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The View of many manufacturing companies toward virtual experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic is pretty straight-forward: Zoom will never replace face-to-face interaction, particularly when it comes to selling a product or service.
After all, the adage in manufacturing is “if the customer just visits my facility, they’re sold.”
But in the absence of that physical interaction, sales teams became proficient at leveraging digital sales strategies, and Wisconsin-based manufacturers say they will continue to use these strategies to drive growth post pandemic.
When the initial shock of supply chain instability eased, manufacturers began looking at how they could create more dynamic sales presentations. Part of that pitch included leveraging video, webinars and more targeted advertising, said Michelle Neira, senior communication manager at Innio Waukesha Gas Engines.
“From a marketing standpoint, it’s getting creative with content and marketing strategy because a lot of that stuff is no cost, low cost,” Neira said.
Video content will continue to play a critical role for Innio Waukesha Gas Engines’ digital sales strategy. The manufacturer has found success through partnership marketing initiatives where video content illustrates how customers are using their engines to power their business, Neira said.
“We’re using more third-party testimonials, blogs and digital content to help promote our products,” Neira said.
Manufacturing companies are also using virtual facility tours as a means for attracting new business, said Mary Scheibel, CEO of Trefoil Group, a local marketing agency that works with manufacturers.
Where virtual tours served as a replacement during the pandemic, they are now leveraged as a lure on the front-end of the sales pipeline.
Virtual facility tours are more than just a video showcasing the layout of a manufacturing facility. A well-constructed virtual tour will have interviews with key members of the leadership team who provide insight on a company’s culture and the innovative technologies that set their company apart from competitors.
If a virtual video portrays scale and capability and highlights what makes a manufacturer unique, then it can take a sales presentation to the next level, said Bob Bordignon, MGS Mfg. Group senior vice president of strategic accounts.
In a meeting with a Fortune 500 company, Bordignon could tell that a C-suite executive was not familiar with MGS manufacturing processes nor the company’s culture. However, a 10-minute video changed the course of the conversation.
“Going into the video, a lot of questions. Coming out of the video, a lot of confidence,” Bordignon said. “They saw products being manufactured and an environment that was heavily invested in … and all of those things help them understand the culture, short of being face to face.”
Virtual facility tour content can also be redeployed in other sales strategies, Scheibel added. A lot of companies will take snippets from virtual tours to create 30-second promotional videos for social media. These shorter videos will showcase a particular technology and are accompanied by a link leading back to the company’s website for more information.
Historically, manufacturing companies are driven more by sales than marketing, but companies are changing their approach. Scheibel attributes the shift to cost savings, but companies are also realizing their ability to drive traffic to their website through webinars and thought leadership content, she said.
“We’re really seeing that with the accelerated speed of the digital transformation, by driving people into your website truly as a marketing portal, you’re able to more easily measure the impact of what it is you’re doing,” Scheibel said.
Sales and marketing budgets were especially tight during the coronavirus pandemic, which highlighted cost savings from reduced entertainment and travel expenses and trade shows. In fact, Bordignon sees virtual conferences replacing large conventions.
A large trade show might cost a company between $200,000 and $300,000, and the return on investment is not easily tracked. Bordignon believes that more pointed digital communications and smaller, more intimate conferences will be the strategy of the future.
“I could see us redeploying that money in additional headcount, a higher number of smaller, more targeted conferences around the world and potentially continuing to invest and update our digital side of the business so we can be more effective remotely,” Bordignon said.
The pandemic has changed the sales landscape in manufacturing, and although what lies ahead is not fully clear, companies are developing parallel strategies, whether that sales presentation is in person or online.
“It’s going to be a hybrid approach, people need to sit with people and that’s just human nature,” Bordignon said. “But I think we’re going to see a lot more technologies that truly have blossomed out of this pandemic.”