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Apr 09, 2003
Case Study

Manufacturer Tests Launching 3 Different Sites & PPC Ads to Improve Circuit Board Sales

SUMMARY: No matter what industry you are in, if you are a B2B marketer you will find a stealable idea in this Case Study. Includes details on online marketing tactics such as:

- Why three niche Web sites are better than one big one
- Making quoted pricing access "instant"
- How to beat pricing wars online
- Offering multiple quote-path choices
- Quarterly "what went wrong" email to non-buyers

Plus, we especially enjoyed the PPC search marketing tips.

"Circuit board shops have been closing left and right," says Bob Schnyder, Marketing Manager for ECD's Internet Products Group.

"The electronic industry as a whole was really hard hit by the economic slump. It's dropped the industry back to 1993 sales levels."

Schnyder was hired by ECD's Internet Products Group in January 2001 just when everyone realized that the economy was not going to recover anytime soon.

The Group had already had one ecommerce site up and running since 1997 at, and it was doing fairly well. The site specialized in just one slice of the circuit board market: Automating the 85% of mid-size orders that came in for fairly standard items.

Schnyder's mission was two-fold: He had to find cost effective ways to drive more buyers to the PCBExpress site; plus, he had to find ways to market a broader range of offerings online.


Most marketers for successful sites that already get lots of traffic would have added more product lines to the home page. Instead, Schnyder took the opposite approach. He decided to launch an entirely new site to sell the larger, more complex accounts from.

First he focused on branding the old site, PCBexpress, more blatantly. It did not have a logo, so Schnyder invented one: A graphic of an express train zipping across the top of the page. This way customers could clearly identify which site they were on, and its main benefit, speed.

Then he chose a brand name for the new site that would ally it with, yet clearly distinguish it from, PCBexpress. The new site was called 'PCBpro.' Its logo is a six-pointed star. "It looks like a sheriff's badge that says Pro," explains Schynder.

The two sites do not share common lay-out, color schemes or navigation. They are clearly different destinations for very different purposes. However, each includes a hotlinked graphic of the other site's logo in case customers want to travel there instead.

"We're really trying to keep brand identity for each group," says Schnyder. "It helps eliminate customer confusion. Most companies try to do all in one site, which makes a Web site three times more cumbersome and information three times as hard to find."

The new PCBpro site had one single goal: To get as many visitors as possible to enter their specs for a price quote for orders that were too complex to get easily "off the shelf" at PCBexpress. Schnyder developed six tactics to maximize quotes and resulting sales:

Tactic #1: Making quote access "instant"

If you have ever clicked on a link to get a quote at a typical B2B site, you know how annoying the process can be. Most forms force you to type in lots of data (i.e. your street address, fax number, etc.) before you even get to pertinent quote-related questions. Then when you click "submit," more often than not you get a page saying something like "Thank you, salesman will call in 48 hours."

Fill out a few of these in a row and you just want to tear your hair out.

Schnyder decided to win more quotes, and hopefully more sales, by making his quote form truly "instant."

The form only asks prospects for one single bit of identification, their email address (a privacy policy link is clearly next to the request, which is a best practice). Other than that, all they have to do is fill in their specs, and when they click "submit" the next thing they see is a price.

Schnyder explains why he went with this revolutionary approach, "It's reshaped the way our customers search for pricing. There are no hassles, no sign-up form. They can compare prices quickly with competitors. People ordering larger quantities like it especially because they need more bids, and look at pricing two-three weeks down the road. Engineers go to our site, get an idea of the price, and provide it to their purchasing department."

Tactic #2: Investing in customer service to beat price wars

Many manufacturers fear making their pricing so readily available to all and sundry because that way lies Price War Hell. If everyone's prices are openly displayed, will the lowest not always win?

"Within three months of our launching PCBpro's quotes, there were more than five competitors copying exactly what we did," says Schnyder. "Then they started doing price wars."

His strategy was to rise above the fray.

"We took a different turn. We didn't change pricing at all; instead, we improved our customer service. We allowed customers to call anytime to check on an order. We improved online order tracking. We simplified the site as far as ordering was concerned. It only takes you four steps to order at our site, a lot of competitors require 8-12 pages. We cut through all the BS, eliminate hidden charges, and make ordering real simple."

"If it comes down to it, people might save a little money [at a competitor's site] or they might pay a little more but have no headaches whatsoever at ours."

Tactic #3: Offering multiple quote-path choices

People interact with sites in different ways. Some are readers, some click on big graphics, some like to use 'search,' others want to check out specials. That is why instead of just having one link to the quote form, the PCBpro home page features multiple ways to get to the form.

Plus, to make things more convenient, Schnyder has pre-programmed the form to fill in certain fields as a default depending on what link you click on. For example, if you click on the "2-layer, 1-week turn, 100 pieces, $4.48 each, no tooling charges" offer button, you arrive at an instant quote form with all of the relevant data already filled in.

It is very handy.

Tactic #4: First time walk-through offer

A prominent burst-style graphic on the home page offers, "First time to PCBpro? Take advantage of our First Order Walk Through Promotion. Click here for details..."

Click throughs can take their choice of four special offers, most of which link straight through to a pre-populated order form to make things easier for them. One option is a toll-free phone number that folks can call to have a human being walk them through the online ordering process.

Schnyder explains, "That's another way of trying to get our foot in the door. Trying to get through to them for that first time sale. It's a traction strategy."

