How to Find Customers for Machine Shops & Contract Manufacturers

Nate getting a tour of PHB's shop

small machine shop owner and his son

Marvin and Kurt

A number of years ago, the owner of a small father/son machine shop with 5 employees was struggling.  Marvin – the father – was in his late 60s and had run a successful business for many years.  He had a state of the art Okuma 5-axis machine, 3-axis machines, and manual machines.  The problem was, with a very expensive machining center, you need to keep it busy to pay for it.  The industry was changing, and many of the handshake deals that he’d survived on for all of these years were becoming more and more rare.  Marvin was considering the possibility that he might have to shut his doors for good, but he wasn’t ready to give up just yet. Marvin knew it was time to change something, but he didn’t know what.  Should he hire a sales guy to call on prospects? Should he build a website and do online marketing? One day he did a google search looking for a marketing company that had experience in helping machine shops like his.  Fortunately, that day, he found weCreate and gave us a call.  We got to work building a great website for him that showed his credibility and quality, and clearly outlined his core competencies.  We wrote pages of content that focused on keywords like “custom fixturing manufacturer”, “5-axis machining services” and others, laying a solid foundation for our next steps.  After building the website, Marvin took a chance and hired us to perform search engine optimization, which is the process of building ranking for the keywords his customer would search for.  It’s nearly 6 years later, and Marvin’s machining business is thriving.  He regularly receives leads from that website we built for him because we not only build it right, but his investment in on-going manufacturing SEO services ensured he would show up at the top of Google when potential customers were looking for what he offered.

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Or read on to learn more about the techniques behind generating business for machine shops

Because of the competition for machining business both domestically and abroad, contract manufacturers and machine shops are facing challenges in new business acquisition, leading many owners to ask: How do I get more leads for my CNC Machining Business? If you’re reading this article, I’m not telling you something you don’t already know. The total U.S. industry market size for machine shops, both public and private, have continuously increased since 2014 and is projected to continue increasing into 2024.

chart showing market size projection through 2024 for machine shops

The good news is however, that there are methods that we’ve perfected for getting new leads. These methods generally focus on highlighting the strengths of a manufacturer and making sure that the right audience can find the manufacturer.

attention small machine shops with one to five employees

Four Keys to Customer Acquisition Success for CNC Machining Businesses:

  1. Determine what your core competencies are. No one is looking to work with “just another CNC machine shop”. Additionally, nearly every machine shop boasts “exceptional quality, precision, and customer service.” These things don’t make you special, they make you “just another CNC machine shop.”
  2. Don’t depend on your two big customers for your future. You need new leads in the pipeline to ensure a stable future for your company. Even if you aren’t looking for massive growth, remember that most manufacturing leads take a year or more to come to fruition, so it’s important to start nurturing them now.
  3. Start paying attention to your inside sales department. Too many organizations have gone stale in this area and are not setting quotas or providing training to their sales staff.
  4. Feed your sales department with leads. Going out knocking on doors has major limits and is draining. Read on for the methodology to feeding leads into the sales funnel instead of trying to drag them in.

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Who’s Looking for Machine Shops?

The main markets we look to gain new leads from include:

  • Midstream manufacturers that are experiencing quality control issues with their current supplier
  • Midstream manufacturers or OEMs that are beginning production for a new product
  • OEMs that are looking for help to design and then produce a new product
  • Organizations who utilized overseas providers and are now looking for U.S. providers because of tariffs
  • In some cases our customers can manufacture products at higher volumes and lower prices and in this case we get leads from OEMs who are looking for a better price

It’s Less of a Sales Funnel and More of a Pipe

The reason the term “sales funnel” exists, is that the traditional sales model involves knocking on doors and making hundreds of calls to identify warm leads. These leads are then nurtured into customers over a long period of wining and dining – eventually funneling them into becoming a customer. Not to suggest that this concept is 100% dead, it’s more antiquated, and successful companies can utilize the techniques below to allow companies to find you – companies that are already in the buying cycle for your unique services.

Which Core Competencies Matter When Generating Manufacturing Leads?

