How this marketer got a traditional manufacturing business to embrace digital

B2B brand talks about how it has seen leads spike as a result of the Australian team's efforts to embrace digital marketing and transformation

Getting your global business to embrace digital transformation isn’t always easy. But the Australian marketing team at B2B brand, Linde Material Handling, has managed to do just that after taking the plunge and overhauling its digital marketing approach.

During this week’s B2B Marketing Leaders Forum Asia-Pacific in Sydney, Linde Material Handling’s local director of marketing, George Pappas, shared his brand’s journey from digital ignorance to authority, and the key steps taken to get there.

While Linde Material Handling is a well-known, leading manufacturing brand in Europe, it suffers from brand awareness challenges in other regions including Australia. In addition, while the business has prided itself on being a manufacturer that embraces high-tech, its digital knowledge and interest was “virtually zero”, Pappas said.

Specific challenges in Australia, meanwhile, included a strong competitor, Toyota Material Handling, which had successfully leveraged its automotive brand to propel the manufacturing vehicles business forward, along with limited interest and sales opportunities from the smaller and medium enterprise space.

“Most customers in the smaller part of the market have a completely different idea of what they need, and almost no one who inquires about forklifts or handling products that has fewer than 500 employees actually buys what they think they need,” Pappas commented. “This is a highly complex, application solution driven industry.

“Ecommerce for us therefore doesn’t work.”

What digital could provide, however, is the ability to better educate potential customers of the value of Linde’s products and expertise, particularly in that SME end of town. So in 2012, Pappas set out to bring digital thinking into the organisation from Australia. He admitted global constraints were “absolutely prohibitive”.

“There was complete ambivalence towards digital, and we refused to endorse social media,” he said. “Our philosophy was that we have the best forklifts in the world – so here’s a brochure, go sell it. The website was terrible globally, and not scalable. We knew we weren’t able to penetrate the marketplace because of that website, and with no social, no optimisation, we had nothing.”

At the beginning of 2013 and as an initial proof point, Linde commissioned a study to better understand the behaviour of SMEs when purchasing industrial equipment. The research found 70 per cent of such buyers were starting their investigation and search online.

In 2014, Linde locally then undertook an audit of its digital footprint.

“Within the noise of what was going on at the time, we had our own YouTube video, the subject of which was forklift safety, that had 500,000 views. We didn’t understand what that was as a business – people were looking at it, what does it mean?” Pappas commented.

“I put together a digital concept document, but even then my mindset at the time was who do we have to pay? And how quickly can this happen? The digital guys said it’s not that simple. You need content, to be relevant, be authentic, to start doing SEO, and so on.”

Pappas also stopped Linde’s traditional media spend in industry magazines and print publications, and pulled brochure production down to a minimum, in order to divert existing budget to digital investment and the new website build.

“The backlash was extreme locally and globally. They believed we’d die, cease to exist,” Pappas said.

“We started building the new website, but without having directional authority to do it. But there was a clear belief that Armageddon was coming, and it was going to be the end of our penetration in the marketplace. For that first couple of months, inquiry levels slowed down, things weren’t looking great.”

Despite this, Pappas and the team knew that once leads were generated, its sales conversion rates were well above average. While not disclosing a specific figure, he indicated the ratio of conversions was more than 50 per cent.

“We have a wonderful product, great value proposition, a committed and effective sales organisation that’s deeply engaged, a heavily integrated CRM, and we convert a lot of our inquiries,” he said. “As a marketing business, we can tell our level of success by measuring two things: Incoming inquiries and conversion. If inquiries go up, and conversion stays the same or improves, all is well.”

In the first quarter of 2015, Linde consolidated its local agencies to one. “That was critical – we had a single through to choke and were dealing with one agency that really understood our business,” Pappas said.

It also started investing in ad words and remarketing activities, gaining a steady improvement in inbound inquiries. In Q2, Linde kicked off Linkedin supported sales activities and its social presence through Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.

“We are focusing on meaningful messages important to its customers,” Pappas said.

Having already seen lead generation increase, the biggest spike came in July when the company launched its mobile-friendly website design and user experience, complete with customer stories, dedicated SME section, and easy-to-use product navigation.

“Just before that, our global CEO visited and I described our vision and showed him the website,” Pappas continued. “He wanted us to go for it, despite the fact that we were countering corporate culture at the time.”

By November 2015, the team was questioning if its numbers were real, as inquiries and sales leaped year-on-year.

In 2016, Pappas said the focus is on ramping up activities and maturing its integrated marketing strategy.

While digital expertise was necessary along the way, Pappas put Linde’s success down to the organisation’s culture and commitment to doing things better.

“Our objective is simple – to get prospects to learn enough about us to contact us,” he said. “Once they’re in the sales process, we’re confident our people will do what they need to do.”

Linde has now established a digital transformation team globally, a decision Pappas said stemmed from the work done in Australia on the website, platforms and social media.

Through the process, Pappas said the biggest lesson he learnt is that you can’t stop work once you start, nor is there a clear destination you need to reach with digital.

“There are also no shortcuts – we had to invest money, time and energy. And there’s no success without risk – you’re never going to be successful without risk,” he added.

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