In 2014, sales were flat for Tube Form Solutions. Originally founded in 1989, Tube Form Solutions is the result of a 2010 merger of two companies, formed (no pun intended) to better compete in the market.
But by the end of 2015, things had turned around. Sales had grown 10% -- over one million dollars. In 2016, TFS is forecasting as much as 15% growth over and above last year’s results. What did they do?
They took three actions:
- They shifted their reliance away from traditional outbound and in-person selling approaches and invested in inbound and then inside sales resources and systems.
- They adopted sales and marketing technology to help them create, track, and satisfy demand.
- They hired Top Line Results, a sales and marketing consultant (and HubSpot partner), to implement lead generation campaigns and train their sales teams how to nurture and sell to inbound leads over the phone.
Here’s what happened in the words of Mike Thomas, co-owner of TFS:
“The quantity and quality of our leads went up immediately. We closed numerous deals and landed new customers that we would not have seen had it not been for these initiatives. The results were immediate and made it easy for us to allocate more time and resources to inbound technology and services for 2016.”
I thought that the story could be an inspiration for other companies, especially manufacturing companies that are struggling to grow. Fortunately, they were willing to share.
The following is an interview I conducted with Todd Hockenberry, owner of Top Line Results, and Mike Thomas, co-owner of Tube Form Solutions.
What does Tube Form Solutions do?
Mike Thomas: "TFS distributes tube fabrication equipment to companies that manufacture things like automotive exhausts, heavy truck fuel lines, hydraulic lines for ships and planes, and seat frames for furniture manufacturers. Tube Form Solutions also designs and manufactures tooling for tube bender and tube end forming machines. The company supports customers through the entire tube fabrication life cycle from installation to refurbishments."
What was TFS struggling with?
Todd Hockenberry: "The main issue Tube Form Solutions had was a lack of sales qualified leads. Their website was not generating any leads at all. They were relying entirely on their outside sales team to generate and develop their own leads. This resulted in missed market opportunities and sub-optimal sales levels.
Further, sales results were extremely inconsistent among their 10 sales reps, as some were not successful cold calling for new business.
Lastly, they thought they were staying top of mind with customers, but realized after losing some sales that they weren’t. They did very little education or marketing to their existing and previous customers."
How did TFS achieve 10% growth last year after being flat in previous years?
MT: "First, we re-allocated some resources. We let the bottom performing sales reps go. Then, we allocated these resources towards marketing, technology, and inside sales."
TH: "With the marketing and technology investments, we first did an audit of their existing sales and marketing content. This included:
- Buying checklists for tooling and machines
- “Tool School” training documents --very engineering-heavy, technical stuff that proved extremely popular
- Light sales content about their products including introductory material about the equipment they sell
- Ebooks about tooling
We took these assets and started running campaigns with them. We built landing pages for each of the assets.
We built thank you pages that provided the offer, but also encouraged further engagement with the sales team. We created lead nurturing processes that encouraged prospects to request quotes or contact the sales team to discuss their project. Finally, we figured out what parts of the website were driving the most traffic and used calls to action to divert traffic from those pages to the landing pages.
Once all of the lead capture and nurturing processes were built, we worked with the sales team to gather email addresses of their contacts. We added them to their HubSpot subscription and started to send emails promoting the offers. In just one month, they generated over 90 new leads. Some of those leads turned into sales immediately."
What was the reaction from the sales team?
MT: "Well, they got busier pretty quickly! But it also caused some confusion on the floor. The sales team didn’t know how to connect with leads who weren’t yet ready to buy."
TH: "To fix this, we developed qualification outlines that the sales team could use for each ebook download lead or ‘request for quote’ (RFQ) lead. We also began teaching them how to nurture leads who are just starting their buying process, instead of trying to go for the close right off the bat after an ebook download.
In addition, we also implemented HubSpot CRM to help the sales team track their activity with leads and deals, giving TFS better insight into pipeline. The salespeople had not successfully used a CRM before this, even though they had one installed."
How has all of this changed the day-to-day activities of the sales team?
MT: "Our goal has been to help the sales team sell to more and 'more qualified' prospects. We’ve accomplished both, even though we feel we’re just getting started. Now, more than ever, we have the sales team focused on the opportunities we know are qualified. They’re not wasting time on planes, travelling just to qualify leads. Our content is educating our prospects so they can self-qualify. Using lead scoring and workflows, we ensure that our sales team is working the best opportunities, and that we’re not missing any.”
