Unique Challenges When Marketing to Engineers and Industrial Buyers

B2B Is Not the Same as Industrial Marketing – Here’s what Savvy Industrials Need to Know About Marketing to Engineers.


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If you haven’t heard of Achinta Mitra, you should get familiar with his name and content – asap.

Achinta Mitra has 30 years of experience under his belt when it comes to industrial content marketing. He serves as the Founder and President of Tiecas, Inc., a Houston-based industrial marketing and consulting company that has worked with manufacturers since 1987. He’s also the founder and Chief Content Creator for the renowned blog, Industrial Marketing Today.

He’s a mechanical engineer with an MBA in Marketing, earning him the name marking engineer. He’s dedicated his career to the industrial sector and has worked with many engineering companies, distributors and manufacturers along the way.

So, he knows a thing or two about the industry and the challenges industrials encounter.

Measuring and proving ROI, understanding buyer behaviors, working with the sales team… sound familiar? If so, you’re in good company.

At the Industrial Marketing Summit on September 6, 2019, Mitra discussed the unique challenges that industrials face when marketing to engineers and industrial buyers. He also offers advice to overcome these and industry data to help you make more sense of industrial buyers and how to market to them.

Let’s dive in.

Don’t have time to read the whole thing? Here’s the highlight real:

  • Industrial content marketing is a process that takes time and intention. Document your strategy, then take action.
  • Industrial marketers are targeting two different buyers: Specifiers and Functional Buyers.
  • Measuring ROI and lead attribution are still challenges for industrial buyers. You can use analytics, marketing automation, and sales enablers to prove ROI.
  • Leverage the knowledge of your in-house Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) to reach and build relationships with younger engineers.


18 Tips from Real Industrial Marketers


1. Understanding Engineers and Their Real Problems.

“The single-biggest complaint I heard from sales team: Marketing just doesn’t understand engineering problems,” says Mitra.

It’s easy to get wrapped in the cloud of what’s trending in marketing – whether it’s B2B or B2C. “Digital tools are best!” “Paper catalogs are dead!” “You need to be on social media!” “Paper advertising is dead – use PPC ads!”

It can often feel like a new report on buying behavior breaks the headlines each week – with it, breaking your marketing strategy. Yes, you need to understand your audience, but this is difficult. It’s even more difficult for industrial marketers because the buyer/engineer is harder to pinpoint.

“Engineers make buying decision very differently than they do in their personal lives. So, industrial marketing is different than general B2B or B2C marketing,” says Mitra.

Engineers can see through marketing fluff very easily. If you’re not address their problems and their needs, you’re not going to connect with them. No fancy AI tool your B2B marketing friends love will solve that for you.

Here are the three unique differences Mitra lays out:

  1. Maintaining top of mind awareness through long sales cycles. (12-18 months is typical for custom-engineered systems).
  2. Buying decisions are made by a committee. (Many of the stakeholders remain invisible and rarely interact with your content or even your sales team).
  3. The Specifier is different from the Functional Buyer. (Component manufacturers need their components “designed in” by an engineer before Purchasing can issue a PO or an RFQ).


difficulties in measuring ROI in industrial marketing

2. Difficulties in Measuring ROI

In the latest research published by IEEE GlobalSpec, 23% of industrial marketers said measuring the ROI of their efforts is the biggest challenge in their profession – the toughest of the tough jobs we do. Of those who do measure ROI, only half believe their reports are accurate.

How important is measuring ROI?

Is it ever achievable?

(Do you find yourself wanted to give up on measuring ROI?)

“Not being able to accurately measure ROI is much more than just a marketing problem. It has a strong bearing on getting buy-in from upper management and proving the accountability of your marketing team,” says Mitra.

The underlying challenge of measuring ROI, according to Mitra, is a problem of attribution. You – the industrial marketer – are dealing with multiple stakeholders, long sales cycles that extent more than one stage of the buyer’s journey, and multiple touchpoints.

How do you correctly measure marketing’s contribution on complex, long sales?

Take this scenario:

Imagine an engineer clicks on your PPC ad, visits your landing page, but doesn’t take any action. One week later, someone from that same company (or even the same person) reads a blog post or case study on your website. Once again, they leave without taking any action. A month or so later, an engineer from that company emails you inquiring about a specific application. You connect her with your engineering team, multiple discussions take place about her application, but she doesn’t yet purchase anything.

Another month passes, and you receive an RFQ from a member of that company’s purchasing department, and that’s how the lead enters you CRM system.

What interaction created this opportunity: the PPC ad, blog post, case study, or engineering team?

Lumping all the actions together isn’t ideal – you won’t know what pieces of the process are working versus which need to be improved. Thus, not getting you any closer to measuring ROI. Mitra also warns against giving 100% of the attribution to the last action taken (in this case, the RFQ form). He calls this the last-click syndrome.

“The problem with this approach is that it will lead you to making some bad assumptions, which in turn will lead to a distorted industrial marketing strategy,” says Mitra.


specifier vs functional buyer when marketing to engineers

3. Specifier vs. Functional Buyer

“This is something very unique and different in industrial marketing, says Mitra. “We are dealing with two different types of buyers: one is a specifier; the other is a functional buyer.”

