In a time of crisis are you able to respond to a customer’s needs? Maintaining a business and connections is crucial and there are effective tools and resources to help. Digital marketing specialist Shannon Simpson of DuraTech Industries hosted this week’s #USAMfgHour chat on Twitter.
The global COVID-19 pandemic has hit business hard here at home in the U.S. According to Fortune magazine, about 97,966 businesses have permanently closed in 2020. While some businesses have shut, others are thriving. The COVID-19 pandemic has required companies to rethink how to respond to customer’s needs.
How have your customer’s priorities changed during the last year, 3 months, 30 days, last week?
“These last 30 days alone have been crazy,” said DCSC. “Some of our distribution and manufacturing clients have picked up orders like crazy and have had to change from ship to big-box direct to consumer. We've increased our hours to respond quickly.”
“There's been a slight change in our customer's needs with visiting our customers basically not happening anymore,” said Obsidian Manufacturing. “Our sales team does a lot of customer support over the phone now and through email, otherwise things have stayed pretty consistent with pre-COVID.”
“Our current customers are pretty steady,” said Chenango Valley Technologies. “Our potential customers’ needs have changed as many are looking to #reshore and bring their projects back to #usamfg. That is what we have been seeing here. It has been crazy for us as well. I guess I missed this, but we are 24/5 and are considering going to 24/7 for production due to the demand.”
“My clients now have made social media and digital marketing their priority. What used to be a "nice to have" is now a "must-have" for them,” said Jen Wegman of Insight Information Solutions.
“We have been producing products and safety guides specifically to address COVID-19 management in the workplace since March,” said Graphic Products. “We help all our customers solve their problems as best we can when any crisis or important issue comes up.”
“Customer priorities changed from ‘get someone here to repair this’ to ‘I'll send it to you for repair, please give us a spare so we can eliminate downtime.’ Priorities seem to change often, but we adjust as needed,” said Drive Source International/Dynamatic.
“Our business is based on finding solutions to manufacturers' challenges,” said NJMEP.org. “The pandemic had a massive impact on the issues businesses are facing. Our priority became identifying these new challenges and creating specific solutions to meet client needs.
“The owner of Radwell has done an amazing job pivoting and encouraging pivoting throughout the pandemic. Our customers’ needs and how they do business has changed. We've been there to support them every step of the way as much as possible,” said Radwell International.
“Like everyone else, face to face is minimal. We're adjusting by using virtual meetings and training, a lot more emails, videos, and good ol' fashion phone calls...lol,” said SpaceGuard.
“Besides the remote workers with dogs barking/kids crying in the background of phone calls and so many zoom meetings, we have seen a more conservative approach with our customer's buying habits,” said Sue Nordman of Obsidian Manufacturing. “I think the election is also affecting our customer's buying habits. I'd also add that we have seen a lot of stainless steel surface grinding and workholding. Stainless steel is typically the go-to material for the food and pharmaceutical industries.”
Simpson said that some customers shut down, which threw a wrench in operations. There were even more challenges when others began working from home, making it harder to reach them. A turning point came, she said, “when other customers began making products specifically for the fight of COVID- changing what they needed from us. We started making parts for face shields & ventilators.”
Changing Things Up
What challenges have you or your company faced because of your customer’s change in priorities?
“Speed. We have seen some Covid products along with #reshoring and everyone wants things ASAP,” said CVT. “With everything going overseas it is hard to find staff and assistance with projects. We need to change this quickly.”
“Even though their priorities have changed, their attitude/budget expectations haven't. Some leads I've talked to want quick fixes and instant gratification w/o the investment they need to make,” said Wegman.
“Here's 1 example: We only have 1 full-time staff engineer. He's tested for C19 before and after any service visits. He has to be onsite every week somewhere in the country. It puts a strain on him and our company, so we're adding staff in 2021 to manage this,” said Dynamatic.
“One of our challenges was trying to get into facilities to pick up repairs,” said Radwell. “Where that used to be a no-brainer, it is now much more restrictive. We've adjusted but initially, it was very different-Like most of these crazy times we are doing business in.”
“I think being able to diagnose the problem with the product for service calls is a real difficulty. It will always be easier to see a product or problem in person and diagnose but relying on doing it from a different place has been an adjustment for our sales team,” said Obsidian.
“I think we are all in the same storm, just different boats,” said Nordman. “Dealing with sanitary measures, masking, social distancing, remote work. One of my biggest problems from a personal point of view is how other companies don't respect our safety policies.”
“We always could conduct virtual consultations and customization, but we are doing it on a routine basis now,” said Graphic Products. “Tradeshow cancelations were a big change to our outreach as well. Our webinars are in more demand, too.”
Pivoting marketing approaches after tradeshow cancelations was a side topic in which most could agree does not have a solid workaround just yet but other virtual networking alternatives are still great options.
“We had to be very prepared and proactive about reaching out to attendees,” said Nicole Kangos of Snaptron. “I would say it's quite risky and the platforms can make it a hit or miss. Still, a lot of work to be done in the virtual trade show space.”
“Not being able to be face to face with our customers is our biggest challenge. However, letting them know we offer virtual training and can connect by virtual meetings has helped us a ton,” said SpaceGuard.
