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Can 3D Printer Manufacturers Adapt to the Changing Marketplace?

by Pete Basiliere  |  April 17, 2019  |  Submit a Comment

Gartner L2 research finds that marketing leaders at B2B manufacturing firms must focus on using digital to attract and move customers to the point of sale. The findings are especially relevant for 3D printer manufacturers who rely on face-to-face sales calls with engineers and designers.

Among the Gartner L2 research findings are:

  • Shifting customer buying behavior points to digital’s increasingly central role in B2B marketing
  • Leading B2B manufacturers deploy marketing strategies based on a deep understanding of their customers’ digital journeys
  • Digital marketing is a foundational capability that brands must develop across all channels

The movement toward digital is partly the result of increases in e-commerce and e-shipment activity. In 2006, U.S. manufacturing e-commerce (including electronic data interchange [EDI]) transactions made up 31%, or $1.56 trillion, of all manufacturing sales. Over the next decade, manufacturing e-commerce sales grew at a compound annual growth rate of 8.27% and constituted 65%, or $3.47 trillion, of all sales by year-end 2016.[1]

In addition to changing market dynamics, Gartner L2 research found B2B customers prefer learning how to buy online on their own, as opposed to directly interacting with salespeople. Overall, B2B buyers spend more than one-quarter of their time researching through digital channels:

Of course, it is one thing to know that digital marketing is important. It is another thing altogether to execute digital marketing well. The Gartner L2 study looked at several aspects of B2B manufacturing firms’ online presence, one of them being the performance of their webpages.

Using Google Lighthouse audit scores, the researchers found that, for the top 14 of the 87 brands in the Digital IQ Index, the average scores were:

  • Accessibility (functionality for users with vision, motor/dexterity, auditory or cognitive impairments): 72%
  • Web development best practices (i.e., technical SEO elements such as utilization of HTTPS and inclusion of images with preferred aspect ratios): 72%
  • SEO (i.e., document meta descriptions and links with descriptive text): 93%

The higher the metric scores, the healthier Google considers the site and the more it can climb in search result rankings. The top 14 companies in the Digital IQ Index: B2B Manufacturing 2019 are, in order: John Deere, CAT, Cummins, Acuity Brands, Emerson, USG, JLG Industries, Becton Dickinson, Lockheed Martin, Parker-Hannifin, Hill-Rom, Gulfstream Aerospace, Genie Lift and Raytheon.

I then compared the average results for the top 14 brands in the Digital IQ Index to the results for seven 3D printer manufacturers. These results are from that point in time and may not be indicative of their current state:

The trends discerned by Gartner L2 don’t diminish the high-touch role of sales in consummating an enterprise 3D printer purchase. Rather, the trends dictate a change in the marketing playbook that elevates the customer’s buying experience in a manner that leverages digital to support new and existing sales opportunities.

With few exceptions, these 3D printer manufacturers must improve elements of their online discoverability and website ease of use. The findings suggest that the more than 180 enterprise-class 3D printer manufacturers worldwide should regularly audit their performance if they are to drive digital buyers to their sites and eventually make the sale. As more of their buyers allocate an increasingly large portion of their time learning how to buy online, 3D printer manufacturers must continuously adapt.


Kyle Rees and Honor Flannery, co-authors of the Gartner L2 study, contributed to this blog post.

The Digital IQ Index: B2B Manufacturing 2019 may not be available as part of your current Gartner subscription.

[1]E-Commerce Statistics (E-STATS), 1998-2016, U.S. Census Bureau

Additional Resources

Category: 3d-printing  additive-manufacturing  advanced-manufacturing  digital-disruption-and-innovation  digital-marketing  innovation-led-growth  

Tags: 3-d-print  3d-print  3d-print-service-bureaus  3d-printer  3d-systems  additive-manufacturing  b2b  carbon  carbon3d  e-commerce  eos  formlabs  google-lighthouse  manufacturing  seo  shining-3d  stratasys  xyzprinting  

Pete Basiliere
Research Vice President
12 years at Gartner
18 years IT Industry

Mr. Basiliere provides research-based insights on 3D printing and digital printing hardware, software and materials. Mr. Basiliere's Maverick research coined the term Generation AI, people born after 2010 who will not know a world without application intelligence in their lives. Read Full Bio

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