How To Use This Playbook
Each Quad Cities Manufacturing Innovation Hub playbook is created with the business growth needs of our area’s small and medium manufacturers in mind. By utilizing the information in the Digital B2B Platforms Playbook, you are taking the first steps to creating a competitive advantage for your company by innovating in the face of disruptive technologies.
This playbook follows a logical flow to guide you as you learn more about digital B2B platforms (see Fig. 1). Review the sections as they apply to your individual opportunities and resources, either in the order they’re presented or jump around to fit your immediate needs.
Figure 1: Digital B2B Platforms Playbook Information Flow
This is your toolkit for plugging into the digital marketing network in the Quad Cities.
Together all eight of our playbooks uplift our regional manufacturers and Department of Defense suppliers through increasing digital readiness, working in concert to accelerate the understanding and investment in emerging technologies and to foster a culture of innovation in the manufacturing industry. We encourage you to review the other playbooks (see appendix for more information) as well.
Whom can I contact at the Quad Cities Manufacturing Innovation Hub with questions?
Email email@example.com and a member of the Hub team will respond to your question.
About the Quad Cities Manufacturing Innovation Hub and Our Partners
The Quad Cities Manufacturing Innovation Hub assists businesses by offering services such as operational assessments, registry in a regional catalog of manufacturers and suppliers, trade and business-to-business events, access to national marketing, access to subject matter experts through the Chamber’s Critical Talent Network, connections to the Quad City Manufacturing Lab and national research, and training seminars targeted at key technologies. More information on the Hub can be found online here.
This content was prepared as part of the Illinois Defense Industry Adjustment Program, a partnership between the University of Illinois System, the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce, and the Voorhees Center at the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC), with financial support from the U.S. Department of Defense, Office of Economic Adjustment (OEA). It reflects the views of the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce and does not necessarily reflect the views of the OEA. For more information, please visit www.IllinoisDIA.org.
Copyright © 2018 by Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except as permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher at the address below:
Quad Cities Manufacturing Innovation Hub c/o Quad Cities Chamber 1601 River Dr., Ste. 310, Moline, IL Visit the publisher’s website at www.quadcitieschamber.com.
Digital B2B Platforms in the Quad Cities: At a Glance
What are “digital B2B platforms?”
“Digital B2B platforms” encompass all the digital communications, sales, commerce, and engagement channels that manufacturers can use to communicate with prospects, customers, employees, and colleagues. From websites to social media, email marketing to online video, manufacturers utilize digital B2B platforms to connect with their audiences throughout every phase of their online decision journey.
Why do digital B2B platforms matter to the Quad Cities?
Quad Cities manufacturers can be more visible and accessible to new customers, partners and geographies by utilizing digital platforms. Building relationships through online methods is critical to competing in a global economy where access to potential manufacturing partners is seemingly unlimited and word-of-mouth referrals travel fast. The definition of “business as usual” has evolved as “going digital” is now table stakes for manufacturer survival within our communities.
What are the biggest opportunity areas locally?
The Quad Cities Manufacturing Innovation Hub has identified four key opportunity areas in digital B2B platforms for area manufacturers:
- Expanding reach beyond current geographic constraints of the Quad Cities to remain competitive in a global economy;
- Deepen engagement with prospects and customers as they traverse their digital customer journey;
- Close sales using e-commerce options and other online sales and customer service tools; and
- Foster a more collaborative relationship between colleagues, peers, and among your employees to grow your company’s digital culture.
More information can be found in the Identify Opportunities portion of this playbook.
What are the business benefits of utilizing digital B2B platforms?
Digital B2B platforms have been proven to be more cost-effective means of advertising, marketing, and customer service over traditional offline tactics. Customers who feel connected to their manufacturer throughout the decision and purchase process are also more likely to purchase, recommend and refer you to their peers. Learn more about key performance indicators you can expect to improve in the Build the Business Case and Begin Implementation section.
Where can I find help to get started?
There are local agencies who can assist you with full digital strategies or specific implementations of tactics on digital platforms that you’ve prioritized. There are also many free online resources, as well as educational courses offered by area universities and colleges. Go the Find Help with Regional Assets and Partners for a full list of area resources to help jump start your use of digital B2B platforms to grow your business.
Understand the Technologies
In the first section, we take a closer look at the variety of technologies that contribute to the collective term “digital B2B platforms.” You’ll gain a better understanding of how digital B2B platforms contribute to an over-arching digital customer experience and marketing strategy through diagrams, frameworks, and definitions of key terms used in the digital marketing space. This section also details additional online resources for greater understanding.
