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How much has cold calling / knocking on doors improved your sales?

96Jack

Plastic
Joined
Mar 22, 2019
I know that the "How do I find work" posts are pretty beaten down at this point so I tried to rephrase it into a more specific question.

My shop is struggling to find enough work and I'm not sure where to go from here. I've tried emailing companies in my area that I think have machining needs but I have had no luck getting responses with this. Reading other forum posts the general consensus that I'm seeing is to cold call or knock on doors. I'm curious to know how many of you have actually had major success with this and if you have any specific strategies? I've also seen a lot of people suggest making our own product which I would LOVE to do but I just don't think I'm creative enough. Here's a little background on our shop -

  • We are located in the mid west and have been in business since 2007.
  • We have 14 employees & 12 machines. 9x mills (vertical, horizontal, one 5th axis), 3x lathes (one of which has dual spindle/live tooling).
  • We are compliant with industry standards (AS/ISO) but not certified. We are ITAR registered. We were AS9100/ISO9001 certified up until last July but we opted to let that go as we never landed any customers that actually required or cared about it.
  • We try to go to all of the big trade shows but usually we only get suppliers trying to sell us stuff, or buyers will talk big and then when we try to contact them afterward it's crickets.
Our customer base currently consists of one OEM that makes up 50% of our workload and the other 50% is a hodge podge of larger machine shops that sub work to us. Very high risk. We've been lucky enough to have been fed a consistent workload up until now with little to no effort. Unfortunately now our biggest customer is seeing a slow down, and the other machine shops in our area that sub work to us are slow as well so of course that work has dropped off which has put us in a scary spot.

For all intensive purposes I believe we have the "bones" to be a top of the line shop but we haven't been able to gain the traction. We have dedicated programmers, tool room, very nice inspection equipment/machines, and we make a damn good part & deliver it on-time. Speaking with other shops and suppliers I'm also pretty certain we are one of the lower priced shops in our area. Our shop rate is between $75 - $100/hr.

Aside from going to trade shows 3-4 times a year and having a website, we employ no other sales tactics. My boss, the owner, is looking to retire in the next 5 years and pass the company on to me but I have no business management experience and the only mentor I have (him) is the person who drove us to the situation we're in today. He has basically started his retirement early (works <20hrs a week) and doesn't seem to have any interest in driving sales himself, which leaves it up to me and frankly I suck at talking to people. At the same time I'm not in a position to hire a dedicated sales person.

At the very least, thanks for letting me rant.
 
So you have one customer @ 50% and the rest is someone else's customers. Yikes!

I can only tell you what I have seen, not a long timer.

Most of the time the bulk of the customer you have you already new when you started your shop, or they knew you before.

A large amount are word of mouth from different dealing, not just machine shop dealing.

A lot of our customers came from things we did, hobbies, and the interactions with others in those hobbies.

RC Cars, Go karts, then P1 race cars.

Firearms, training schools, then firearm parts.

skiiing and snowboarding, the skii and snowboard events, then ski and snowboard parts.

off roading, dirt biking, events, then parts from those

........
All along the way most our customers came from interacting with people at hobbie/recreation events, always try to get to interact with the upper people, not just the majority.
They usually have bigger money or bigger connections, but not always.
 
Just my experience and how cold calling worked for me.

COVID hit and all the shooting ranges shut down so all my work dried up. I sent out emails to every design company that I could find in Australia. I quoted on 3 jobs in total of which none were successful. One designer came back and asked if I could help with tooling at a medical customer this lead to a consulting gig with the customer and a lot of other work. Their supplier then asked me to do various jobs for them including designing and building a CNC insertion press. Both of them have subsequently passed on other clients to me.

In general I think the 80/20 rule applies. 80 percent won't even get back to you and of the 20 percent that do 80 percent of the quotes will be unsuccessful. I have thought of printing a small leaflet of capabilities etc and just walking the local industrial area and dropping off the leaflets and business cards to see what comes up.

Luckily I am quite creative and I have now got two large projects with the potential for significant production.

Good luck in your endeavors.
 
Ive got plenty of maintenance work by cold calling ,not the front office,but the maintenance mechanic /s .........but most here dont want that kind of one off /on site fitting /maintenance work ...........they want CNC run in the dark work x10k,x100k .
 
Pure cold calling / emailing is a total numbers game and you need to approach it like that.

98% of "potential customers" either already have a supplier they've been dealing with for years, don't actually have needs that suit your capabilities, already have a kickback sweetheart deal with Joe down the road, and so on.

What you really need to do is reach the right people at the right time. Knock on Big Plant's door on Jan 15th - nope, they're good. Knock on Big Plant's door on Jan 17th? Well that day the engineer got burned by a supplier / has a design he's just finishing and wouldn't mind someone taking a look / the big boss won big in Vegas on the weekend and is feeling amenable to meetings.

Target your list as accurately as possible to hit the best potential customers, and make sure they know you exist at least a few times a year. I don't want to go out of business for many reasons, but the one I like least is that customers didn't know we exist and are here ready to make good parts.
 
