As leaders in the B2B manufacturing industry, it’s important to look holistically at our businesses and consistently upgrade our systems and strategies. Just as we can’t deliver excellent goods and services to our customers with ineffective and inefficient machines on the shop floor, we’ll never hit our business goals if we don’t audit and improve our marketing efforts.
There are two modern marketing models to consider: business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C). You may assume that B2B tactics are all you have at your disposal since your customers are, in fact, other businesses. But there’s much to learn from brands that typically market to consumers.
Successful B2C brands have mastered key areas of focus like communication, education, and purchase experience that can help B2B manufacturing businesses grow and succeed in powerful ways, such as:
- Identifying and delivering ideal outcomes for customers by understanding their needs and habits better
- Increasing the speed of delivery through incremental improvements in communication
- Reducing friction in the buying process and increasing customer retention
- Building trust and establishing long-term relationships
What Manufacturers Can Learn from B2C Marketing Strategies
Everyone is a consumer, and whether we notice it happening or not, B2C brands are training us to expect a better experience from all businesses.
Let’s explore three areas of focus where B2C brands are leading the way—and how manufacturers can leverage B2C strategies to their benefit:
B2C brands believe in proactive and consistent communication that’s credible, relevant, and action-oriented. Above all, they aim to connect with their customers on a human level with information that is relevant to the buyer’s life like letting them know when to expect their purchase or suggestions on what else they might like to buy.
Manufacturing companies will improve our communication systems if we focus on these core values:
- Ensure high confidence by building trust. People can spot inauthenticity a mile away. Be sure to tell the truth and provide direct, honest information so your customers know they can trust you. If there’s a problem or a change in plans, communicate that information immediately and transparently.
- Keep it simple. Your customer’s attention is pulled in many directions. Keep communications short and sweet so they can digest the information quickly.
- Make communications relevant to the customer. Consider your customers’ unique needs, challenges, and desires, and keep your content focused on those areas. Prioritize personalization whenever possible. For example, something important to a purchasing person might not be important to an engineer.
- Be solution-focused. Problems inevitably arise in B2B manufacturing—and that’s okay. What’s not okay is avoiding the issues and keeping customers in the dark. Let customers know you’re aware of problems and share how you plan to solve their problems and address their needs.
- Time communications appropriately. Consistency builds credibility. Decide how you want to communicate with customers, then create a system to sustain your strategy. For example, setting a weekly outbound communication for all active projects ensures that customers never need to track you down for a status update.
Action step: Audit the communications you’ve sent to customers in the last 30-90 days and check them against these values. Then incorporate one new tactic into your current operations. You can also create a simple communication action plan tied to the life cycle of an order.
B2C brands know that educating their customers will help them make better decisions (and more purchases).
When you open a food delivery app on your phone, you’ll see that even the most common food items have many details. Restaurants will showcase a hamburger with pictures, nutrition facts, and ingredient lists. Most of us know what to expect when we order a burger, but successful restaurants pique our interest with details about what makes their hamburger special—and we’ll order it.
Some customers won’t want this information, but over time, you can personalize their experiences, ensuring you add value to their lives—not just more emails in their inbox.
Here are three ways we can emulate this level of education in the B2B manufacturing industry:
- Educate customers about our machines and manufacturing processes
- Spotlight materials, their applications, and their relative manufacturability
- Demonstrate how our services meet customers’ business needs
Action step: Evaluate how well you’re educating your customers. Identify common customer questions and brainstorm ways to proactively educate your customers on what you offer.
3. Purchase experience
Buying online has never been easier, and B2C brands constantly innovate to make shopping more seamless.
As consumers, we expect websites to have clear and direct navigation. We anticipate frequent communication about our orders and other offers. We buy when brands accurately anticipate our needs or desires.
As manufacturers, we can ensure the buying experience is just as efficient for our customers in these three ways:
- Pre-populate order forms with customer information such as address, company name, and date
- Leverage knowledge about order history to suggest other services
- Ensure website user experience is up-to-date and functional: test forms for usability and regularly review content for accuracy
Action step: Identify every touchpoint where a customer engages with you. Brainstorm ways to improve and enhance those experiences one at a time. You don’t need new processes, but reducing steps and/or removing blockers can create a much better buyer’s journey.
Change is Inevitable
There are, of course, practical barriers to adopting B2C marketing tactics in B2B manufacturing. The traditional ERP solutions that are standard in our industry aren’t exactly consumer-friendly, for one thing. Skepticism and resistance to change can fuel hesitancy to act. But the unwillingness to change and adapt our ways will only hold us back from realizing our true potential.
There’s ample opportunity in manufacturing right now. From reshoring and building infrastructure to adopting automation and AI, companies have the chance to strike early and grab a position in the marketplace.
Industry 4.0 is here, and being a forward-thinking shop that engages customers with B2C marketing tactics is essential for continued success. You don’t have to do anything revolutionary, but you must step into your customers’ shoes and make it easy for them to work with you. Make 2022 the year you commit to a better, more intentional customer experience.
Download our latest Custom Part Buyer Report to find out how to meet and exceed customer expectations and win more work.
Mush Khan is the Co-Founder of Alchemy Industrial, a Houston-based contract manufacturing company that leverages advanced manufacturing technologies (“Industry 4.0”) like additive manufacturing (3D printing), robotics, and others.