Digital B2B Platforms encompass all the digital communications, sales, commerce, and engagement channels that manufacturers can use to communicate with prospects, customers, employees, and colleagues. From websites to social media, email marketing to online video, manufacturers utilize digital B2B platforms to connect with their audiences throughout every phase of their online decision journey.
Glossary: Key Digital B2B Platform Terms
Please refer to the glossary in the Appendix for definitions of key digital B2B platform terminology that is utilized in this playbook. Definitions provided for educational purposes as described by General Assembly unless otherwise noted.
Figure 2. Traditional vs. Digital Marketing via Bettiblue.com
Figure 3. Plotting the Content Marketing Ensemble.1
Figure 4. “PESO model” of content marketing:2 Paid, Earned, Shared, and Owned media contribute to a company’s digital content mix on online platforms.
1 Plotting the Content Marketing Ensemble, via Altimeter Group - https://c1.staticflickr.com/9/8390/8678279079_1507741120_b.jpg
2 Image from Mashable as accessed on https://thinkpyxl.com/blog/peso-model-pr.
Additional Online Resources
There are many online resources for review to deepen your understanding of digital B2B platforms, technologies, processes, opportunities, challenges, and more. We’ve outlined a few below:
- Industrial Marketing Today by Tiecas, Inc.: Read the latest posts here. Updated daily, this website includes practical insights and actionable marketing advice for manufacturers, distributors, and engineering companies. You can also download an Industrial Marketing Playbook from the site, as well as many other niche whitepapers to dive deeper into specific use cases and implementation of digital B2B platforms.
- Digital Marketing for Today’s Manufacturing Marketers from Kuno Creative: Download for free here. This e-book explains how inbound marketing and content marketing can help you form valuable relationships with leads that yield big benefits. Topics covered include: how to build effective online lead generation and demand generation campaigns; how to position yourself as a helpful partner to your customers; how to create and distribute engaging content that resonates with your audience; and how to establish your company as an industry thought leader.
- The B2B Digital Marketing Playbook from Kapost: Download for free here. In this playbook, you’ll learn tactics to: plan a collaborative B2B digital marketing strategy across channels, campaigns, and teams; create impactful, consistent, persona-driven content for every stage of the buyer's journey; distribute marketing content to your internal and external channels to gain traction with your buyers and enable sales; and optimize your digital marketing strategy based on data-driven insights to boost conversions and track the metrics that matter.
Digital B2B platforms offer many marketing and engagement opportunities to small and medium manufacturers in the Quad Cities (see Figure 5 for most common tactics used, below). These marketing channels contribute to great opportunities for manufacturers (see Figure 6). Examining specific opportunities to the Quad Cities, the Hub has identified four key areas that can span all channels to bring greatest benefit to our area’s small and medium manufacturers: expanding reach; deepening engagement; closing sales; and collaboration with peers.
Figure 5. Most commonly used B2B content marketing tactics by manufacturers in 2017.
Figure 6. Manufacturers share their planned opportunity areas for digital content marketing in 2017.
Opportunity #1: Expand Reach
Digital B2B platforms expand the reach of Quad Cities manufacturers that are looking to increase their customer base outside of the region and into national, even global, territories. The internet is “the great equalizer,” bringing people closer together and connecting you to more customers than was ever possible through traditional marketing channels and communication outlets. As global competition grows for manufacturing contracts, and outsourcing appeals to many potential customers due to assumed cost-savings, expanding your reach and value proposition to new markets via a larger digital footprint has never been easier or more important.
Opportunity #2: Deepen Engagement
Using traditional marketing and media, it’s hard to gauge customer needs, expectations, and engagement throughout their decision journey in working their way toward signing the dotted line with your company. Using digital B2B platforms and the data they generate, you’re able to peer into how your prospects and customers are interacting with your content from awareness, through purchase, to loyalty and advocacy. And, you’re able to communicate with them two-way during their journey, further deepening engagement and fostering the connection needed to make a decision, land the contract, and garner repeat business.
Opportunity #3: Close Sales
Digital B2B platforms––like your website, e-commerce engine, online customer service, and online quote forms––allow your prospects and customers to complete their purchase and have their questions answered seamlessly as part of their digital lifestyle. Gone are the days when sales calls alone did the trick. Today, customers expect five-star service, regardless of their preferred methods of communication and payment. Find your own sweet spot based on customer feedback and behavior; it may lie somewhere in the middle between digital and traditional sales and service efforts.