I used to dedicate one day every month to cold calling.
Always in person.
I'd get in my car with a small notebook, extra pens, bottles of water, breath mints, a bag lunch, a box of business cards, and a hair brush.
I'd go to every industrial park within a 2-3 hour radius. I always came back with something. Always.
 
FWIW, where I work we deal with several good local shops, but most of our suppliers are elsewhere, including overseas. Unless you deal with large parts, distance doesn't matter much. You should try to get exposure over a larger area. Not sure the best method, but IMO cold calling is a really low percentage game unless you're in a good area. Ideally, have a specialty, figure out who needs it, and make them aware of it. Whatever it is, it will be promoted online.
 
15 -20 years ago, cold calls were worthwhile, but I agree it's a low percentage now. I would look into a really updating to a really upscale website and SEO. Most of my new customers are finding us that way. An engineer who I've been working with leaves his company and takes me with him to his new company is also a great way to find a new customer.
 
Cold calling was maybe 90/10 for me up until covid, now its a essentially a waste of time. IMO the world pivoted, and now its online, brand recognition, seo, word of mouth, retaining and building out existing customers. Ask your customers for referrals. Look at who your existing customers competitors are, and hunt them down. Random cold calls or visits have a really low roi, targeted direct siege on someone you know you can help, and convincing them how, thats is the ticket. But this takes someone with all the technical expertise AND sales chops, and these poeple arent easy to find, cheap to employ, or "needing" you, they can write their ticket. Around me, machine shops are turning away work still.
 
Speaking about cold calling online..... I get tired of these emails I get daily of shops looking for work. It's usually the same shop. You block their email address, and they show up next week using another email address. They put on a great store front, but it's the way they present themselves that turns me off.
I'm not against cold calling online, in fact, there's been a couple that were considered. I feel there is a right way of doing so and a wrong way of doing so.
 
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What kind of relationship do you have with your vendors? I got a huge leg up starting out with my local material salesman finding me work. His company couldn't or wouldn't do the jobs he found but he still wanted to make the material sale, so he handed me the work and they supplied the material. He has left that company, but I still do work for them albeit not as much as when he was there.

I am not a natural salesman, in school when they would force kids to sell crap for fundraisers or prom decorations etc, I always refused to do any of it. What I have found though is that if I can get into a shop or a person can get into mine and we can talk while on the shop floor, I will always get something from them. It may be a little while, but it seems that I make a good impression when in the shop environment.

As someone else said, you need to find the person in the shop/business that you can relate to and they can relate to you and understand what you can help them with. This is where a salesperson with another company can be useful.

I also have a good relationship with one of my delivery drivers, he delivers to every wood shop within a days drive of me and he has mentioned quite a few different shops over the years. I've drug him in the shop a few times to show him something I have been working on and I'd bet he has mentioned it to other shops.

Speaking of deliveries, do you deliver the parts yourself, of do you send the low man on the totem pole? I like to deliver as that gets me into their shop, I'll even ask if I can see what they are doing with the stuff I made, this helps me to see if there is something else I might be able to do.

My customers are not huge companies, so I don't really have to worry about big company policies that might not allow me in the building etc.
 
Cold calling has not produced a single customer for me. All have been word of mouth. I did ALMOST get one by cold calling. They came a viewed the shop, talked good stuff, left and then emailed a NDA. Thought it would actually pan out. Never heard a word from them afterward.
 
I started a Design Engineer company roughly 3 years ago. I had a few customers to get me started but definitely had to cold call. It is what it is. I did it during Covid and sent a 10 page proposal out to clients needed Engineering, Design, manufacturing help, etc. Hard during that time as I am a face to face kind of guy but I did get a few clients who I still have today. Would drive by places, write the name down, and either email or go in later. Lot of people put ads in offerup and craigslist around here for there fabrication, welding, and machining services. Those are easy to do once a month.
 
Sounds like everything in your area is slow. You need to broaden your reach.

"At the same time I'm not in a position to hire a dedicated sales person."...the position you're in, sounds like you're not going to have a position at all without a dedicated sales person. No sales, you don't need equipment, programmers, or machinists. So where should your priority be?

You've got 14 employees, that's a lot of brain power on tap. Odds are high that you've got plenty of creativity and smoozing ability already in-house. Use your available resources. Keeping their jobs, commissions on sales, bonuses for supplying the creativity you lack, etc. pretty good incentives. Turn'em loose.
 
I have had no luck with Cold calling, most of my work has come from talking with people in my Hobbies, Online Groups, or People I have worked with at other machine shops in the local area. I agree with everyone above. Don't focus on just local get your name out. 60% of my work now comes from a local customer I built a long term relationship with and they were turned down by other shops because they were to busy, I got this customer by being in the right place at the right time. I first spoke with him at a gas station paying for my gas and he came up behind me said Hey I know you! You ran my parts at " " Shop. Started a friendly conversation with him and he told me to stop by his shop that next day. Other Customers I ran into at swap meets, car shows, online forums or co workers reach out to me on facebook and say "Hey I heard you started a shop the current shop I work for is little behind think your could runs these?" I have only been in this industry since 2007 and I stayed in contact with alot coworkers which most have move on to other company.

