By Dianna Brodine, managing editor, The American Mold Builder
Relationships are at the heart of successful sales and marketing activities, and ongoing customer relationships rely on effective and consistent communication. The COVID-19 pandemic has simultaneously increased the need for sales and marketing activities and reduced accessibility to customers and prospects.
During a recent AMBA webinar roundtable discussion, sales and marketing executives from AMBA active and supplier member companies offered insights into the “new normal” at their organizations. The conversations provided assurances that many of the mold builders across the US are in the same uncomfortable situations, but also provided new ideas for those looking for a creative spark that could increase customer and prospect communications.
What do customer visits look like?
Before March 2020, mold builders were on the road. Whether calling on potential customers down the street, across the state or around the country, prospecting activities were driving quoting activity and filling the pipeline with future projects. Just as important, sales staff and company executives were visiting current customers to enhance relationships, inquire about new business and perform mold tryouts.
Today, mold builders are finding success with a combination of on- site visits (where allowed), virtual meetings and unique concepts that drive interest and meet customers where they feel most comfortable.
On-site and Virtual
Mike Heatherington (Franchino Mold & Engineering) said about 20% of the company’s customers are allowing Franchino staff to come in for on-site visits. “Some of the people we’re going in to see have had management changes during COVID-19, so they’re incentivized to get their new people in to meet with us,” he said. But, the majority of the mold builder’s customers are not allowing face-to-face visits, so the company has turned to phone and virtual solutions. “We’re using a lot of Teams and Go To Meeting, depending on what our customers use, so we’re using a host of different platforms,” Heatherington explained. “Our customers have had good availability to talk to us…. Communication with most of them has been very good.”
Ben Franzen (Heritage Mold, Inc.) is finding that customers are allowing visits when it comes to mold delivery. “When we finish a mold, I deliver it and wait there while they’re sampling it,” he explained. “We wear face masks.” Heritage Mold also serves customers located outside of the US and, with international travel curtailed, those conversations are happening virtually.
Don Dumoulin (Precise Tooling Solutions) said his staff is seeing an increase in those companies allowing in-person visits. “We’re out seeing customers whenever we can,” he said. “Normally, it would be six to eight sales calls per day, but it’s at 50% of that right now – so we’re making headway.” Dumoulin explained that one issue hampering on-site sales visits is the unavailability of leadership staff. While plant personnel are hard at work on the production floor, leadership teams may be working from home to reduce the potential spread of coronavirus. The Precise Tooling team also is using Microsoft Teams “somewhat effectively” to reach customers around the country.
Hillary Coombs (Westminster Tool) said Westminster opened its doors in July to let customers come back in for mold samplings or other visits, but the company still hasn’t had many customers opening their doors to Westminster. Coombs instituted “Caffeinate and Connect” to catch up with both suppliers and customers.
Caffeinate and Connect was a 30- to 45-minute virtual event where customers could sign up via an online calendar and schedule a time to meet with their chosen sales representative. Conversations were conducted via Zoom with video. Coombs said it was an opportunity to update those who participated on “what was new here, if we purchased new equipment or brought anyone on,” she said. “And, we asked them the same. Then, we sent everyone who participated a Starbucks gift card to refill their coffee mug for having a chat with us.” About 80% of Westminster’s suppliers participated and 35% to 40% of our customers participated. Coombs noted that supplier interactions were equally important as customer participation because Westminster was unable to participate in two tradeshows that would help the company to deepen its supplier relationships.
Tony Brodzeller (Mastip) ran with an idea from a previous sales and marketing roundtable discussion. He has had “great luck” with off-site, outdoor lunches with customers at parks or restaurants with outside seating. “Prospecting continues to be a little trickier, but some people seem more open to have conversations or virtual meetings,” he said. “If they need something, they’ll let us in, but from a sales perspective, it’s certainly been harder.”
Geri Anderson (M.R. Mold & Engineering) acknowledged the unique difficulties presented by COVID-19, particularly for a company like M.R. Mold where only 1% of its customers are located in its home state of California. In addition, Anderson resides in Chicago, which has strict quarantine restrictions if she were to go to any of 18 states for customer visits. “I’ve also been doing email to promote the company, which has been pretty successful. I’m hoping the content and the way it is presented is engaging.” Anderson focuses each email on telling a story about the company – “who we are and what we do,” she explained. “I’ve been taking content from our website and putting that into email blasts. It seems to spark quite a bit of interest. We got an RFQ with 13 parts the other day, and that was in direct response to the email blast.”
Is it possible to do virtual mold trials?
Mold tryouts are a critical step in the production process – typically required before final mold approvals. But, with many manufacturing companies feeling cautious about allowing outside visitors, some have gotten creative with virtual mold trials.
David Johnson (M.R. Mold & Engineering) investigated the idea of doing virtual mold trials using a tablet that could run meeting software and be set up next to the machine. This way, the cameras could see the mold activity and interact with the operator through the camera. “Nothing came of it,” he said, “but we want to reinvestigate the idea.”