Opportunity #4: Collaborate with Peers
The fourth opportunity digital B2B platforms bring to area manufacturers affects both external and internal audiences. By using platforms like email marketing, LinkedIn, customer relationship management (CRM) tools, and more, manufacturers are able to collaborate in real-time with their industry peers, employees, and even customers in certain use cases. This lends to quicker business deals through ease of networking, less time waiting for responses to critical questions, better ideas with more minds at the table, and greater customer satisfaction overall. When used within your own organization, digital B2B platforms increase productivity and strengthen employee relationships.
Benefits and Use Cases of Digital B2B Platform Opportunities
From website traffic to sales, qualified leads to higher conversion rates, there are many benefits to utilizing digital B2B platforms over traditional marketing and engagement methods.
In this section, we’ll examine the key benefits of utilizing digital B2B platforms in each of the four opportunity areas previously identified. Below, you’ll also find a case example for each opportunity area that shows how a manufacturer was able to utilize digital B2B platforms to produce results throughout the purchase funnel.
Opportunity #1: Expand Reach
- Engaging, authoritative website content (text, images, videos, et. al.) with the right keywords for your business increases your search engine optimization. This helps prospects and customers find you online from anywhere with internet access.
- Content production can be more cost-effective than traditional advertising and media buys in attracting the right audiences during their decision cycle.
- Guest blog posts or articles, and other forms of “sponsored content” or “influencer marketing” can also help expand your reach into new audiences, positioning you and your company as an expert in the manufacturing industry on a specific process, machine, product, etc.
- Common tactics include: search engine optimization (SEO); Google Adwords and other search engine and keyword advertising; social media advertising; e-commerce; online quotes; email marketing; and online customer service.
Case Example: Summit Steel Increases Inbound Leads 238% Using SEO Strategies
Summit Steel manufactures custom steel parts, servicing each step in the process from blueprints to powder coating. They redesigned their website with the goal of allowing customers to see their full range of offerings, the scale of their operations, and their dedication to quality before ever setting foot in the Summit Steel facility. Additionally, Summit Steel launched a separate division to sell vertical storage carousels, a new stand-alone product.
At first Summit Steel’s vertical storage product was given a page on the main corporate site, but it was confusing to users and holding back sales. Summit Storage was then given its own brand and web presence, with design and development of a separate website. Inbound leads quickly increased after launching the new Summit Storage site.
With a better site in place, Summit Steel looked to expand reach and increase quality leads through digital marketing. They launched a pay-per-click (PPC) and display advertising campaign targeted at procurement officers of large companies that Summit wanted as customers. Improvements to on-page SEO and paid ad campaigns led to favorable results in the first six months of the marketing campaign. Summit Steel became the #1 and #2 Google Search Result for “Steel Manufacturing Company” nationally during the run of its search advertising campaign. With improvements across the board, Summit Steel saw a 238% increase in quarterly leads YOY.3
Opportunity #2: Deepen Engagement
- Fostering dialogue between your sales and customer service teams and your customers can make the difference in closing a deal vs. them walking away confused or in deliberation. The greater connection you can build at every stage of their purchase decision, the increased likelihood of sale, amount of sale, and eventual customer satisfaction.
- Customers want to be met on the digital channels they’re already using. By examining your customer data on platforms used, for how long, what content is being consumed, and click-paths, you will be able to pinpoint where to invest your marketing budget. You’ll also uncover the places where your sales staff will be most effective, e.g. LinkedIn, email marketing, etc.
- According to Chief Marketer, internal communication and training are key to success in deepening engagement on digital channels. Whether your brand is reaching consumers through an email blast or on social media, every promotion and response needs to be consistent. To avoid poor customer service experiences, train your staff to respond the same way, every time, and to feel confident bringing in management before the situation publicly escalates online.4
- Common tactics used: online customer service; data-based targeting, geolocation, mobile marketing, online communities, social media, and customer relationship management (CRM) sales software.
Case Example: AGCO Focuses on Connecting with Customers and Dealers on Social Media5
Global agriculture manufacturer AGCO’s social media strategy is aimed at connecting the businesses with farmers and machinery dealers, mainly through thought leadership. The company owns a range of brands including Massey Ferguson, Challenger and Valtra that deal in farm machinery around the world.
As reported by Econsultancy, before launching its own social profile, AGCO analyzed the current behaviors of its target audience and found that they were already posting YouTube clips of themselves using the company’s equipment. By actively engaging these users with a mix of informational and educational content the company has managed to attract 289,000 Facebook followers, 31,800 Twitter followers and almost 8,000 YouTube subscribers as of July 2017. The content includes weekly “tillage tips” and photos of the farming equipment in action.
