Every manufacturer is different. Each one aims to develop a particular specialty in products or services, or both, that customers will identify with its name and brand. But, in that general way every manufacturer is the same: they need to find the most effective way to reach their customers – or their potential customers — and to make clear to them all the different ways that the manufacturer can address the customer’s needs. This is the age-old problem of business-to-business (b2b) marketing.
Over the past decade, the ability to reach customers accelerated at an exponential rate thanks to the Internet presenting a constant stream of instant connections. The problem for manufacturers quickly became two-dimensional: how to find buyers, and how to help buyers find a supplier. The solution is to establish and coordinate their online presence with as much attention to detail as they focus on the rest of their enterprise.
One of a kind
Arnold Machine Inc. is a one-of-kind manufacturer. The family-owned company in Tiffin, Ohio, designs and produces custom manufacturing and automation equipment, providing customers with CNC machining, custom sheet metal fabrication, and complete engineering services, including prototype design and fabrication.
Arnold’s custom built equipment is used in countless industries, including automotive, industrial heavy equipment and consumer appliance. Also, Arnold’s commercial ovens are used on automotive assembly lines to relax leather being put on a car seat frame. And, Arnold manufactures complex robots used to build cars.
The core of the company’s business is manufacturing custom enclosures for Haas CNC machines: once they’re installed in machine shops or other manufacturers, the customized enclosures keep the workspace clean by preventing spills from the machines onto other equipment.
Arnold Machine was established in 1994 with just two employees. Zach Arnold, who was the third employee, is the company president today. He oversees 35 employees in an operation that covers 33,000 square feet, and posts annual sales of over $3 million.
Initially, thanks to the company’s solid reputation for quality, Zach Arnold was able to sign local customers steadily, through word-of-mouth reference. But, his ambitions for the company went beyond that. He struggled to decide how the company could be more proactive at identifying new business opportunities beyond Ohio, to grow faster and further. He considered blanketing the country with sales reps, but that is costly and impractical. He knew cold calling would be inefficient, because finding prospects at exactly their time of need is like finding a needle in a haystack.
In addition, Arnold was seeking more profitable jobs, such as more contracts to build enclosures for Haas machines.
Most of Arnold Machine’s clients are engineers seeking ways to improve their own manufacturing processes. Increasingly, they turn to the Internet to locate and research custom equipment manufacturers. Arnold recognized that his company needed to be in the “right place at the right time,” able to turn up wherever and whenever qualified prospects conducted their searches.
However, the functionality of Arnold Machine’s website was limiting its potential. The content wasn’t detailed enough and it didn’t convey an understanding of how the engineers that comprise the company’s prospects look for products. Nor did it demonstrate the company’s full complement of capabilities. This almost certainly meant that qualified prospects were leaving Arnold’s site, continuing their searches at competitors’ websites.
“Even though I realized our prospects were online, I just couldn’t see how our business could attract new, profitable customers there,” Arnold said.
A new web strategy
For a new approach, Zach Arnold turned to the industrial sector experts at Thomas Industrial Network. In particular, he was attracted to Thomas’ Custom SPEC offering, designed specifically for custom manufacturers. Custom SPEC combines strategic website development with a powerful search engine presence to help machine shops such as Arnold generate more sales opportunities.
Right away, Arnold found it easy to work with the Custom SPEC team, who are engineers and understood his business. They ‘engineered’ a whole new website for Arnold, written and designed to address the global needs of their prospective buyers. The centerpiece of the new site is a portfolio of past projects, showcasing the full range of Arnold’s design and manufacturing capabilities. This builds visitors’ confidence, assuring them that Arnold can provide similar work for them.
For example, site visitors can see an automotive assembly mount machine that Arnold has built, and view the machine specifications, from tolerances to material thicknesses. They can see related images, and drill down into Arnold’s specific capabilities. If they’re interested in sheet metal fabrication, for example, they learn quickly on the site that Arnold can handle bending, laser cutting and shearing, and that its machines can hold a precision tolerance of 0.001 inches.
“The team at Thomas Industrial Network understands the machine shop business,” according to Arnold. “They were able to help us create a website that anticipates and answers prospects’ questions. When they see that I have done this work before, they are more likely to call me.”
The website provides multiple options for contacting the manufacturer directly. From every page, prospects can request a quote or send an email from the site, or they can place a phone call. Generating those first critical contacts from qualified prospects—either phone calls or online RFQs—is the first important step in the sales cycle for Arnold.
Arnold also enjoys a presence on ThomasNet.com, the platform that engineers turn to when they are looking for custom machine shops. In addition, the depth of content available on the new site makes it easier for prospects to find Arnold on general search engines, like Google. Whether engineers are searching for “automotive seat trim relaxing ovens,” “custom built Haas machine enclosures,” or “custom spray equipment,” they will find Arnold Machine.
New bids, new jobs
The new website paid for itself in the first 90 days it was live. New RFQs and RFPs started coming through immediately, and many were proposing more profitable jobs. One pleasant surprise for Arnold was to receive orders for seven new Haas machine enclosures, for $5,000 each. Thanks to the portfolio pages, prospective buyers could see from sample projects that Arnold was qualified to do this type of job.
New leads like these have come in from well beyond Ohio, too. The manufacturer has received RFQs from Auburn University in Alabama, and another university in Arkansas, as well as a precision engineering firm in Simsbury, Connecticut, an aerospace and defense company in Michigan, and the U.S. Army.
New leads have even allowed Arnold Machine to expand into new service areas. Once new customer came to the site looking for a source to weld stamped parts. This is one area that Arnold had always wanted to enter: thanks to the new site, they’ve received several related RFQs.
As Arnold Machine completes new jobs, the manufacturer’s in-house staff can continue to add to more pages using content management tools that Thomas Custom SPEC supplied. “As the traffic and inquiries develop, I am constantly adding content to my portfolio pages, and getting still more RFQs. The program really builds on itself,” Arnold confirmed.
Also, Arnold can measure the program’s success easily. With Web Traxs reporting made available through the Custom SPEC offering, the company can see how prospects are arriving at their site (i.e., ThomasNet.com, Google, etc.) and what pages they’re visiting. It learned that over one 30-day period, 500 users came to the site using 500 unique search terms to find it. This also proved how Arnold’s site content promotes the company; no matter what words prospects use to search for them, they can find Arnold easily.
“This web strategy is like having an additional sales resource that’s always on, 24x7,” Arnold said. “The quality of the leads – better educated and informed customers – is much higher than ever before. Our new website has become our number one prospecting tool,” he added. “This is the best marketing investment we’ve ever made.”