The Small Manufacturer Blog is the official blog of Huff Industrial Marketing. Huff Industrial Marketing is a B2B Marketing Consultancy whit its goal to help clients understand the changes and what they mean for client's industrial manufacturing company or job shop.
Site speed is an important element of usability for your visitors and search engine optimization.
A slow loading site can easily frustrate prospects and can cause them to leave before making a purchase or getting in touch.
Slow load times also play a role with how a website ranks; site speed is one of over two hundred ranking factors that Google uses.
Google now gives you the ability to view your page speeds from within Google Analytics.
To find the tools and reporting, open the Behavior tab on the left menu, then select Site Speed.
Within this section, you can find the average page load time and suggestions for improving the load speed and score for the individual pages that comprise your website.
Before getting into page scores, let’s look at what causes a webpage to load slowly.
Common causes of slowness
There are two different types of site slowness: one where it takes a while to connect before you see anything at all, and another where it takes a while to finish loading the page after it first begins.
1. Slow connections
Slow connections can be due to the host server having technical issues. Or, your own Internet connection is experiencing problems.
If your website is being hosted on a shared server, then your site can experience intermittent or persistent slow connections because other websites on that same server are using a lot of the server’s resources, leaving little (or none!) for yours.
For businesses which rely on their website to generate income, it’s worthwhile paying more per month to not be on such a shared server plan. One company we worked with couldn’t resolve slow connection issues with their web host to their satisfaction, so they moved their website to a new host, with immediate results.
Slow connections can also be due to poorly optimized themes or plugins which pull information from a database in inefficient ways, or due to not having an appropriate caching system in place to minimize the load on the site.
2. Ad scripts
Ad scripts are always performance-intensive behind the scenes. With one website that experienced slow load times, running a test using Gtmetrix.com, with an ad blocker enabled, showed loads times at 5 seconds start to fully loaded.
Without the ad blocker, load times were 23 seconds.
Images can be large in file size and each image on a page requires a connection to the server to retrieve them for the first time you view them.
Lots of images on a page can quickly increase the overall load time. Image file sizes are determined by:
File type – If the wrong file type is used for an image the file size can be much bigger than necessary (e.g. photos should be JPG, not PNG).
Dimensions – The larger the image, the bigger the file size.
Display size – Ideally the website serves the correct sized-image for what it’s being displayed at.
Compression – Images should be correctly compressed rather than using a higher quality than necessary (e.g. a JPG at 100% quality is unnecessarily high, a lower percentage such as 86% should be used).
4. Plugins and scripts
Each additional one your site is running contributes to the site loading time. An outdated or rogue plugin can wreak havoc with site speed.
Some plugins connect with and send data to and from a central server, so if this server is experiencing issues then your site may be affected if the plugin code is poorly-written.
4. Pre-built WordPress and Shopify themes
These usually have many bells and whistles in order to get the most number of sales. Each of these features adds code to the theme, even if you’re not using them.
This bloat can make the site slow to load.
PageSpeed scores vs. what’s best for humans
The Huff Industrial Marketing homepage, running on a custom-built WordPress theme, has a score of 100 for desktop and a mobile score of 58.
Page Speed Score for Huff Industrial Marketing
Google’s warnings and messages, however, may look scary — especially if you have no technical website skills:
Page speed warnings and diagnostics
Fixing the “problems” that have resulted in low scores usually results in very tiny increases in actual performance. Making these changes can have major downsides too.
For example, analyzing the “Opportunities” listed for the Huff Industrial Marketing on mobile:
Serve images in next-gen formats – These aren’t yet supported by major browsers. While there are ways to serve fallbacks, it would currently make it hard to add new images to the site.
Defer offscreen images – This involves the concept of “lazy loading” images so that they appear when they’re about to scroll into view; images can be configured this way if it would help site visitors, but the tradeoff is that not everyone likes this effect visually.
Eliminate render-blocking resources – This means to combine multiple files into one by using a caching plugin. The downsides, however, are many, including needing specialized scripts and manual tweaks, as well as having to configure other plugins, which may no longer work out of the box.
Google’s scores are helpful in diagnosing problems if you do notice your website or a particular page is loading slowly.
Your goal should always be to improve page speed over improving your PageSpeed Score. They’re not one and the same.