AGCO also partners with its dealers to offer training and marketing tools to help them promote themselves. One way is through a widget that allows dealers to host and curate new content, such as blog posts, without having to invest in content creation themselves.
Opportunity #3: Close Sales
- Concentrate on the opportunity to move your prospect or customer along their purchase decision journey at each phase. What digital platforms are they utilizing to inform their decision? What actions are they taking? Setting your sales team up to engage at those key moments keeps your customer headed toward the dotted line.
- E-commerce and mobile commerce solutions make it easier for your customers to do business with your company. Consider your options for making the sales quoting, payment, and customer service processes simpler using digital channels. Online forms are a low-cost and low-maintenance way to start, as well as using email to consistently follow-up with leads.
- Closing sales is as much about the initial sale as it is about fostering loyalty and repeat business. Digital platforms enable manufacturers to schedule follow-up on set intervals using the channels that their customers prefer. This saves time for your sales team as well as increases the relevancy of communications to contribute to increased customer satisfaction, positive word-of-mouth, and re-ordering when the time is right.
- Common tactics used: e-commerce website; mobile commerce; online quotes; online contact forms; online customer service; informative website and other digital content; social media; and CRM/sales software.
Case Example: IHS Increases Lead Volume and Sales Using Online Quote Wizard with Other Digital Tactics6
Industrial Heat Sources (IHS) is one of four U.S. Leister Technology master distributors. The company provides sales and service of hot-air equipment to customers across six different vertical markets: roofing, sign and banner, flooring, civil engineering, process heat, and plastic fabrication.
Despite being hit hard by the financial crash of 2008, the company had remained profitable, but as of 2010, had seen little growth to recoup the lost revenue. Rather than hiring another sales professional to “knock on doors” as it had in the past, IHS launched a digital marketing campaign with PR20/20 that included an online sales and service tool created to help visitors identify the proper process heater or hot-air blower for their specific needs. The “Process Heat Wizard” asked users a series of questions, and used responses to automatically narrow down tool options from more than 100 to between 2-5. From here, users were encouraged to call or complete a lead form to speak to an IHS Leister certified representative and finalize their selection.
As a result of its online quoting wizard, IHS territory lead volume (contact form submissions only) grew 243.5% YoY, contributing to a 27.3% sales increase over the same time period.
Opportunity #4: Collaborate with Peers
- Underlying any company’s successful digital transformation lies a strong culture that values digital tools and the impact they have on relationship building––both in and out of the organization.
- Digital B2B platforms contribute to increased employee productivity, idea generation, efficient problem-solving, and more when embraced by leadership as part of an ongoing commitment to continuing education.
- Collaboration is intensified with customers when utilizing digital B2B platforms as well. Using crowdsourcing communities, online feedback tools, and other forms of digital research and engagement, manufacturers are alerted to potential issues before they become costly to fix.
- Digital networking through platforms like LinkedIn or other relevant industry forums is also popular to build relationships with suppliers, vendors, and thought leaders to inspire innovation.
- Common tactics used: enterprise social networks; online/cloud collaboration tools; video conferencing; screen sharing software; social media; online chat; and other project management software.
Case Example: Pirelli Opens Collaboration Opportunities for Improved Teamwork and Speed to Innovation7
One of the world's top five tire manufacturers, Pirelli has 22 production plants globally with a commercial presence in 160 countries. In its quest for a majority share of the premium tire market, the company decided to improve collaboration across its organization.
Eager to explore an alternative to physical meetings, Pirelli partnered with Cisco to carry out a transformative networking assessment. This served as the basis for a network refresh, designed to give Pirelli one of the most advanced collaboration platforms in the industry, including a broad range of videoconferencing endpoints. Now, Pirelli employees can engage and innovate: anywhere, any time, on any device.
Operations are better connected, with richer interaction between sales and production. High-definition (HD) video has provided greater opportunity for virtual face-to-face meetings, resulting in stronger working relationships, cost control, and improved productivity. Staff can share desktops, content, and applications, and create cloud-based meeting spaces for project teams.
Stock image of Cisco video conferencing product pictured, not actual Pirelli solution.