Other ways I have earned jobs is by helping "garage engineers" with there "new Inventions". I am a single guy shop with help of my kids so I do not like to run alot of Single or Short run, I focus more on production cause that is what I am good at. In this example, If the product or "Idea" looks promising I would help by offering Cad work for free, Cad and Cam systems these days makes this simple. In return I get to run the production job and hold the rights to the cad files unless they want to buy them from me to move to another shop. This is my version of Cold calling I have had alot of success with this method to fill in production work to keep me busy.

Last way I keep machines running is designing and make products in my hobbies and selling them inside hobby community i am active in, this has built a name for myself over time and creating more contacts for work. Best way I pushed some of these random products on the market was send them to big youtube channels for review.These are great fill jobs during the year, I normally run them all off assemble and place them on the shelf boxed and ready to ship.

14 employees you guys could all put your contacts,hobbies and resources together, it might lead to some jobs.

Sorry for the long and nonsense response from me, hoping it will help you think outside the box.

Best of luck and never give up!! sometimes we have to go outside our comfort zone to move forward.
 
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I have had no luck with Cold calling, most of my work has come from talking with people in my Hobbies, Online Groups, or People I have worked with at other machine shops in the local area. I agree with everyone above. Don't focus on just local get your name out. 60% of my work now comes from a local customer I built a long term relationship with and they were turned down by other shops because they were to busy, I got this customer by being in the right place at the right time. I first spoke with him at a gas station paying for my gas and he came up behind me said Hey I know you! You ran my parts at " " Shop. Started a friendly conversation with him and he told me to stop by his shop that next day. Other Customers I ran into at swap meets, car shows, online forums or co workers reach out to me on facebook and say "Hey I heard you started a shop the current shop I work for is little behind think your could runs these?" I have only been in this industry since 2007 and I stayed in contact with alot coworkers which most have move on to other company.

Other ways I have earned jobs is by helping "garage engineers" with there "new Inventions". I am a single guy shop with help of my kids so I do not like to run alot of Single or Short run, I focus more on production cause that is what I am good at. In this example, If the product or "Idea" looks promising I would help by offering Cad work for free, Cad and Cam systems these days makes this simple. In return I get to run the production job and hold the rights to the cad files unless they want to buy them from me to move to another shop. This is my version of Cold calling I have had alot of success with this method to fill in production work to keep me busy.

Last way I keep machines running is designing and make products in my hobbies and selling them inside hobby community i am active in, this has built a name for myself over time and creating more contacts for work. Best way I pushed some of these random products on the market was send them to big youtube channels for review.These are great fill jobs during the year, I normally run them all off assemble and place them on the shelf boxed and ready to ship.

14 employees you guys could all put your contacts,hobbies and resources together, it might lead to some jobs.

Sorry for the long and nonsense response from me, hoping it will help you think outside the box.

Best of luck and never give up!! sometimes we have to go outside our comfort zone to move forward.
"This is my version of cold calling"
Love it.
Short version: Find out where your customers are going to be approachable, and be in that place adding value.
Cold calling used to mean walking in to a potential customer at a time that suits you, and hoping that the relevant person is free, that they will take the time to talk to an uninvited stranger, that they need what you want, your personalities mesh, and that you can get past any gate-keepers in the first place.
Now I think it means making a connection in any form.
Where do your best potential customers hang out (virtually or in person)? Is there a way you can add value in that arena, and become the expert?
I learned public speaking through Toastmasters, going from "piss-my-pants scared" to speaking in front of 100s of people. I'm not an amazing speaker, but I am clear, concise, and connect with my audience. Often, I am invited to speak (for free) to a group of paying attendees. I'm not there for the speaking fee anyway, I'm there to add value for the audience (I prepare like my life depends on it), with the hope that eventually somebody that my talk resonated with will need something from an expert in that field - my hope is to be their first call. I also do half-day presentations (workshops) at local universities and technical colleges, and put on shop tours for the students. I'm never there asking for work, or selling my company - I'm always sharing knowledge that others may need. None of this happened overnight, but now is always a good time to start.
I also dabble in social media presence and have a clean website. I was referred last week to a customer 2,000 miles away. They checked out our website and social media before calling - that seems to be what people rely on today to determine if you have the core competency. Ours is current and supports our claims with examples of our work.
Like most of you, I started on the tools, and have a broad knowledge of my industry, which happens to be wood related, not specifically machining. I'm old, fat and not particularly good looking, so appearance is not why I get invited. In my experience, associations, trade shows, and community groups are all starving for good speakers. They will fly you in, put you up in a hotel, and look after you if you're engaging and deliver value.
You Tube is another channel to get your competence noticed. Look at Abom79 (and many others). He's not selling - he's adding value to the community.
If your potential customer believes that you have a unique level of expertise and are fair with your pricing, then price is no longer the main driver of their decision on who to go with. I quickly learned that nobody likes to feel like they've overpaid, and that regardless if you're sole-sourced or in a tight pricing competition, we need to always deliver value. Always.
Good luck finding your perfect customers.
Martin
 








 
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