Tactic #5: Quarterly "what went wrong" email to non-buyers

Once every three months, Schnyder sends a respectful, text-only note to everyone who has recently filled out the instant quote form without ultimately buying. (Link to sample note below.)

The subject line reads: PCBpro: Quick Instant Quote Question.

The note simply asks recipients to email Schnyder back indicating the reason why they have not ordered yet. To make it as easy as possible, he gives them a numbered list of five typical reasons to choose from. They just have to email back the number of their choice. Or they can call his direct line if they want to chat on the phone.

The tenor of the note is definitely not salesy; and, while Schnyder is aware that it might prompt a few orders, his goal is purely informational. "It's a quick litmus test to make sure we're still on track."

Prospects sense that tone and purpose instinctively and are more likely to respond openly and honestly because of it.

Tactic #6: Monthly email newsletter to buyers

Schnyder started his newsletter copying what he suspected were best practices from other B2B sites. The original newsletter was sent in HTML and featured articles of general interest to the industry.

Interestingly, customer feedback caused him to change direction completely. Now the newsletter is in text-only with a link at the top to an HTML version available online. And, instead of general articles, everything focuses on useful tips for PCBpro customers such as:
- specials
- how to use the site's features to order more easily
- links to tech specs at the site
- quick question of the month (a site dev poll)

He says, "Text with an HTML link has been much better. It helps keep it clean and makes everybody happy. People enjoyed industry articles, but their frequently asked questions were about the site." (Link to sample issue below.)

The PCBpro site was successful enough that in January 2003, Schnyder launched a third site, PCB123, to serve yet another slice of the marketplace, the lowest end.

The new site offers no-cost circuit board design software that hobbyists, students, and engineers who are tired of waiting for their design team to handle their project, can use. The site features the software download, a tutorial, and testimonials.

Of course, as folks use the software to design the circuit board of their dreams, they also get an instant price and delivery quote so they can buy it.

Again with this site, Schnyder used the principal of strong branding through a graphic, big colorful balls reading "123" reminiscent of Saturday morning television, and by focusing the entire site on serving just one purpose.

How do you drive traffic to not one but three different sites without breaking the budget?

Schnyder decided to focus on search marketing. He hired an outside firm (link below) to handle the optimization end of things, so all three sites would be likely to be picked up in major search engine's "organic" listings.

Then he set aside two portions of his day every workday; first thing in the morning and last thing at night, to focus on creating, tweaking, testing and otherwise maintaining PPC (pay per click) campaigns though a variety of systems, including:

-> Google and Overture: "Between them, they cover 80-80% of the Internet. We keep a combination of listings in the top three to four for my top focused keywords. It provides us global exposure."

Having more than one site and brand name has been a huge help in this regard, because Schnyder can put more than one ad on heavily searched keywords and dominate the listings. "If you go to Yahoo and put in 'PCB' I'm two of the top four paid listings. I've got a 25% advantage over the competitors."

-> IndustryBrains: This is a PPC network that places listings on the internal search systems on high tech news sites, such as CMP and Ziff Davis' sites. Schnyder says, "It's very focused. We're on sites like Electronic Engineering Times."

-> Sprinks: Schnyder uses this PPC systems to reach hobbyists and students on "I don't market PCBpro on Sprinks."

-> and Schnyder uses these PPC systems as cheap places to test out new keyword ideas before launching a full-fledged campaign on more expensive systems.


"We've seen an explosion of sales and customers in a downturn. Last year we grew by 15% and this year we're exceeding our sales target. It's amazing," says Schnyder ebulliently.

He notes, "Ten years ago we were a manufacturer with very small numbers of big customers with very big accounts. Since we embraced the Internet, we're actually not dependent on any one customer anymore. If we lost a big customer it really didn't hurt because we had 100 other smaller ones to make up the same amount over the course of the year."

More results data:

- 4.4% of unique visitors to PCBexpress order something during their session. That is more than double the ecommerce average sales conversion rate. The average visit length is 11:34 minutes.

- 43% of unique visitors to PCBpro click on a link to the instant quote form. 40% of these clicks (equaling 17% of total unique visitors) end up going through the entire quote process. Overall, 1.65% of total unique site visitors end up converting into sales. The average visitor spends 23:01 minutes.

- Results from Schnyder's quarterly email to recent non-orderers at PCBpro reveal that "1/3 went to PCBexpress or competitors, 1/3 are still in the design stage and about 1/3 scrapped or cancelled their project."

- 48% of PCBpro's, 32% of PCBexpress' and 9% of PCB123's traffic comes from search marketing, either optimization or one of the PPC campaigns. For the first two sites, much of the remaining traffic is from repeat visitors. PCB123 gets a massive traffic boost from viral postings on various bulletin boards and forums across the Web dedicated to no-cost downloads.

- The best PPC campaigns in terms of generating PCBpro quotes have been IndustryBrains and Google AdWords.

- Schnyder carefully watches costs and ROI on all PPC campaigns. He has noticed a lot of big competitors, who do not watch costs as carefully, are pushing up bidding to crazy levels. For example, one competitor is currently paying $19 for the top spot in a keyword in Overture, while Schnyder pays around $1.20 for spot #2.

- Is it worth it to pay extra for a top position? After extensive testing, Schnyder has discovered that in general it is worth paying a reasonably high amount to be #1 for extremely targeted keywords. However, he gets a much bigger bang for the buck in #2-#4 paid positions for broader terms such as "PCB."

Link to samples of Schnyder's email campaigns:

Samples of the three sites ECD runs:


The optimization firm Schnyder uses:

The three sites Schnyder markets:
See Also:

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