In working with dozens of manufacturing and industrial firms over the years, many of these firms have had the idea of expanding into adjacent industries. After gaining as much market share in one category, these companies wonder how to penetrate a new industry. How do I sell into the aerospace industry? How do I grow into the automotive industry? How do I expand into the evolving space industry? Most of them keep on wondering. Why?
Well, companies are busy! It can be challenging enough getting products out the door today, dealing with customer issues, market issues. Planning an attack on an adjacent category, especially when you don’t have direct experience with that industry, well, let’s kick that to next month.
Thus, ideas remain ideas rather than actionable goals.
So how can a manufacturing or industrial firm, or any company for that matter, expand into a new industry? The answer is how to eat an elephant: bit by bit. A corollary is to just do it. Have faith that for every action, there will be a reaction.
Here are 5 keys that your company might consider in its expansion plan.
1. Appoint a champion. Someone within the company needs to own the goal. Ideally, this person would raise their hand to own it. Or it just gets assigned. Perhaps it’s an executive. Perhaps it’s a salesperson. Perhaps it’s an engineer. This person needs to be empowered and incented to perform. They also need SMART goals: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-defined. If no one in the company has the availability, then you may need to hire a champion. If you do this, it’s preferred to hire someone from the target industry.
2. Target a niche within the industry. Okay, so you’re David trying to take down Goliath. Don’t fight the way others fight or compete. Find a niche within the industry where you think you may win. Now, stop thinking about your product and start thinking about the customer. Narrow it down. Perhaps it’s a supplier in the category. Perhaps it’s an OEM. Well, what division, what team within the OEM, what need states do they have. It may not be for your product. It may be for your material expertise or engineering, or general availability to start a new project. You never know exactly what’s going on in the mind of a prospect. It helps to bet on yourself, have what you think maybe a stupid conversation. Risk it. Do it.
3. Own a value proposition. This follows #2. If you can identify a niche and market/client need, you can now start to refine your value proposition. By the way, this is where many manufacturing and industrial companies need help from an outside consultant. We’ve assisted many manufacturing firms through our “brand strategy and positioning analysis” exercise. It takes about 3 weeks and from this, you’ll receive a revised/refined brand strategy, articulated positioning within the new market, clear messaging, and even a few marketing strategies. Regarding this step, manufacturing firms are 1) just too close to the flagpole and 2) not trained or experienced in extracting high-value brand, positioning, and marketing strategies.
4. It’s been said that good parenting boils down to two things: proximity over time. Be close to your kids over years. The same is true in marketing. Be there. Be present. Instead of wondering how to sell into the new category, go to their trade shows. Sign up for webinars. Exert the investment of time and proximity. Get to know people. People do business with those they know and like. Do that, especially when you know that your competitors in the space are “fat and happy.” Their salespeople have become farmers rather than hunters. Be the hunter. Gain the nod. You will, even if it’s just a small test. Other basics. Improve your website. Perhaps it’s just a landing page. Begin to articulate yourself as if you are already “in” that category. As we’ve learned about people expecting promotions, act like you’re already in the position and you’ll get the position. Try imagining your prospective buyer’s journey. They run across your champion at a trade show. They then visit your website. They’re going to expect an easy experience. How readily can they find info on their industry? Is there a video? A value-added downloadable? Also, work on your SEO for new search terms. Are there industry directories you should be listed in? Make sure you’re doing re-targeting in search engine marketing. Start working on the marketing basics.
5. This is a more advanced strategy that works. Just imagine that when a buyer is Googling your new competitor in the category and your ad or your search return pops up. Again, this buyer has entered the competitor’s name, not a general search term. And you come up. Perhaps your return uses some teasing language like “XYZ versus (your company), see the difference.” Or (XYZ) replacement guide.” There are some hacks to be had here with both robots (the search engines) and humans (the prospect.) This strategy uses a combination of tactics to produce superior results in the paid ads and SEO space targeting searches for competitors. Nice way to penetrate a new category!
We believe that marketing should be easy. “Hard marketing” is marketing that stays at the 30,000-foot level. Like planes, marketing eventually needs to land. That’s where the value is: onboarding and offboarding. We help clients right there. Achieve the 30,000-foot goal by landing marketing. This can certainly be accomplished by targeting a goal of expanding into a new category, as daunting as it may seem now.
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