How is TFS going to achieve its more aggressive growth targets in 2016?
TH: "Tube Form Solutions is committed to significantly increasing their focus on inbound and inside selling in 2016.
The content’s focus so far has been mostly on what Tube Form Solutions machines can do and the applications they can address. We’ll organize this existing application content into a library so that we can show the full range of solutions Tube Form Solutions offers.
Next, we will focus on creating more content for them to build a bigger audience. We will expand into other topics, so their website acts like a resource destination for engineers dealing with tube fabrication issues. We will publish this content both as blog posts and ebooks.
We will also develop more detailed segmentation of their contact database by persona, then create additional marketing automation workflows that nurture these segments. This will help us to deliver the right focused message to the right persona. These messages will include case studies from existing customers, as many customers are dealing with similar issues.
Finally, we plan to leverage sales technology to help them get more out of their traditional marketing and sales approaches. Trade shows are critical in the capital equipment world, and we will use landing pages and offers to get booth visitors to convert on the website. We’ll then engage those contacts with more content in order to boost the ROI that TFS gets from their trade show investment."
Since we last spoke, what changes have you implemented at Tube Form and what kind of impact have they had?
TH: "The quality of our leads is going up based on the work that Top Line Results is doing. So we’ll of course invest more in our marketing. Engineers are now going to the internet to do their research, and waiting until later in their buying process to contact companies like ours. We were behind the curve on serving early-stage prospects through our website until last year. Now, we feel we are getting ahead of it.
Content has made our trade shows better and elevated the types of conversations we have with the people we meet. It also helps us network on LinkedIn more effectively, which gets us in front of even more qualified buyers.
We’re also committed to using more of the HubSpot CRM features. Because it shares a common contact database with our marketing platform, the sales team can see their lead’s website and email history right in one place. This means we are much more effective at managing our sales process, and deals are even closing in shorter time frames. We created new dashboards and reports in HubSpot CRM to track key account activity and be able to react with the appropriate context and personal messaging.
On the lead generation side, we started to use Google Adwords to present our content offers to more searchers on more keywords. We are testing and evaluating where our buyers look for information and what specifically they are looking for. We also moved from advertising our products to promoting our offers in targeted trade media. This change increased our lead generation by 200% from the same trade journal e-newsletters and made the investment in these ads ROI-positive.
Now, our challenge is to up our game in terms of the value our sales team brings. Over time, we will deploy more sales assets to inside and technical sales roles. Our customers expect technical expertise from our sales team and applications experience so they can get the right solution recommendation. Tube Form has a very technical and experienced sales team and they are starting the process of learning how to convert that knowledge to content that buyers want to consume."
How will you apply the lessons you learned from those changes in strategy as we move into 2017?
TH: "In 2017 we will create more content around tube bending tooling and consumables and engage more with existing customers. We'll create specific content that relates to the technical issues they face every day and market our expertise to our existing customers. We want to extend our inbound marketing efforts farther into the lifecycle of the customer and not just rely on a sales contact to be engaged well after a sale.
We will add more content to HubSpot CRM documents and build more email templates so we can learn what content and emails work best to drive engagement and interest during the earlier stages of the buying process.
We will expand our usage of LinkedIn as an engagement platform for our industry. We will develop more detailed personas based on the data we have generated this year and be able to more consistently match the buyer journey of our prospects.
And of course we will continue to apply the principles of inbound marketing to everything we do and bring more people throughout the company into the process of being as helpful to our prospects and customers as possible."
As a former engineer, I have a special spot in my heart for manufacturing companies. It’s exciting to see how the work we’ve done building an integrated marketing and sales platform and an agency partner program (with great partners like Todd) can help a 27-year-old manufacturing company find growth again.
As the world gets flatter and flatter, it’s hard to remain competitive, especially in manufacturing. Amidst all of the macro financial and political turmoil, it’s good to see companies growing, one sale at a time. As Tube Form Solutions’ story shows, the right sales and marketing strategy, the right technology, and the right expertise in applying both can make a big difference.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in February 2016 and has been updated for comprehensiveness and freshness.