Is marketing bigger than sales in the post-COVID industrial purchasing process?

In an industrial landscape where even complex, engineered products and services are now bought in a completely different, more remote and independently researched style than years gone by, sales needs to align itself with industrial marketing more than ever before.

Over the past year or so the Coronavirus pandemic has completely shifted the communications focus for manufacturers, accelerating the switch to digital and, crucially with it, the ability to trust in a brand. This acceleration is widely reckoned to have compressed on average 5 years’ worth of digital transformation into a period of just weeks and months. From a marketing perspective, “seeking new ways of engaging customers” and “expanding digital communications channels usage” have both now become business-critical issues.

Even before COVID, 80% of the B2B sales cycle was happening in digital settings. Traditional purchasing cycles that would have initially been handled by a local salesperson on the ground have either moved to online platforms such as Zoom or Email or, in some cases, completely bypassed these initial steps by skipping straight to different forms of digital content for prequalification purposes.

These days, even for a complex industrial purchase, the salesperson is not even likely to be contacted until the purchaser is several steps into the research and evaluation phases of the buying cycle. Consequently, digital content has transcended wider marketing and sales efforts as a whole to become the ultimate endgame for customer engagement. Having content that’s easily absorbed in terms of format and also easy to find across digital touch-points is just as vital a prerequisite for all types of B2B sales, from industrial bearings through software, technology and services right through to million-pound pieces of capital equipment.

The move to digital in terms of selecting suppliers has become much more demanding of trust as there is an implicit lack of confidence amongst B2B buyers in ordering products and services online. Trust in a brand they don’t know about has become dramatically more important than it was 12 months ago meaning that industrial brands need to master the ability to tell their full story, in a clear and concise way, across multiple touch-points. A void has been left by salespeople no longer being able to visit face to face in this new and virtual post-COVID world. Confidence and trust in a brand therefore needs to be built in a different way from before.

Building trust digitally is fundamentally done through the incremental benefit of three core actions:

  • Creating a greater volume of quality content
  • Pivoting that content towards clearly defined thought leadership angles
  • Integrating multiple digital channels to reinforce recall along the different stages of the buyer journey

Content creation alone is not sufficient. Quality content that tells part of the story and adds value to the buyer in terms of answering core requirements cuts through the marketing noise and establishes engagement. Content that either educates the buyer or persuades them to think about their problem in a different way demonstrates thought leadership and goes a step further by establishing recall. Integrating all this content across multiple digital channels ensures that the buyer is reminded of a particular supplier’s solution at every stage of the buyer journey, thereby maximising the supplier’s potential of being in the mix when it comes down to the final purchase decision.

Manufacturers that are quickest to grasp the nettle and act on on this seismic shift in the way industrial products and services are purchased will be the biggest beneficiaries in the post-COVID world. There is still a huge role for sales to play in getting purchases over the line but a more flexible approach and more dynamic alignment between sales and marketing has become more important than ever.