If you have low PageSpeed scores and your site is loading slowly, contact an experienced developer for advice.
B2B e-commerce is huge – and continues to grow. According to data from Statista, manufacturing and merchant wholesale revenue in the U.S. in 2016 amounted to $5.79 trillion dollars in B2B e-commerce sales – growing at an average rate of about 200% per year for the previous 10 years.
The reason for the growth is easy to identify: research has shown 93% of business customers prefer to buy online when they’ve decided what to buy and simply need to make a purchase (Forrester, Death of a (B2B) Salesman).
In addition to allowing people to easily purchase products, the benefits of a well-designed e-commerce website also include an increase in the average dollar amount of purchases, as well as purchase frequency.
Despite these benefits, however, the path to e-commerce implementation can be tough – especially with regard to overcoming internal objections.
The three most common objections we hear are:
1. “Our sales process is too complicated and no e-commerce system can handle it.”
2. “We’re going to lose customers.”
3. “Our sales people will hate it.”
Let’s look at each one.
Objection #1: “Our sales process is too complicated.”
A manufacturer makes replacement parts, widgets, consumables, etc. and sells directly to end-users as well as through distributors.
Pricing is based on various choices (color, size, volume, etc.) and parts are shipped domestically and internationally from various locations.
“No e-commerce system can handle the dozens of scenarios with our sales process,” a sales VP might say.
A robust e-commerce system can handle these scenarios plus many others.
Buying wizards – tools or widgets within the e-commerce platform – can be configured to help online customers choose the right product by asking the same questions your sales team asks over the phone.
Specific rules can dictate that if a customer in Territory 1 is ordering 100 widget Xs to be shipped to their plant in Territory 2, then the parts need to be shipped from location A by a specific date.
The key to making the system work seamlessly is to spend the time with sales personnel – many of whom have a great deal of tribal knowledge in their heads – to map out the various processes and rules before beginning the e-commerce implementation.
Objection #2: We’re going to lose customers.”
Many companies believe that having someone answer all incoming calls is what sets them apart – especially when it comes to sales.
For family-owned manufacturers, “high touch” customer service has been baked in.
Old school owners and salespeople are often on a first-name basis with their contacts and pride themselves on providing personal service – because this is what keeps people loyal and coming back.
For this reason, moving to a “faceless” online ordering system can bring up fears of losing customers, since salespeople won’t have that constant touch.
The benefits of e-commerce, however, often outweigh this fear.
The in-coming generation of people within purchasing, sales, and procurement are used to doing things online versus over the phone (and often prefer to do so).
It’s 9:00 PM, for example, and the customer had to leave work early to attend a child’s school activity, and is now catching up on work.
If the customer has to call the supplier to place an order, he or she will have to wait until the next day to conduct business – or place the order with a competitor.
It’s not that the customer doesn’t value the relationship, it’s simply that making the decision to place an order online is far easier than waiting until the next day to call it in.
By ordering online, from the competitor, the customer completes the task and moves on to the next thing without having to remember to place the call the next day.
The research, by the way, backs up this scenario.
According to the Forrester report, “68% of buyers prefer doing business online versus with a salesperson, and when they engage with sales, they want that experience to be in a more problem-solving, consultative manner.”
Objection #3: “My sales people will hate it.”
For salespeople, the most common fear regarding e-commerce is that they’ll lose sales commissions.
Salespeople often look at an e-commerce system as competition. If a salesperson works on a deal, but then the order is placed online, why should the company pay sales commission?
In reality, a robust e-commerce platform, with an integrated CRM, is the manufacturing owner’s and salesperson’s friend. Consider the following scenarios.
Sales accountability – With a CRM in place, owners can see which salespeople have been hustling and/or which accounts have been languishing. If a sales person hasn’t spoken with an account in over six months, and then an order is placed online, the owner can make the case that no commission is due.
Conversely, if the salesperson has been in contact with the customer who places a large order, and has been keeping the CRM updated with regard to sales calls, emails, etc., this history is easily viewable by both owner and salesperson.
Customer tracking – When a salesperson puts together an RFQ using a PDF or print catalog, he or she has no clue if the customer is interested in the product because it’s next to impossible to track website visits.
With an e-commerce and integrated CRM platform, salespeople can provide RFQs through the system and then track whether the customer visits the website and/or views other products. The system can include rules about abandoned shopping carts, too.
