel — or even above it — with the broadest, and potentially longest-lasting stage — Education. Depending on the specific industry you’re in, some of your prospects might linger in this phase for a while. But just think about the benefits of establishing yourself as a valued and trusted source of content and information before they identify a purchasing need.
A hypothetical equivalent in the consumer space would be Ford or GM publishing a blog with car repair tips, objective industry updates and news, and reports on innovations coming down the pike. You probably only buy a new car every ten years or so, but that would be a resource you’d turn to again and again in between. And when it does come back to purchase time, well, who are you going to think of first? (Note to car manufacturers: You’re welcome).
Become A Thought Leader With Blog Content
Want to get potential buyers reading between buying cycles? Don’t try to pitch to them, but address the pain points they face in their day-to-day jobs. Troubleshooting, efficiency improvements, common problems, and so on. New trends and innovations are always popular topics, and the place of your industry in the larger economic landscape is also an ever-changing subject of interest. If you already have a blog, check out 12 Ways To Improve Your Blog to make sure you're not missing out on anything important — like a CTA and a clear URL.
Document Your Offerings With White Papers
Much more in-depth than a blog, but also potentially more valuable to your prospects — and eventually to you are white papers. We suggest two key factors to consider in writing a white paper:
- Be unique. Make sure that you’re adding something to the conversation (or even better, starting a completely new one).
- Be an expert. Choose a topic that you know inside and out — you’ll have plenty of material to draw upon to educate readers and differentiate yourself.
Check out our blog, "8 Manufacturing Content Marketing Ideas" for inspiration.
Keep Your Buyers Up-To-Date With News Releases
Savvy buyers always need to be aware of what’s going on in their industry, and so they turn to news sources like the Thomas Industry Update (TIU) Newsletter. More than 300,000 decision makers are subscribed to (TIU) and you can reach them with your content through targeted display advertising. Learn how to gain more exposure through the Thomas Industry Update Newsletter.
Regularly communicating your product news and company updates to your buyers helps yourself be top-of-mind at purchase time. Keep them in the loop with email newsletters. Whether it's a weekly recap or a monthly roundup, newsletters help nurture existing customers and engage new ones. We dive more into creating the 5 Types of Marketing Emails You Should Be Sending here.
Build Your Network With Social Media
Whether for news or for a little bit of downtime, more and more buyers use social media regularly. As a younger crop of workforce joins the industry, they expect a digital experience throughout their day-to-day. To keep up with the digital transformation of sales and marketing, more B2B marketers are learning how to use social media to promote their manufacturing brand to new networks. Again, social media is not the place for sales pitches — it’s the place to forge an association and a future relationship by establishing your value as an information source.
Don't Play Hide And Seek With Buyers
How do you search for information when you already have a general idea of what you need? Often, you go right to a niche source rather than conducting a web search. For example, if you need yesterday’s basketball scores, you might head right to ESPN.com. Many industrial buyers get started the same way.
In order to really make an impact on the second stage of the B2B buying cycle, the search phase, you need to know where savvy buyers prefer to source, and what kind of information they’re entering when they get there. In general, at this early point, they have one broad question in mind: Can you do what they need you to do? They want to know that you’re qualified before they take any next steps. Here’s how you can make sure they do:
Be Where Your Buyers Are: Sourcing Platforms
The online landscape is full of platforms for making specific connections: ticket exchanges like StubHub, freelance marketplaces, dating applications. The same thing exists for industrial buyers and suppliers. Listing your business on Thomasnet.com lets you share your capabilities and products with the serious prospects who often go directly there to start their very specific searches. More than a million in-market buyers are searching for your products or services — find out exactly what they sourced in Q2 this year with our Sourcing Activity report.
Give Them A Natural Path To The RFI
However they arrive at your website — whether from Thomasnet.com or an organic web search — buyers don’t want to have to hunt around for the information they’re seeking. Make sure your website is updated, well-organized, and content-rich to proactively answer the preliminary questions that a buyer might have. A good rule of thumb? Try to mimic your in-person sales process with your website.
Your website should be designed in a buyer-centric way: taking their concerns, needs, and user experience into account and helping them intuitively get the information they need about your products or services before they proceed to contacting you.
This is where factors like your branding and messaging can come into play (especially if you’ve established yourself as a useful source and connection during the Education phase) — if a prospect sees you as good partner material, and you can meet their sourcing needs, you’re in good shape to move forward as they fine-tune their search.
Learn What Your Prospects Are Really Looking For
But it's not enough to simply have an online presence. Keep that in mind as you consider the third stage of the industrial B2B buying cycle: Evaluation. Buyers arrive at this stage once they’ve identified a need and begun a high level, general search. You’re a possibility to reach their shortlist — but you’re still not a lock. Buyers need to see that it’s worth their time to keep considering you. How? It’s all in the details.
Think about the last time you went out to a movie. You identified a need and laid out general parameters — 1) I want to see a movie, and 2) I’d like to watch, for example, an action film tonight.
From there, you really evaluate just how to spend your evening: maybe you want a movie under two hours long, you’d like to see a favorite actor, and you don’t like any sci-fi mixed up in your action movies. With the wealth of information that’s typically available, now you can narrow down your options.
But imagine if some descriptions had all that additional information you were looking for — running time, cast, subgenre, reviews — but others gave you nothing more than the movie title. Would you bother calling up the movie theater just to find out more about those “empty listings?”
Probably not. And as a supplier, the same theory applies: if you’re not giving buyers the detailed information they seek, that doesn’t mean you’re piquing their curiosity or conveying that you can “do everything” — it means you’re taking yourself out of the running before you even have a chance.
