by Courtney Eckerle
, Manager of Editorial Content
Founded in 1956, Strongwell is the world's largest and most recognized leader in the pultrusion industry.
Pultrusion, for those not in the know, is "a process by which you pull fibers, generally fiberglass, through a resin, provide heat and some controlled environment, and you end up manufacturing a structural part, whether that be an I-beam or a tube or anything of that nature. We manufacture structural parts out of fiberglass to put it in simplest terms," Barry Myers, Marketing Manager, Strongwell, said.
Strongwell's primary customers are structural engineers, architectural firms and large constructors who are designing and building structures generally on the commercial level, although there are some on a consumer level, according to Myers.
"You'll find fiberglass and the products we manufacture used when traditional materials fall short. Our primary traditional material competitors would be steel, wood and concrete. If those materials work for you, fine, but if there's corrosion or weight or electromagnetic interference or other things where those materials struggle, fiberglass often is a very good alternative choice," he said.
"When I came to Strongwell about three and a half years ago, we had no marketing automation. We had an electronic but manual list of subscribers for print and digital requests to our semi-quarterly newsletter," Myers said.
Prior to that, the newsletter was sent out about every three to four months, and Myers and his team would take the Excel spreadsheet with the email list and manually updated unsubscribes and other details.
"I obviously quickly recognized that's not the way we needed to be acting. We have tried to shift a lot of our print subscribers to the digital world simply for the fact that there's a lot less cost involved … and it gives us an opportunity to communicate with [customers] so much easier from both sides of the spectrum," he said.
One of the early things the team tried to do was to integrate into a CRM as a company, and Myers is on the core team for that CRM installation, integration and ongoing updates.
"One of the things that we really wanted to focus on in a marketing world is how can we use CRM to our advantage? I began looking for marketing automation platforms. It took quite awhile — two, almost three years — before I really feel like now we've got a good grasp on what we're doing," he said.
The team started into a monthly email campaign rather than a newsletter, and in it, focused on creating a sales push with calls-to-action and so forth that "we just weren't able to do before," Myers said.
Step #1. Integrate and evaluate your system
Three years ago, Myers said, Strongwell decided as a company to install and begin utilizing a CRM. At that point, "our integration partner recommended a few different platforms for marketing automation. I began discussing and researching those with them."
The challenge, he said, was that "the only people you could market to were people who were in your CRM. That was, in my opinion, really the only major shortcoming of what we were doing with that platform."
However, the company began being eaten up by larger and larger companies, he said, adding that "it became clear that their focus was not going to be marketing automation. We had a one-year contract with that company. As that contract was coming to its end, I started shopping around for another vendor."
Myers decided that Strongwell's next CRM needed to allow it to not only market inside of itself, but also to those not yet in the CRM "because we had some qualifiers as to who's going to show up. We don't put everything in the universe in there. We want to be able to generate lists that lived outside of CRM and then, based on certain qualities or certain actions that those potential customers took, then we would put them in CRM for our sales team to start working on."
In the time since the Marketing team has been working with their current CRM, they have slowly taken on the integration, Myers said.
"The first thing we started with was to make sure our existing forms that were on the previous platform now are on [our CRM platform]. The second thing we tried to figure out was our emails. We switched from that quarterly email campaign basically to a monthly newsletter and monthly email campaign," he said.
Another aspect they wanted to incorporate was a personal touch from the Sales team.
"This is almost silly, it's so simple; never before were we able to assign owners to all of the email addresses that we possessed in our list. One of the things we tried to do early on … was say, 'Okay. Because we have regional sales managers, if an email address we knew fell in a certain region then we would assign it to that person.'"
As an example, he said, is one lead who lives in Tennessee where there is a regional sales manager that manages the state. That person would be the owner of that region, and reached out to with a basic case study.
"What happens when you send an email from a personal email address is magical. A person can, in their Outlook or wherever else, hit reply, and that's what happened here. This potential customer received an email from his sales manager. He hit reply and said, 'Oh, yeah. You know what? I was just thinking about we need to do such and such and such and such. How about you quote me on this?' That's how it played out. Very simple and yet very effective," Myers said.
He added that he has heard a similar story with different sized leads in different regions, more than once now, and he credits it to the simple act of customers being able to reply.
"I know that's so simple, but really for us it was a big impact," he said.
Currently, the Marketing team is working a lot more with drip and nurture campaigns, "and we've gotten a pretty good grasp on that. The next thing we're working on is deeper CRM integration. We're just taking it one step at a time," he said.