Build the Business Case and Begin Implementation
In this section, we’ll outline the steps to take in implementing strategies and tactics of digital B2B platforms within your company, beginning with awareness and change management, through establishing partnerships and building use cases that will save you time and money. We understand that the idea of implementing digital marketing, sales, and service is very different from traditional marketing methods that you may be accustomed to, and that the prospect of this degree of change to your sales funnel is daunting and frightening. It is our hope that, through the following content and previous look at the benefits of digital B2B platforms, you’ll feel more comfortable exploring how you can utilize these technologies to better reach your customers, on their digital terms, to ultimately increase your product and service sales.
Change Management: Building the Case Requires Data and a "Test-and-Learn" Approach
For most small and medium manufacturers, the prospect of adopting digital platforms into your marketing and sales mix seems risky, as it bucks the status quo and requires learning new technologies and procedures to remain relevant in a digital age. Only through experimentation, learning, and failing fast, can you quickly gain new expertise and experience that will benefit your company in years to come.
It is new technologies, like many digital B2B platforms, that are shifting the very marketing and customer engagement structure of the manufacturing industry––beyond the Quad Cities. New strategies and tactics are emerging, and the only way to survive is to be proactive in your adoption of digital marketing in ways that fit into your current culture and align with your business growth goals.
There are many ways for you to get started along the path to utilizing digital B2B platforms. Use the change management tips below to make the case for change and immediately begin proving results:
- Understand the business value of each individual digital B2B platform, and set goals accordingly. Use our metrics outlined at the end of this section as well as your own data research to set realistic expectations of how you will measure the impact and success of integrating digital platforms into your existing sales, engagement, and purchase funnel. This will help in resource planning if you’re measuring the right benchmarks out of the gate. Focus on one or two main use cases first before building complexity.
- Focus on getting every employee on board with the benefits of digital B2B platforms through peer education. Get all stakeholders involved from the beginning via one-on-one conversations with leaders and all-company meetings to drive the vision. Make them as knowledgeable as you possibly can, taking ownership of digital platform initiatives. Innovative companies like GE promote “reverse mentoring” to foster understanding, create mutual empathy, and promote collaboration between disparate generations and team members. In reverse mentoring scenarios, a younger colleague mentors a more tenured employee as a way of getting everyone up-to-speed quickly with digital technologies and benefits. Visit the Find Help section for more education resources and tips.
- Keep communication lines open during the trial-and-error portion of experimentation. Employees should understand that it’s okay to fail, and fail fast, if it’s part of a learning process that eventually leads to successfully implementing new engagement strategies on digital B2B platforms. This mindset must be led from the top-down within your company in order for employees to feel like they can experiment and innovate in order to achieve efficiencies. Breed risk-taking early.
Part of change management also lies in understanding and planning for the challenges you will encounter in integrating digital B2B platforms into your existing operations. Below are three challenges we’ve identified through our research and conversations with area manufacturers. Become familiar with the potential roadblocks so you can steer clear of their hindrances early on.
- Challenge 1: Time commitment and prioritization. Many manufacturers, especially those small and medium in size, find it difficult to allocate precious time to digital marketing in lieu of other pressing priorities. In order to achieve results from digital B2B platforms, it takes commitment from both leadership and those responsible for implementation. Start with part-time allocation of one or two employees, and grow from there.
- Challenge 2: Strategic oversight and education. Digital B2B platforms must be an integrated cog into a manufacturer’s overarching growth strategy, contributing to increased awareness, sales,and more. This takes foundational education for not only those leading the charge but all employees who are responsible for living the “digital lifestyle” in order to better connect with customers. Visit the Find Help section for recommended educational partners in the Quad Cities.
- Challenge 3: Budget availability and measurement. Allocating budget to digital B2B platforms often goes hand in hand with measuring its impact. Why invest if you benchmarks for returns? Use the key performance indicators in the Metrics section as a starting point for integrating digital B2B platform metrics into your company’s over-arching strategic goals.
Processes and Frameworks for Implementing Digital B2B Platforms
Integrating digital B2B platforms into your existing manufacturing processes requires a strategic approach. Utilize the workflows and frameworks below to jumpstart your efforts. The frameworks in this section are presented to aide in your high-level strategic prioritization of digital B2B platforms, and we recommend you search out specific frameworks for each platform and tactic chosen to guide your implementation.
Framework 1: Digital B2B Engagement Opportunities in the “Customer Journey”8
To reach your customers on digital B2B platforms, you must first understand where they are interacting with your company at each phase of the digital customer journey. These phases and a corresponding partial list of digital platforms are depicted below, with another version shared in Fig. 3 earlier in the playbook. By beginning here, you’ll save time and money in investing in the right platforms that actually reach your customers on their digital terms.
