Nothing I have done throughout my existence has been traditional. I graduated high school with aspirations of being a musician. (Okay, maybe they were really just delusions.) When that didn’t work out I drifted from job to job, many in the manufacturing industry, before being chased down and nearly devoured by adulthood. This near miss caused me to make some genuine decisions regarding my future, so I decided to give it the old college try and pursue a degree... In my 30’s.
As things go I found the transition back to academia a fairly easy one, save for the persistent looks of confusion from the other students when they clearly thought an employee of the college was auditing their course only to find out that the old guy was actually a peer. Once the age difference was accepted I found my fellow students to be quite welcoming and surprisingly knowledgeable, despite being a bunch of whippersnappers. After what should have seemed like a longer period of time, I graduated with a degree in marketing and was off to find a career with a new found sense of direction and a purpose that I had not previously experienced.
Of course this is where the story is supposed to shift to the high-profile world of advertising or the newly expanding vastness of social media marketing, right? Remember, nothing I do is traditional. I soon found myself in the office of a plastic injection mold builder. Management had made the decision to add a marketing and sales effort to their business. Traditionally they had been dependent on existing relationships and referrals to drive sales. This new endeavor was foreign to everyone at the company and the industry was alien to me. My excitement and previous experience in manufacturing however, were quite valuable when creating and presenting my plan for success. My new adventure had now begun.
In college, when you are being taught about the significant aspects of marketing, the focus is placed on consumer based goods and services. Why wouldn’t it be? Ask anyone what they think of when they hear the term marketing and you will surely be peppered with visions of Coca-Cola red or the seemingly unending breadth of Star Wars items we are currently enduring. (I saw a Darth Vader humidifier yesterday. Wait… Darth Vapor?) But, what about all of the things that make things? Sure, consumer goods typically have huge marketing budgets that are spent on making commercials for items that are new and exciting or, expended on figuring out how to sustain growth and maintain the heritage of a brand such as Harley-Davidson. But these items are fairly easily marketed largely because they have established segments consisting of global groups of consumers. Even brand new products with little to no background to work with can still be researched utilizing secondary information that is readily available. But, how do you market and sell items that only appeal to groups of buyers with an industrial need? This is where the challenging fun of industrial marketing and sales begins.
Most marketers will tell you that knowing your segments and targeting them properly are some of the most important characteristics of any successful marketing campaign. This couldn’t be more true in industrial marketing and sales. Think of industrial and manufacturing marketing much like that of a niche consumer product. An example of a current niche in consumer products is the resurgence in traditional music platforms i.e. vinyl records. This is a textbook niche market from a marketers stand point. Music listeners encompass a very large portion of the general population yet, those with the specific equipment and willingness to spend the extra time and money on vinyl are a very small portion of music consumers, a niche. This however, is also relatively easy to segment with little to no experience with the actual media simply because music, in any form, is relatively universal.
But, what about the industrial equipment that is required throughout the manufacturing sector? This is where things can get extremely specific and tremendously challenging. First, take into account that you are in essence looking for a niche of a niche. A segment so specific that it encompasses only a select few in your field. Take my industry for example, plastic injection molding. The name alone gives you an indication into the segments that have to be broken down prior to constructing any real plan. The plastics industry, a massive portion of the worlds manufacturing. But wait, not just the plastics industry but, plastic molding. Not raw materials or extrusion but molding, or moulding depending on where you are reading this. One more glance and we see that the word injection is also in there. This isn’t blow molding, rotational molding, or compression molding, but injection molding. So who has a need for what I am marketing and selling? Well, plastic injection molders of course. Not so fast. That would be great if it were that simple, but what about the capabilities and size restrictions of your shop vs. the nee
ds of the molders in question? What about the companies that only utilize molds built offshore? That’s right, more levels. So many levels. How you position yourself to become a supplier to this small and exclusive customer segment is entirely different than say; selling Lincolns to middle aged Gen-Xers by exploiting an aging Wooderson from, “Dazed and Confused” in commercials during NFL games.
This extreme type of focused segmenting is enough to make most marketing graduates pull out clumps of their own hair when conducting research. I don’t even want to mention our increasing fixation on immediate satisfaction. Let me tell you, that idea goes right out the window when you’re up against business relationships that have lasted decades. Also, who you are dealing with inside the businesses you are targeting is of the utmost importance as well due to the fact that industrial purchasing decisions are rarely, if ever, made by a single buyer. Some decisions to change suppliers or providers can take months or even years to come to fruition.
It’s okay though, you’ll have the assets and personnel to attack with a multi-faceted plan for conversion right? Wrong. Many small to midsized industrial businesses do not have the resources to bring on separate marketing and sales teams. More times than not it is a single department or even a single person who is asked to take on the bulk of these duties. This is great in that the marketing and sales efforts are totally integrated and directly accountable for lead generation and conversion. However, this can also turn into a massive workload for a small group or single professional. Yet, this is the nature of the beast and one that is unlikely to change.
The final point to make of the non-traditional methods needed to successfully market and sell in such an environment is knowledge. Most of the B2B industrial marketing and sales efforts are focused on big ticket items that require functional knowledge to successfully present them to prospective customers. While knowledge in any marketing or sales campaign is crucial, industrial and manufacturing products can require particularly extensive and specific knowledge in their respective realms. This, coupled with very large budgetary commitments can equate to long term relationship building that can take years before seeing any real return on investment.
Henry Ford said, “A man who stops advertising to save money is like a man who stops a clock to save time.” There is a great deal of marketing and sales wisdom in that quote coming from the visionary who brought us the assembly line. Ford could have easily banked on his company’s reputation to maintain sales throughout his life. He instead, knew the importance of continuing to build his brand while keeping the focus of his customers, both current and prospective. While most marketing graduates with will inevitably continue to populate traditional marketing careers, those who are willing to take on something with a steeper learning curve may find realization marketing for the industrial and manufacturing sectors.