Capturing the invisible buyer

If how we communicate, buy and manufacture has changed, why are you still looking for sales like you did in the 90s?

The world of business has changed. Not just how we communicate and manufacture, but how we buy. It used to be that if someone wanted details of your product or capability they would have to get in touch to find out – or at least send you an email asking for more information. This gave your sales team an opportunity to engage a potential customer early in their buying decision and create a pipeline that you could follow-up.

Then the Internet happened and how we gather information changed – but manufacturing companies that still haven’t adapted to this evolution in behaviour are finding it harder to generate sales leads.

The invisible buyer

In a recent survey by Engineering.com on how engineers find information, almost 70% of engineers said that they now turn to search engines to find information. Only 14% said that they used tradeshows.

In the same study, only 20% of industrial buyers said they wanted to engage with suppliers in the early stages of their buying decision. 55% wouldn’t want to engage until they had already narrowed the options down to a couple of manufacturers and 25% only to confirm the price and delivery options once they had already made a decision – without any prior contact with a supplier.

This means that buyers are educating themselves online, visiting potential suppliers’ websites, and making a decision on whether you are in the running without you knowing they were even there. Buyers have become invisible.

At what point industrial buyers look to engage with suppliers:

20%

At the start of their buying decision.

55%

Once they have narrowed down the options to a couple of manufacturers

25%

Only to confirm pricing and delivery details

This means that buyers are educating themselves online, visiting potential suppliers’ websites, and making a decision on whether you are in the running without you knowing they were even there. Buyers have become invisible.

Your website has become the first port of call for an industrial buyer

A buyer making a decision from what they find on your website is a double-edged sword. The positive is that you are in control of your site and what information people find there; the negative is that visitors make their mind up about a company within 3 seconds of visiting a website. You can’t prove your credibility in that time using words alone – it has to be through your brand and the immediate message it presents.

Typically, traditional manufacturing or engineering companies have very heavy websites that concentrate on specifications over branding and marketing messages – but if the site doesn’t give confidence in your company during those first few seconds, few visitors will make it through to the information.

Some manufacturers respond to the invisible buyer by removing technical information from their website and instead ask a visitor to get in touch for full specifications. But remember, 80% of buyers actively do not want to engage with a supplier until they are past the information gathering stage. Forcing the buyer to declare themselves to get information may work in some markets – for example, if you are the only company who can make a product or you offer a very specific technical service. In most, however, all this does is encourage the buyer to click the back button on their browser and download your competitor’s freely-available information instead.

How to capture the invisible buyer

This is why websites ask for an email address (and just an email address) in return for being able to download information such as a brochure or a product spec sheet. People feel safe behind their email address, even though in reality anyone using a corporate address (such as bob.smith@engineeringcompany.com) is easily identifiable and you can collect someone’s permission to engage with them at a later date.

Instead of arriving at a website that has a traditional navigation (such as ‘about us’, ‘our services’ etc) if instead you first ask the visitor to choose which industry they represent, or which of your services they are interested in, you can then make the information on the next page much more targeted to that viewer. This makes them far more likely to give up an email address in return for some information because it is specifically what they are looking for.

Once you start collecting a pipeline of contact details you can begin to nurture them into enquiries. For most of these contacts, it will be too early in their buying decision for them to be receptive to a sales conversation – but you can use email marketing, LinkedIn and good old-fashioned keeping-in-touch calls to start engaging with them. A cold call becomes a slightly warmer one when you know they have already been to your website and downloaded information on a specific product or service.

The reality is that if a manufacturing company is not embracing modern marketing methods, it will be losing market share every quarter to the competitor who is. The industry is buying in a whole new way – so make sure you are not still looking for orders like you did in the 90s.