To understand the difference between these two buyers, consider these:

  • The job function of the buyer, often by not always determined by the engineer’s age.
  • The stage of the buying process in which these two engineers interact with you.

Product specification and searching happens during the first phase of the buyer’s journey. In this stage, engineers are information-gathering, so it’s important to get your products and content in front of these younger engineers at the right time.

These engineers are the “specifiers”. They spec’ your product into the design, often by downloading a CAD model of your product to test in the virtual application.

If your product stays in the application through all the tweaks and changes the engineer’s team makes to the design, someone from that company then goes to purchase that product. This person is the “functional buyer” – sometimes but not often the person who originally specified and downloaded your product.

But… how can you ensure your product is the one they purchase versus your competitor’s near-identical model?

“It is going to be difficult for you to get to the RFQ stage unless your component is ‘design-in’ by one of the specifiers. You may get the purchase order from somebody in the purchasing department, but that is not likely to happen until the component is specified by a specifier,” says Mitra.

Mitra’s advice: Stop marketing in the past tense.

Younger engineers (age 35 <) spend considerably longer time online for work-related purposes than their older coworkers (age 35+), according to IEEE GlobalSpec.

These young engineers are often responsible with information-gathering at the early stage of a project. They are your “specifiers” – so it’s important to start building relationships with them.

But are your sales representatives building those relationships?

These green catalogs you see below used to be the bible in industrial sales. Your sales rep. could walk into a client meeting, smack the catalog down on the table, and flip through the pages and charts to find the right product for the customer. Those days are long gone.

stop marketing in the past tense - achinta mitra, industrial marketing advice

“You may be marketing in the past tense if you developed all your buyer personas based on senior engineers and relayed on old relationships that your sales have developed over time,” says Mitra.

Nearly 60% of the engineering workforce is eligible for retirement in the next few years.

To develop those relationships, you need to understand the buying behaviors of those younger engineers.


18 Tips from Real Industrial Marketers


4. Invisible Industrial Buyers – The New Normal for Industrial Buying Behaviors

Even in the industrial buying space, we have an abundance of online resources and tools for self-serve buyers. Nearly 67% of the buyer’s journey is done digitally before ever talking to the salesperson. They want to get product information online – for free – precisely when they need it. And they want to be anonymous until they are ready to talk to sales.

Mitra calls these engineers, “The Invisible Industrial Buyers”.

“These informed buyers have made it difficult for your sales team to get meaningful face-time to reach key decision-makers,” says Mitra.

This trend does not makes your sales team obsolete.

“It does mean that salespeople have to change their game plan from cold-calling to inform-calling. That requires a big shift in the mindset from what we have to sell to something that is based on, ‘How can we help our customers do what they want done?” Mitra says.

This calls for a more blended approach between sales and marketing. No longer does one team own the messaging and the other own the relationship. Neither team can do it ‘lone ranger-style. They must work together because the buyer is in charge of a larger part of the sales process.

These buying behaviors are forcing manufacturers to try new ways of marketing to a younger, new engineering audience. One new way is content marketing.

sales and marketing alignment for industrials


5. Why Should Manufacturers Do Content Marketing?

Right away, Mitra lists a few key benefits of content marketing that all manufacturers should know:

  • Interact with customers in their preferred mode of communication and content.
  • Build stronger relationships based on trust (by providing valuable content and interactions).
  • Build equity vs. paying rent for content.
  • Save your company time and money with efficient content.
  • Set the table for your sales team to do their job more easily.


Preferred content type

For most of the audience at Content Marketing World, the why isn’t the hard part. The hard part is getting by-in from upper management. Mitra acknowledges this and offers some industry data to back-up the why for content marketing.

  • Digital content is the most popular format used by engineers for finding information.
  • Online training is the second most-popular format for engineers.
  • 66% of industrial marketers increased their creation of audio/visual content since 2018.

Experimenting with different content types opens up new opportunities to reach younger engineers.

“Those younger engineers… are hungry for knowledge. They want to keep their skills current. They are looking to the vendors to provide that valuable training because in-house resources are becoming more scarce due to retirements and cut-backs,” says Mitra.

how engineers find content online in 2019


Building trust

Trust is essential to winning a sale – ask any salesperson you work with. They will tell you that trust is the most important currency in their business… but it must be earned.

Industrial content marketing builds trust between the manufacturer and the engineer.

“Content that helps you earn trust will help you get better-quality leads and make your salespeople far more productive,” says Mitra.

This applies to thought leadership content, too. High-quality content from your subject matter experts and team executives turns into more opportunities than other types of content, according to IEE GlobalSpec research.


Build Equity & Save Time

Content marketing is a long-term game, much like buying a home versus renting. Your valuable online content continues to be valuable to new audiences and engineers without requiring additional work from you to keep it going. Content marketing is scalable.

And… you own your content. You don’t have to pay Google to continue to maintain your great content like you do PPC ads. Your greatest content needs to live on your website or someplace that you control, where engineers know they can always find it.

