What’s the Best Way to Get Manufacturing Leads in 2024?

Google Search Console graph of impressions and clicks

If you’re asking “what’s the best way to get manufacturing leads in 2024?” then you’ve come to the right place. Now I know if you’ve been searching on the web, you’ve come across sites like MFG.com, Thomasnet, and others who might seem familiar to you. You’ve also seen companies that do prospecting cold calls, and a range of other lead generation activities. You need to sort them out and decide what’s the best route, and that’s tough, but in this article you’ll learn real, actionable activities you can start doing to make a difference.  Towards the end of the article, you’ll see a discussion about outsourced cold calling, and it should help you decide if this is right for you. These tips are going to make sense to you because I’ve tried it all, and this is what works. I’m a professional marketer, and have been for 15 years. I’ve worked almost exclusively with manufacturers for the past 6, and what I’ve learned is that the mindset of the owner or manager I’m dealing with is going to determine how successful the company is.  Your ability to generate leads as a manufacturer depends on your mindset, so before we get into the techniques you need to use to get leads, let me briefly summarize the successful mindset versus the bankruptcy track mindset:

  • Successful manufacturing leaders & managers know that when they invest in equipment and certifications, they need to simultaneously invest in marketing their new capabilities.
  • Unsuccessful individuals purchase new equipment because one customer requires it, and then they hope other people will hear about it.
  • Successful manufacturers realize that the way customers find them is constantly shifting.  They have their eye on the horizon to identify pieces they are missing
  • Unsuccessful leaders remember the good times and what was working then.  They continually invest in these same tactics with diminishing returns.
  • Successful leaders realize that their company image on the web and in the world is too important to play around with, and they invest serious effort in finding a credible partner with a track record
  • Unsuccessful leaders have no problem spending $100,000 on a top of the line new boat, but search for a freelancer to do their web work because it’s the cheapest

If you’re still reading this, then it’s likely can relate to the persona of the successful leader, or at least aspire to adopt that persona.  Now, through this article, I intend to prove to you why the following list is so important, but you are busy with other matters, so I’ll save you the trouble if you just want to know what the top must-have activities you should be doing are:

List of the top activities you should be investing in to generate new leads for your manufacturing business

  1. SEO – Getting High Placement in Google Search Results for Terms Like “Cable Harness Manufacturers” (if you are in the electronics space)
    SEO for manufacturers and machine shops is a non-negotiable if you want stability and future success. SEO is the process of getting ranked higher in Google search results for the terms that will bring you business. For example: “injection mold tool shops near me”.
  2. PPC/Re-targeting
    PPC or pay-per-click advertising is often visible at the top of search results when you “google” a term. Retargeting allows you to “re-engage” people after they perform an action that we can specify. Examples of these actions would be: Entering a physical location; Displaying certain buying behaviors or search behaviors online; Visiting your website.
  3. Your Website
    Your website should demonstrate your credibility and the quality of your work to potential customers and employees.
  4. Engaging your past clients frequently with short email or social media messages

If you did a lot of things wrong, and you did those items listed above, your company would likely stay successful for the long term. I’ve seen it repeatedly, how simple marketing actions can generate vast numbers of leads and keep your business flush.  This topic is more pertinent in 2024 than it has been for several years.  Although the major focus for the last few years has been on workforce, more manufacturers now are feeling the pinch of a tightening economy.

So why do so manufacturing companies die in a recession if surviving and thriving simply means following the 4 step list above? In the 2008 Recession we lost 2.3 million manufacturing jobs and by all accounts, the one we’re facing now could be worse. The reasons why certainly include less of an economic pie to be divided, but just because there’s less overall, doesn’t mean that you can scoop up a larger percentage of that market share.

Many manufacturers that go under during an economic downturn don’t have to!  The reasons they fold often don’t come down to the loss of a specific piece of business, or reduced demand from several customers, the real reasons are that they didn’t realize the position they were in, and take proactive steps to reduce that risk.  I believe the simple reasons so many companies suffer come down to two points:

  • They don’t have a good marketer who can successfully implement the steps above.
  • They won’t spend the money even if they did have the marketer.

You might be saying: “there’s no way it’s that simple!” The reason I am sticking to my statement is that I have seen countless manufacturers that were so screwed up they couldn’t answer the phone, deliver product on time, keep staff, or clean their facility in 15 years, but they still made money! Lot’s of it. Why? Because they were getting lots of leads and it allowed them to outrun their deficiencies.