8 Workflow adapted from Altimeter Group report, “The Inevitability of a Mobile-Only Customer Experience.” Szymanski, Jaimy and Brian Solis. 2015
Ask yourself these questions when filling in your customer journey map:
- What digital channels do my customers use for research and decision-making when they realize they have a manufacturing need? Where do they go to find out more?
- How often do they visit their go-to digital channels, and for how long?
- How do they use each platform during the purchase decision cycle (what action is completed at each step)?
- What devices are used to take the customer from awareness through advocacy?
Framework 2: Digital Marketing Framework from CloudRock9
Here’s another view that you may find helpful in planning and prioritizing your digital B2B platform use to turn prospects into leads, leads into customers, and customers into advocates. A high-resolution version is accessible by clicking on the source reference below.
Resources Needed: Technology and Staffing
Resources required to manage and implement strategies within digital B2B platforms will vary by the use cases you’ve established and which platforms you’ve prioritized. For example, utilizing digital platforms for search engine advertising to increase awareness will yield a different cost structure than planning to use social media as a replacement for all customer service requests. As previously outlined, you must create a strategic plan for how digital B2B platforms will augment or replace your current marketing, sales, and engagement processes in the recommended opportunity areas before jumping the gun and investing in the latest “bright, shiny technology” or hiring unnecessary talent.
Use this general checklist to assist in the process of planning for your hard and soft costs:
- Hardware: Utilizing cloud-based digital B2B platforms typically doesn’t require you to purchase any new hardware, as these platforms exist online with access through your internet browser. Some sales and analytics tools may require the purchasing of software, but it is rare that a hardware component be necessary. The exception lies in some e-commerce solutions that require a hardware solution in the form of a server to host your website, or internal collaboration and video conferencing tools that may also necessitate office equipment, cameras, and/or increased network support.
Hardware purchases may be prudent for your company to foster a digital workforce, too. A manager or sales lead armed with a tablet to check product or machine specs and use it to collaborate across teams can be useful in growing your company’s overall acceptance to digital technologies. This goes hand-in-hand with the “collaboration” opportunity area earlier addressed.
- Software: Depending on the digital platforms you’ve chosen to utilize, there will be varying degrees of software needed. Many platforms offer “Software as a Service” or SaaS, which means that you can access the software in the cloud (often on a subscription-based model) to use from any computer with internet access vs. having to install it directly on your device. Other platforms are simply self-serve online, such as Google Adwords, social media platforms, email marketing, and many other online advertising options. Use the framework below (click through to high-resolution version) to begin deciding which software is right for your application(s) and continue research online. Each category offers a plethora of options, as you can see!
Figure 7: Marketing Technology Landscape by ChiefMartec.com10
- Employees and Hiring: Assess your current employees for skillsets in each opportunity area, as well as in individual platforms, to determine if expertise and interest exists. Most manufacturers have in-house talent that is ready and able to augment their current skills. However, some local small and medium manufacturers have opted to hire new employees with online marketing, e-commerce, digital sales, and/or social media expertise to speed up the implementation process, as well as inject new approaches to innovation within the company. Work with the education and hiring partners listed in the Find Help section to find digital talent with experience, freshly graduated, or as a temporary intern (with, ideally, intent to hire).
"Quick Wins" to Get Started with Digital B2B Platforms
Take a page from the playbooks of local manufacturers that are already up-and-running with digital platforms by following a few of their tips to jumpstart your use of these technologies:
- Set up Google Analytics on your website. Work with your IT lead, web developer, or agency to install Google Analytics code on the backend of your website. This will allow you to begin tracking a myriad of customer data points to inform your digital strategies, including: keywords visitors are searching to find your site; what pages they click through; how long they spend on each page; how many convert to contact you; and more. The service is free, and Google even offers a free beginner’s course to help you understand the most important data points to track.
- Talk to your customers. In addition to making use of all the customer data at your disposal, direct customer research through one-on-one interviews, focus groups, and surveys is critical to understanding their communication preferences, device ownership, digital platform and social network usage, and more. Rather than guess at what digital properties you should invest in, find out where your customers are and engage them on their terms.
- Give them options to contact you online. Consider your customers as digital customers in today’s age. Digital customers want a simple way to contact you online, whether it’s filling in an online lead form, emailing you directly, posting on your social media page, or messaging you or your sales and customer service teams through online chat. Give them one or more methods to reach out that fit seamlessly into their online experience.