Here are some ways that you can communicate the nitty-gritty about what you do — and keep yourself on the road to buyers’ shortlists.
Buyers want to know your specific capabilities before they contact you. That means part dimensions, tolerances, machinery used, materials worked, finishing services, quality certifications, diversity information — just to name a few. A company profile on the Thomasnet.com platform makes it as easy for you to share your detailed specifications as it does for buyers to find exactly what they need.
Showcase Your Previous Successes With Case Studies
For products or services, using case studies to illustrate past work you’ve done can give buyers a better idea of just how you work — and what you’re like to work with. Let your ingenuity and expertise shine for you here. Start simple. You could place quotes from customers and their logos (with their permission!) on your website and work your way to writing a narrative as the next step. Client testimonials show value in your reliability, competence, and solutions. Check out how ESI, a metal stamping company, organized their case studies in the screenshot below.
Utilize Content Marketing
With a cohesive content marketing strategy, you can give prospects a better look at your business through the content you create and share — without a hard sell. Whether it’s offering free e-books or white papers, or connecting with prospects through social media, you’re able to prove your value in a different way — while improving your chances of moving to the shortlist.
Stand Out On The Shortlist
Put yourself in the buyer’s shoes. What’s most important to them when sourcing? Early on, speed and efficiency are key — conducting research on their terms, without worrying about an email or a call back. That doesn’t change once they reach the shortlist stage — they’re still not ready to spend time on queries. In fact, you likely won’t even know you’re on the shortlist until the first time they contact you.
How does the shortlist work, and how can you improve your chances of getting on the shortlist — and getting selected?
No matter how large or small a company is, and what size supplier they’re looking for, they all use a shortlist to make purchasing decisions. It’s the most efficient way of narrowing down a sea of choices, and it no longer just means scribbling the names of contenders down on a piece of paper. Powerful applications like the Shortlist tool on our platform let serious buyers move seamlessly through the buying cycle — and keep them moving toward selecting you.
Keep in mind that price is only one factor that buyers consider when making a shortlist — and it’s not even the most important. Here are some others that buyers say they value above cost:
- Relationship and dialogue with a supplier
- Industry expertise
- Responsibility and reputation
- Innovation and potential for long-term partnership
Buyers aren’t searching just for a “vendor” or a “supplier” — they want a partner. In the industrial space, more than anywhere else, the success of each partner in a supply chain relies on that of the others. The lowest immediate price or quote doesn’t always mean the best results.
What can you do to communicate your value and potential as a true partner, and get buyers to take that last step of contacting you?
Illustrate Your Value Beyond Price
Post your company history, past successes with other partners, industry expertise, and informative content on your Thomasnet company profile, your website, and social media. Don’t wait for the opportunity to prove the intangibles — it’s never too early to build your brand as a trustworthy and reliable partner.
Don't Give Them A Reason To Say No
Through all the steps in the buying process, if a buyer is left with any questions remaining about you, they may not inquire further — they may cross you off the list. Make sure that your company’s online information includes all the detailed information about product dimensions, tolerances, capabilities, and other specifications that buyers seek out. Our guide, How To Get On The Industrial Buyer's Shortlist, details the 26 critical aspects to include on your online presence to make the best first impression on potential buyers.
Closing The Deal
Although the RFI process represents the end of the B2B buying cycle, in many ways it’s actually another beginning. Often, it’s the first time a prospect will contact you. It’s the start of the “face-to-face” process of closing a sale. And ideally, it commences a long and productive partnership between you and the buyer.
Just like each step leading up to it, however, it’s important to treat the RFI as an important component of the overall process, not merely a formality on the way to a sale.
How can you give buyers the tools they need to feel confident in taking this last step?
Think of the RFI as the keystone of the buying cycle: each of the other steps leads toward it as an end goal, and if it’s not handled properly, the entire process falls apart. The RFI is more than just a form to fill out— it’s the common goal that both you and a prospective buyer are working toward.
Ask yourself these questions:
Is My Contact Information Highly Visible?
Don’t make it a chore for prospects to figure out how to get in touch with you. Each and every page on your website should include several ways to contact you — phone number, email address, and link to your RFI form. Make sure your free company profile on Thomasnet.com is complete with all of your information as well.
Here we've listed The Must-Haves On Your Company's Contact Us Page.
Are My Calls-To-Action (CTAs) Clear?
One of the keys to successful lead generation is clear calls-to-action (a text link, button, or image that encourages visitors to complete an action). If you're offering a quote, does your CTA say "Request My Quote" or "Submit." "Request My Quote" is more specific to the action and increases the chances of the prospect actually doing it. You want your CTA to convert so make sure your messaging is clear throughout all the components of your lead generation strategy.
Are We Giving Our Leads The Attention They Deserve?
Research shows that the difference between calling a buyer right away and waiting even as long as one minute after an information request can affect the chances of qualifying them by as much as 150%. Make sure your website is up-to-date with the lead monitoring, tracking, and notification tools that will let you give yourself the best chance of making the sale. Thomas Marketing Services powered by the HubSpot platform, is built specifically to provide those industry-leading tools to companies like yours.
Their Tasks = Your Opportunity
The industrial buying process can be complex, but each step is an opportunity for you to position yourself as the best partner. As a supplier, your expertise can deliver value by helping buyers accomplish their most important tasks while reducing their headaches and challenges throughout the buying process. By determining your perfect buyer and understanding what is on their plates, you can more easily create the content they're looking for. The engineers and marketing experts at Thomas can help tailor your entire marketing plan to target those prospects.
Unsure of the first step you should take? Contact team Thomas.
Did you find this useful?