Michele Nichols is the President of Launch Team Inc and specializes in providing sales and marketing expertise for science and engineering-driven companies.
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She rejoins the podcast to give insights into current engineering marketing trends and challenges, as well as how companies can continue to make the all-important pivot to digital marketing and virtual event marketing.
What are some of the 2020-2021 engineering marketing trends you’ve seen when working with your clients?
For those that had already made the pivot to a digital marketing strategy, their growth trajectories were stable. In one case, we had a client that maintained a 35% growth rate, and we saw that across the engineering and science industry.
The speed of sales cycles was impacted, as companies were more risk-averse over 2020, but the leads, interest, and opportunities were still there. Overall, success depended on how quickly companies were able to pivot and embrace a digital marketing strategy.
What are some of the ways that companies successfully pivoted to handle the challenges brought about by the pandemic?
Many companies were fighting against headwinds because of the demands on operations in areas like the switch to remote working and handling supply chain issues. These things took up a lot of bandwidth, so you needed a dedicated marketing team that could quickly adapt to these changes.
We saw a lot of success in engineering marketing from those who were able to maintain a commitment to their product development and product launch cycles, but who were able to shift from a tradeshow-focused marketing plan to a virtual event and digital plan.
The companies who were able to create richer content and dedicate resources to social media marketing were also more likely to find success throughout 2020 and into 2021.
What have product launches looked like over the last year, while everyone has been stuck at home?
There is still the same need to create an unveiling and to create excitement for their audience. In many cases, something like a social media teaser campaign did a lot of good. In some cases, we created pre-launch waitlists of people who were interested in a new engineering technology to build pre-interest.
In previous years, we have had success going live on social media at a major trade show to unveil a new product or new product application, so moving that to be completely virtual was a fairly easy change and maintained the same type of impact. We definitely saw people spending more time on social media and consuming more over the last year.
How does digital marketing for engineering and manufacturing firms differ from B2B or B2C marketing in different sectors?
Engineering and science companies have some advantages, in that they can be very targeted and specific in the audience they are trying to reach and the applications they are addressing. So that leads to better efficiency and some cost advantages for engineering marketing because they can be more compelling and targeted in their outreach.
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But, in some ways, those engineering and manufacturing companies are not so different from B2B or other B2C companies. In any space, marketers need to realize that you can’t appeal to everyone with the same content. Understanding individual decision-makers and what drives them to take action is a key element for success.
Can you go into more detail about the kind of decision-makers you’re typically trying to reach and influence?
"It might surprise you, but there are typically 8-12 decision-makers involved in a complex deal"
Those decision-makers all have different motivations, different concerns, and different levels of technical expertise, so targeting them at the right level of expertise is crucial.
For an engineering firm, you would need to reach individuals like the technician, the user, the engineer, the engineering manager, the principal researcher or investigator, usually a finance-based role like the CFO, and often the CEO.
It’s important to have an executive-level summary to get buy-in from the C-Suite. You’ve got to hit those concise points for a decision to get approved at that level, which means building a business case and giving information on the ROI of the solution. In many cases, there is also a board or committee involved in the decision-making process.
What size are the deals we’re talking about?
With 8-12 decision-makers, we’re looking at opportunities of around $100,000. What continues to surprise me within the academic setting is that the sole decision-maker price is higher than I expected, and has edged up over time. But even at $25k or $30k, there are still around 4 or 5 decision-makers to appeal to.
Looking at 2021 and beyond, what are the digital lead generation strategies that manufacturing and engineering businesses should be using?
Social media is the biggest opportunity for engineering marketing. It’s a mixed bag as to how well companies are currently using social media, but it’s a great way to generate leads and traffic. LinkedIn is the platform where we see the best lead conversion rate, and it serves as a good entry point into social media marketing for many companies.
Read: The Best Social Media Channel for my Organisation
In terms of content, engineering marketers have a natural advantage because they have the technical expertise to demonstrate their products, usually have robust data to back up their solutions, and they enjoy their roles as educators in many cases.
How would you convince a skeptical C-Suite director of the importance of social media marketing?
We get a lot of pushback when it comes to social media because the assumption is that people only spend time on these platforms in their personal lives. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter do have a role in engineering marketing, but overly technical content might not be the right fit for these platforms.
