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Leadership & Mentoring

Marketing for manufacturers: what you need to know

A coherent sales and marketing strategy is vital for any business, but it’s something that doesn’t always come naturally to manufacturers. Phil Anders, specialist Manufacturing Advisor at the Business Growth Hub, breaks down why it’s so important for this sector. 

Sales and marketing is one of the most prominent skills gaps I find in small and medium sized manufacturers. There’s a lot of very understandable reasons for this. Founders and senior managers in manufacturing tend to come from a manufacturing background. They can often be start-ups, time-served engineers or those that see the opportunity to do something better than competitors. They will clearly understand the shop floor and the fine details of their process, but sales and marketing often doesn’t come to them naturally. The day-to-day requirements of life on the shop floor can make it seem like a distant priority.

Many manufacturers also often find themselves having to move very quickly into lateral markets, without the time to consider a strategic approach to marketing. Others, especially specialists in niche markets, have traditionally got by simply through word-of-mouth.

The world is changing

But the world of marketing is moving fast, and all manufacturers need to work hard to keep up. Traditional approaches, such as database marketing and sales calls or newspaper adverts, are unlikely to have the same impact on their own in today’s online world. In fact, some of these approaches are no longer even viable - the recent GDPR regulations have changed the game completely by making it much more difficult to contact people directly.

Marketing now needs to be a much more integrated, multi-platform activity. It’s more important than ever to have a fully-functioning web and social media presence - even for subcontracting manufacturers several steps back in supply chains. Even if you feel largely invisible in the public realm, others in your supply chain are likely to be active on social media, so you should be too. Gone are the days where customers simply find suppliers through word-of-mouth or events; prospective buyers need to find you online as well. You should be using all the platforms available to you to maximise visibility.

I heard a fantastic example a few years ago of a business that serviced and repaired a certain type of machine that was no longer in production. Customers were asking them for tips on fixing their machines, so they put a video up on Youtube. The video was an unexpectedly huge success, resulting in the company setting up production again for the first time in years.

Find a shoulder to lean on

You know your product better than anyone, but sometimes being so close to it can hold you back from seeing new opportunities. This is where bringing in someone from the outside can help, although it can be hard to find the right external support that fully understands your world.

Here at the GC Business Growth Hub, we’ve helped to match a wide range of manufacturers across the North West with the right people to implement a coherent, fully-integrated sales and marketing strategy. In fact, around a fifth of the grants we’ve awarded in the last three years - over £100,000 in total - have been focused on sales and marketing.

A great example was STM Power Transmissions in Cheshire. They had developed a strong business model around servitisation and wanted to expand their reach to major OEMs and high-end supply chains. I worked with them to procure the services of a sales and marketing agency, who developed a comprehensive strategy to position them as a leader in their field. As well as creating a new job and increasing sales, the resulting multi-channel marketing plan has helped them towards developing a global presence, helping to mitigate the risks of Brexit.

How to get started

If you’re just starting out on a new marketing strategy, or need a refresh, here are some tips I recommend:


1. Do your research: Understand your markets and your position within them. We’ve created a useful factsheet to help
2. Explore what motivates your customers: Use trusted, long-term partners for surveys or feedback activities. You could also use the Kano model to understand customer motivation
3. Be targeted: Normally, marketing tends to be about making as loud a noise as possible in the marketplace, but manufacturers need to be much more targeted. Identify who you ultimately want to be in front of and work from there
4. Don’t forget data: Make use of the data you gather from all sources; this can provide valuable insight and inform the strategy
5. Use the skills of your young people: Millennials have a completely different mindset to those of us who have been around long enough to lose our hair. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of their already well-honed digital skills and creativity
6. Talk to us: Speak to one of our Manufacturing Advisors about fully-funded support or grant funding, we’re here to help!

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Manufacturing Network
Phil Anders

Phil Anders, Manufacturing Advisor

Phil has over 20 years experience, supporting business growth for small and medium manufacturing enterprises.

Formerly delivering the Manufacturing Advisory Service (MAS), Phil is well versed in working with manufacturers to identify growth opportunities and implementing operational improvement plans. A Six Sigma Green belt, Phil is a lean manufacturing expert with specialisms in continuous improvement, waste minimisation and quality management.

To view Phil's full profile including technical capabilities and industry experience, please click here.

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