For example, a customer places 100 units of a specific SKU in the shopping cart but doesn’t complete the purchase. Sales can call the customer to say, “We have a deal on this product,” in order to help close the sale.
Relationship building – When salespeople are tied up taking orders by phone, they’re not free to resolve customers’ special requests or urgent issues (e.g. customization, shipping/routing, or other issue).
By allowing customers to place orders online, an e-commerce system frees salespeople to focus on high-value relationship building activities – including solving problems and re-activating languishing accounts.
Unemployment rates have reached records lows across many states, including Iowa (2.4%), Missouri (3.1%), Texas (3.7%), South Carolina (3.3%), and New Hampshire (2.4%).The Bureau of Labor Statistics states the ratio of unemployed workers to available jobs hovers at a record low, with 0.9 workers for every job vacancy.
Due to the low unemployment rates, and the robust economy, the U.S. manufacturing industry is facing a potential 2.4 million positions unfilled between 2018 and 2028, according to the latest skills gap report from The Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte.
Manufacturers can’t find enough job candidates with the right skills and work ethic to fill openings. Indeed, 51% of executives surveyed said “maintaining or increasing production levels to satisfy growing customer demand as the biggest challenge arising from not filling open jobs in the next three years.”
The other challenge facing manufacturers is the changing nature of the skills required. Due to the introduction of advanced technology and automation, “the types of skills employees need to possess are rapidly evolving” — leaving manufacturers and technical schools scrambling.
Due to these challenges, it takes an average 93 days to fill open positions requiring skilled production workers (welders, machining, etc.). In 2015, it took 70 days.To address the workforce shortage challenge, manufacturers are employing various tactics, everything from the tried and true such as “Help Wanted” signs and newspaper ads, to the more extreme, such as hiring prison inmates.
At meetings and events where manufacturers discuss their workforce challenges, one tactic for finding skilled labor is rarely discussed: Apprenticeships.
A growing Department of Labor Initiative
Spanning more than 1,000 occupations, apprenticeships are a collaborative effort between the Department of Labor, workforce intermediaries, educational institutions, community partners, the public workforce system, and the workers themselves.
Since January 2017, 404,000 people have become apprentices, in industries that include advanced manufacturing, healthcare, information technology, cybersecurity, energy, and hospitality.
Through the Apprenticeship program, workers earn while they learn. An apprenticeship combines on-the-job training at the employer’s facility with education through a job-related technical program (usually offered at a technical school or community college).
Fulfilling the requirements of the apprenticeship results in the worker receiving an industry-recognized credential. According to the DOL, workers completing the program earn an average starting wage of $60,000.
The benefits of using the Apprenticeship program to hire and train workers are many, including allowing employers to build a skilled workforce while receiving tax benefits and lowering turnover.
Training for all types of workers
Apprenticeships aren’t just for younger workers coming out of high school or community college. The program seeks to provide training and relevant skills to a wide cross-section of workers, including:
Military veterans(retired or transitioning)
Displaced workers (e.g. coal miners)
Under-employed or non-employed workers
Students in high school or college
The program is open to all sizes and types of companies
You don’t have to be a large company to participate in the Apprenticeship program. If you have open positions, and are struggling to find skilled candidates, taking advantage of the Apprenticeship program can help.
Your first step is to contact one of your state’s workforce development programs. You can also contact your local or regional technical school or community college to see if they have an apprenticeship program you can tap into.
In New Hampshire where I live, for example, the state has a number of workforce partners including the Learn! Apprenticeship program, the NH Sector Partnership Initiative, and WorkReady NH, to name a few.
Many apprenticeship program partners are quite proactive. The NH community college system applied for and won a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to expand the state’s program. The state now has 3,000 active apprenticeships and due to the grant, has added 1,000 in 2018 alone.
According to what I learned attending a recognition program sponsored by Learn!, New Hampshire manufacturers large and small are taking advantage of the program, including companies such as Cobham Aerospace, Hypertherm, EPTAM Plastics, and EFI.
To learn more about the DOL’s Apprenticeship program, and your state’s participation, visit the Department of Labor website or the newly created Apprenticeship.gov website. Both websites feature a wealth of information, including fact sheets, toolkits, data, and success stories.
