By Greg Mischio Founder-Strategist-Writer-Speaker

Organizations in the air filtration industry have typically relied on their sales teams to deliver new prospects. Due to the complexity of your products and your customers, you’ve had no choice.

However, COVID-19 has accelerated a trend toward digitalization that’s upsetting even the long-held sales and marketing model. It’s requiring companies to create what we call a “Digital Twin” of their sales team.

Before we dive deeper into what this looks like, let’s take a closer look at the eternal challenges that have fostered the sales-driven organization.

Leaning on sales by necessity
The air filtration industry isn’t all that different from any other sector. Every company faces the following sets of challenges, and the common reason why you lean on salespeople is complexity.

Challenge #1: Many customers, many different languages to understand
It would be gravy if you could run an ad or create a website page and just speak to one persona. But manufacturers and distributors deal with a number of different personas in the buying process, including purchasing, engineering and your overall end user.

Challenge #2: Your prospects have multiple objectives
These can be broken down into two overall categories: explicit (product details, specs, price, delivery time) and implicit (your company reputation, social proof, sales, support). Depending on the specific customer, you need to emphasize certain objectives over others.

Challenge #3: Your products and services are complex
Explaining the merits of the right tensioning procedure on a V-belt is a bit more complex than running a Facebook ad for a pair of flip flops. It’s why companies have traditionally hired engineers and technicians and then trained them in sales and marketing.

Challenge #4: You have lengthy sales cycles
Challenges 1-3 all combine to produce sales cycles that range from four months to over a year for the most complex purchases. It’s amazing it’s not even longer, considering the next challenge that has entered the fray.

The not-so-new challenge: your customers are prequalifying you online
According to a report from SiriusDecisions, nearly 67% of the b2b purchasing process takes place online. Keep in the mind that the salesperson is still critical in the process. It’s just that we’re not exactly sure when customers will turn to them during the buying process.

What is clear is that more and more of the sales journey is taking place via the Internet. And when they look, you need to be there.

Enter the Digital Twin
You’ve likely heard of the Digital Twin concept if you’re in manufacturing and even if you’re not, it’s a fairly easy concept to grasp. Essentially, it’s creating a digital replica of a manufacturing machine or process.

A Digital Twin allows you to test prototypes, experiment with different materials, and tinker with processes to produce different outputs in a digital setting.

So why not take the same approach with your sales team? Since such a large portion of your sales process is taking place online, it’s mission-critical that you recreate the mainstay of your marketing efforts in a digital format.

And how do you do this? With your content.

Your marketing should mirror your sales team’s approach
There’s an immutable law of sales, which is about as eternal as the challenges we listed above:

Customers won’t do business with you unless they know you, like you and trust you.

To create a Digital Twin of your sales team, you’ll need to create content that helps people get to know you, like you and trust you. How does this work?

Think of it this way. It’s much like the traditional sales funnel, and your content should correspond to each stage:

Know you: informational content
At the initial entry point into the sales funnel, you’re just introducing yourself to a prospect. And there’s no better way to engage someone than to have them talk about their problems and their issues first. So, talk about their problems on a broad level, and feature some high-level solutions (much like we’re doing with this article).

Content description: Informative, focused on customer problems.

Content formats: Blog posts, videos, infographics, guest blogs, social media posts.

Goal: Add them to your newsletter list (email only), brand exposure, rank for semantic keywords.

Like you: helpful tools
Now that you’re a familiar face, it’s time to build on the relationship and truly lend a helping hand. You’ve identified some of their key problems; now provide a solution. In terms of content, this can be an online calculator or a diagnostic tool. Anything that helps them solve their problem.

Content description: Interactive tools, solving problems related to your products and services.

Content formats: Downloadable charts, checklists, or online calculators. (White papers, yes, but ungate them unless you have proprietary research.)

Goal: Add them to your email list (with company info), LinkedIn connection.

Trust you: product and service details, backed by social proof
OK, now you’ve got someone who knows you and likes you. It’s time to sell. And to do that, you’re not only going to roll out your products and services, but you’re also going to let your data and case studies do the talking.

Build your trust by showcasing the others who have had their trust in you rewarded with success.

Content description: Product and services web pages, social proof, links to case studies.

Content formats: Website pages.

Goal: Form submission with detailed company information, phone inquiries.

Let your Digital Twin be a complement, not a replacement
In no way, shape or form are we suggesting you discard your sales team. They are absolutely critical to closing sales and generating revenue.

Now they need to be a critical part of helping you create the Digital Twin that can ensure you’re part of the new customer journey. Enlist your sales team to work closely with marketing, and build strategic content to ensure your customers find you when they start looking.