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Marketing Lessons for Manufacturers

April 3, 2024
We speak a language of features and benefits. We need to get better at telling our stories.

“It’s always been this way.” Ugh. One of my least favorite statements. It recks of complacency in a world that is ever-changing.

Instead, I prefer to be challenged and learn new things. Even though change is not comfortable, it is a sign of growth.

The University of Tennessee’s Center for Industrial Services offered me the opportunity a year ago to design and build a peer group for manufacturing executives. Over the course of the year, I have put a lot of thought and effort into designing experiences that facilitate growth and challenge current ways of thinking.

I am lucky in that this group of peers is full of individuals eager to learn. Each month, we host either a speaker or a plant tour. The energy in the room is electric. Lots of ideas and questions flying around.

One of the first tasks I have the peers do is to fill out a business health assessment. This tool helps me identify where companies feel they need more education and resources to fill in the gaps.

As you might have guessed, marketing is a gap for most manufacturers. Manufacturers are not good at telling our story. We speak a language of features and benefits instead of engaging on an emotional level with our clients.

So I invited Jonathan Darling, a sales leader at automation integrator Robex, to speak with us about lead generation. Here is a summary of ideas he shared:

The Why: What’s Your Story?

In his book “Start with the Why,” Simon Sinek theorized that the early American railroad companies would not have gone out of business if they had thought of themselves as transportation companies on the lookout for the next big thing (autos, and then planes).  How often do we pigeonhole ourselves in a product or service without thinking about what the future will hold or what impact we have on the world at large?

To find your Why, think back to your founder’s story. Why did they begin the business? What need were they fulfilling?

Then, consider the stories of your customers and employees along the business’s journey.

Finally, think about any major challenges the business faced or milestones that were achieved. These are defining moments in a company’s history that lead back to your mission, or “Why.”

At Onex, the industrial furnace manufacturer I led for many years, we decided our Why was to Revitalize American Manufacturing. We did this by maintaining and building furnaces used to manufacture parts in the aerospace and defense supply chain. But to build that emotional connection, our focus was to always Make Things Better for the stakeholders we worked alongside.

Where’s Everyone Hiding?

In manufacturing, there is a tendency to sell products and services on features and benefits. And most of the time, there is not a big advantage in this area because your competitors have similar offerings.

If we view sales simply as a transaction, then we likely do not have a focused approach on how to find people who need our solution.

Begin by defining who your ideal client is by reviewing your client list. Look for your longest-term clients. What is the size of the company … revenue per year and employee headcount? What industries do they serve? How many stakeholders do you interact with within each company? Once you have defined your ideal client and what their characteristics are, you can use sales-lead software to find more ideal clients.

Happy Hunting

As Jonathan pointed out during his presentation, in B2B marketing we often act like it’s Tinder (transactional) rather than eHarmony (relationship). What makes you stand out as a company is the customer experience. A survey of 1,000 consumers by Customer Thermometer found that regardless of the product, business, or industry, over 65% of respondents "felt an emotional connection with a brand or business." Why is this? Because ultimately, we are selling H2H. Human to human!

Once you have identified more potential customers, then you need to meet the person who is purchasing your product or service where they are. Engage and educate your potential customers with entertaining blogs, videos and social media posts. Your client should feel as if you understand their pain and want to help them alleviate it. It is important to remember that the client should be the hero in their journey, not you.

So, tell me … have you changed your marketing ways recently? What has been successful? What has fallen flat?

Ashleigh Walters was president of Onex Inc. through 2022 and is the author of Leading with Grit and Grace.

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