Purchasing decisions and digital media in the Industrial sector

Purchasing decisions and digital media in the Industrial sector

This market research study was published by IEEE Global Spec in 2017. It offers an insight to the changing world of online marketing and investigates how engineers use digital media to help them make specification and purchasing decisions.


The purpose of this research study is to help marketers:

1. Better understand the target audience for your products and services.
2. Strengthen your relationships with current customers.
3. Optimise your media mix to gain exposure to your target audience.


The 2,239 technical professionals who responded to this worldwide survey represent a cross-section of industries.

The top four represented industries are:

• Engineering/Technical Design Services (11%)
• Building and Construction (7%)
• Aerospace and Defence (6%)
• Industrial Machinery/Tools & Equipment (6%).

The top three job positions surveyed are:

• Design Engineer (17%)
• Maintenance/Facilities Management (11%)
• Technical Support/Services (10%)

51% of respondents are over 49 years old, which underlines other research that suggests the engineer population is aging.

The average respondent works on five projects at a time, and 90% are involved in the purchasing of components and services.

33% influence $100K or more in annual spending; 52% influence $50K or more.


• 62% of technical professionals wait until at least the Comparison and Evaluation stage of the buying cycle to make contact with a vendor.

• The use of mobile devices for work-related tasks has grown significantly over the past two years.

• 61% of industrial professionals visit six or more work-related websites each week, with 50% spending six or more hours on these sites each week.

• The most popular uses of the internet are to find components, equipment, services and providers; obtain product specifications; and find standards

• The three most popular sources for work-related information and to research and specify products are general search engines, supplier websites online catalogues. This holds true across all stages of the buying cycle.

• On average, engineers attended three webinars in 2016 and one in-person trade show.

• The higher the purchase price, the greater the number of decision makers involved, reinforcing the need for marketers to connect with a variety of influencers and recommenders.

• 4% percent of engineers subscribe to two or more free e-newsletters

• The most popular uses of social media among technical professionals are reading work-related content, searching for contacts and researching suppliers.

• Two-thirds of engineers use YouTube or another video sharing website for work-related purposes.

• The top three uses of online forums are to find technical support, search for product information and watch videos


Internet Use:

Engineers spend many hours each week online in the course of their work. They require access to a variety of digital resources to perform work-related tasks effectively and efficiently.

• 61% of technical professionals visit at least six websites each week for work-related purposes, with 10 sites being the average number.

• Half of technical professionals spend six or more hours per week on the internet for work-related purposes, and 31% percent spend nine-plus hours (a full day) online. The average time spent per week is six hours, with engineers outside North America spending a slightly-higher seven hours on average.

• Engineers are using the Internet more often to find components, equipment, services and suppliers (68%); obtain product specifications (62%); find standards (61%); and find instruction manuals (60%).

• 51% purchase products and parts on the internet.

• A great deal of an engineer’s time on the internet centres around accessing technical content such as specifications, standards, manuals, research, and training and application ideas. Engineers everywhere have an insatiable need for technical information. It is important to have the digital presence to satisfy their needs?

Information Resources for Work

Year on year, technical professionals rely on a core set of information sources to complete their work.

• The most popular are general search engines (83%), supplier websites (66%) and online catalogues (64%).

• Despite being the second most popular resource, supplier website use has dipped since 2015, underlining the importance of distributing content across multiple channels.

Buying Cycle and Purchasing Process

The industrial buy cycle consists of distinct stages: Research and Needs Analysis, Comparison and Evaluation, and Purchase. The cycle can be long and complex; involving multiple decision makers, recommenders and influencers, especially for more expensive purchases.

Or, it can be short and straightforward, with a single person presiding over a purchase decision.

• Understandably, there is a strong correlation between the number of decision makers involved in a purchase and the size of the purchase.

• An average of 3-4 decision makers are involved in purchases over $10,000

• An average of 1-2 are involved in purchases under $1,000

• 49% of purchases under $1,000 are made by just one decision maker.

• In purchases greater than $10,000, there are 3 or more decision makers 64% of the time.

