Mid-Size Manufacturing Firms Need Better Marketing

If you’re a small to mid-size manufacturing or services firm which sells to other businesses (meaning, you’re a “business-to-business marketer”), you probably need to pay more attention to marketing and advertising because a lot has changed over the last several years.

Before we explain what has changed, let’s first define “marketing” in the business-to-business world.

Marketing defined
Many business owners think that “marketing” means “advertising”. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Advertising is easy to define: you put an ad in your industry’s trade magazines or in a journal or a directory or the yellow pages; maybe you do some direct mail; you get a booth at the trade show; maybe you try some banner ads online; you send stuff to customers. Audience plus an ad equals advertising.

You might also see your website as “advertising” but actually it’s not, because your site is not “targeted” to anyone; it’s just out there.

So, what is marketing?

Well, marketing does include advertising, but your advertising is only one ingredient of marketing – kind of like tomatoes being just one ingredient of a great pasta sauce.

Or, compare marketing and advertising to a football team: the quarterback may be the most visible (advertising) but the other players, both offense and defense, combine to make a winning team. And they work together, as they are trained and coached to do.

So, marketing is a mix of ingredients that helps you develop and sell your brand and your products, retain customers and build market share.

Look at it this way: if your team members such as management, engineering and product development, sales, customer service, parts and service, all work independently (which is very common in small and mid-size manufacturing firms), they do so as team members with no captain (marketing) – and then your brand and market share and lead generation all suffer because of it.

In other words, marketing is the discipline that brings it all together. In fact, in the strictest sense, marketing is a discipline.

The marketing expert
Successful business-to-business marketers, large and small, employ a marketing manager who ensures that sales, advertising, management, customer service and after-sales service are all on the same page in terms of their integrated marketing plan.

However, many firms can’t afford a full-time marketing manager. This is where a marketing-advertising agency comes into play, or at least, a consultant who can help you develop a marketing / advertising / communications plan.

Change
More later on hiring marketing talent… but now, back to “what has changed in the business-to-business marketing and advertising field” over the past several years. Well, a lot, with one factor leading the way: the Internet.

The Internet has changed the way we do business, period. And by “we”, we mean both sellers and buyers.

Buyers get their information differently then they did several years ago; a shift from trade journals and directories to online searches and opt ins and recommendations from their peers over social media networks.

And sellers have changed the way they market their products; from cold calls and telemarketing and direct mail to websites that are “optimized” for the search engines (SEO), combined with online pay per click advertising, online press and publicity, helpful “how to” white papers available for download, and a whole lot more.

New tools, methods
And the Internet has spawned dozens of methods and tools to help business-to-business marketers market their products faster and better – and at far lower cost – than “traditional” methods such as trade advertising, standard press releases and direct mail.

Not only are these new tools less costly; they also make marketing more measurable.

For example, e-mail marketing, which can be a significant tool for a new product launch, a customer retention plan and for ongoing customer relations and brand building, is not only low cost but comes with real-time analytics that allow you to see how your e-news or e-mail efforts are performing.

Website analytics, many of which are free, allow you to instantly analyze not only how many visitors come to your site (both new and returning visitors), but what they are most interested in, how they navigate, how long they spend on various pages, even what page they left your site from.

And getting your press release out to an audience of thousands or tens or thousands of prospects will cost you about the same as a new toner cartridge.

Web “optimization” (or SEO) is often ignored by marketers yet it’s a reality that must be part of your marketing plan. And optimizing your site does not have to cost an arm and a leg; you may not need a new (and costly) design – it may be that just need to refresh your content and make sure it’s aligned with what the search engines are doing with their ever-changing algorithms.

The plan is critical
First, you need a plan; a sound marketing plan that defines your business and branding and market share objectives, the strategies that will help you achieve those objectives, and the tactics that spell out how you will implement your strategies. And you need a budget. The tactical plan, if done right, will help you arrive at your budget.

Hire an expert to do this; someone who is knowledgeable on today’s business-to-business landscape. And make sure that you get buy-in from management, sales, customer service and other team members so you’re all on the same page.

If you sell through dealers, agents or distributors, include them in your planning and in the plan itself. Link to them and drive sales leads to them.

Make sure that you define what sets you apart; your USP, or unique selling proposition (sometimes called your value proposition) so your prospects know what makes you different.

Ensure that your whole team delivers the same message. Messaging – and living up to the “brand promise” – is a very important part of marketing.

You may need to re-visit your brand identity as part of your branding or re-branding strategy, but do this only if necessary, as it can be costly and time consuming.

The marketing action plan: a very wise investment
Then, put your plan into action. A sound marketing plan based on careful market analyses, with a tactical roadmap and timeframes and a budget, will be one of the best investments you can make in your company.

These tactics – which are the specific marketing to-do’s such as press, publicity, online banner ads or pay-per-click ads, e-mail marketing or e-news, customer retention, search engine optimization, dealer support, maybe social media, must be managed by people who have the expertise and the time to get you the traction you need.

So maybe it’s an internal person, or a marketing agency, or a combination.

The marketing-media budget
Well, this is always an “it depends” topic. The important thing, again, is the marketing plan: it tells you what you have to accomplish – so you have your homework laid out.

A solid plan will define the tactics (tasks) you need to employ to meet your strategies, and if you use something called the task budgeting method, then those tactics each have a cost, so there’s your initial budget outline. You can always adjust the intensity or frequency of the tasks if you need to adjust the budget, but stick to the plan: your objectives, strategies and tactics.

Some medium-size firms use a percentage of revenue as a guideline for their sales-marketing-advertising budget; it usually runs between.5% and 3.0% of sales depending on the size of the company. So a firm with $10 million in sales should budget, say, 2%, or $200,000, and a firm with $100 million may budget.5%, or $500,000. Note that this budget is not just for “advertising” but for the whole marketing mix, including various media, production, website work and fees paid to your agency or consultant.

However, the objectives-to-tactics budgeting approach is always more realistic than a percentage of sales since it’s based on your competitive situation, your branding goals, and quite probably the fact that you need to get caught up on many of the important marketing tasks that you have been neglecting.

Next steps
Hire someone who knows business-to-business marketing inside and out, including today’s emerging, e-based tactics. Get consensus on the (written) marketing-media plan. Set a budget and stick to it. Implement your plan aggressively and quickly. And measure your results so you can track progress over time and determine your ROI from your marketing spending.