How hard we've found getting customers is
The good news is, finding customers is more painless than we thought it would be. The bad news is that it's still very difficult. Throughout our time with the company, we've tried everything from cold calls to online marketing campaigns and have found success and failures in each. We've learned a lot throughout the years as we constantly adjust to an ever-changing market. The last couple of years have required us to get creative and try new things, however, I believe every shop should be doing these things and adapting constantly even if the market isn't as unpredictable as it is today. We hear story after story of people unable to find work and are baffled by the fact that in such a terrible market, companies like ours are growing strong.
From my perspective, it appears that some industries are slowing down while others are ramping up. So it's true, many people will likely feel the slowing market, but that's why pivoting is so important. The work is out there and in many situations, more work than you could probably handle.
I fully admit that it is difficult to bring in the work and as a business owner, it is very difficult to make the time. But time and time again, I've gone hunting for work and saturated our shop in just a couple of weeks. These are my tips and the keys to our success.
1. Nobody likes it, but it works... Cold Calling
We've tried and succeeded at many types of marketing. This one has done well for us. When things slow down, I put together a list of potentially interested companies. These include OEMs, other machine shops, and inventors (more on that later). There's a lot to unpack here. First off, "where do you find this list?" you may ask. There are lots of databases of business online but I visited our local public library and used the A-Z database. My library had it free and gave me a list of hundreds of OEMS and manufacturers in the area with certain criteria of my choosing. I simply imported that into shop management software and began calling people up. "Who do you call?" you might ask. I always asked to speak with someone in purchasing or a buyer. I would say "We are a supplier of machined parts and would love to see if there is anything we can do for you. Could I please speak with a buyer about this?". I got lots of voicemails and of course lots of rejections. Just when you feel like giving up, you'll get that one customer who's swamped and has been looking for help.
I've read that it takes about 100 calls to get 1 good customer. I've also read that on average it takes 9 attempts to connect with the right person. The good news is that in this industry, you are not trying to sell someone something they didn't know that they needed. Instead, you are hunting for those who are looking for exactly what you do! Those who say cold calling is dead might be right in the former example, but in this scenario, I could not disagree more. We find that we get 8 solid leads from 100 calls and that's just calling once or twice. 4 of those usually turn into repeat customers. This may not be the result that everyone sees. I believe that the following are responsible for some of our success and might be some things to consider.
We almost always offer lead times under 2 weeks (depending on the job of course).
We have fast direct communication. When someone calls our phone, it rings me directly. Customers have mentioned that this impressed them.
Almost every customer we've ever had has visited our website and most have commented that it made a big impression on them.
We turn things around fast. If a customer sends an RFQ, we try and have it out within 24 hours or 48 hours at most.
Lastly, we offer feedback and collaboration. Often customers are apprehensive and uncertain if you are the right fit for them. We welcome them to tour our shop, we offer to come to visit them, we offer things like free design work, give free ideas if it is a prototype, or we'll have them take a look at the quality of our parts. We do this so they can get to know us and see where their parts will be made, how their parts will be made, and who will make their parts. This way, we're not just another vendor on a list.