• Industrial marketers must be able to connect with a variety of decision makers, including those with economic, technical and analytic concerns.

• General search engines, supplier websites and online catalogues are the most frequently used sources to specify, recommend or purchase products. These findings illustrate the need for suppliers to have a balanced marketing mix that capitalizes on engineers’ online habits and preferred sources during the buying process.

• Regardless of buying cycle stage, the top three information sources for technical professionals are the same: general search engines, online catalogues and supplier websites.

• In the Research and Needs Analysis stage, colleagues are also an important information source.

• Since 2015, blogs and social media have gained in popularity in the Research stage.

• In the Purchase stage, supplier websites take over the number one spot from general search engines.

• 62% of engineers don’t make contact with a vendor until after the Research and Needs Analysis phase. The conclusion is that many buyers rely on digital resources to independently discover and research information about products, services and suppliers, and to narrow down their options before getting a vendor involved. This means you must be found in the early stages of the buy cycle to be on a buyer’s short list.

• Engineers outside North America tend to contact vendors earlier in the buying cycle.

Events and Webinars:

While in-person tradeshows are holding steady, webinars have filled the void for interaction between technical professionals and vendors.

• Not only are webinars convenient to attend for engineers who prefer to be in their office and at their desks, the events themselves are more robust and compelling than ever before.

• Webinars are proven effective in raising awareness, demonstrating thought leadership and generating qualified engagement opportunities.

• 67% of technical professionals attended at least one webinar in 2016, with three being the average number attended. 31% percent attended four or more.

• 71% planned to attend at least one webinar in 2017, with three being the average number that engineers expect to attend.

• Tradeshow attendance has held steady year over year, with an average of one attended per year. 45% attended no tradeshows in 2016.

• In 2017, technical professionals in North America anticipate attending one tradeshow on average. Outside North America, the average is expected to be two tradeshows.

Digital and Traditional Media Use for Work

When it comes to media used for work, free is better than paid, and digital is more popular than print.

• 44% of technical professionals subscribe to three or more free e-newsletters, and 35% subscribe to three or more free digital trade magazines. On average, engineers subscribe to two free e-newsletters.

• The top three work-related activities performed on social media are reading work-related content, searching for contacts and researching suppliers.

• Only 21 percent participate in discussions, confirming many engineers’ preference for consuming content on social media rather than producing it.

• Furthermore, many engineers don’t use social media for work, underlining the need for marketers to focus on branding and visibility rather than sales and lead generation when it comes to social channels.

• Two-thirds of technical professionals use YouTube or other video-sharing websites. Video continues to grow in importance as a channel to connect with your target audience.

• Online forums have grown in popularity over the last few years, with 78% of engineers reporting that they use them. The most common activities performed in online forums are:

1. Finding technical support (57%)

2. Searching for product information (52%)

3. Viewing videos (40%).

• Over the past two years, engineers have significantly increased their use of mobile devices for an array of work-related tasks. Since 2015, product searches are up 13%, reading news articles is up 13%, accessing work-related email is up 12%, viewing supplier websites is up 11%, and reading e-newsletters is up 10%. Smartphones are used more often than tablets across the board.

• Not surprisingly, given the ample computing resources often needed to do their work, technical professionals spend the vast majority of work-related online time on their desktop/laptop computers.

• That said, time spent on smartphones for work-related purposes is up 6% since 2015.


1. Digital resources are deeply engrained in the engineer’s professional life.

2. Most research and comparison is performed through digital channels.

3. No single digital resource is king among industrial buyers.
4. Video is increasingly important.


1. Diversify your marketing investments.

2. Develop a content marketing plan to deploy across a range of channels.

3. Foster new relationships with the younger generation of technical professionals. (Don’t ignore the engineers in the important older age group)

4. Optimise for mobile devices.

General Notes:

The above summary is taken from “2017 Digital Media Use in the Industrial Sector” research carried out by IEEE GlobalSpec.

If you would like a copy of the full IEEE GlobalSpec research findings, please email here.

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