Inbound Marketing for Industrial Manufacturers

Written by Kathy Kassera Mrozek
Hand holding magnet to attract content such as email, video, and websites

Inbound marketing is the practice of attracting the attention of likely customers at varying stages in their buying cycle.

It’s different from outbound marketing, which is designed to “push” a message toward an audience or group of people. Inbound marketing is newer than traditional outbound methods, as it was only really made possible by the advent of the internet. Its greater precision in terms of finding and attracting the right customers makes it an ideal marketing methodology for industrial manufacturers.

What is industrial inbound marketing?

As compared with outbound marketing, inbound marketing is a methodology that seeks to create content and resources that “pull” your ideal prospects toward you, your website, your product and marketing content, and—when it’s time to buy—your sales team. Industrial inbound marketing is a unique variation on inbound marketing, in that it uses the same concepts that any inbound marketing strategy uses, but it’s adapted for the realities of industrial marketing: complex products and services, niche audiences, long sales cycles with multiple people in the buying process, and a need for highly specific SEO keywords and technical content.

Benefits of inbound marketing for industrial manufacturers

In the not-so-recent past, marketing for most industrial companies consisted almost entirely of going to trade shows and creating supporting materials like presentations and proposals for the sales team. Inbound marketing doesn’t need to replace these activities, but it can go a long way toward attracting more qualified customers to your website and handing them to your sales team. How does this magic happen? By creating content and ads that are tailored to your unique niche audiences and that address the overlap between the solutions you provide and your audiences’ challenges, needs, and pain points.

When an industrial inbound marketing strategy is working, you’ll see a number of benefits:

  • You’ll generate more leads from your website. Writing SEO-optimized content that attracts and engages your target audience, answers their questions, and uses the same terminology that they use will raise the visibility of your website, increase traffic, and create more opportunities for visitors to become familiar with your brand, enroll in your email nurture campaigns, and convert on your website when they’re ready to talk to sales.
  • Leads converting on your website will be more qualified. If your positioning is stated well online and you’re writing content that is in tune with your positioning, target personas, and what these prospects need, the website visitors that you attract and engage on your website will naturally align with the types of clients you want to attract and what you want to sell them.
  • Leads will be easier to close. Why? Because they’ll have been pre-sold by your non-salesy website content. They’ll have read all about your business and your offerings, they’ll have seen examples of how you’ve helped others, and they’ll already have a great deal of trust in your company.

A big-picture approach to developing an inbound marketing strategy for industrial and manufacturing businesses

Start by measuring where you’re at in terms of inbound marketing. If you’re doing any SEO or content marketing, or even if you just have a website, you’re already doing inbound marketing—it just might not be as intentional and/or successful as it could be.

Next, set realistic, attainable goals for where you’d like to be in 12 months. A few questions to consider while setting these goals:

  • What are the most important keywords that relate to your business’s products, services, and positioning, for which you want your company to show up in search results? (Keep in mind that for industrial inbound marketing, you’ll need to be very specific in your keywords).
  • What questions do qualified prospects commonly ask that you can answer online? Building content around these questions is one way of generating quick wins.
  • What pieces of existing content do you have that can be repurposed, improved, or amplified in order to be more successful? This article on content and its role in sales enablement discusses how to leverage existing content.
  • What analytics tools will you use to measure the results of your efforts?
  • Do you have a CRM or marketing automation tool that can be used to measure both the quality and quantity of leads delivered from your website, including the content that they first viewed on your website?

Look at the big picture. If your website is in good shape, maybe you need to focus on creating more content. If you have plenty of content, maybe you need more effective SEO. After you create your strategy, you’ll want to build a 90-day roadmap and hit the ground running—getting quick wins and dealing with “low-hanging fruit” are valid approaches for time-strapped marketers who might be wearing more than one hat within the business. At the end of the first 90 days, you’ll measure where and how much you’ve moved the needle, and reassess and set goals for the next 90 days.

But wait—before creating more content, make sure you have the essentials in place.

Essentials of an effective industrial inbound marketing strategy

At this point, you’ll probably have a sense of what you want to tackle first, but before you create more content or ads, make sure your industrial inbound marketing strategy has some essential elements. These important building blocks are:

  • Know your audience
  • Articulate who you are
  • Fix the website first

Know your audience

It’s important to be very clear on who your target audience is, and we recommend taking time to flesh out at least a skeleton of your ICP (ideal customer profile) and key personas before you start generating content. Interviews with existing customers that you’d like to replicate can be a good source of ideas for future content writing topics and FAQs.

Articulate who you are

It’s also key to have a good grasp on your own positioning, including a very clear, concise positioning statement that can appear on the homepage of your website. Internally, you’ll need an agreed-upon shortlist of the products and services that you want to promote most heavily, as well as an understanding of which ones are low-priority because they aren’t the most important sales- and revenue-drivers. (You’ll sell them, and your audience has some interest, but they won’t be the focus of your efforts.)

You’ll also want to identify SEO terms that correlate with each of your key products or services and your overall positioning, emphasizing what your best customers call your solution and what they would type into Google. These terms don’t necessarily match how products and services are labeled in your internal org structure or catalogs.

Before writing a large volume of content, you’ll also want to create a shared understanding of voice (what does the company “sound like”? ) and key messaging. You want to have a handful of important points that are communicated consistently across your content, in a voice or tone that is also consistent. Highly technical language, or layman’s terms? Is it okay to use contractions and an informal tone, or does your audience prefer a more academic or formal style? You want to be authentic to your company’s personality while meeting your audience’s expectations. (And it could be that you have several audiences with different sets of expectations.)

