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Industrial Buyers – Their Preferences and How to Market to Them

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Understanding the mindset of industrial buyers is important if you market to engineers and technical professionals. There are plenty of research reports published on buyer personas and the buying habits of consumers, but they focus mainly on B2C marketing. You can find data on general B2B marketing, but it is somewhat limited when it comes to industrial marketing.

There are four annual surveys/reports that are done specifically about industrial buyers and manufacturing or engineering marketing. I read them regularly and I’m honored to be quoted in some of them.

Sources and tools used by industrial buyers

It shouldn’t surprise you that the majority of industrial buyers prefer digital or online sources and tools for gathering information when making their buying decisions. That was clear from the findings from all the reports that I am about to cite here. It is okay if you are somewhat skeptical about the findings considering the sources of the data, but it shouldn’t take anything away from you gaining a better understanding of the behavior and habits of industrial buyers.

The first chart is from the 2019 Industrial Buying Habits report published by TheomasNet.

Online tools useed by industrial buyers

Engineers primarily used digital channels for their information gathering. The next chart is from How Engineers Find Information 2019, produced by Digital publications were the most commonly accessed form of engineering information, followed by online training and then (good news for marketers) vendor websites.

How engineers find information

Importance of websites for industrial buyers

Despite all the evidence pointing towards industrial buyers using digital channels, I’m often asked by manufacturers and engineering companies if it is worth investing in an industrial website redesign or should they put that money towards hiring more salespeople.

I don’t believe salespeople are obsolete, and they are definitely needed, but their roles have changed in the industrial buying process. This change is driven by buyers who are in self-select and self-serve mode. They don’t need and/or want to talk to salespeople to get information.

The money spent on converting an informational site that is used as a digital “leave behind” into a serious sales tool, will continue to pay rich dividends over a long period of time. Besides, you couldn’t hire a productive professional salesperson for the cost of a site redesign.

Still need convincing? Look at these findings from the 2019 Smart Marketing for Engineers® published jointly by IEEE GlobalSpec and TREW Marketing.

  1. “When engineers are in the buying process for a new product or service for work, their top preference is to search on vendor and distributor websites and read content first before talking to a salesperson (65 percent). Only 14 percent prefer to talk to a salesperson early in their research.”
  2. “For the majority of engineers, nearly 60 percent of the buying process happens online – from early research to the final purchase decision – before they speak to the vendor.”

Industrial buyers use vendor websites

Industrial buyers complete 60% of their journey online

One more piece of evidence from the ThomasNet report.

Importance on industrial websites for buyers

It is one thing to publish content on industrial websites, but it matters who produces that content as seen in the next chart from the same report. What is amazing is that these findings have remained consistent over the past 3 or 4 years.

Who do engineers trust?

Converting site visitors into industrial buyers

If you’ve been doing manufacturing content marketing, you know that just publishing content doesn’t move the needle. According to the 2019 Manufacturing Content Marketing Trends—North America report published by Content Marketing Institute/MarketingProfs Creating, “68% of manufacturing marketers are challenged by ‘Creating content that appeals to multi-level roles within the target audience(s).’”

While product datasheets and specifications are very important in the industrial buying decisions, those alone cannot give you the edge over your competition when there is parity in Value Propositions.

The report that I cited earlier, found that “36% of engineers would request an RFP based on thought leadership.”

Thought leadership leads to RFPs from industrial buyers

Okay, let’s move on to the actual conversion when engineers and buyers fill out online forms. I’ve seen very detailed online forms that are typically RFQs. The fact is, the more fields you have, the higher the resistance to submiting the form.

Sometimes people will provide bad data (read as lies) when filling out online forms. I remember a while back, Vince Giorgi (@vgiorgi) had published a post, “How Much Do We Lie On Landing Pages?” where he raised some interesting questions about the quality of data collected from online forms in landing pages.

“The four fields engineers are most likely to complete on a web form are work email address, company, first name and last name.”

Form fields that industrial buyers are willing to fill

Industrial buyers expect quick responses

You may not be meeting the buyers’ expectations if you let your submitted forms sit somewhere for a while before someone from your company responds. Speed matters when it comes to responding to online inquires. Automated, generic responses won’t cut it either. Buyers expect answers to their specific questions.

Speed of response matters to industrial buyers

These research findings should give you a deeper understanding of industrial buyers and their preferences which will help you market to them effectively.

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Achinta Mitra

Achinta Mitra calls himself a “marketing engineer” because he combines his engineering education and an MBA with 35+ years of practical manufacturing and industrial marketing experience. You want an expert with an insider’s knowledge and an outsider’s objectivity who can point you in the right direction immediately. That's Achinta. He is the Founder of Tiecas, Inc., a manufacturing marketing agency in Houston, Texas. Read Achinta's story here.
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  1. John Coe says:

    Hi Achinta,
    I truly enjoyed reading this blog as so much of B2B content is about technology purchases (software, etc) and ignores the larger industrial B2B market. In fact it’s so under reported it seems like it doesn’t even exist. Having started my career in the chemical/plastics industry I really appreciate your insights. Keep it up!
    John Coe, [email protected]

    • Achinta Mitra says:

      Thanks for your kind words. Glad to meet a fellow marketer who also started in the industrial sector. I focus 100% on manufacturing and engineering. Do revisit as I post new content regularly.

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