Step #2. Pre-qualify leads for Sales
"One of the things that we try to do before we send a true lead to our sales team is we try to pre-qualify it. Now, in our world, we have generally a fewer number of larger customers. We are business to business. Our lead times or our sales cycle is relatively long. Our sales amounts are generally higher," Myers said.
The team doesn't dedicate a lot of time to any lead that happens to come through, he added, and marketing has taken on the role of discerning who to follow up with and who not to.
"If a lead comes in from somebody visiting the website, we don't really necessarily do anything with that if they just visit. If they come back and come back and come back, then we still generally don't do a whole lot with that until they take some sort of an action, [because] we have defined if they fill out a contact form, of course, we're going to treat that as a lead," he said.
If a lead signs up for the Strongwell design manual, for example, the team treats that as a strong action.
"That's another major source of value to us. Our design manual is basically the tools that you would need to design a structure with our products. Every major structural product out there has a design manual, steel, wood, concrete, etc., that engineers would use," he said.
By coming to the website and taking an action that tells the team that they're wanting to use a Strongwell product, or that they want a Strongwell salesperson to talk to them, then the marketing team is able to determine that those leads need to passed along for nurturing.
"Our sales guys know if they're getting a lead from marketing that it's a very valuable one," Myers said.
The marketing team provides qualified leads in two different ways, he added.
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"Number one, we have automated email set up on the Contact Us form
. Not only is it going to go into Salesfusion, but it's also going to become a lead in CRM. It's also going to notify the regional sales manager for that territory, 'Hey, this person wants to talk to you,'" he said.
Step #3. Develop a drip and nurture campaign
Early on, Myers said, the team knew they wanted to be able to say more than, "Thank you for signing up. Here's your password," and be done.
"There's a lot more. The benefit of a drip campaign is [that] I can continually get my brand in front of you. That's wonderful. That's sort of what we're doing with the newsletter on a monthly basis. We're dripping that content to you at an interval," he said.
The nurture campaigns are a much bigger deal, Myers added, because it allows the team to continually evaluate a lead's actions to determine where they are in the sales funnel.
"You can say, 'Alright. Did you want to see the email that I sent you? Did you open it? Did you click on something? Did you do something with it that we measure as valuable enough to keep pursuing you?' We knew we wanted to be able to do that," he said.
After someone is pre-qualified for sales by filling out the Contact Us form, they are reached out to with a phone call or an email that is a person-to-person contact, Myers added.
"However, if somebody just comes to our website and wants to download our design manual, we don't know for sure how they're going to interact with us. We oftentimes will then set them on a path to a nurture campaign that says, 'Thanks for signing up here. I'm your salesperson. If you have questions that I can answer, let me know,'" he said.
If that email is opened, and an action is performed — such as clicking through to the website — then in the space of a week, that lead is reached out to.
"It allows our sales guys to interject themselves without having to do any work from the initial step, but then it allows them to jump in pretty quickly if there is some interaction and do something with it," he said.
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Strongwell doesn't have a large enough sales force to be able to go calling on all of the potential government or corporate jobs out for bid in the sphere, according to Myers. So email
has to be utilized as a tool to nurture leads more intelligently without exhausting the sales team.
"Instead, what we do is we have a nurture campaign set up for all of those potential markets that we pursue," he said, adding that the team will "send an email to the owners or the managers of those jobs and just basically say, 'Hey, I noticed that this job has come out and will be going to bid soon. Is Strongwell FRP or is fiberglass a potential option that you would be interested in pursuing?'"
If that lead responds to that email, or click on something in it, then the marketing team starts them down a nurture path and notifies the sales person for that region.
"That allows us to pursue these jobs in a very soft and unintimidating manner," he said.
"[In email marketing automation] that's where the impact to individual teams, as well as the company, to me is most recognized," Myers said. "We don't chase down those that might be a lead but not really. Instead, we can use marketing automation."
Automation can be used, he added, based on certain conditions, to generate emails and then decide or let the potential customer decide if we want to follow up with them, which is "one big transformational thing for us as a business."
The ability to track a lead on a personal level has been especially transformational, Myers said, in working with the Sales team.
"[It] really helps [Marketing] as they go into a Sales meeting to say, 'We sent an email a couple of weeks ago and it had some really great content that applied to you,' and all the sudden you've got a connection," he said.
After implementing this email marketing system, Myers said, Strongwell was able to secure a $30,000 RFQ, or request for quote. The sales cycle is long, he said, but this process helps them to keep tabs on large projects such as this and keep them moving through the sales funnel.
In October, an email campaign saw a 25% unique open rate, a 4% unique click rate and a 0.3% unsubscribe rate, which was their best campaign yet, he said.
- Contact Us form
- Strongwell email
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