The need for sustainable packaging ideas poses such a challenge to the consumer goods industry that it is open to new suppliers. Packaging suppliers must, therefore, become visible and searchable with their solutions on the web, says Matthias Giebel of Berndt + Partner Consultants – even if that means putting customer acquisitions on completely new feet.
You say that old ways of acquiring new customers in the packaging industry no longer work. What do you mean by that?
Matthias Giebel: For decades, the common tool for acquiring new customers in the packaging industry was cold calling: sales departments got on the phone and called potential customers. All you had to do was go to the supermarket, they said, and you’d have a list of dairies and you’d work through it. This approach has been undesirable in the branded goods industry, for example, since before the Covid-19 pandemic, when preferred suppliers were specifically sought out. The pandemic has accelerated this.
Why is this form of acquisition no longer desirable?
The industry is facing major challenges due to the relatively new requirements of the circular economy. Brand owners need new materials, they need recyclates; and when they change the inner packaging of a candy from plastic to paper, it sounds easy, but it’s not. Because it means working with a material that for a long time was not in focus at all. That builds up a lot of pressure. The brand owners are all blocked by the requirements of the circular economy. They are actively looking for very specific solutions, they don’t have the capacity to take calls from suppliers who are acting on good luck.
You are a consulting agency for the packaging industry. What is your advice?
We need a revolution: digital and content-based new customer acquisition. Packaging developers today no longer just call their suppliers in search of truly new solutions but use Google or get information on LinkedIn. Packaging companies need to be found there and show that they have solutions for the brand owners’ pain points. And we also advise them to run paid content, i.e., the ads that are at the top of the Google results lists. In the meantime, people do click on these ads for reasons of time – and it is rewarded that someone is willing to spend money to present himself professionally on the relevant topics.
But Google results and Google ads have to lead somewhere. How can that work without a website?
A specific website must take on the function of a landing page, where visitors arrive via search engines and social media, and look very different than it does now. It must be sorted by industries, target groups and problem solutions instead of by products. It should offer an easily accessible wide range of well-prepared information, for example videos or product teasers. Touchpoints are needed at every level, such as invitations to video chats or even the opportunity to block out half an hour in the sales staff’s schedule without much ado. Yes, sales employees lose control over their calendars, but they gain contact with customers who come of their own accord, bring a specific topic and problem with them, and are open to solutions.
This means a fundamental change in structures and processes.
Yes, it does. There needs to be an additional world for new customer acquisition alongside key account management for existing customer development. This relationship management is something many packaging companies have cultivated and perfected over the years, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are increasing their stakes with customers. In the new world, work (i.e., orders) is no longer the result of well-maintained relationships, but promising relationships are the result of content-based work online. That’s what we mean when we say digital and content-based.
So, what needs to be changed?
The new world of new customer acquisition requires not only comprehensive online content and regular campaigns, but a stronger interaction between sales and communications departments. Sales has to write the white papers; it needs all the relatively new know-how on environmental standards and carbon footprints. Salespeople have always needed product know-how, but now it’s a question of targeting the pain points of the customer.
The communications department’s main task is to present the company and its products and make it findable for search engines. Do companies first have to scale up for this?
That depends on the company. Cold calling and creating brochures are also a lot of work. And the effects of at least the printed works can hardly be measured. What you achieve via Google ads and LinkedIn, on the other hand, is immediately measurable. You can discard what doesn’t work and build on what works well. So, the work is much more results-oriented and effective, and the bounce rate is minimal because the leads that come in are already teased. Many underestimate the power behind LinkedIn. It is possible to filter the specific target groups exactly throughout Europe. So far, only a few percent of companies have systematically exploited this. But yes, exciting content is needed on an ongoing basis. If there’s no posting for two months, no one will come on their own.
Let’s talk about impact. How successful is digital and content-based new customer acquisition as you describe it?
Two caveats: The shift to this form of new customer acquisition is still relatively new; Berndt + Partner, for example, helped launch the first content platforms shortly before the Covid-19 pandemic. And the lack of measurability of cold calling makes it difficult to compare today with the past. Nevertheless, it can be said that the number of qualified leads, i.e., new customer contacts with serious interest, has increased significantly among the customers we serve. The first leads came in after three to six months, and some have already become customers. The customers are avowedly open to this approach.
by Stefan Becker