Due to manufacturing being a daily news item, marketing consultants and agencies have now become “experts” with regard to advising small manufacturers about websites and marketing.
A simple Google search (“manufacturing marketing tips”) reveals that hundreds of consultants and agencies — including the USPS! — are pitching their ideas in an effort to gain new customers.
A careful reading of these articles / blog posts / etc. however, show that many of these “experts” have simply put a manufacturing spin on overused consumer and B2B tactics. A few examples follow.
“One way to generate leads for your manufacturing business is to leverage on existing clients and customers you have. Try asking them if they want to upgrade their way of doing business with you by offering innovations every so often.”
Manufacturers typically innovate on a continual basis based on employee and customer feedback. Innovation is important because it lowers costs and production time, and improves quality, all of which benefits companies and their customers.
Telling a manufacturer to ask customers “if they want to upgrade their way of doing business by offering innovations” is a real head-scratcher. Huh?
What this writer may be referring to is a tactic that works well for service-based businesses. A day spa, for example, offers a “Christmas in July” promotion where clients can purchase services in bulk and receive a discount — but only in the month of July.
The “innovation” is in the way the service is being delivered: purchase in bulk during the off-season.
Could this idea work for a small manufacturer? Maybe — but it would take some time to plan out the offer and then create the marketing strategy for it.
“Reviews on sites such as Yelp can help establish the reputation of your brand.”
Yelp is best known for reviews of consumer-based businesses (Figure 1). A knowledgeable manufacturing marketing consultant would know this, and thus wouldn’t recommend the tactic as way to establish the reputation of a manufacturer’s “brand.”
The only benefit of having a Yelp listing is that DuckDuckGo, an alternative search engine to Google, uses these in place of Google My Business listings.
To determine if a Yelp listing might benefit your company, you would need to analyze how much traffic is coming from DuckDuckGo.(Based on in-house data, this would mostly like be nil).
Instead of spending limited time and energy hounding customers to leave reviews, a small manufacturer could ask for testimonials to add to the website and other marketing materials.
This tactic ties in with a well-developed website and content marketing strategy because prospects visiting a manufacturing website expect to see testimonials.
Testimonials also help build crucial trust and credibility in conjunction with other content: Company history, bios, industry certifications, capabilities, etc.
“Secure conversions with a blog. You can increase lead volume by up to 4x and traffic by 3x. Make sure your content is relevant and entertaining.”
When blogging first came onto the scene, it was a terrific way to stand apart and get your message out there. Today, however, with the content marketing explosion, thanks in part to the proliferation of blogs, it’s very difficult to “be heard.”
Consistently creating blog content is also labor intensive and requires time and people resources — two things small manufacturers, with limited or no marketing staff, have in very short supply.
Besides which, do buyers come to a supplier website expecting to be entertained? No. They want to take care of business and move on.
But what about the assertion lead volume can be increased?
There is truth to this statement, but it’s due to consistently creating technical content that answers prospects’ questions: FAQs, application notes, case studies, and tech tips.
Over time, this type of informative and niche content appears in the search results — because Google wants to provide searchers with great content that also matches their search intent.
As more people find it and click through to read it, the content generates leads — which are easily tracked in Google Analytics.
“Email marketing needs to be a part of your marketing mix because it’s still widely used and because of its low cost.”
Yes, email marketing is widely used and it does have a relatively low cost, but what exactly is meant by “email marketing”?
More to the point, how does a small manufacturer make it part of the “marketing mix”?
This writer may be referring to the type of email sent out via marketing automation tools, but the advice is so generic, it’s hard to tell.
What can work for a small manufacturer is a professionally designed, well-written monthly newsletter sent to the in-house list.
As with website content, it can help with generating leads over time.
Figure 2: Graphic from Urethane Innovators monthly newsletter
Small manufacturers aren’t consumers or even B2B
The tactics that work for consumers don’t translate to the small manufacturer, who is usually an OEM or job shop. Their own specialized niche, job shops are part of the national and/or global supply chain and have their own unique challenges.
When searching for a vendor, small business owners, engineers, buyers, etc. are all looking for specific information that lets them know the prospective company might be able to solve their challenge.
Using consumer-based marketing strategies to create this content leads to failure.
MailChimp recently updated its branding and website design. What caught the eye were the font treatments: big, bold, crisp and black, the words seemed to jump off the page. They were also much easier to read.
