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Closing the Gap With Data: How Manufacturers Can Capture More Leads

Data is one of the first things that gets neglected in a busy business. Not everything is a numbers game, but if you’re a manufacturer and aren’t capturing data on your sales and marketing efforts, you’re missing out.

Photo of Zach Williams
Photo of Beth PopNikolov
by Zach Williams and Beth PopNikolov

More About This Episode

The Smarter Building Materials Marketing podcast helps industry professionals find better ways to grow leads, sales and outperform the competition. It’s designed to give insights on how to create a results-driven digital marketing strategy for companies of any size.

Data is an important component of your marketing strategy as a manufacturer, so we talked with a building materials sales and marketing expert about how manufacturers and distributors can work together to get more out of marketing efforts.


Dan Donohue is Director of Sales and Marketing at Craftmaster Hardware, a distributor in the door security hardware business out of New Jersey. Craftmaster has taken advantage of all of the tools that technology offers — but only in its recent history.

“So going back about five years … Craftmaster Hardware was acquired by private equity in 2015. And one of their big opportunities I saw was digital marketing,” explains Dan.

It was a big opportunity for Craftmaster and the manufacturers they worked with, but Dan explains that they started from square one — with an eCommerce website. “We started to build this site around our historical customer base, looking to expand the product offerings that we had, which was zero. We had no online presence at that time,” says Dan.

But Craftmaster wanted to generate a process “to create new leads and new business.” That meant gathering a substantial amount of information from the manufacturers they sold at Craftmaster. “Five years ago, when we were talking to manufacturers about gathering this information, there really wasn't a whole lot there. It was a difficult situation. So we really had to build it all ourselves with what we had, cut, copy, paste, just load it ourselves.”

As they made progress with their online platform, Craftmaster started to refine their sales process and how that would work between the distributor and the manufacturers they supported.

“It’s not always just the online transaction; so many leads come to us that need a person. We call our philosophy high tech, high touch, right?” explains Dan. “So we need that sales rep to intervene, kind of coach that customer and make sure they're getting the right thing. And from there, we've grown the business with that strategy.”

Building Better Leads

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Once Craftmaster built out their eCommerce site, they started fleshing out a marketing strategy. They began with an audit, looking at the most frequently purchased products and the existing relationships they had with manufacturers. Craftmaster also began work on their email lists and email campaigns, to spread awareness among their existing customer base.

“Many of our customers had no idea we carried as much as we carried. So we really had to do an education process,” says Dan. “That helped us to expand within our current clients, [and] gain new clients from all of these new products we started to add on and become visible.”

Craftmaster built on their email marketing program with an SEO component to the strategy and began driving more traffic to the website. With these elements in place, Craftmaster was able to build a robust system for lead generation, which involved a few touchpoints.

“We have a couple of ways we get the clients to engage with us and to capture their information. So it's things like a catalog request,” explains Dan. “We have a chat functionality [where] we capture some of the customer's data. And even just process ordering. So we capture that email address and then that customer is then put into our monthly marketing programs, so they'll get something from us. We do once a week, where we're promoting something. And from there, we just continue to grow that.”

Manufacturers can build on their own communication strategy with similar tactics, and Dan thinks this might help to strengthen relationships in the industry.

“So I believe in the customer for life; we've got them in our system, we're communicating with them on a regular basis. We assign a sales rep, an inside rep. If they're in a region, we have an outside rep,” says Dan.

There’s an opportunity for manufacturers to develop the same kind of relationship with clients, and Dan believes that distributors like Craftmaster offer a solution for manufacturers looking for more sales.

Closing the Gap and Getting Ahead

Manufacturers often struggle with the handoff between a lead that came in on their website and ensuring there's a feedback loop for managing and connecting with that lead. Dan has certainly noticed this struggle.

“I guess, in my mind, I see a large gap there,” says Dan, “We probably process upwards of a dozen to two dozen inquiries or leads (a day) in our small little distributor company.”

These inquiries usually come through a chat function on the Craftmaster website. “And that's not included in orders ... these are just inquiries,” says Dan.

Dan explains further that manufacturers can close the gap by engaging with these leads a bit more intentionally. “If they asked you a question about something, what happened? We would like to know that person, we would like to talk to that person and make sure they're a lead for us and that we would ultimately keep your brand strong in that location knowing that that's the brand he prefers,” says Dan. “And we would work to do that, to keep that.”

Manufacturers have the opportunity to build stronger online relationships with leads, just by leveraging their distributor partnerships. Dan made a few recommendations based on the brands who do it right:

  • Craftmaster works with BEST, who provides security technology and lock products. “I think the strongest brand we see lead generation with is BEST. And what they did a few years back was implemented an installation program. So not only do they have grown hardware, they actually have an installation group that's helped us curate some very large projects. So yeah, I would say they're doing a good job. They're getting close to that customer.”
  • Working with a distributor might also be the best way to manage leads for your company, but it’s crucial to connect the dots in that process. “We understand our role is to make your job easier in the sales and marketing field, and all we're saying is, ‘Hey, throw us the ball, we're ready. We're ready.’” But that has to include more than a Where to Buy section on your website (which probably doesn’t get updated consistently). “Even if you have the ‘Where to Buy,’ make sure you're on it,” suggests Dan. “Look, everyone's under the gun getting work, prioritizing work, and we understand that, but yes, it's helpful to check these things sometimes.”
  • Once you’re working with a distributor, make data a priority in your lead process. “We've come up with our own requirements for our data set that we need for our product information management system,” says Dan. “So once I push that out, the manufacturers will fill that out. It may take a little while, but they'll get to it. And we get that data back the way we need it, and that's where it worked out well. We have brand new brands that have come on board and because they fill it out; guess what, we promote their products first.”

Manufacturers can amplify results, too, when other strategies like SEO are in place. “We see results very quickly when we put our products up there and they're SEO-friendly,” says Dan.

Want Even More Insight?

“Distributors have a role in the market. We have a lot of local contracts, we have state, county, we have GSA contracts. We do a lot of work to make it easy for customers to buy, to purchase,” says Dan.

There are plenty of opportunities for manufacturers to engage with leads, “and we'd love to be a part of that, help to engage with those clients, regardless of who they are,” says Dan. “At our heart, we're looking to grow these brands, this business, and we believe that data is the way to get there going forward as you said in 2022. And if we can get that piece managed, we'll do very well.”

Talk more with Dan about the opportunities that your data offers your brand: Check out Craftmaster Hardware or Taylor Security to learn more.

If you’re looking to leverage your data and amp up your online presence, follow along with the Smarter Building Materials Marketing podcast for more tips and strategies from industry experts like Dan.