Industrial Company Websites: it’s time for a new approach.

Monday 24 September 2012
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Industrial companies, it seems, are still marketing their products in fairly traditional ways. In their recent survey...

‘Trends in Industrial Marketing, 2012’,

Globalspec found that 53% of industrial companies still allocate less than 1/3 of their marketing budget to online activities. In a world where at least 71% of buying decisions start with online research, that’s a lot of companies probably missing out on new business.
In recent months, I’ve been poring over industrial company websites, trying to gain a first-hand insight into how these companies are marketing themselves online, and how they’re responding to the new reality of buyers empowered by the internet - researching their needs in depth before they go anywhere near your salesman.
I live in a great industrial city (Sheffield, UK) and many of the websites I looked at belong to industrial companies based in the Sheffield City Region. Sheffield industrial companies are typically ‘SMEs’ (less than 250 employees / €50m turnover by one definition) and my sample reflected this, although some were significantly larger enterprises. However, irrespective of company size, the vast majority of these websites shared similar characteristics. Here’s what I found:

1.    Industrial company websites are usually static.
The vast majority of the websites I looked at hadn’t been updated for some time – years in many cases. This is a clear indication that the attentions of the sales and marketing team lie elsewhere. And it’s a serious problem, because Search Engines like Google don’t like ‘dead’ websites and neither do customers (why come back?). All those buyers who are researching their needs online are significantly less likely to find, engage with, or buy from companies that don’t update their website content.

2.    Industrial companies often only update their websites with ‘PR’ stories.
Think about this. Industrial buyers are searching online for solutions to their technical problems. They need more accurate control systems, higher integrity castings, and so on. And companies that regularly update their websites with solutions to these technical problems (via their Technical Blog, for example) will be far more likely to get found by them at the point of research, and subsequently to win their business.
Meanwhile, the only regularly updated part of many industrial company websites is a ‘News’ page, offering stories on company anniversaries, staff achievements or, at best, company successes (e.g. contracts won). None of this is without value, but there’s a serious problem here too. This dynamic ‘News’ page sits alongside ‘products and services’ pages that haven’t been updated in aeons. The things that matter to your customers are being ignored in favour of ‘News’ stories that really only matter to you.

3.    Industrial company websites are usually leaky.
A ‘Call to Action’ on a website is a message urging a visitor to take immediate action – e.g. ‘SUBSCRIBE to receive our weekly Technical Insights’. They are used to find out who has been visiting your website, as a basis for turning website visits into leads and sales. Many of the websites I looked at either didn’t have Calls-to-Action, or they were poorly optimised.  That’s the same as talking with visitors to your exhibition stand, then allowing them to walk away without saying who they are, where they’re from or what they’re looking for.

4.    Industrial companies don’t usually measure and optimise their website performance
Website Analytics enable companies to measure pretty much everything about their website’s performance: numbers of visitors, where they’re from, what they’re interested in (based on what they read), what messages encourage them to take action (e.g. Subscribe), etc.   I suspect most industrial companies aren’t measuring their website’s performance simply because there isn’t much to measure – no new published content and no Calls to Action. Furthermore, the fact that most of these websites are static shows that even if they are measuring what they can, they certainly aren’t using that data to improve their site and its performance.

And these aren’t just my views, either.
A 2011 survey from ThomasNet confirms the findings of my own ad hoc research – the data in the table below requires little explanation. Buyers want detailed product information, technical specifications and product comparison to inform their buying decisions (and increase the chances of them buying from you!).
Source: ThomasNet

So why are industrial companies’ websites letting them down?
Do they lack the cash to invest in their websites?
Almost certainly not. Websites should be low-cost lead-generation tools. Many of these companies are prospering in highly profitable sectors (e.g. oil and gas or aerospace). Meanwhile, most are continuing to spend on higher cost marketing activities such as printed materials and trade shows.

Do they lack the ability to improve their websites?
It’s certainly not that either. Many of these companies have developed world-beating products, while measuring and optimising their production processes to ensure maximum cost-efficiency. They are ideally positioned to create great technical website content, and adopt a data-driven approach to measuring and optimising website performance.

So what is it then?
In my view, the answer lies in the product and production focus that typifies these companies. They’re successful because they focus relentlessly on producing great products as efficiently as possible. But one effect of this focus is that they pay too little attention to their marketing - which ultimately means that they’re not as successful as they could be.

Website development is left to creative designers who often don’t understand their client’s technical solutions, or how to build websites that are data-driven marketing tools. Meanwhile, ‘communications’ is left to PR companies, who often focus on the local and trade media (because that’s what they do) and content they understand, rather than creating and syndicating technical content that addresses the needs of potential customers.

A highly optimised website can reduce marketing costs, generate more leads, and grow sales. Industrial companies simply need to apply some of their outstanding product knowledge and technical capabilities to their online marketing, just as they do with their products and production processes.
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