Whether you read on your phone, tablet or laptop, the vast majority of us are glued to our devices. Reading online, while convenient, also has its drawbacks.
The flickering light can cause eye strain and headaches, and reading small text becomes exhausting. Which is why it’s important to optimize website text for reading – something most people don’t consider, but good copywriters and web designers do.
Text that’s been well-designed for reading does two things: It makes it easier for buyers to view what you have to say without strain, and two, it gets your message across because . . . people are reading it and understanding it. When comprehension goes up, so does taking the next step in the sales process (e.g. contacting you).
In addition, legible font sizes is one of the over 200 signals that goes into Google’s ranking algorithm.
What follows are a few of the items good designers take into consideration when optimizing website text for ease of reading.
Google recommends having a font size of 12px for at least 60% of text on a page.
A font this size means you can comfortably read the text without having to pinch-to-zoom or bringing the phone close to your face.
Font sizes can also be too big. When this happens, you’re forced to scroll too often on a smaller device in order to read a paragraph.
In the early 1990s, Colin Wheildon published Type & Layout: Are You Communicating or Just Making Pretty Shapes?
The book was remarkable because Wheildon used research and eye tracking studies to prove that most of the print advertisements of his time were simply unreadable – and thus did nothing to help sell products.
fOne of the many studies he conducted was on text color. He showed, through testing, that when a black font was used, more people readily retained what they read, and that the lighter the font, the less they retained.
It works the same for web pages. The darker (and blacker) the text, the easier it is to read.
Designers also need to account for color blindness, contrast with background colors, and differences in color display from screen-to-screen when selecting text colors.
The web differs from print in one huge way: not everyone will see text exactly as you intended it. Different screens, and individual device settings and preferences, mean fonts won’t look the same for everyone. Designers check that the fonts themselves are readable.
Fonts should be crisp, not jagged or blurry, and have a good weight and proper spacing so they’re readable on a variety of devices.
Classic readability theory suggests the ideal column width, for ease of reading, is 70 – 80 characters per line (about 8 – 10 words in English).
When the line length is too long, you have to move your eyes (or even your head) too much – which quickly becomes tiring.
When line length is too short, it’s especially hard for readers on phones because they have to scroll down the page too often and can’t take in the text at a glance.
Ever read text where the lines were all crammed far too closely? This type of design makes for a tiring reading experience because your eyes have to work harder to follow where you are in the text, without getting distracted by the lines above and below.
Designers generally set line heights somewhere between 120 – 150% of the font size. There’s even a golden ratio mathematical formula for how to best space out text!
Choosing a design firm
As you can see, many factors go into ensuring website text is optimized for comfortable reading.
When selecting a web design firm, look closely at how easy it is to read the text on the websites they’ve designed in the past, both on your laptop and phone.
When working with a web designer, be vigilant in checking everything is easy to read. Speak up if something looks too small, too light, or simply “unreadable” to you.
Web Typography Do’s and Don’ts
DO use smaller or “chunked” paragraphs of one to three sentences. Long paragraphs are difficult to read online.
DO use subheads, bullets, and other elements to help people quickly find the information they’re looking for.
DO check your web pages on a phone to ensure you can easily read the text without having to “pinch” it to make it larger.
DO have multiple people proofread your content before making it live – it’s easy miss typos.
DON’T use all capitals for paragraphs of text (for headers and sub-heads, it’s ok). Text in all caps is considered rude and the equivalent of shouting at someone.
DON’T underline words that aren’t linked to something else as this confuses site visitors.
DON’T italicize text as it’s hard to read. If you need to emphasize a word, phrase or sentence, bold it.
DON’T use small (less than 12 px) text or very large (greater than 16 px) text for paragraphs as both are difficult to read, especially on smaller devices.
DON’T use a double space after periods. It’s not necessary. The extra space creates “rivers of white” on the page – and drives copywriters and designers insane.
Looking for a great web design firm that also understands manufacturing?
Take a look at our Website Overhaul services. We work exclusively with manufacturers to design websites that help solve three big challenges: Attracting skilled labor, lowering customer service costs, and generating leads that become sales.
Three out of four small business owners, when surveyed, responded they wouldn’t do anything differently with regard to recruiting candidates – even though survey respondents across all sectors report they’re having serious trouble finding people with the right skills.
