297: Entering The E-Commerce Market As A Manufacturer – with Curt Anderson

Meet Curt

Kurt Anderson founded an e-commerce company in 1995 that was ranked three times on the Internet Retailer Magazine’s Top 1000 E-Commerce Companies. Since selling that company, Kurt has served as an e-commerce consultant serving manufacturers. He is the author of Stop Being The Best Kept Secret, and founder of b2btail.com an e-commerce resource guide for manufacturers.

How does a custom manufacturer enter the e-commerce market?

Certainly, as we all know, in this world that we’re living in today, everything has drastically changed. So a little different dynamic, prior to 2020 and now there’s a tremendous sense of urgency. So with e-commerce, as I’m looking out my window, the UPS man just left and dropped off an Amazon package. So Amazon most manufacturers, especially that custom side where they don’t have a proprietary product or a finished good, you’re like, “Well, hey, I’m left out of that e-commerce party.” Original equipment manufacturers that had those finished goods are an easier slide-in for them and it’s much more challenging for the custom manufacturer. So the custom manufacturer, they bend metal, they cut steel, fabricate something, injection, mold, printed circuit boards, you know, they’re always making something for somebody else. So the preach that I have is how do you scale your proprietary process? Because what these custom manufacturers have over the years, they’ve perfected a proprietary process, and it’s just trying to walk them through the steps of how do we convert that proprietary process into a proprietary good?

How would you answer that question?

A big thing with e-commerce, and again, if you look at your company, your website like you guys do an amazing job helping your clients with pay per click, SEO, trying to be found, trying to help them stop being the best-kept secret, right? And you’re an expert at that lead generation so I think one myth to dispel is so many of those custom manufacturers that well e-commerce is Amazon at my door. No, it’s actually Lori coming in and her team and helping you with that lead gen and driving that traffic to their website. Now if they’re going after again, I’d been metal I cut steel. You know this, you know, you’re a keyword expert. If you go really broad, man, you’re still gonna be the best-kept secret. It’s so hard to be found for CNC machining, or fabricating metal but if you do CNC machining for turbine engines because I’m in the northwest and I’m in the supply chain of aerospace or I bend metal for tractors and I’m trying to find and target  Caterpillar or something. So I think like going after those long-tail keywords and for you and I speak in the SEO language, we’re trying to help them with that keyword strategy by going deep in what you and I call those longtail keywords. That longtail keyword is the opportunity for the e-commerce opportunity. So it’s actually it’s that 80-20 rule where they’re like, “Hey, tell me about your business,” And we’re like, “We crank out these little trinkets and our 80-20 rule, 80% comes from the 20%.” Where is that 20% and can we start creating an e-commerce opportunity? Could we put those products actually, on your website? Could we take those products and put them on an online marketplace? That’s kind of the process of getting into that e-commerce opportunity here.

So you’ve mentioned Amazon and a couple of other marketplaces. Do you recommend that manufacturers use those?

I’m super bullish on the online marketplaces for manufacturers and again, from the OEM side, that original equipment manufacturer, absolutely. So you’ve got Digi key, which if you’re in the electrical field in any capacity, they have a great marketplace. We’ve talked about Zorro, you have like McMaster car. And then of course the big granddaddy of them all Amazon. Here’s a scary thing, so we do a lot of webinars with the manufacturing extension partnerships, if you’re familiar with those, the MEP, so they’re all over the country. So I do a lot of webinars at a lot of different MEPs. So actually today, we’re in the midst of doing a 12 part webinar series at IMAC, which is the Illinois MEP. And our speaker today was Brian Beck who is just a phenomenal Amazon guru. He wrote a book called Billion Dollar b2b E-Commerce so he spoke today at Illinois, he shared that 70% of product search is now started on Amazon. So even if you’re a custom manufacturer and you’re like, “Oh, well, you know what, that’s not for me, or I don’t need to be on Amazon.” If there’s an ideal client out there that’s looking for the product that you make every day and you’re denying yourself by not being on Amazon, you’ve just lost basically a 70% opportunity of being found for that product. So that’s scary.

Do you have manufacturers using any sort of configurators to allow customers to really customize offerings that they have?

I’m a big baseball fan so I’ll use a baseball analogy. So configurators or rate, my strike zone. I am so bullish on configurators for manufacturers and what this does, and again, with like the services that you and your team provide what you do, this is what I always preach, and I’m sure you love it, and this is what you do with your clients. I’m always preaching to them how do you help that ideal client? That buyer at Boeing, the buyer at Caterpillar, maybe it’s just another small custom job shop. How do we get our soul mates to make a buying decision on a Friday night at midnight, without having to wait for us to open up our doors on a Monday morning? So with that strategy, that configurator is just such a powerful example. In my book, I go through a step-by-step how a small custom manufacturer uses a configurator and they’re connecting with Virgin Hyperloop, Boeing, Halliburton, just again, allowing buyers to come on their website, configure and create their product 24/7. It was super easy, it was super cheap. This was a manufacturer he’s a digital immigrant, very resistant to technology, very resistant to change and we put up a configurator and he’s just blown away by the opportunities that this configurator has created. When your custom job shop, you’re almost like, “Hey, let’s just take everything that walks in the door.” But when you narrow that down, we talked about that long-tail key strategy, what are your true core strengths? If you can apply it with a configurator and there’s a lot of companies that are doing amazing work with configurators your neighbors right in Wisconsin. 