Twitter has been useful for driving traffic to events, specifically virtual events, but less so for content. And again, Linkedin is usually a great place to start. Once you clarify these platform differences and explain how they can each be used, C-suite and other decision-makers are typically onboard.
Engineers and executives at engineering firms also usually see the benefits of using YouTube because they understand that it’s a natural place for other engineers to go for how-to information and troubleshooting.
Read: Vimeo vs. YouTube for Hosting Science Content
Are there tools or tactics that sales can use to adapt to today’s environment?
Many leading salespeople that we work with make it a daily habit to participate on social media, and they see their social media presence as an important part of their role.
With the challenges from this past year, successful salespeople quickly adapted the skills they used in a face-to-face environment to their remote work. I am still hearing many sales teams saying that they can’t wait to get back out there, but they need to embrace platforms like Linkedin, participate on these platforms, and put value out into the world.
Salespeople need to consider how they are going to be able to build rapport and trust through video and offer the same capability from afar. I don’t see that changing quickly - even when they can get back out there, that doesn’t mean that they will be invited back in.
"Overall, I think we all need to work a little harder at building and maintaining relationships"
In terms of the virtual engineering and manufacturing events that you have attended, what elements have stood out?
We haven’t had time to establish best practices for what an excellent virtual engineering or science event looks like, so every event has been very different.
We’ve had success with a do-it-yourself strategy, where we host a webinar during the time that people would normally be traveling to a tradeshow. We will self-promote and do the same pre and post-show marketing campaigns as before. Those have been successful in replicating the lead generation of face-to-face shows.
Other things that have stood out during virtual events include:
- AI-facilitated matchmaking for one-on-one networking
- Matching event duration to average attention span: limiting events to half-day vs. 4-day events
- Breakout rooms with trained moderators
You often advise science and engineering companies on utilizing technology to grow and launch new products. Which technology platforms would you recommend for the marketer’s toolkit?
I am platform agnostic, but for most of the companies in the size range that we work with, HubSpot is the best scalable platform. Organizations can start with the HubSpot CRM, and gradually add more tools as they need them.
SharpSpring is another platform that has been a solid toolkit addition for us. They are good for a moderate growth company that will be using the platform for a few years because they have much of the same functionality but at a mid-price point. We also work a lot in SalesForce and Pardot, as well as enterprise-level solutions like Eloqua.
Read: Salesforce for Science Organizations
With any of these tools, I am a big advocate for loving the one you’re with. We find that mixing and matching many tools adds unnecessary complexity and cost.
"Just because tools are integratable in most cases, doesn’t mean you should integrate"
How do you help companies in technical industries like engineering create interesting and engaging content?
It can be a challenge to create engaging content that can draw a user in for the first time. We need to try different mediums, like podcasts and video marketing before we draw users into a more technical and in-depth piece of content.
Marketing and sales need to demonstrate a real understanding of their prospects and the problems they need to solve, rather than on the product itself. We need to help the prospect make the business case for our solutions to their management team.
How do you use content to facilitate lead generation? How do you see the journey from lead to MQL to SQL?
We can automatically score leads based on industry, company size, and job title to make sure that the prospect is qualified. If they also demonstrate real interest and receptiveness to your content and solution, that is how you can automate the conversion from lead to MQL.
To go from MQL to SQL is harder and needs to be earned. Unless a lead is directly requesting a consult, it takes a touchpoint from a salesperson to convert to SQL.
Salespeople need to look at the data, have a hypothesis on what that prospect is interested in, and do a little research on the company. Coming prepared with questions for the prospect will help to find out if they have a problem that is a good fit for your solution.
How do you see the future of marketing in science and engineering?
Across the board, content and experiences need to be memorable, and I think we haven’t quite managed to replicate that in a virtual environment. I don’t think we will go back 100% to the way we did things before.
Tradeshows won’t be what they were before the pandemic. We were already asking a lot of our salespeople to attend 20+ tradeshows every year, so I think we need to figure out what hybrid events look like.
We also need to learn how to capitalize on all that we have learned about remote working, virtual events, and digital marketing in industries like engineering, science, and manufacturing. I think it’s important for everyone to recognize that we won’t be coming back to a 100% in-person experience and to plan accordingly.