In fact, fewer than 10% of respondents endorsed adopting new recruitment strategies next year, such as finding new ways to advertise (6%), increasing pay (4%), adjusting the job description (3%), offering internships (3%), connecting with colleges (2%), working with headhunters (2%), or offering more benefits (1%).
Among those who searched for candidates in 2018, two in three say they will use the exact same strategy to search in 2019.
Because of its close alignment with branding and marketing, “corporate culture” is being talked about more frequently in the media and business circles.
Culture is also one of those “fuzzy” topics that most manufacturers don’t talk about. But, with today’s tight labor market and strong focus on attracting and retaining skilled labor, more manufacturers are paying attention.
In this piece, I’ll cover what is culture and the importance of communicating it to current employees and job seekers (and even prospective customers).
The difference between organizational development and corporate culture
Organization Development (OD) is a broad term and field. It’s about helping organizations change and enhance their performance. Within very large companies, OD falls under Human Resources (HR).
Many small companies don’t think about organizational development.
Culture, on the other hand, is a system of beliefs, and the mindset, that drive the norms and behaviors that impact decision making, communication, and results. All organizations, no matter their size, have their own distinct culture.
A good analogy is to think about your family of origin. You know which behaviors and norms are accepted within your family. You have certain ways of speaking and acting. You can’t “see” these behaviors and norms, but you know they exist.
It works the same way for organizations. Culture develops over time as the beliefs and mindsets take hold. When new people come into the organization, they adapt to the culture. When people leave the organization, they don’t take the culture with them.
Understanding your own company’s culture is important if you want to make internal changes, especially if they cross the cultural “grain.” If you don’t understand your culture, and the best way to make these changes, they won’t hold – and you’ll probably encounter resistance.
Knowing your culture is also important when you’re seeking new employees. If your culture values being proactive and solving problems, versus waiting to be told what to do, you’ll have a very hard time attracting and retaining the right kinds of employees if this aspect of your culture isn’t being communicated clearly.
Becoming more aware of your own culture so you can begin communicating it to prospective job seekers
The first step in communicating your company’s culture is to understand it. You can sit down with a corporate culture consultant or do internal workshops or surveys with your employees.
You can ask employees to describe how they perceive your organization’s culture. What do they value? What do they like about working there? What’s challenging? What would they like to change?
Pose these questions to all of your employees. You, as the leader, have a limited view – and often, leaders don’t understand how all aspects of their culture works.
When you ask employees for their feedback, you engage them and help retain them. But, you have to act on the information – otherwise, you’ll lose their trust.
Culture goes beyond benefits and perks – and even morale. People often confuse morale and culture, but they’re not the same. For example, your company’s holiday party may heighten morale temporarily, but it most likely won’t change how your culture operates.
Culture is about expectations and behaviors. “We value people who are proactive or incredibly precise.” Or, “We value ingenuity and resourcefulness.”
When describing expectations, you have to be brutally honest. Enron, for example, had posters saying it valued “integrity” – and you know the ending of that story.
Next, ask yourselves, “What will attract people to our culture? What are we offering?”
Showcase your company’s innovative spirit
Showcasing your innovation is huge. Younger people especially want to know they’re contributing to something larger than themselves.
People in manufacturing are often contributing to the greater good. In one company we worked with, for example, the employees discovered their products save lives as they’re used in the aerospace and aeronautics industries.
Once the employees articulated this, they began viewing their jobs with a much different perspective. What they did was important – and their care and precision was a critical element in adding to the greater good.
Why it’s important to communicate your values on your website and within marketing materials
For job seekers, learning about the company’s values is important because they’re looking for a values match.
“Is the company heading where I’m heading?” “Are expectations clear?” “Is the environment innovative?”
Putting this type of information on a manufacturing website is sometimes counter-intuitive, especially for leaders who come from the old-school mentality of “people should come in and do their jobs.”
But today, more people are looking for a connection. They want to know what your company is about, your relationship to the local community, and what employees say about working for you.
Culture is something you definitely want to understand and give time to. The better you understand your culture and how it works, the easier it is to talk about, as well as create the messages that attract and retain the right types of people.
Want more job recruitment marketing strategies like this?