Can you share with our listeners one of your favorite networking stories or experiences that you’ve had?

So you and I do a lot of educating, a lot of webinars and what have you, and what I love when you open up your podcasts, you talk about who you know. So I do a lot of LinkedIn workshops at MEPs (manufacturing extension partnerships) and different trade groups. I have a slide and I say we grew up hearing “Hey, it’s not what, you know, it’s who you know.” With LinkedIn, I like to take it one step further. It’s not what you know, it’s not who you know, it’s what you know about who you know. So, Lori and I were just talking earlier, and Lori has volunteered and offered to be on our weekly webinar series. Lori and I connected and immediately we’re both bouncing back and forth. One of the first people that came to mind was Harry Moser, and Harry if you’re manufacturing Boy, you know, Harry. He is the official cheerleader of US manufacturing. And so I know he was just on your podcast, he’s coming up on our webinar. Just a lot of people love his mission, what he’s pushing out and he’s a delight to know. So that’s a great example of networking. I could share dozens of others, but I was just thrilled when I saw that he was on your podcast, and how we’re building this community to help support manufacturers together.

How do you stay in front of and nurture the network that you’ve created?

I think we both have a hunger for that education piece of sharing. I never ever claim myself self to be an expert, I’ve just been in e-commerce since 1995. So that means two things, it means I’m an old dude and I have a lot of war wounds and scars and tons of mistakes that I’ve made that I love to share with folks of what not to do as much as things of what to do. So, again, jumping on podcasts with great people like you, a lot of webinars. You know, as I mentioned, with the manufacturing, extension partnerships, I work with a lot of the MEPs around the country, we do our Friday webinar series, it’s free every single Friday. So just really beating that drum pretty heavy of helping manufacturers. A big initiative that we’re doing, we started this Co-Op it’s, it’s called E-Commerce Management and the big drum that we’re beating is how do you help manufacturers? How can we teach them to fish? So many people have been burnt with bad marketing, and I’ve had examples where a manufacturer will hire a PPC firm for 50 grand a year and have zero results because of bad keywords and I’ll do an audit on what they’re doing and it’s just sad. So what we’ve been really preaching is with the MEPs that we’re working with, we’re starting a do it with you model of how can we help the manufacturers that have a marketing team, and teach them how to fish and even some of the marketing folks that are at manufacturers are a little bit more sophisticated, and they’re like, “Well, you know what, I don’t necessarily need someone to teach me how to fish but boy, I could learn some new fishing spots, or some new fishing strategies,” if you will. So they feel alone in a silo and then what the great thing is, is building them up, and then handing them off to a firm like yourself to get that high-level professional nurturing that they need for the folks that need a firm like yours, but they’re just hesitant because they’re hearing these horror stories. Well, if you can teach them a little bit and do it with them, then they’re like, “Okay, this is like trying to build my bathroom or my kitchen on my own. It’s fun, it sounded great on paper, but now I need the professional to come in and help me.”

What advice do you have for that business professional who’s really looking to grow their network?

If you’re in a b2b space, and because I’m an older dude, I’m a LinkedIn junkie. That’s how I make a living, that’s where my connections are, there are just amazing people of high integrity. The thing is, it’s just like in person, you know, Lori, you’re super active on your profile with nonprofit groups in your community, and you gravitate towards certain people pre COVID when we could go out and play and socialize. You gravitate towards certain people that have the same values and people that you respect or admire, or even people that are at a place where you’re like, “You know what? I want to get to where they are,” and you gravitate towards those people. On LinkedIn, you can do the exact same thing you can weed out through some of the clutter, or some of the folks. I tell everybody, I’m not for everyone, I know that. But for the manufacturer that wants to be e-commerce, I hope I’m your guy. How can we resonate and connect and help lift each other up? So my long-winded answer is I’m a big LinkedIn guy. I think it’s a great place for b2b connections.

So if you could go back to your 20-year-old self, what would you tell yourself to do more or less of or differently with regards to your professional career?

I try to live in the present so I try not to dwell on the past too much. Maybe I’ll be cliché and say don’t sweat the small stuff, don’t do this, don’t do that. But I think if I were to go back to my 20-year-old self, I would tell myself to have a sense of urgency on a daily basis because it doesn’t cost you anything. It doesn’t have to add anxiety or stress. You’re a great athlete, you’re super involved with your community with hockey and I haven’t seen you play, but I’m assuming that you’re probably pretty aggressive. I always have the saying, “Hey, you know, can we leave it all in a field?” For you, can you leave it on the ice? So for us as professionals, if I were to go back to my 20-year-old Kurt, I’d be like, “Dude, just give everything you’ve got every day, it doesn’t cost you a penny to work harder.” Of course, work smarter, I’m not saying working longer hours or seven days a week, but just come in an unapologetic enthusiasm for what you do. So that would be my advice.

Do you have any final words of advice for our listeners with regards to growing and supporting your network?

Kudos to you for listening to this podcast so you’re looking to grow you’re looking to improve. This digital sprint that we’re in right now is not going to slow down anytime soon. So you know link up with these experts such as Lori, catch a webinar, catch these podcasts, team up with her firm and really you just have to stop be the best-kept secret. 


Connect with Kurt

Kurt’s Website: https://b2btail.com/ 

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/curtanderson-b2b/