21st century marketing for fabricators

Part I: Why you need a strong online presence

January 19, 2010
By: James Soto

As existing customer bases shrink, fabricators must take advantage of all possible mediums to attract new customers. Those who establish a strong online presence stand the best chance of reaching prospective buyers, 60 percent of whom begin the buying process online.

Fabricators Graph

Figure 1We know from Google Research that 118,800 searches are conducted each year for "Sheet Metal Fabrication," 34,800 for "Welding Services," 79,200 for "Tube Bending," and 217,200 for "Arc Welding."

Metal fabricators' survival in the Information Age comes down to who can attract and retain business with the most consistency. As the recent economy has revealed, many operations today depend on the ebb and flow of work coming from existing customers. Now more than ever, thriving fabricators are using next-generation marketing strategies to maintain consistent contract opportunities.

What fabricators require is a formal marketing game plan, time to execute their outlined strategies and tactics, and a commitment to procure the necessary resources to carry out their plan successfully. In a market in which most fabricators have no marketing plan, there are two choices: to live by traditional sales mechanisms and their associated inconsistencies, or to implement a modernized and Internet-centric marketing approach. This two-part series addresses the marketing paradigm shift that fabricators must adopt to position themselves in front of today's buyers.

The New and Changing Industrial Buying Process

Now more than ever, buyers are in control of the buying process. Engineers and purchasing agents are sourcing search engines for new suppliers. Being discovered by a changing buyer demographic that uses the Internet as their primary tool for finding and qualifying suppliers is the top challenge confronting fabricators of all sizes and capabilities.

It's About Buying Intent

At the point of purchase or information gathering, industrial buyers now go online to search for qualified companies.

As industrious fingers enter a search phrase, they are literally expressing buying intent!Why would a design engineer type in "sheet metal fabricators Tennessee" if he or she did not have some need to fulfill? The fact that an industrial fabricator can be present at the exact moment when there is buying intent is the primary reason that more than 80 percent of today's industrial marketing budgets are Internet-focused.

Businesses that rely on word-of-mouth now must understand that the Internet, and search engines in particular, are nothing more than business referrers.

In addition to major search engines, industrial buyers visit and search industry trade sites, industrial directories, blogs, social media sites, along with many other destinations. Search engines are a fantastic mechanism to get buyers and suppliers to the most relevant sites, but they also serve as a gateway for buyers seeking general industry-related information.

The Unknown Buyer

Putting existing and past customers aside, the majority of online marketing investments have been centered on new client acquisition. Buyers today go online (Figure 1) seeking new suppliers for any number of reasons: They are new to their role; are dissatisfied with their current supplier; are infrequent buyers; are quality/cost shopping; or have an emergency need. More than 60 percent of industrial buyers begin the buying process online, with more than 90 percent turning to the Internet at some point during the buying process.

If You Are Not Online, You Are Irrelevant

Understanding today's buyer behavior and the sheer volume of search results, fabricators must recognize that if they do not increase their Web marketing visibility, they are simply irrelevant.

So You Want to Get Serious?

It can be argued that it could be difficult to supplant the fabricators who were early to adopt Internet-centric marketing approaches. With rising costs and limited space on search engines and industrial directories, replacing those early adopters requires a balanced marketing approach.

Once a business implements its marketing plan and begins acquiring Web traffic, its Web site must be structured to produce a great user experience that results in a positive action, such as a quote request. Fortunately, online marketing provides an opportunity for even small businesses to emphasize their strengths, create a formidable Internet presence, and convince visitors to purchase.

Taking the Next Step

Part II will focus on recent studies that highlight how online marketing has increased bottom lines over the past two recessions. It also will discuss how search engine optimization (SEO), user-based Web design, interactive social media communications, and the upfront necessity to first develop a strategic online marketing plan can increase a fabricator's chance for online marketing success.

James Soto is founder and CEO of Brentwood, Tenn.-based Industrial Strength Marketing (ISM), a marketing services firm that focuses solely on companies in the manufacturing, distribution, fabrication, and service industries. He can be reached at 800-687-3208, ext. 13,jsoto@marketstrong.net,www.marketstrong.net.

James Soto

Contributing Writer
Industrial Strength Marketing (ISM)
James Soto is founder and CEO of Brentwood, Tenn.-based Industrial Strength Marketing (ISM), a marketing services firm that focuses solely on companies in the manufacturing, distribution, fabrication, and service industries. He can be reached at 800-687-3208, ext. 13.