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At some point, a manufacturer will ask if it’s possible to sell products to distributors and/or end-users online. Asking this question makes sense as it’s relatively easy, with the tools and platforms available, to integrate e-commerce with an existing website.
However, e-commerce is one facet of an entire business. It ties into everything, from inventory and order entry to shipping and distribution. For manufacturers, e-commerce can quickly become complex with tens of thousands of SKUs, customizations, multiple pricing models or currencies, and other issues.
While all of these issues are worthy of discussion, the two main challenges faced by manufacturers, when deciding to sell products online are: choosing the right e-commerce platform and then preparing the data for migration.
Can the product/s be sold online?
Not all products lend themselves to e-commerce. One manufacturer, for example, sold custom welders used for making vehicle siding. Each welder was 25’ wide and was made-to-order based on the customer’s specifications. Because of the customizations, e.g. system add-ons and parts to suit the customer’s workspace, the manufacturer would have had a difficult time selling the product through an e-commerce platform.
For this type of specialized product, we recommend a content heavy website that answers people’s questions and encourages them to initiate contact, whether through email, phone or RFQ. E-commerce is a viable option, however, for manufacturers with standalone products, complete systems sold as kits, or consumables and replacement parts.
Challenge #1: Choosing the right e-commerce platform
If you have a small catalog, a limited number of SKUs and/or variables, no custom pricing, and you mainly sell directly to your end users, Shopify is a great starting point. The platform has a low cost to entry, is easy to set up and use, and offers pre-built themes.
The basic theme (which is free) is easily customized to provide a seamless experience for site visitors. It also integrates well with WordPress.
However, Shopify has many limitations for manufacturers wanting to grow their online business. Integrating with back-end systems and ERPs is difficult, and custom pricing and catalogs aren’t native. For example, manufacturers of widgets sell in volume, not one-offs, and pricing is based on the volume ordered, material, any design customizations, and when the parts are needed.
In addition, the customer may want to place one order of 10,000 pieces, but have five shipments of 2,000 pieces shipped at specific times of the year.
Manufacturers may have different pricing for different clients or groups (e.g. distributors versus end-users) or some customers need approval to place orders over specific dollar amounts and simply want to generate a quote to start the PO process.
For these complex scenarios and many others, Shopify falls short.
For manufacturers wanting a more robust, flexible and scalable platform, Magento is the e-commerce platform of choice.
Magento offers manufacturers rich out-of-the-box features, seamless third-party integrations and an easy to use-to-use backend. Negotiated pricing and custom catalogs are easy to set up, and you can even sell to B2B customers on terms with credit limits.
Many manufacturers start on Shopify (or other similar e-commerce platforms), but as their business grows, move to Magento for its B2B features and functionality.
Challenge #2: Preparing the data
Once the decision has been made to migrate to Magento, manufacturers new to e-commerce and with large numbers of SKUs (in the tens or hundreds of thousands) typically run into the overwhelming hurdle of preparing the data for migration. This hurdle is usually due to one of two scenarios.
Scenario #1: The product catalog is literally a PDF catalog available as a download on the website. Or, the catalog is broken down into various pieces on the website.
The problem with the catalog-is-a-PDF is that site visitors can’t apply filters to find what they’re looking for. For example, when you shop online at a retailer, you typically apply filters based on specific attributes: men’s shoes / boots / size / color / style.
It works the same way for B2B products – buyers need to apply filters to make it easier to find what they’re looking for. A PDF, or flat HTML or WordPress website, doesn’t give them this option.
Scenario #2: The product catalog incorporates tens of thousands of variations or attributes, which haven’t been mapped out or categorized.
In this scenario, a manufacturer may have a spreadsheet that lists all of the products and part numbers, but the attributes for each part number are listed in one field – which means they have to be pulled out one by one before the data can be migrated to the e-commerce platform.
Whether the data resides in a PDF or a spreadsheet, the process is same – extracting the data and creating a taxonomy. This process can take the better part of a year.
A good e-commerce partner will usually have third-party resources available to make this process move more efficiently. In addition to working with the manufacturer to prepare the data, the e-commerce partner also helps map out the sales and order process, and how the e-commerce system will tie into existing systems such as CRM, ERP, accounting, etc.
The e-commerce partner will also set up permissions and rules for who can access the system and at which levels, as well as creating rules and permissions for various customer types.