- Ensure your website is “mobile-friendly.” Since 2015 when Google and other search engines tweaked their algorithms, websites that do not display properly on mobile devices have been penalized in search engine results. Translation? If your site still isn’t mobile friendly, it may not be showing up in prospect and customer searches for keywords related to your services and the products you manufacture. The most popular website content management systems all have bolt-on solutions to make your site mobile-friendly, or you can incorporate responsive web design into an overhaul of the site. Talk to your IT lead, web developer, or agency about your options.
- Gain experience through local events and free online resources. Visit the Find Help section for local educational and partnership resources. It’s also a great time to consider digital platforms for your business, as there are many free webinars and reasonably priced online courses to get up-to-speed with your technologies of choice. These resources all help to build the business case if you need to “sell” the idea of using digital platforms to leadership within your company.
- Reach out to people in the community. You’ve already taken the first step by reviewing the Quad Cities Manufacturing and Innovation Hub playbook. This playbook was drafted based on the input of our digital B2B platforms “Tech Team,” a group of local manufacturers that are currently implementing digital technologies for marketing, sales, service, and beyond. You’re invited to attend any of our Digital B2B User Group meetings and Hub Huddles as well to network with other manufacturers and learn straight from the source how they’re using these technologies to augment or replace existing processes to save time and money. Go to the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce events web page for upcoming meeting information and registration.
Metrics for Success: How to Measure Impact
When setting your objectives for digital platforms, you’ll need to tie goals to business impact using metrics for success. Without measuring and benchmarking the performance against traditional marketing, sales, service, and other customer engagement tactics, it will be more difficult to consistently improve processes, assess weaknesses, and secure future resources.
- Website (measure for each device that drives traffic, e.g. mobile, tablet, etc.): traffic, time spent on site, bounce rate, conversion rate, new vs. returning visitors
- Sales: lead quantity and quality, increased sales, repeat sales
- Search: higher SEO ranking for choice keywords
- Social media: increased engagement and sharing, brand sentiment
- Email: open rates, click-through rates
- Online advertising: impressions, click-through rates, conversions
- Operations: decreased cost of customer acquisition, increased employee productivity, ideas generated, efficiencies
Find Help with Regional Assets and Partners
In delivering this Digital B2B Platforms Playbook, among the seven other playbooks provided by the Quad Cities Manufacturing and Innovation Hub, our goal is to connect you to local resources you need to learn about and implement new technologies that will impact your business and our region in the future. In this section, you’ll find local experts, agencies, consultants, and specialists to help you succeed. Additionally, we’ve outlined national and global resources in some categories if local resources do not exist and/or the national resource is reputable.
Digital Marketing and Advertising Agencies
Website Development, Mobile, and SEO
In addition to many general marketing agencies offering web development services, there are specialty agencies that focus solely on websites, mobile-friendly sites, and mobile applications and marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), and other IT services. Many of these agencies can also advise on hardware technology solutions.
TapOnIt (mobile couponing only)
TwinState Technical Services
Online video is utilized by many manufacturers to promote their products, services, machinery, company culture, and more on websites like YouTube. Reach out to the videography firms below that can assist you in creating your online video strategy, scripting, video filming, editing, post-process effects, and more. These agencies also provide videography for traditional media like television commercials.
Prag’madik designs actionable solutions to customer operational challenge and helps implement them. Their core focus is working on the full change lifecycle to address internal and external transformation––from organizational culture impacts to long-term sustainability.
Media buying agencies can help negotiate rates and contracts with both traditional advertising outlets and advise on online advertising options, packages, and ad networks.
Media Link, Inc.
Iowa State University Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS)
The Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS) is part of the College of Engineering and the Office of Economic Development and Industry Relations at Iowa State University. CIRAS periodically offers an Internet Marketing Strategy Bootcamp where attendees learn techniques to grow their business through web-driven sales. The boot camp includes both one-on-one and group sessions. Participants develop and/or improve their actual websites, pay per click programs and or social media effort.
Eastern Iowa Community College (EICC)
EICC offers a variety of digital marketing certificates through its continuing education programs. More information on the following digital marketing certificates can be found at the link above: Content Marketing Associate; Digital Analytics and Conversion Professional; Email Marketing Associate; Email Marketing and Automation Professional; Mobile Marketing Associate; SEO Associate; Search Marketing Professional; Social Media Associate; Social and Mobile Marketing Professional; Web Analytics Associate; and Salesforce (CRM software) Power User. Other general professional certificates in Digital Marketing and Social Media for Business are also available.
In addition to the local options available to you, many institutions and organizations offer online certificates and courses in digital marketing topics, taught by seasoned professionals. We’ve included two options below, though there are many more that may fit your niche digital marketing need.