Furthermore, the cost per lead from content marketing comes down over time. However, Mitra warns that it does take time and intention.

“Content marketing is a process. It is not a one-off campaign. It takes time for it to gel before you produce measurable and repeatable results,” he warns. “You have to make it clear to your management that content marketing is not a quick-fix for slow sales.”


6. Sales Enablers for Marketing to Engineers

Sales enablers are super-efficient pieces of content that move the buyer closer to a purchasing decision and generate highly qualified leads.

“Downloadable CAD files and ecatalog solutions are probably two of the most effective sales enablers I have seen for connecting with engineers,” says Mitra.

He shared a screenshot from CADENAS PARTsolutions’ Industrial Marketing and Sales Report, which highlights the effectiveness of CAD downloads as sales enablers. The study asked over 150,000 engineers whether the part they downloaded ultimately gets purchased, and if so, how much?

3d cad downloads as sales enablers and content marketing

Approximately 81% said yes – the download model does result in a purchased product. The multiplier effect also comes into play, although this can depend on the type of components that engineers tend to download.

Other sales enablers for industrials included: parametric part number search applications, assessment tools and calculators, cross reference and selection guides, and how-to videos or on-demand training modules.


18 Tips from Real Industrial Marketers


7. Capturing the knowledge of your SMEs

As the aging engineering workforce retires, manufacturers lose their subject matter experts (SMEs). This is a problem for younger engineers at these companies who lose a valuable resource before the SMEs can train them and pass along their knowledge.

This is also a loss for the marketing team.

Engineers place the highest mark of authority and trust on other engineers – and can we blame them? But this means that our marketing content must be “authored” or approved by our SMEs. Or – at the very least – we must capture their knowledge and use it to create those effective content pieces.

“One engineer to another is a very powerful strategy to reach engineers and build relationships with them,” Mitra says.

We also might believe that engineers base their buying decisions strictly on facts. That, Mitra says, is a myth.

The fear of failure motivates engineers to turn to SMEs, notably in their field, to guide their decisions. Content created by (or giving the stamp of approval from) your team’s SMEs gives the engineers you are marketing to a sense of assurance.

“Engineers expect and respect content that is technologically accurate, presenting in a logical matter, and claims that are backed by a proof of concept,” says Mitra.

Here is Mitra’s process for working with SMEs:

  • Identify and work with a core group of SMEs to learn about customer challenges.
  • Interview them to extract key talking points.
  • Research and draft customer-centric copy.
  • Have copy reviewed by SMEs for accuracy.
  • Optimize – add calls to action and internal links.
  • Publish content under the SME’s name.
  • Content distribution and promotion.

“You cannot expect [your SMEs] to create the content for you. It is our responsibility as industrial content marketers to coax the main talking points out of them… and to turn it into compelling, customer-centric content, Mitra adds.


the importance of documenting your industrial marketing strategy

8. Most Industrial Do Not Have a Written Content Marketing Strategy

Many industrial marketers say they have a formal content marketing strategy.

But few have it written down.

(One CEO even confessed to Mitra that he didn’t bother to write it down because it’s all in his head…)

Your content marketing strategy should guide your content creation. It is not a “To Do List” or KPIs goals. A good content marketing strategy address the who and the why – who you are marketing to and why your campaign will effectively reach them.

“Don’t jump into content creation until you know your audience well – your buyer personas, their challenges, and the roles they play in the buying process. There is a big different between content creation and content marketing,” says Mitra.

“Post and Pray” is also not an effective content marketing strategy, Mitra teases. SEO, social promotion and a couple press releases are not enough. Content distribution is often an overlooked piece of the puzzle, receiving only 15% of the budget on average in 2017 among industrial marketers.

That is changing.

Since 2017, the budget for content distribution has doubled to 34%.


sales accepted leads (SALs) are important for marketing and sales alignment

9. Identifying Your Sales Accepted Leads (SALs)

Marketers know their MQLs – and we love them. Salespersons know their SQLs -and they love them, too. But for effective sales enablement via content marketing, revenue teams need to love a new, overlapping term:

Sales Accepted Leads (SALs).

“SALs is where you achieve marketing nirvana,” says Mitra. “SALs is what makes sales and marketing come together and asks them to come up with a unified definition of a qualified lead.”

This agreement doesn’t end with a definition and celebration. The sales team promises to follow-up on these leads within a certain allotted time and to provide feedback to the marketing team about those leads’ challenges and goals. Marketers, in turn, promise to deliver a minimum number of SALs to the sales team each quarter via effective content marketing.


In Conclusion

Phew… that’s a lot of information, am I right?

The good news is that it’s possible. Industrial marketers have made huge strides in the past few years to address these challenges and to create better, customer-focused content. You can do this, too.

If you need help, reach out to Achinta Mitra for his expert advice.


Check out the Industrial Marketing Summit 2019 page to recap the whole event and watch the videos of the other speaker presentations.


Access the full videos from the Summit here.


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Adam Beck

Director of Marketing at CADENAS PARTsolutions | A Marketing graduate from the Miami University, Farmer School of Business in Oxford Ohio, Adam has years of experience in marketing and design for a variety of industries.