Although a complex operation, once the e-commerce system is up and running, manufacturers find that having an online ordering system helps increase sales and makes it easier to work with customers. Even better, a robust and flexible system such as Magento creates efficiencies across the board that improve customer service while reducing costs.
The following chart lists out the advantages and disadvantages of Shopify and Magento for B2B e-commerce.
Magento versus Shopify for B2B e-commerce
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As a manufacturer, you may have different customer types to whom you market. They could be other small business owners or CEOs of very large companies.
Or, you may have customers in different industries, such as agriculture or mining. When different customer types are looking for specific information, have different needs, or require a specialist language, you’ll need to communicate this through your website’s messaging and organization.
When it comes to home page design and addressing multiple customer or audience types, however, things can sometimes get a little tricky.
One reason is due to the limited amount of real estate on the home page. Another reason is you may have more than a few customer types – so how do you address them all? Companies go about this in various ways depending on what they’re selling and to whom.
Providers of a software application, Hawksearch has three grey boxes that allow people to self-select who they are: Marketer, Merchandiser, and Developer (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Hawksearch customer type selector
Select one of the boxes and the image / copy changes. This method of addressing multiple audiences enables the company to present an overview for each customer type without overwhelming visitors. Very nice and easy!
MacroAir Fans, manufacturers of large fans, also has three audiences or “fan space” types: Industrial, Commercial, and Residential (Figure 2).
Figure 2: MacroAir Fans lets people choose a fan by type of space
Each blue box describes the respective audiences within each space, which makes it easy for people to self-select and learn more. The “Industrial” box, for example, includes “warehouses, manufacturing, and agriculture.” A manufacturer looking for a warehouse or factory fan sees it and thinks, “manufacturing warehouse . . . yep, that’s the one I need.”
Again, very nice and easy.
K2 Castings, a client, also had the dilemma of reaching multiple audiences within the industrial recycling industry – and each with a very different purpose: Selling industrial shredder parts, shredder performance consulting, and construction management projects.
Founder and CEO Tom Stanek used a similar format to MacroAir: three images with descriptive copy on each one (Figure 3). Each image links the searcher to the appropriate area of the website.
Figure 3: K2 Castings helps people find the right area of the website without a lot of clicking
These are just three examples of how to address multiple audiences. Others exist as well.
In addition to using three images to address their respective audiences, all three examples have one other thing in common: they use static images rather than rotating images.
Static versus Rotating Images
Many designers and web usability experts aren’t fans of rotating images. Research shows that rotating images (also called sliders, carousels, sliders, and slideshows) are largely ignored by site visitors – usually because they’re viewed as ad banners.
Here’s what Craig Kistler, Founder of conversion rate optimization firm Strategy & Design Co., had to say about them after 15 years of running usability tests:
“In all the testing I have done, homepage carousels are completely ineffective . . . In test after test, the first thing the visitor did when coming to a page with a large carousel is scroll right past it and start looking for triggers that will move them forward with their task.”
When you have multiple audiences, it’s important to immediately indicate your key messages to all your visitors. When rotating images are used to address multiple audiences, you end up hiding information from the vast majority of your visitors – because few will take the time to view all the slides.
Other disadvantages of having rotating images include making the page slower to load, which can frustrate visitors and impact search engine ranking. One website we viewed, for example, had 20 rotating images on the home page header!
Rotating images that include text in the images themselves are typically difficult to read on smaller mobile devices and ignored by on-the-go searchers.
When considering how to address multiple customer types on your home page, keep in mind the following:
Less is more – The tendency for marketing teams is to cram everything onto the home page, which is why a website ends up with a large carousel. Think through your audiences, who you’re trying to reach, and why.
Keep it simple – The easier it is for people to self-select, the better. You want people to have a glitch-free user experience.
Think “next step” – The goal, when addressing multiple audiences, is to get people to where they need to be on your website without a lot of clicking around. In other words, you want to make it easy and fast – without any thinking required by the site visitor.
Employing sound marketing practices, such as choosing static versus rotating images, is very similar to keeping your machines regularly maintained and in tune.
As with any in-tune, well-maintained machine, the more efficient your website, the less it costs you in lost sales in the long run.
Rachel Cunliffe is the Designer and Creative Director for Huff Industrial Marketing. She draws on over 16 years experience of designing websites for companies and individuals around the world.
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