Lead generation should be your number one focus for long-term stability

There’s plenty of folks out there who will disagree with me on this, in fact I’ve met plenty of consultants who would spend months creating business plans and doing brand positioning exercises, or pushing lean processes, and anyone can find hundreds of articles that talk about the need for automation or liquidity. The reason I’m right about this (and that I’m writing about this), is that you could do all of those things and still not make a dime, but if you are generating lots of leads, closing deals, and making a margin, you could ignore the rest of it and still make money. Before I offend anyone I like, many of whom run manufacturing support service organizations, those activities, processes, and procedures like Six Sigma, positioning, succession plans, culture development, and more are important, and they will make your business much more successful. The issue is, that they don’t matter if you aren’t making money.

Back to the lead generation success plan

If I owned a manufacturing facility that generated 1 million in revenue and I wanted to get it to 2 million in 2 years (I know most of you are much larger than this, so just think scale), I would spend these exact dollars because I’ve seen it work over and over.

Annual Investments:

  1. SEO – $30k
  2. Membership based marketing/SEO related Investments $5,000
  3. Retargeting $6,000
  4. Social media/email list building and marketing $6,000

That’s a $47,000/yr investment that makes you a million and continues to build over time. This could be a slightly optimistic ROI calculation for all cases, but if everything lines up, it will probably happen. Even if it was half of that, or a quarter, or an eighth, wouldn’t it still be worth doing?  Another amazing aspect to this, is that a larger company won’t have to scale these numbers up 1 to 1, although you could.  For example, if you are a $50 million company, you wouldn’t need to spend 300k in SEO.

This chart is real example of an OEM company that is spending the budgets outlined above and shows traffic to their website from from organic Google search. It covers a 16 month span.

Google Search Console Chart from OEM Company

So this chart represents only the organic SEO portion of the marketing strategy, with clicks more than doubling from organic search results (not the ads, just the natural listings). These clicks represent individuals looking for what this company is offering.

The chart below shows overall traffic to their site which is more representative of all of the efforts (but not completely because emails and social don’t necessarily lead to the website prior to outreach). Note that this chart has a little gap because some misfired tracking but it gets the point across:

Google Search Console Chart showing increase in traffic in 12 months.

This chart shows all site traffic going from about 200 visits to 600 visits in 12 months.

If inbound leads are a percentage of inbound traffic – which they are – and inbound leads are directly correlated to revenue – which they are – then it follows that this type of investment works and can double or triple your revenue in two years and keep you stable during a recession, because SEO works in a recession, just like in an expansion.

Do you want to learn more about this process and how it can help your company? We’re just an email or phone call away

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Need more data? Here’s an example of a very low budget project that only included basic SEO and a basic website redesign.

This company in Fairhaven, CT is a small machine shop who had a poorly constructed website and had performed almost no marketing in the past. We were able to spin up a low cost template (which is still very nice looking) and perform some very basic link building and content generation. We started tracking after we built the new website and instantly began receiving traffic which steadily increased over the following months. This company received their first profitable lead within 3 months of the new website launch and have closed several deals since then. Their total investment over 12 months was only $9,000 (for a website and basic SEO!) and the jobs they closed were all in the tens of thousands. The best part about this is that the work we did with SEO and building their Google rank for keywords is going to stick with them and continue to provide results over the coming years.

Google Search Console traffic for Fairhaven company

I included this example to show that even with minimal SEO and a decent website, it’s possible to generate significant results and provide stability. The deals this machine shop closed in the first year will be more than sufficient to recuperate their investment but the real profits come into play when the prove themselves to their new customers and continue to add new ones.

Our Small Manufacturer Marketing Program

The example above showed results we generated for a customer in our small manufacturer marketing program. We created the program because we realized that many small manufacturers don’t have the budgets they should really be spending on marketing. Once again, if I was a small manufacturer and wanted to become a big one, I would spend the original recommended budgets no matter what it took or what costs I needed to cut in other areas. I realize that this would take a lot of trust, so that’s why the Small Manufacturer Marketing Plan exists, to allow you to try it out for 12 months, see some demonstrable results, and hopefully get more aggressive with what’s working. I would still recommend aggressively pursuing digital marketing efforts, especially if your company has an established marketing budget. weCreate can easily prove that the investment will work beforehand, and prove that it’s working throughout the engagement, so it’s better to do a full-scale push that will accelerate your results and get you generating leads faster.


