Lead Generation is Essential for Reaching Sales Goals and Achieving Revenue Growth

Yet, for many manufacturers, the front end of the sales process — generating leads — is even more challenging than closing the sale. There are many reasons why sales teams struggle, but in the ever-changing sales and marketing landscape, a significant reason is that many fail to implement a successful strategy for manufacturing lead generation that encompasses both inbound and outbound components.

Manufacturers understand the importance of lead generation. In fact, one study revealed that 79 percent of marketers felt that generating more quality leads is a priority. However, in some cases, manufacturers don’t have the resources to implement a comprehensive plan. This was the situation we detailed in this case study. A plastic injection molder lacked the team and the processes for successful lead generation. However, after implementing a structured inbound and outbound front-end marketing strategy, the company quoted over $2.7 million and increased its revenue by more than $1.5 million through new sales. 

Companies willing to invest in people, processes, and technology can successfully implement this in-house. Others prefer to outsource to a provider with experience in inbound and outbound marketing.  

New Business Development Challenges

Before we get too far ahead, we should define what we mean by lead generation. Most people understand that lead generation involves using sales and marketing tactics to attract prospective customers and nurture those relationships through resolution — either conversion to a sale or until they tell you they’re uninterested. Manufacturing lead generation can be achieved through inbound and outbound activities, which we discuss later. 

Where confusion often lies is what is considered a lead. People who sell marketing lists will often refer to them as leads. Some feel that anyone who fills out a website form and downloads an ebook, for example, is a lead. Others, including us, have precise criteria as to what is considered a qualified lead.

Types of Leads

There are two types of leads: a marketing lead and a sales-qualified lead. The primary difference is the prospect’s interest level and readiness to buy. Marketing leads are those that come through your marketing department and have yet to be vetted. They may have engaged with an email, filled out a form, or downloaded a free resource. Some may be perfect fits, but others are just kicking tires or don’t fit your ideal customer profile. In contrast, sales-qualified leads are the ones who meet your target market profile criteria and are ready to start a conversation. A percentage of these will convert to sales. Inbound and outbound marketing can generate both types of leads. 

What is Inbound and Outbound for Manufacturing Lead Generation?

If you take a plant tour of a modern manufacturing facility, you will see robotics, intelligent equipment, and highly engineered materials in a technologically advanced operation. Yet some manufacturers are either still doing old-school prospecting or, conversely, have been convinced that having a flashy website will bring in customers. Effective lead generation requires a process wrapped around specific outbound and inbound lead generation activities performed regularly.

Outbound lead generation involves actively seeking out prospects that meet your target market profile through calls, emails, and meetings. You are reaching OUT to them. This generally is a longer sales cycle that requires nurturing.

Inbound lead generation involves pulling IN prospects through search engine optimization (SEO) of your online marketing materials (e.g., website, blogs, videos, whitepapers, etc.), pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, social media posts, and any other online activities (e.g., YouTube, Vimeo, Google Business Profile, etc.). When someone searches on Google for products or services related to your business, you want your website’s content to be one of the first results. The results that appear are driven in part by SEO. SEO is a multifaceted process that works to increase website visitor traffic by getting your website to rank higher in a search engine’s results list. Other online activities (social media, PPC, etc.) can also drive traffic to your site. More visitors mean more opportunities to increase your lead flow. 

Why Do We Need Both?

You may have heard the idioms “change is inevitable” and “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” A prospect won’t blindly make a purchase, especially if a significant cost is involved. In performing due diligence, prospects will require information. How people acquire information has changed and will continue to change as technology changes. But even though methods are changing, the need to consume information remains a constant.

Old-school prospecting involved primarily cold calling by phone or dropping in to visit a prospect. Road warriors often kept prospect lists on an Excel sheet and left behind printed materials. Without a process wrapped around this, it can be expensive and a waste of time. However, calling, visiting, and providing marketing materials can be important components of a complete sales and marketing approach.

Likewise, in the modern era, many feel that having a nice website is enough. While an aesthetically pleasing website that can be easily navigated, including for mobile, is essential, it must be correctly optimized for SEO. This means creating a long-term strategy for optimizing and updating your website and digital assets to appear in search results. Factors that are critical for SEO include research-driven keywords for content, site load speed, URL structure, site hierarchy, image usage, and other technical aspects. 

However, relying solely on inbound leads means only companies searching for the keywords where you rank will find your site. In a crowded manufacturing space, common keywords can be highly competitive.