As a firm that generates massive profits for manufacturers, we’ve had to develop creative ways to bring search traffic to a manufacturer’s website. The reason this process requires so much creativity, especially in the case of contract manufacturers, is that in any given place in the U.S., there are likely hundreds if not thousands of these types of businesses in a 100 mile radius. This presents a challenge when it comes to Google search because there are so many websites competing for the same keywords, for example: “CNC Machine Shop”, or “Contract Manufacturers Near Me”. While we can compete head to head for these very general keywords, this can be extremely time consuming and expensive. The alternative then is to identify specific market segments that are looking for more niche items. Some of the topics we rank our customers on to bring in ideal leads include:

  • Mil Specs, SAE Specs or sustainability specs like ASTM E60.13
  • Unique process expertise like rubber to metal bonding, or high-volume tube cutting
  • Expertise in producing parts for specific industries

After we identify what keyword sets will bring in your best leads and build out content around these keywords, your website begins to rank for search queries that are more niche, but still produce the end result of lead generation. An example of a more niche search query might be: “ITAR compliant contract manufacturers in Pennsylvania”, or “CNC machine shop for high volume tube cutting”.

An ongoing manufacturing marketing program consistently adds new keyword sets like those above, and each one adds visibility in search results and brings new leads. This process is called “inbound marketing for manufacturers” or more specifically “search engine optimization for manufacturers”.

What if my Shop Isn’t Special?

Every manufacturer we’ve worked with has areas of expertise that we can highlight to bring in new leads. We are consultants first and we have extensive experience in finding those brand-worthy traits that are capable of turning a web searcher into a customer. We are so confident that our lead generation program will work, that we can put together a custom guarantee based on the program we implement for you. Our lead generation for machine shops works, and we hope that you’ll start a conversation today.

It all Begins with You Reaching Out to Us

We know all of the right questions to ask and can make your business look highly attractive to those organizations who need your services. Our marketing programs often start with a new website design (although this isn’t always a requirement), and move into an SEO campaign that brings you leads. We often design brochures and other physical assets for our clients, and can provide a full spectrum of other marketing services. The bottom line is that we will implement marketing techniques that produce ROI, instead of selling you on things you don’t need.

  • Meet Nate Wheeler

    weCreate CEO

    Nate is a recognized expert in manufacturing lead generation. He has been a featured speaker and advisor to many organizations with a stake in the success of manufacturers. His expertise has benefited:

    • The US Department of Commerce (
    • The Manufacturer and Business Association serving PA, NY, OH, and WV
    • The National Tooling and Machining Association
    • The Industrial Resource Center Network (NWIRC)
    • Hundreds of manufacturers around the U.S. and the world

    Other accomplishments include:

    • United States Marine Corps Infantry 2004-2008 with one tour in Iraq
    • MBA focused in International Business and Marketing
    • Founder of “TriState Manufacturers Marketplace”

    Nate’s passion and expertise lies in understanding the capabilities of an individual manufacturer, and translating that knowledge into a website or digital marketing campaign which targets and draws in that manufacturer’s ideal customer. The weCreate team is highly trained in using real time data to identify what your ideal customer is searching for, and making sure you are the company they find.

    To speak to weCreate about helping your company with a website or marketing, call: 814.250.8785 or get a quote today!

  • Nathan Wheeler, weCreate CEO - an expert in manufacturing marketing

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What Will Happen When You Engage weCreate to Generate Machine Shop Leads?

One of the most common questions we receive is: How do you stay current with search engine changes, and will this benefit us long term? One of the most exciting aspects of using digital marketing to generate manufacturing leads is that it has such a sustained impact on profitability. The strategies we use have proven to be effective over the years, and all the while we are refining and adding to our marketing arsenal based on small algorithm changes. As an example, one recent customer who we ranked at the top of search results for hundreds of valuable keywords, was struggling to rank for one very competitive keyword set. We utilized our knowledge of search algorithms, to add a perfectly structured piece of content that jumped them from the third page of search results, all the way up to number 1 on the first page, and it took just one month for it to happen! This customer was suddenly getting 20% more RFQs, some of which are already closed deals.

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