Fix the website first

Any industrial inbound marketing strategy centers around the goal of attracting qualified traffic to your website. If the website house isn’t in order, your efforts to drive traffic there will be in vain. Whether you need to redesign or just refresh your website to get there, the elements of a high-performing industrial website that is ready for your inbound traffic include:

  • An overview of what you do (homepage)
  • An overview and detailed information page for each product or service
  • Case studies
  • Market, industry, vertical, or application pages
  • Information about the company and its history (About Us)
  • An easy way to make contact (CTAs and contact page for SQLs)
  • A reason to exchange contact information before a need to buy is imminent (gated content, gated tools, or resources, etc., for MQLs)
  • Resource library/articles/videos or other instructional materials

Because today’s buyers spend so much time on your website, it has to be engaging, educational and informative. Additionally, the website needs to be intuitive (because confused visitors won’t stick around to figure out how to find information), and also fast, secure, and mobile-friendly. Even if most of your visitors are coming from laptop or desktop computers, Google’s algorithms (which determine how well your website shows up in search results) give speed and loading times on mobile devices a lot of weight.

Once these foundational building blocks are in order, you’re ready to flesh out and embark upon your industrial inbound marketing strategy with most or all of these tactics:

Deeper links are included above to help you learn more about these ways of attracting, converting, nurturing, and closing leads—which leads us to the buyer’s journey.

The industrial buyer’s journey—how engineers and purchasing agents buy

As you are determining your industrial inbound marketing strategy, you’ll want to keep in mind how your customers move through their journey. Industrial and manufacturing companies must often reach several different personas to successfully achieve a sale: engineers or other technical buyers who are responsible for researching solutions and non-technical buyers who need to sign off on the decision; these can range from purchasing agents to CEOs.

There are a number of ways to break down the industrial customer journey. At its simplest, it’s a transition from Awareness to Consideration to Decision. For an industrial purchase, this process can stretch across an extended period of time. Another way to look at it is from the point of view of what you as a marketing and sales team must do: Attract, Convert, Nurture, and Close. In addition, the post-purchase period of Evaluation closes the circle of the journey. Will your customer want to buy from you again? Now that they are aware, will they skip straight to a purchase decision next time?

The process isn’t always entirely linear, and it can stop and start and rewind. As much as you will be focusing on the attraction or awareness phase of the journey, you also need to make sure that the customer is able to get in touch easily if they are ready to convert, and that they are nurtured after they convert. All along the way, content should establish and maintain trust in your company and solution, instead of pushing a hard sell and urging the customer to make an immediate decision. Then, when someone is ready to get a quote, upload their specs, talk to an engineer, or whatever the next step is for your business, that prospect will do so with confidence.

Closing industrial sales with the help of inbound marketing

When you have a highly effective industrial website that reflects your positioning, and attracts and engages your target audience, the leads it generates will be of a higher quantity and quantity, and thus generally easier to close. However, inbound marketing doesn’t end there.

One of the components of an industrial inbound marketing program is a marketing automation and CRM tool. These tools carry many benefits to the sales team as well as the marketing team, including basics like pipeline management and task management. However, the features that we get really excited about are the ones that make it seem like you have perfect timing and insight when following up. These include:

  • Notifications when your prospect views the PDF that you sent them, so you can follow up when you know they’re thinking about your project, product, service, or solution.
  • The ability to see what pages someone viewed on your website before they converted, giving you insight into what features, products, solutions, or case studies are important to them.
  • Additional content at your fingertips to share at opportune moments. The content created for your inbound marketing covers many topics that are useful to your target audience. If questions come up in the sales process, you can answer them on the phone and follow up via email with the link to a longer, more detailed article that already exists. The prospect can send this link to the rest of their buying team, elevating you and your company in their eyes.

Our favorite aspect of the marketing automation and CRM tool, however, is its ability to track data on lead quality and source, and then tie that information to revenue. Over time, you can see clear patterns showing which types of leads are converting into closed deals. You can use this information to further hone your marketing and focus on the types of content, channels, and keywords that are the most effective for generating high-quality leads and sales (while backing off on efforts in less successful areas).

How to get started with industrial inbound marketing and how Windmill Strategy can help

Some agencies and in-house teams take many months to assess and benchmark and analyze and worry. We believe it’s better to get clear on where you want to go, even if it’s only in a general, high-level sense, and then start taking incremental steps to get there.

Internally, agree on what your most important inbound marketing goals are and what short- and long-term success look like. Then decide whether you want to—or have the capacity to—do the work in-house, or whether it’s time to research agency partners.

Because the first step can be the most challenging, we recommend that manufacturing marketing teams consult with an outside agency for a strategic plan, advice, and a prioritized roadmap. You can choose to implement it on your own or in partnership with the agency.

At Windmill, we’ve developed an offering called the Digital Marketing Strategy Quick Start. This diagnostic approach helps you better understand your goals and unique situation to create a short-term digital strategy, including inbound marketing, that will inform the recommended monthly engagement to follow. At the time of this writing, this diagnostic project costs $3,900, no matter the size or type of client. The Quick Start project itself typically takes 4–6 weeks, and it delivers:

  • Strategic recommendations focused on the highest near-term priorities and KPIs
  • A 3-month roadmap for execution by you, by us, or a combination
  • Tactics to improve your marketing without a costly website redesign
  • A holistic view that includes the website, SEO, PPC, social, email marketing, and more
  • Access to senior digital marketing and website specialists without a long term commitment

Take the first step to improve your inbound marketing: Learn more about our Digital Marketing Strategy Quick Start.

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