Do Not Underestimate Your Value to Customers, and Other Advice for Shops

Sharing a few of the takeaways from the recent NTMA Sales and Marketing Conference.
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One of the opportunities available through the National Tooling and Machining Association (NTMA) is the chance to attend its annual Sales and Marketing Conference. Exactly as the name states, this event focuses on two vital areas in which independent machine shops routinely struggle.

The conference this year was in Pittsburgh. I attended part of it and moderated one of the sessions. If they’ll have me, I aim to attend again next year. This was a terrific event that encouraged active participation among manufacturing leaders around difficult business-related questions.

Attendees heard from speakers on topics including strategy, diversification and various end markets. Rather than summarizing the conference (not sure I could do so if I tried), let me share just a few of the points that struck me at the event and remained with me after it was over.

On leverage. NTMA President Dave Tilstone knows of various shops that have pressed for better terms with customers whose work brings poor returns, as a last measure before walking away. And they often succeed. “Do not underestimate your value to your customer,” he says. The underestimation is too common. Shops frequently have more leverage than they think.

On personnel. Whether you recognize it or not, part of your marketing is to prospective talent. As you pursue future employees, do not succumb to the widespread and unfounded dismissal of today’s young adults, says Dan Bagley, NTMA strategist. “The ‘millennial myth’ is a ridiculous demonization of young people,” he says. There are lots of young people with “moxie,” he says, who want to be part of our industry.

On strategy. Multiple speakers commented on this topic. Identifying the difference between strategy and tactics is difficultto the extent that a list of tactics frequently stands in for strategy. One way to think about strategy is this: In a continually changing world, it is your statement of who you are going to be next. An individual’s strategy is the biography of his or her future self. An organization’s strategy is much the same thing.

On delegating. The attention of the leader is a vital resource in any small company. Do not squander this. “Hire people who can take things off your plate,” said Randy Altschuler, CEO and co-founder of Xometry, in a presentation drawing on his experience. Specific to marketing, he added these points of advice: (1) Know your website is very important; (2) create content appealing to customers you want to reach; and (3) understand what prices your competitors are charging.

On prototyping. This is the pain point for shops, or at least one of the major ones. In the session I moderated, various machine shop leaders pointed to this as a challenge they face in expanding business. Namely: How does a shop overcome the difficulty of prospects that demand prototyping first but never come through with the full production? How does the shop avoid getting distracted and suffering losses from too much of this work? Part of the answer might prove to be 3D printing. In any case, if this is a challenge your shop faces, you are not alone.


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