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Strategy is Hard - It's Going to be Wrong Because the Future is...the Future!

Strategy is about where your market is going. Who your buyers will be. What your buyers will need. How you'll deliver that.

Most of what passes for strategy in the industrial manufacturing space is actually time-worn tactics with fancy names put on them. You'll hear chitter-chatter about:

Manufacturing Sales Strategy

Digital Strategy for Manufacturers

Digital Marketing Strategy

But what do they mean? How do they apply to your business? Should they?

Often not. 

In fact, the pitter-patter turns out to be simple variations on traditional execution described in grandiose "strategy" terms.

And size isn't the answer. Just as many boutique firms boast of strategy and obsess over tactics, similarly blue ribbon consulting firms will often charge handsome rates for junior associates to deliver find & replace decks and bound reports that provide what execs may expect to hear, and a linear projection based on recency bias.

That's not strategy.

If you're worried about positioning your company for future success and vitality, here's how we suggest you think about it.

manufacturers must anticipate market changes when they create digital strategy

Your Products, Use Cases, And USPs Will Change

It's banal to note that markets change. It's true. But it's really hard to plan and to quantify. We all get that.

As Bill Gates warns "We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten."

The key to strategy for industrial manufacturers, therefore, is to simultaneously:

  • execute relentlessly on what's working today
  • plan for incremental change in the short-medium term
  • creatively anticipate the larger-scale changes that will disrupt a market

In the industrial manufacturing space that could include 3D Printing (additive manufacturing), e-commerce, cloud and data (e.g. remote monitoring), changing consumer habits that impact customers' businesses and more.

An effective board with independent directors will ensure the executive staff blends current management with future strategy.

And a strong consultant will blend short-term advice and results with a long-term perspective.

digital strategy for manufacturers must anticipate changing customer behaviors

And So Will Your Buyers

As your market changes, your buyers will too.

And yet most manufacturing and capital equipment companies define their ideal customer profile (ICP) according to the same criteria they traditionally have.

That's a mistake.

As your business evolves it changes. As your market evolves, your place in it - and therefore your ICP - changes. As consumer expectations change, your old ICP may fail to adapt - and therefore your target changes.

Strategy must account for this. In most middle-market manufacturing companies, though, product marketing simply tracks competitors. The founder runs R&D according to their interests.

That's not strategy. That's a hobby.

It's critical to understand your buyers before you undertake any product road mapping, sales strategy planning or digital marketing design.



new product development is core to manufacturing strategy

New Product Vitality Index (NPVI)

3M generates >30% of its sales from products which didn't exist five years ago.

Of course....they have big R&D budgets, large sales and marketing teams, lots of resources to make that happen. AND they created the concept of NPVI to hold themselves accountable.

At the same time, $10B in new product sales (30% of approx $30B) is a massive number. To position your middle-market business for success will take much less.

It's doable.

But....it's a massive change management project.

If you want to dabble in tactics, then focus on tweaking the manufacturing of the machines and products you always have, with small, incremental adaptations. That's a strategy by default.

If you plan or aspire to grow, though, then build a team that will help you create and launch new products.


Buying Habits Change Like Markets

COVID probably changed your trade show and T&E budgets. Maybe they're coming back, but it will be a long time before they're the same.

That means a substantial change in how industrial manufacturers market and sell their products.

Revenue growth strategy today requires more than understanding market trends, changing buyer expectations, and creating suitable new products. It requires a strategic (legitimately) approach to using sales methods, technology and digital techniques to identify, attract and engage with buyers.

Your traditional website, marketing and industrial sales org chart, resource allocation and approaches probably won't work.

Let's Talk Strategy

Is Strategy What You Really Need? Want?

It's OK to say "No!"

You might just want to tweak around the edges.


What's Your Industry Role

Sometimes companies are purpose built to follow. That's OK.

That's a strategy itself - and not one I'll help much with.


Technically Capable

Some companies aspire to great strategic goals, but lack the management, technical and leadership resources to achieve them.

Can your company?


How Strong is Your Position?

Major strategic shifts create turmoil. Strong communication with the market helps externally while strong leadership is important internally. 


Would You Rather Tweak?

Of course, it makes sense to test and experiment. But some companies never want to move beyond that.

Would you?


You'll Lose People

Some long-time loyal employees won't come out the other side with you.

Can you handle that?


Do you believe your market is changing radically?


You may want to talk to Ed.

industry knowledge graph

There is NO Canned Answer

You can't fix manufacturing sales strategy with a new email prospecting program alone.

You can't create a digital marketing strategy for industrial sales by starting a blog and running some ads.

You can't conceive and execute a digital strategy for manufacturers without really understanding global markets, business trends, finance, and technology trends.

Developing a manufacturing strategy is a creative journey that will challenge some long-standing assumptions. It will touch on your markets, products, financial model, workforce, customers, sales and marketing.

It's exhilarating....but it's more than hiring a sales trainer or marketing agency.



Frequently Asked Questions

Do you help with digital marketing?

Sometimes. Actually, often.

But that's not where we start. Lots of inbound marketing agencies talk of experience in manufacturing and capital equipment, boast of sales training capability, and offer to make marketing easy.

It's not.

And none of it matters if you're not making the right products to sell to the right buyers in the right ways.

We normally start at the beginning.

Do you do sales training?


But how do you know that's what you need?

In most cases strategy needs to be clarified. Then, with an understanding of buyers, a sales process identified.

Your sales team might be perfect, or they could be ill-suited for the requirements regardless of training.

And even if everything else is properly developed, you might need a sales consultant instead of a sales trainer.

What skills does a manufacturing strategist need?

I'm biased - because I know the threads that I pull together to make it work.

But in answer, I'd say:

  • deep experience in industrial manufacturing (including all applicable channels)
  • carried a P&L
  • sold deals of a comparable magnitude to yours
  • managed sales teams
  • managed marketing teams
  • deep expertise with salestech, martech, and industry trends including cloud data, IIot, 3D Printing, recurring revenue/subscriptions
  • qualified as an independent director (to bring the perspective necessary)
Who will participate?

We'll plan that together.

But make no mistake. This is the CEO/president/GM's project.

There will be input from team members and senior staff, but this is about planning the direction of your company.

3D Printing won't impact our industry


But I disagree.

This may mean we're not a good fit.

But let's back up for a minute. Is there any chance that your customers, or your customers' customers might see an opportunity to use it?

Then it will impact your industry.

Maybe it doesn't replace your factory, but it could certainly change how your customers run theirs.

It's crazy to ignore it.

How long does an industrial manufacturing strategy project take?

We'll be able to figure out where you are, where the market's headed and how to adjust course to close the gap pretty quickly - 3-4 months

But if the answer is an acquisition, and you will need a year to digest that, it will take longer. Similarly if you have to turn over most of your sales and marketing team, hire new R&D talent, build new partnerships, etc., then the execution of the strategy will take time.

Why are you so specific about the term "strategy"?

Because it's misused.

And that misuse is a clear and immediate signal that the people doing so simply don't understand what strategy is.

Tactics are the steps you execute in pursuit of the big picture strategy.

When someone talks about manufacturing sales strategy or digital marketing strategy and jumps in anywhere downstream from your market, just run away.

What will it cost?

Good question.

That depends.

Probably in the range of $100K in advisory services over the course of the first year.

Additional resource requirements (staff, technology, etc.) additional.

Ready to get started? Learn More.