Does Account-Based Marketing Work for Industrial Manufacturers?

Ed Marsh | Feb 10, 2021

Manufacturing Marketing is More Like Technology Marketing Than Unlike

First, let's level set.

No doubt scale considerations are different between engineering and building a complex system of capital equipment vs. simply spooling up another license for a SaaS software product.

Nobody debates that the delivery of product and service involves different considerations for different types of businesses.

What isn't different in any significant way, however, is how complex buying teams navigate their procurement process.

Therefore, it's entirely appropriate (and long past time) for industrial manufacturers to gradually adopt best practices from software and technology B2B sales and digital marketing.

Chief among those is Account-Based Marketing, often called ABM.

What is Account-Based Marketing for Manufacturers?

ABM for manufacturers builds on the traditional approach of target account sales. It is a strategy that incorporates marketing and sales tactics with technology, to efficiently and proactively identify, nurture, develop and respond to the ideal fit prospects for their product or service.

ABM builds on several concepts which include:

Industrial ICP (Ideal Customer Profile)

You're not going to sell $250,000 machinery to a fledgling graphic design business. Similarly you wouldn't sign up to exhibit at a vacation & travel trade show to sell IIoT services.

You generally understand who your buyers are - but a general understanding isn't adequate to properly focus resources.

One place to start is the traditional TAM (total addressable market) which can be further refined to SAM (serviceable addressable market) and finally to the SOM (serviceable obtainable market.) The SOM is the important group here - the ones you should be selling to, and will be able to sell to.

Common attributes to consider include:

  • size (revenue, employees, number of locations)
  • industry, products, services
  • ownership (public vs. private)
  • growth rate
  • specific complimentary machinery or technology
  • regulatory changes
  • industry trends which will impact them
  • and some "soft" factors including philosophical alignment

This must be carefully and fully documented in writing - it's not enough to "know" who our buyers are.

Complex Buying Journey

A second important background step is to really understand the full buying journey - from genesis of an idea or project through decisions on whether to duplicate or expand on it.

That requires understanding the full range of factors and considerations, general order of steps, and decision points along the way that determine whether a company will consider and then allocate capital to a project, how they'll evaluate and select vendors, the process for implementing the project and grading the vendor, and finally how they'll measure the return on the project.

Many industrial manufacturers tend to think of their interactions with a small range of purchasing and plant level contacts - and this vastly underestimates the complexity of a typical machinery buying journey.

Full Buying Team

Finally, who's involved? As personas? As stakeholders? This is often, also, underestimated.

Challenger, Inc. research indicates the average buying team is 10.2 people. In recent work with several capital equipment manufacturers we identified 16 common personas (*) and 9 common stakeholders (^). These included:

  • Corporate
    • Ownership / Management*
    • Board of Directors^
    • Engineering*
    • Operations*
    • Finance*
    • Sustainability*
    • Marketing / Merchandising / Sales^
    • Food Safety / Science^
    • Purchasing*
    • EHS*
    • Controls engineering*
    • Process / Packaging engineering*
  • Plant
    • GM*
    • Maintenance*
    • Purchasing*
    • Quality Control*
  • Outside
    • Consulting "Engineer Emeritus"^
    • Regulators (e.g. USDA, FDA, EPA, OSHA)^
    • Vendors of OEM equipment^
    • Consumables Vendors^
    • Ingredient Vendors^
    • Customers / End Users^
    • Retailers^
    • Industry Colleagues^

Yours will be different and it depends on the industry and details of the product/service. What's clear is that complex industrial buying decisions involve many people - each with competing priorities, budgets, internal political alliances, etc. ABM for industrial applications, capital equipment and manufacturing marketing has to account for each perspective at each stage in the buying journey.

How to Start with Account Based Marketing for B2B Manufacturers

Once you've profiled the type of companies you'll target, the job roles which will be involved, and the buying journey, then you can start on some next steps.

  • Build your database (accounts that match the profile, and all pertinent contacts within those accounts)
  • Really understand how/why they buy and what would stall the project. That means stepping into buyers (each persona's) shoes to experience the project steps as they do
  • Start to build the messages, content, and stories that speak to each buyer persona at each stage in the buying journey. Obviously for a 12-24 month buying cycle, and 15 personas, this is an enormous task. So prioritize and work on it gradually. Content includes website pages, blog articles, paid ad messaging, case studies, testimonials, videos, downloads, samples, chatbots, press releases, email templates, call scripts, webinar topics, direct mail pieces, etc.
  • Observe and prioritize accounts - just because one is on your list doesn't mean it's the first one to focus on. Where you see accounts taking current action (on your site, with your emails and social, or even through third party intent data) you'll be able to focus on those most likely in market. More importantly you'll want to find those that are early in the process of trying to understand and solve a problem, or explore ways of achieving an important outcome - before they've decided that they want to solve it using solutions like yours. That provides the opportunity to be involved early and shape their understanding of the project - something that every industrial sales person knows is critically important. Nobody will pay their bills being the "3rd quote."
  • And then the grind....the hard work of researching each company, understanding how you might help, and conveying that to the right people with the right message at the right time. That means sales cadences for omni-channel outreach (email, phone, social selling, direct mail, sales video), paid ads (LinkedIn and others - targeted by custom audience, domain, job function & seniority), and marketing campaigns (for those who are opted in - email) - and it means coordinating all the steps between marketing and sales. The bifurcation of those functions is really just a vestigial remnant of the way we used to sell.
  • Adapt your sales model - in parallel you'll probably have to adapt your sales model. Inbound leads (for instance those coming from digital marketing and potential use of HubSpot for manufacturing lead generation) need to be followed up - even though they're often not project ready. Outbound sales (to your ABM target accounts) is simultaneously cerebral and requires high levels of activity. So you need people with savvy, and time. Conversations and relationships emerge over time, and often quota-carrying regional sales managers focus instead on current qualified opportunities. They're not wrong to do so, but tomorrow's pipeline suffers as a result. Therefore you'll find yourself considering various models which have been refined in technology and software sales including BDR & SDRs (business and sales development reps), inside sales, and refined lead-scoring and propensity to buy models. (Learn more in this brief video.)

Is Account-Based Marketing Worth the Work?

If you're like most industrial companies you're surviving on repeat business from a core cadre of dedicated customers. Your competitors are doing the same with a different batch of customers. And your market probably isn't growing very quickly. Therefore you've got two plays.manufacturers can turn to account-based marketing to enter new, lucrative markets

First, help the market grow by helping more companies understand why they should consider using what you sell.

Second, find and win more deals with competitors' incumbent customers.

But experience tells me that you're reading this because that little voice inside is saying that the glib industrial marketing and sales training advice hasn't made a difference. You're not connecting with new prospects, generating enough leads, creating new opportunities, or closing enough deals.

So on the one hand you know you have to try something new. On the other, your marketing budget which is probably based on a few trades shows, and your large field-sales based model aren't well suited for today's markets. (Wondering what kind of a budget you need? Sit down and buckle up. 5% of revenue is a good planning number!) 

I would argue, therefore, that if you need to change the place to look for inspiration is to industries which are as or more competitive than yours, in which owners/investors expect 50-100% growth/year, and where activity levels and technology adoption are advanced.

There's a lot to learn from technology and software sales, and a sophisticated and nuanced account-based marketing approach is a great place to invest.