Little nightly thoughts
by Business Exploration
Dear Fellow Innovator,
Why some of the marketing best practices that work so well for consumer,
SAS and off-the-shelf products, fail miserably when Business Owners and CEOs ask us to implement them to market equipment and services
to the ETO (Engineering to Order) industries: Aerospace, Energy, Oil&Gas, Automation?
Let me try to answer with a few lessons I have learned about industrial marketing:
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18 Lessons Learned of an Industrial Marketer:
- Few Clients command Less Errors
Industrial Marketing is more about striving to eliminate errors in your company's processes, than spending your advertising budget on failing to convert 99% of the times. The reason is simple: in complex high-tech B2B sales you have a very limited number of Clients and your success depends by each one of them, not by a percentage of them.So industrial marketing is more about fine tuning your Company’s processes and aligning them to your Client, than relying on a heavy budget for a coverage that has a few percentage points as conversion rate.
- Buyer is competent
And most often is more competent than us, so we cannot play the card of the magic wizard. Our communication shall be as solid as our solutions.
- Segmentation is questionable
If the customers are in the dozens, talking about segmentation may be a non-sense. But I still consider the concept of “segment” to double-check if my prospected customer base is an “interconnected” segment. I strongly prefer customers who talk each other and can refer my service, above customers who belong to different worlds.
- Trust is everything and Peers are its Prophets
Selling complex solutions is something that will impact clients operations and buyer’s personal life for years to come. So “Trust” is something that comes even before than a stellar performance. But only a Customer’s Peer can spend his credibility to promote our solutions. Identifying the right Peer and convince him, is more important than pumping-up other communication channels.
- Trust is about framing the Problem, not offering the solution
Or at least “framing“ the problem comes before than offering the solution. If we are able to get introduced by a Customer’s Peer, our job is to demonstrate that we are able to properly frame the Customer’s problem. This is the first step in our journey to help him. The one that will make the miracle of transferring the Peer’s Trust on our heads.
- Position yourself as a source of information, not as a solution
Positioning is about forging some neurons inside the customer’s head, and assure that whenever he feels that problem, he connects the pain to “our” solution. When it comes to marketing equipment and services, this effect – a must in consumer marketing, where problem and purchase arouse in very different moments – should be shifted on connecting that problem to “a trusted source of information” (us). This because our customer cannot buy our solution just rushing to the nearest mall or with a few internet clicks, but can always grab a phone and ask us for valuable information that helps him frame the problem.
- You don’t differentiate on performance, you differentiate on adoption process
Unless you work in a deep pocket company, it’s very difficult that you can come-up with something revolutionary, today. We all love to play the blue ocean strategy, but must of us has not the quid that can make this happen. Sad but true. So what can make you differentiate within the Red Ocean? The only thing I have seen work is a better “adoption process”. And with this I do not mean only a better “sales process” but also a better “purchase, installation, rump-up, debug, maintain, improve, upgrade and decommissioning” process. Yes, it means aligning the whole company processes, not only putting your sales team on a training session.
- You do not differentiate on performance, you differentiate on risk abatement
If you play in the Red Ocean, the last thing your customer is interested is in “touching” his already quite stressed “business engine”. For this reason customers are more interested in: how much they can trust you and how much they can trust that your solution will not disrupt their life, than in: how much they can gain from adopting your solution compared to available others.
- You sell the need for change, not your solution’s benefits
If you are an OEM or a Technology provider, the main goal of the commercialization effort is not to make shine your solutions benefits, but to build into your customer the conviction that things can not continue like this, because performance deterioration is unavoidable and competition is not sleeping.
- Your solution shall impact SORC – or your customer's personal Agenda
If you overcame Customer denial of the need for change, finally your products and services will be ranked against 5 criteria: how much they can improve; Sales, Operating costs, Capital Costs, Risk Abatement (read more here) and finally … the personal life of the customer decision maker. Her personal agenda's priorities may well overcome all the other four criteria.
- Your "right to speak" is based on your “past” capabilities, not on your “future” benefits
Industrial Customers do not engage with you because of your shining object. The first point of contact is about demonstrating your capabilities: skills, know-how and capex investments that you mastered to use in a closely related field of application to the one mattering to your customer. Then you may be invited to talk about solutions.
- Business Owners and CEOs want different things: Effectiveness the firsts, Efficiency the seconds.
My experience is that Business Owners are more risk-taker than CEOs. Their goal is about investing in order to increment the value of their Company. CEOs are more risk avoiders: they invest to keep the Company stay on top of the competition. It’s a paradox, considered that CEOs are compensated with shares, while Business Owners are compensated with Profits…. But sic est.
Till here the lessons about planning your industrial marketing.
Then I have a few lessons learned on operating that marketing plan:
- Slicing the salami is not always a de-risking activity
Too many times a good initial idea has been destroyed by trying to reduce its execution risk, making a little-little step forward at time. The problem is that after few time these little-little steps start moving in random directions in an attempt to make each step a success, while a strategy with a direction may include also some failed battle.
- Timing is of essence, but you prepare it
Entering a new Client or a new Market is first and foremost a problem of defining the right time for the first move. The masters create the conditions for that right time to happen, or at least to be prepared to jump in: e.g. having all the certifications, permissions and referrals ready when the tide of Demand leaves space for new entrants.
- Communication is more PR than A/B testing
With all due respect to Digital Marketing colleagues, industrial marketing values more a good handshake than a webpage lifting.
- Pricing is the thing that will destroy your marketing plans
The courage of the Lion Sales Manager disappears like magic in front of two words: “How Much?”. All your beautiful crafted sales funnels, all your convincing arguments, analysis and copywriting are nothing if your Sales team will not follow a clear pricing strategy and will continue to use his (trembling) gut to set the “price”.
- Retention is underrated
In a type of business where the Clients can be counted on a few hands, retention is deeply underrated. The proof is in the rare usage of the mother of all retention, up-sales and after-sales marketing tools: the Newsletter. Considered that a newsletter has an average opening rate easily of 25% and that this number is something 100 times the average CTR ( Click Through Rate) of social or web campaign, the fact that so few High-Tech Businesses run one, still amazes me.
- Marketing is a waste of money – except when there is really nothing more to do than "shut down"
The last consideration is about how many times a good amount of time, thinking about an industrial marketing plan, is given only post-mortem: after that all other (sliced salami) options have been attempted, after that all the money has been spent and nothing is left for a further move, after all the books of the Administration have been sealed. Unfortunately, Marketing is still a Science, and miracles are still ( for the time being ) out of its capabilities.