- General Assembly: Digital Marketing Circuit. 1-week accelerated online course option.
- Udacity: Digital Marketing Nanodegree or Self-Study Program. Both offered online.
The Digital B2B Platforms Playbook was created with the contributions, time, and talent of many members of our manufacturing and marketing community.
We’d like to extend a special thanks to:
- Brad Morrison, Riverbend Signworks
- Tom Trone, TNTrone Associates
- John Nelson, ESCP Corp.
Additional thanks to our playbook author Jaimy Szymanski, editor Curt Burnett, and designer Bradley Ellis
Glossary: Key Digital B2B Platform Terms
All definitions provided by online education source, General Assembly,12 unless otherwise noted.
Analytics – information resulting from the systematic analysis of data or statistics. In digital marketing, analytics is the information resulting from systematic analysis of data gathered from marketing activity such as email marketing, landing page A/B testing, or Google Adwords purchases.
Average order amount – the amount of all orders divided by the total number of orders; used in digital marketing to help calculate the necessary reach, along with CTR and conversion rate.
Banner ads – also known as “display ads”, these advertising units are images that advertisers place on known publishers’ websites in order to attract or re-attract their target audience.
Baseline – an established level of normalcy; in digital marketing, for example, the normal or regular number of unique visitors per day to a website.
Blogging – from the term “web log”, in which a user actively updates a visible section of a website in order to inform or attract users and customer on a regular basis.
Channels – a delivery mechanism; in digital marketing, a business’s message is delivered via one or more marketing channel such as email, social media, blogging, advertisements, etc.
Click Through Rate (CTR) – the percentage of the targeted audience that is exposed to the marketer’s message that click on the link provided in the message and land on the marketer’s web property.
Conversion rate – the percentage of unique visitors to a website that are “converted” into customers, users, or leads.
Digital marketing calendar – a tool that provides for time-based structure and discipline for the digital marketer in planning, assigning, creating, and delivering content to the marketer’s target audience.
Digital marketing funnel – a visualization of the calculations that starts with the total universe of targeted audiences, then measures those who click on a link from marketing content, the click through rate (CTR), the conversion rate, total conversions, order amount, and revenue.
Distribution – the means by which a product or service is delivered to its end user or customer
Earned content – content not created by the marketer, but rather created and shared by fans of the marketer’s message to the fan’s social and other digital connections.
Engagement – in digital marketing, the term for user interaction with a particular piece of shared content: Likes, shares, comments on Facebook; RTs, replies, favorites on Twitter, and link clicks on all social media.
Facebook Ads – the program operated by Facebook that enables paying customers to use hyper-targeting via Facebook profile tags and traits to reach a certain specific audience via advertisements placed in the users’ timeline.
Frequency – in digital marketing, how often a task is performed; for example, the frequency of a blog post or twitter update.
Google Adwords – the program operated by Google that enables paying customers to use hyper-targeting via Google Search Engine Results Page (SERP) to reach a certain specific audience via advertisements placed at the top and right sides of the search results.
Google Keyword Planning Tool – a free tool provided by Google within the Google Adwords interface that helps users find and plan which keywords to target with their advertising campaigns
KPIs – Key Performance Indicators
Owned content – content created or curated by the marketer in order to promote the marketer’s message to the target audience; owned content typically consists of blog posts and social media posts and images, but should also be applied to any message that proceeds out of the marketer’s company and into the target audience, such as email signatures.
Page views – the number of times a web page or set of web pages are viewed during a given time period.
Pages per visit – the average number of pages viewed by a single visitor during a given time period.
Paid content – content pushed out by the marketer via any paid means such as Facebook ads, Google Adwords, Twitter Ads, or banner (display) ads.
Persona – the ideal compilation of all the traits of the “perfect” user or customer for a marketer’s product or service.
Retargeting – the technology, driven by web browser cookies, that enables a marketer to continually put a digital message in front of a user who has visited that marketer’s web property.
Sales cycle – the time required for a sales conversion to be completed after the prospect initially becomes aware of the marketer’s brand or product.
SEO – Search Engine Optimization – the practice of preparing a web property to be quickly, easily, and properly indexed by a search engine, usually Google.
SERP – Search Engine Results Page
Time on site – the average time that a website visitor remains active on a particular website.
Total reach – the total exposure (measured in web users or “eyeballs”) of an advertisement or piece of content.
Twitter Ads – the program operated by Twitter that enables paying customers to use hyper-targeting via Twitter users’ profile data to reach a certain specific audience via advertisements placed in the users’ timeline.