Don Dumoulin (Precise Tooling Solutions) encouraged those participating in the roundtable discussion. “We have done six or seven tools that way,” he said. “We had as many as 14 people from all over the world on one of them recently.” Precise Tooling staff used an iPhone to facilitate the video trial by setting it up on a tripod by the press. The customer’s staff watched the mold run via Zoom as the Precise engineers pulled parts off for a couple of hours. The customer requested a number of measurements, and those also were on video. Dumoulin explained that his team moved the tripod around so the customer could see settings on the machine or watch the operations. “We didn’t use multiple screens or anything fancy. It was a three-hour engagement, but the customer was pleased,” he added.
Ben Franzen (Heritage Mold, Inc.) added, “We do a similar process using an iPhone. We haven’t had it go live, but I take videos and send those videos to our customers. After they see that it’s running properly and in a cycle that they like, we do a PPAP on it, make any adjustments and then do another video.”
How do you prospect for new customers?
Existing relationships with existing customers are easier to maintain in these challenging times. How well do cold calls and emails to prospective customers work when many of these targets are working from home, going full speed ahead on COVID-related projects or – worse – scrambling to fill production gaps?
Mark Strobel (Xcentric Mold & Engineering) said his sales team witnessed an evolution in contacting new customers. “When this all first started, cold calling was met with resistance on the recipient’s part, but as this has gone on, people wanted to speak,” he said. “They were getting lonely in isolation.” Strobel said, in his experience, more people are willing to do Zoom meetings. “We have some salespeople just doing cold calls to set up meetings, and then those are taking place via Zoom,” he added.
It’s worth noting that very few individuals in the mold and tooling industries were comfortable with video calls prior to March 2020. As the restrictions associated with the pandemic have stretched on, video interactions have become commonplace. In December 2019, Zoom had 10 million users… by April 2020, more than 300 million had signed up for the service.
Bill Perkins (M&M Tool & Mold) said, “We’ve had no luck in getting in to see customers or prospects, but then I had a great idea – to see if they would meet me out front for 10 or 15 minutes. It’s a good way to do social distancing, and it’s good to get some face-to-face time.” Perkins also said he starts his cold calls by doing research on LinkedIn to find the names and photos of others in the company that he might interact with, such as a receptionist. “When you have a name, it’s easier to make a connection, and you go from being a sales guy to being a human being.”
Erica Whitby (Precise Tooling Solutions) echoed the sentiment. “We struggled with the same thing – to get face-to-face, especially with new customers,” she said. “With existing customers, I have been able to get in front of a few of them by meeting at parks or golf outings.” She said it’s important to find different ways to get in front of prospects without having to go to their facilities, since many aren’t open to visitors. “I’ve been doing a lot of research to see what’s open in certain areas,” she added.
Cheryl Richardson (Punch Industry USA) sent an email blast to current customers and offered a Zoom call or, depending on the customer’s preference, a visit. When trying to reach prospective customers, Richardson said she has been more aggressive with phone calls. “This isn’t going to go away, so we have to change what we’re doing. In the last month or so, we realized we aren’t going back to business as usual.”
Renee Hillman (Byrne Tool + Design) said Byrne Toole has been using LinkedIn and Facebook to generate new interest, although the company is slowly stopping its use of Facebook due to a lack of results. “We’re also redoing our website right now, and doing a lot of cold calls,” she added.
Cheryl Richardson (Punch Industry USA) has created a spreadsheet of new contacts she has connected to on LinkedIn. “They connect because they’re home,” she said. “Before when I would reach out – and it was sporadic because I was on the road – I wouldn’t get a response. But now, I get so many people connecting and sharing some information.” While the interactions don’t always result in a meeting, Richardson said every piece of information becomes a building block for future conversations. She added, “I also look to see who they’re connected to. Who knows who? Who is supplying who?” This information helps her fill in some blanks about how best to approach potential customers.
David Kachoi (Thal Precision) said, “The best thing to have in marketing is email addresses. When sending communications to that list, the content has to help them in some way and has to be presented in a way that is very clear, is easy to understand and is super compelling, which is way easier to say than actually do.” (Read more about this on page 24.) But, what if the sales team’s database doesn’t contain those email addresses?
Ed Francis (Crystallume) has started to evaluate ZoomInfo. “It provides the phone number and emails for contacts within companies you’re trying to target,” he said.
Rachael Pfenniger (American Mold Builders Association), mentioned a plug-in for LinkedIn called Skrapp to help gather email addresses. “We have a lot of members who have used it at one point or another,” she said. Other lead generation possibilities include TopSpot, which uses an SEO-driven approach; LeadLander, which generates analytics for website visitors; and targeted, geographically focused Facebook advertising.
Take the next step
While COVID-19 has created a variety of problems, new and creative opportunities have arisen in the communication arena for those who want to reach out to customers and prospects. The pandemic is forcing everyone outside of their comfort zones, but perhaps it’s just what was needed to break into a different market or finally crack the front office of the No. 1 company on a target list.