Simply put, a lead (or a buyer, or a prospect) is someone with the need for your services or products. Leads may find you through many channels. A lead may be a former customer or someone you’ve never heard of or worked with before.
You may be wondering why I’d start out a column defining something so seemingly simple. It’s not because I don’t think you know already.
It’s because what constitutes a lead to contract manufacturers and job shops—heck, to everyone, for that matter —have changed. And how they’re found, engaged and managed have changed just as much over the last 5 years.
Leads are the foundation of your business. They offer new opportunities and revenue streams. They feed the sales funnel of your business, and offer you the opportunities to grow into new markets. They’re why you’re reading this. And there is nothing more important than nurturing fresh business relationships to sustain and grow your shop. But the Web has changed a lot of things over the past 15 years. And one of the most subtle, but important of these changes is the definition of what a lead is.
Prior to the Web, buyers (or leads) had to contact the seller in order to get the information they needed. Think of how we bought a car pre-Internet—we had to contact the dealer to get the information we wanted about a given car. The dealer (or seller) was in complete control of the information.
But the Web and its various channels have turned that model on its head. Today, the buyer (lead) gets the information needed and then chooses to identify him or herself—or not.
These new “stealth prospects” are the new leads—they look for the suppliers they need online without identifying themselves until they decide to, and to whom they decide.
They’re different from the leads in consumer markets. They take longer to research. And these new habits and preferences are why your website, being found and being remembered and recognized, are critical to the health of your business today.
Consider these characteristics and challenges of today’s hyper-empowered leads, and how your messaging and marketing helps them to deal with or overcome them. Leads are often in various states of urgency when looking for sources:
- They may be preparing for a new project or new product line.
- They may be under duress, looking to replace a failed current supplier or correct quality deficiencies that an existing supplier cannot or will not correct (supply chain disruption).
- They may be looking to expand their stable of captive or available suppliers with specific capabilities, in case that last one happens.
- They may be investigating moving production from a low-cost country. (Let’s hope we see more of those.)
In recent years, the technical expertise of buyers and procurement specialists have shifted from strong technical knowledge about the applications and equipment you use to more of a project management, purchasing position. Since they know less about machining and manufacturing processes and their subtleties, it is critical for you to present specific examples of what you’ve done for others that include what you did that saved a customer money or time. And to explain those strengths in terms that less technically experienced folks can understand.
Leads for machining partners can no longer be assumed to be ready to buy when they contact you, nor can they be assumed to be “lost” if they don’t buy after first contact.
This is why it is also critical to create follow-up opportunities and reminders for the leads and prospects you get through your marketing strategies—business through the Web often comes unexpectedly, and from unexpected sources. Your marketing efforts should include mechanisms that make remembering you easier for a “lead in need.”
Update the messaging in your website, emails, brochures and other media regularly to better ensure your leads become something more.