Filtering prospects to include only those that meet your target market is challenging, and the percentage of non-relevant website inquiries can be high, particularly if your SEO strategy isn’t being adjusted based on data. Someone has to vet them, which often becomes so overwhelming that these marketing leads are ignored. One manufacturer’s popular white paper on its industry partner’s site received hundreds of downloads. The marketing leads ran the gamut from research students to qualified prospects. However, managing the list became overwhelming, and none were followed up with. This isn’t unusual. Unfortunately, multiple opportunities can be lost if marketing leads aren’t vetted, and the strong ones followed up with.   

Generational Differences in the Buying Process

For manufacturing lead generation, one reason for having both inbound and outbound tactics as part of your sales process is the generational differences in how people seek out and consume information used in the buying process. There are four generations in the workforce today: Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials (Gen Y), and Generation Z. Millennials and Gen Z make up the bulk of purchasers for organizations today. Generational shifts in buying practices must be understood to reach younger generations.

Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) are less likely to be early adopters of new technologies and are more likely to rely on traditional sources of information (trade publications, industry events, and word-of-mouth). Baby Boomers are also more comfortable using traditional methods of communication, such as phone calls and face-to-face meetings. They value relationships, may rely on long-term business contacts for recommendations, and are more likely to trust the advice of experts. As buyers, they are more likely to follow a traditional buying process by starting research online or reading industry publications. They may then contact a sales representative to learn more about a product or service. Decisions are often made unilaterally or with a small team.

Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980) is more likely to blend digital and traditional methods. That being said, they will use a variety of sources for information, including online resources, social media, and personal networks, and are comfortable with various communication styles, including face-to-face, phone calls, email, and text messaging. However, their communication style can be more informal than that of Baby Boomers. Generation X buyers are more likely to be skeptical of information and do their own research, but they will rely on the advice of their trusted peers and colleagues. They prefer clear, concise information and want a clear path forward. 

Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) are early adopters of new technologies and like to do front-end product research themselves. They use multiple digital channels to find information and prefer to engage with chatbots or social media over a person. They are also more likely to be influenced by peer reviews and social media recommendations. About 75% of those involved in decision making are Millennials, and being heavily involved with social media, they will use it to research vendors. Millennials are more likely to be involved in buying from start to finish, but they prefer collaborating with others. In the research phase, they will often exclude companies before speaking to a representative or salesperson based on their research. 

Gen Z (born between 1997 and 2012) is the first generation to grow up with the internet and social media, and they are constantly using these technologies to learn, connect, and collaborate. They are even more digitally savvy than Millennials. To learn about products and services, they will look for and use visual content, such as videos and infographics, quizzes, polls, and snackable content, and are more likely to use social media to research products. They expect easy-to-navigate websites and may use chatbots for initial inquiries. The majority of Gen Z don’t mind communicating face-to-face but want it to be brief. Regarding the buying process, they tend to be collaborators and prefer a group to be involved. However, they are not as receptive to traditional pitching. 

Looking at the generational differences, you can clearly see where inbound and outbound marketing is needed. Older generations will be more open to receiving phone calls and direct mail pieces. In comparison, younger generations may discount your value if you don’t have a social media presence or a chatbot. 

How Personality Types Impact Manufacturing Lead Generation

When creating a process for generating manufacturing leads, in addition to generational differences, it is critical to consider your prospects’ personality types and adapt to their preferences. While there are several personality models with different types, two traits that influence how the prospect interacts with you are extroversion and introversion. This is another reason that having both inbound and outbound marketing and a mix of marketing materials is critical.

Extroverts are energized by being around others and thrive on social interaction. They do well in networking activities and collaborative decision-making processes. They are more open to outbound marketing tactics like phone calls and face-to-face meetings. Extroverts can make decisions faster when they can discuss ideas with others.

Introverts, conversely, are more reserved and prefer introspection. As a buyer, they tend to respond well to inbound marketing tactics. Detailed content like comprehensive guides, case studies, and webinars resonate with their desire for in-depth information. Introverts often appreciate having time to assess options independently before engaging with sales representatives.

In the buyer’s journey, recognizing these traits can help you to tailor your lead generation strategies. For a well-rounded approach, a blend of both inbound and outbound methods is ideal. This ensures that both introverts and extroverts are engaged throughout their journey, enhancing the chances of building meaningful relationships and successful conversions.

A Manufacturing Lead Generation Process

To have a consistent flow of qualified leads through inbound and outbound channels, you need a process that will provide a structured approach to efficiently accomplish a series of repeatable sales and marketing tasks. Inbound and outbound may have separate processes running in parallel with some crossover. Below are example lists of tasks that may be associated with each process.