“One challenge was finding new ways for our Sales Team, who were used to traveling and seeing their accounts in person, to connect with their accounts as well as prospects,” Simpson said about DuraTech’s challenges.
She went on to say that some of DuraTech’s tools of selling are not working as the priorities of customers have changed. What are companies doing differently in the selling approach or to support the sales team and process during COVID-19?
“Helping out with digitally organizing is something that I support our sales team with,” said Obsidian. “As someone that's job revolves around using digital tools, I can help teach and improve our digital resources as a company.”
“We've always had digital resources and digital tools like Microsoft Teams but now we are focusing on them more to help sales do their jobs as smoothly as possible,” said Radwell.
“Similar to our shift. Critical to remain agile and focus resources on developing materials that can be used effectively depending on the current business landscape,” said NJMEP.
“Nobody is answering calls as companies are scrambling to get organized,” said CVT. “We are contacting anyone and everyone that may have a need. Linkedin has been a savior for us and it working really well. We are also posting more on social to keep our name out there.”
“Glad to hear this has been working,” DuraTech said. “We struggle with getting in touch too. Social Media has been helpful.”
“Back to basics - cold calls, marketing mailings, etc. Marketing and Sales have collaborated to be proactive in our approach. Example: The Kentucky aggregate business is on the rise. We'll reach out to those companies with our info,” said Dynamatic.
“Well, I'm a sales team of 1, so I focus on leveraging my strengths with social and virtual connecting to my advantage. I will be working on my inbound funnel in 2021,” said Wegman.
“We have ramped up marketing the best we can,” said Nordman. “Our sales team is sending more personalized emails and making more phone calls. We miss our weekly in-person visits to local machine shops.”
“Almost immediately we began digitizing any of our physical sales materials so the sales team can effectively engage with clients virtually,” said NJMEP. “We wanted clients to know they will get the level of care and service even if we can't meet in person. It's been a positive shift for both groups. Our sales team never missed a beat and clients are confident that the NJMEP team can still provide the support they require, even as in-person visits remain challenging.”
“Our selling approach has changed a little, but not much,” said Paul Kiesche of Aviate Creative. “I'd say we try to listen and be as helpful as possible without expectation. We also dove deeper and learned more about our niche of manufacturing and technology and that has been paying off in spades.”
“Similar to us too. Just no in-person customer visits, only virtual. We tried a couple of virtual trade shows too,” Kangos said.
“We purchased a video software program for our Sales Team to send videos to their customers, whether to explain quotes or showcase a product,” said DuraTech. “We have increased the amount of video content we use in Marketing. We are looking for other Sales Tools ideas.”
“Video is king! We've been working on a lot of that as well,” said Dynamatic.
“We have some Sales Reps who welcomed it and have been very successful and some who will not use it. We have gained a few new customers because of some videos those reps made, so that is great news!,” DuraTech said.
Of those new tools and resources, companies are using, what is working well, and what has not worked? What has been the response from customers about the new tools and strategies?
“Our customers have been very receptive and understanding of any changes we made. We're all in the same boat,” said Cleveland Deburring.
“I think the response has been great,” said CVT. “Our process takes a very long time and we are getting a good response and connecting with new companies for opportunities for the future. These things take time to sort out.”
“Everyone seems to be understanding of all the adjustments we are making. I think taking an approach of empathy and kindness will win every time,” said Nordman. “We all have to remember that our customers are in the same storm we are all in.”
“Just looking for the feedback on this one as we are still testing out our new software & creating videos and gauging the response from those videos,” said DuraTech. “We are looking for other sales strategies and resources you all may be using.”
What have been some opportunities that have emerged for you, your department, or your company out of the pandemic?
“New opportunities to show our customers that we are there for them in the right way - quickly and when they need it,” said Graphic Products. “Safety has been a big issue this year, which is also our 50th year in business. We are moving along steadily with the times as much as possible.”
“I've had more partnership opportunities with other agencies and vendors during the pandemic. It's exciting to develop those types of relationships,” said Kiesche.
“There has been a mountain of new opportunities as supply chains are changing,” said CVT. “Companies are looking to be back in the US. This is true of our existing customers and new ones. We hope that this trend continues.”
“We've been able to get caught up on some things we had been putting off but we've yet to see any ‘opportunities’ arise from the pandemic situation. But we're looking for them,” said Cleveland Deburring.
“We'll likely stick with work-at-home options long after the pandemic,” said Dynamatic. “Also, by being adaptable, we have found new areas of industry that fit our business and have found new partners in nearly all facets of our business.”
“We have been able to step back & evaluate technology we had or lacked for both Marketing and Sales and were able to implement some things quicker than what we most likely would have before the pandemic. We have identified some gaps in training. Right Gene?” said DuraTech. “In summary, life in general is all about connecting. Sales are all about connection. We have to keep reinventing ourselves to stay connected in an authentic way.”
Anyone who champions U.S. manufacturing can join in on a new conversation each week on Twitter using the hashtag #USAMfgHour. The chat starts at 11 a.m. Pacific Standard Time/2 p.m. Eastern. Share positive blog posts, helpful articles, news, important information, accomplishments, events, and more with other manufacturers and supporters from throughout the country.
Are you interested in hosting a #USAMfgHour chat? Contact organizers @CVTPlastics, @DCSCinc, and @SocialSMktg.