Susan OrrWhether you’re a manufacturer or distributor of electronic components, now is the time to capitalize on the growing economy, and to reach new prospects and new markets, to fuel your own company’s expansion. Indeed, ThomasNet’s Industry Market Barometer (IMB), a semiannual survey which tracks the growth of North American industrial and manufacturing companies, shows a sector that’s “caught fire.” The latest results, published last fall, showed a dramatic increase in the number of companies reporting growth over the previous 18 months. Many of your competitors are taking advantage of this favorable economic climate by sharpening their marketing and sales strategies.

For example, they’re paying more attention to the place where their would-be customers are researching and buying--the Internet. Companies that are garnering business from new markets are making better use of their websites on a 24/7 basis so that they're as successful as seasoned sales executives. Research shows that a supplier's website is the #1 influencing factor in a business-to-business buying decision.

The challenge when you're online, though, is how to identify your prospective customers, anticipate their needs, and answer them without ever having a phone conversation. Today, 90% of US industrial buyers go online to search, qualify, evaluate/compare and select suppliers, and they do so anonymously. This anonymity, coupled with the fact that 73% of engineers research 3 to 5 suppliers before making a selection, affirms that having a strong Internet presence will give your business a competitive advantage.

Empowering Your Website to Penetrate New Markets
There is a roadmap for succeeding in this online environment. First, it’s helpful to do a little “soul-searching” in terms of identifying which new markets you want to do business with, and how you can serve their specific needs. Ask yourself: What are our core competencies as they relate to these targets? What do we offer that is integral to their ability to do business? How can we deliver added value and turn our customers’ ideas into reality? Now, think about how you can express this on your website.

In the past, you had conversations on the phone or in person with potential customers as they were starting to research suppliers. For example, prospects asked you for your product catalog, data sheets, pricing and availability, and images or CAD drawings. They may have asked about your capabilities, new technologies, quality assurances, certifications, materials and tolerances based on their specific needs. They may have faxed or handed you a drawing, specs or an RFQ. Or they may have requested samples.

Today, the Internet has drastically reduced those one-on-one opportunities, and manufacturing buyers expect to find all of this detailed information and functionality on your website. For instance, engineers often need to compare several parts side-by-side and increasingly expect to find downloadable CAD models on a supplier’s site—and if they don’t, they’ll move to another supplier’s site. As a result, it’s critical that your site replicates online what you or your customer service staff once did offline, so you can still have effective “sales conversations” and get new business.

Making the transition to these online interactions requires strategic thinking, as well as expert execution. This starts at the research stage. A serious buyer will go to a general search engine and type in his/her need. The more detailed the search – the more qualified the buyer. For instance, a prospect who is likely to buy will enter: “3/16 round standard spacers” versus just “spacers.” It’s important to have the information on your site in the right format so that buyers will find you and search engines will index you. Unfortunately, only 12% of industrial/manufacturing websites are regularly optimized for search engines or have a clear and compelling message.

How does your site measure up? Evaluate it using a strategy we call VSET to determine what improvements to make:
1. Verify – Ensure that your site makes it easy for prospects to immediately determine that you have what they are searching for. Research demonstrates that companies only have 5-8 seconds to do this before prospects hit the “back button” and look for other suppliers.
2. Search – Give buyers the ability to look for the exact products, services or specifications they need in multiple ways—by applications or product parameters, for example.
3. Evaluate – Provide enough detailed information for prospects to make buying decisions—such as side-by-side comparison capabilities based on materials, length, weight, and pricing.
4. Take Action – Offer multiple ways for buyers to request additional information, from a phone number and Contact Us or RFQ forms on every page, to shopping cart technology to make a purchase online, if appropriate.

Now’s the time to ride the wave of our expanding economy – empower your website to ensure that new markets looking for the products or services you offer will find you and buy from you.

Susan Orr is Senior Director, Strategic Marketing at Thomas Industrial Network (, which is devoted to the success of the industrial/manufacturing sector. Thomas Industrial Network’s Navigator Platform has helped thousands of industrial companies improve the content and navigation of their websites, and grow their sales. For more information, or to share your successes and challenges increasing sales, please contact Susan Orr at or 212-629-1192, or at Thomas Industrial Network, Marketing Department, 5 Penn Plaza, New York, NY, US 10001, Fax 212-629-1129.

Sources: ThomasNet Industry Market Barometer; ThomasNet Industrial Purchasing Barometer Survey; Enquiro B2B Survey; MarketingSherpa 2009-10 B2B Benchmark Report.