For your overall process:

  • Create your target market profile — this is the most critical. Without a correct profile to build lists, the rest falls apart. 
  • Annually, determine your sales and marketing goals and number of prospects needed. Based on your desired revenue growth, steps in your sales cycle, conversion at each step, and the average sale, you can determine the number of prospects you need to have in your sales funnel. 
  • Determine the technology required to run your process (CRM, marketing automation, analytics, graphic design, research tools, etc.).
  • Ensure your sales and marketing staff clearly understand your market message and differentiators.
  • Ensure you have the right people in positions appropriate for their skill sets.

For your inbound process:

  • Optimize website for SEO (keyword research, site structure, URLs, images, meta descriptions, backlinks, redirects, etc.).
  • Set up a chatbot to answer basic questions and direct visitors to information.
  • Create forms for obtaining information, registering for or watching webinars, and downloading high-quality content.
  • Create a process for handling form submissions, including wrapping applicable prospects into a nurture campaign. 
  • Set up analytics to track performance and enable data-focused decision-making.
  • Monthly, create new content based on researched keywords; consider blogs, videos, infographics, white papers, etc. 
  • Monthly, create pay-per-click campaigns based on keyword research (optional).
  • Daily, engage with social media, particularly LinkedIn. Social posts can be set up monthly using many marketing automation tools. See who is interacting, and if they fit your target market, consider adding them to your outbound activities. 
  • ASAP, follow up with any form submission. With slow/no response, prospects move on. An MIT study demonstrated that when B2B sales teams respond within five minutes, they are 100x more likely to connect with them than if they waited an hour and 21x more likely to convert them to an opportunity. A Drift study showed that 90 percent of B2B businesses contacted failed to respond within five minutes, and 58 percent never responded!
  • Monthly, review analytics and consider what adjustments should be made.

For your outbound process:

  • Daily outreach through calls and emails. This should lean heavier on calling. 
  • As required, follow up with prospects who had no immediate need but gave a timeframe for a callback. 
  • Follow up on RFQs and quotes as required — don’t leave these unresolved. 
  • Monthly, review your lists and add additional contacts that meet your criteria. The number of contacts was determined as part of your sales and marketing goals.
  • Monthly to twice monthly, send informational/educational emails to those who have opted in to receive them (nurturing). 
  • Monthly, analyze data and review the pipeline to ensure all opportunities are moving or have been touched. 
  • Quarterly, evaluate data to ensure targets are being met. If not, what needs to change?

Should Manufacturers Keep Lead Generation Inhouse or Outsource?

Whether manufacturing lead generation should be in-house, outsourced, or some combination of the two is a business decision. If you decide to do it in-house, consider the following:

  • How many employees are needed to execute your process effectively, and what roles will they play? Modern sales techniques have implemented a division of labor to increase productivity and make your outside sales team more efficient. 
  • If you need to hire new employees, whether to start the process or backfill for turnover, is there a qualified labor pool to choose candidates from? 
  • Do you have a process to train them? 
  • Do you have the technology required, or will this be an additional investment?
  • Do you have the time to create, implement, and manage the process and employees?

An alternative is to outsource your front-end sales and pipeline management. Ensure that your outsource partner has a proven track record. Look for case studies that demonstrate familiarity with your market because there will be a much shorter learning curve. The partner you choose should be able to provide an estimated ROI. 

Benefits of outsourcing your lead generation:

  • Rapid market entry through disciplined, best-practice processes.
  • Access to a diverse team with skilled individuals for each function (list research and building, inside sales, marketing, graphic design, website development, SEO implementation, content creation, project management, sales coordination, etc.).
  • Access to market intelligence, sales statistics, and analytics.
  • Time-savings in recruitment, training, and process management.
  • Minimized disruption due to staff turnover.
  • Elimination of related software and technology costs.

However, some challenges to outsourcing must be considered, including:

  • Shared attention from the outsourced team due to multiple client commitments.
  • Required time commitment from your sales leadership for program launch and regular update meetings.
  • Need for a commitment from your management and sales team to ensure effective execution.

It doesn’t matter whether you outsource or do it internally; the important thing is that you have processes with activities carried out on a regular cadence, you are measuring and monitoring activity, and you have continuous process improvement. 

Inbound and Outbound: A Powerhouse for Lead Generation

For a balanced and powerful approach to lead generation, both inbound and outbound marketing strategies are needed. This approach optimizes and focuses your reach and turns on lead flow from multiple channels, allowing you to reach diverse people in a manner that is meaningful to them. This builds trust and ultimately facilitates conversion. If you’d like to learn more about the advantages of outbound and inbound for manufacturing lead generation programs, reach out to our team today.

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