Comparison of Various Manufacturing Lead Generation Techniques

If there are so many services out there that claim to generate leads for manufacturers, why would you choose to perform the list I suggested over other techniques?  Let’s discuss some of the various strategies:

1. Directories like Thomasnet

Thomasnet started out as a printed manufacturing sourcing publication.  They adjusted to the market’s demand for digital resources and moved their database online.  Over the years, this behemoth has attempted to become an all-in-one solution for manufacturing procurement.  You’ll see the same sort of scenario played out with phonebook/yellowpage companies.  While Thomasnet works for some, we’ve worked with more than a few that have invested many thousands of dollars in this service – everything from website design to paid promotion in their directory.  Let’s suffice it to say that a provider who sees you as an individual and is invested in your success is going to produce a better outcome for you.  If you’d like more specific data-backed information comparing Thomasnet or other directories with our company, just reach out and we’ll be happy to share what we know.

2. Manufacturing lead brokers like MFG.com.

Many companies we’ve worked with have used these lead generation services and the feedback they have is that the business they receive tends to be very low margin.  Clearly if you can get a potential customer directly to your site and close the deal, you’re going to have higher margins than if there’s a middleman.  Additionally, many companies that use a broker to find a service provider are simply looking for the lowest bidder.

3. Tradeshows

Tradeshows can be a great way to promote your services and gain visibility in your vertical.  On the other hand, they usually require a substantial investment and the companies you are exposed to at the show are there to promote themselves – not to find a service provider.  We’ve found that if you were to invest the same amount you spend at a tradeshow on other marketing techniques like PPC or SEO, the number of viable leads you’ll receive is dramatically more.

4. Cold Calling/Outsourced Prospecting

We have extensive experience, not only utilizing this technique for weCreate’s lead generation, but also working with customers who use/used outside services or an internal sales team for cold calling.  Does it generate leads? Yes! The problem is best illustrated through an example:

Example 1: You Hire a Prospecting Agency

Your company decides to hire a prospecting contractor who specializes in manufacturing.  This company is typically going to require a $40,000 to $70,000 investment per year to provide this service.  Now, as the contractor begins to generate interested prospects, you begin to find that these leads are nowhere near ready to send you work.  They may be interested enough to have a conversation, but chances are, it’s going to be a few years and well over $100,000 invested before you begin to see a return.   If you can afford to consistently make this investment, 5 years in, you’ll probably be very happy with your book of business – the thing is, we know a shorter, easier route to this goal.

Example 2: You Use SEO for Lead Generation Instead of Outside Sales

Your company decides to invest in SEO services – which means that when a person is looking for your manufacturing capabilities, they search online for a provider, and there you are at the top of the list.  (side note: remember Thomasnet?  Well, their idea of SEO is putting you at the top of the list in their directory.  Which means this person searching would have had to choose Thomasnet in search results, got to the page you are listed, and selected you from the list of providers there.  With SEO, you bypass this whole process).  In this example, let’s say you fabricate machine baseplates.  Your SEO service provider gets you to to the #1 search result for the search query “Machinery baseplate manufacturer”.   Nationwide, there are 2,000 monthly searches.  Being in the #1 spot, 300 of those click on your listing and 10 of them become customers each month.

There are a couple major benefits hidden in the second example that you wouldn’t see with cold calling: 

  1. When someone “googles” the term “machinery baseplate manufacturer”, the odds are great that this person needs someone that provides this service and they need it now.  With cold calling, you are making connections with a lot of people that may or may not need your services, and likely don’t need your services right now.
  2. Your results with cold calling are limited, in that if you spend $70,000 for a year of cold calling and generate 500 prospects, you have to then nurture 500 prospects for a few years, but the prospect list doesn’t grow.  With SEO, when you get to the top of Google search results, your positioning is generally stable. This results in continuous lead generation that doesn’t diminish after you quit paying for SEO.
  3. When you perform SEO, you have access to a wealth of data that can help you refine messaging, and expand into new verticals.

If you’d like to learn more about how SEO works, check out some of our other articles:


Does Search Engine Optimization & Digital Marketing for Manufacturers Work? A Personal Story

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