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How Manufacturers Can Create Better Connections to Convert More Customers

There are plenty of ways to get in touch with your customers and potential partners, but staying in front of them (and ahead of your competition) can be challenging. The guest on this week’s episode walks us through how manufacturers can map out a smart strategy to reach their customers.

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

More About This Episode

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.

This episode’s topic is a big one in building materials, and our guest Travis Hilldore was happy to tackle it with us head-on. Travis works in marketing and sales for an equipment and product manufacturer, and we learned how his team builds trust with their customers in some surprising ways.

Finding Your Customer in the Construction Industry

Travis Hilldore is Vice President of the Sales and Marketing team at Pathfinder Systems, a company that specializes in machinery, products and equipment for the concrete industries. “And I say industries because we do a lot in dry cast, precast as well as ready mix manufacturing. Basically, anything from turnkey, brand new manufacturing, all the way through retrofits and automation,” Travis explains.

While Pathfinder Systems has a very niche market, Travis explains that their audience includes a broad range of people in the concrete industry. “We market primarily to manufacturers, and our target audience is everything from plant personnel, plant management, supervision, as well as ownership and executives,” he says.

The sales team at Pathfinder works with decision-makers and the customers who will actually use Pathfinder machinery. “Quite often, when we're trying to develop a pitch for a facility, we want to make sure that not only the executives and ownerships are on board, but also the people who are going to be operating the equipment and operating the facility long term,” says Hildore.

Marketing Effectively to a Niche Audience

Pathfinder Systems makes manufacturing machinery and products with a lengthy sales cycle and a considerable price tag. “Especially with the size of our projects, you start getting into that $5 to $12 million range for some of the scope of these projects, that personal relationship is very important.”

“You have to build that trust,” says Travis.

Building trust is a part of Pathfinder’s overall marketing strategy, including the way they show up online. “And so we use digital as a way to keep our name out there, to promote our products, to get information out about our products — but really, it's a way to bolster that relationship,” he says.

Pathfinder also incorporates more high-touch points of contact with potential customers, along with a few personalized marketing tactics, including handwritten letters. “We do that through sending little stuffed tigers for their grandchildren, sometimes when they have grandchildren or kids.”

It’s this type of thoughtful communication with customers that makes a difference and helps your brand stand out. “I'm a big believer that if your competition's all kind of taking the road to the right, you should take a hard left,” says Travis.

Sometimes that means taking a risk with your marketing, and Pathfinder has invested in “some pretty unique ad campaigns in the past, including buying out billboards that we have to know we're on a route that our customer took from his house to his office—where we were trying to get their attention on a large facility, as a unique case,” says Travis.

Note that while this elaborate billboard campaign worked, it required an understanding of the customer and where they were at in the purchasing cycle. “Some people might see that as a little creepy and overreaching,” says Travis.

Using Digital Tools to Reach Your Customers

Pathfinder Systems’ marketing team ensures their success by using a variety of tools to reach their audience, and when they’re not sending letters or stuffed animals to customers, the team also uses digital marketing to stay in front of folks.

“It's a multi-pronged approach. Frankly speaking, digital's cheap. Compared to print ads, compared to billboards, compared to even rebuilding a website every great once in a while — just the social media side of things is cheap,” says Travis.

Using Digital Tools to Reach Your Customers


We’re big fans of platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn here at Venveo, especially because social media offers marketers another benefit: “it allows you to promote your business on a lot of different levels,” explains Travis. We asked him for a few ideas on how Pathfinder and other brands might show up on these platforms.

Get Personal on Facebook: “Most people know if you're going to be on Facebook, it's that personal touch. It's talking about the feel-good stories of your employees and kind of bringing in that community to help foster that relationship between you and your customers.”

Tips for LinkedIn: “If it's LinkedIn, you're talking more of your business approach, your white papers, ‘look at the cool things that we're building.’ Or your customer business case.”

Ideas for Instagram: Use every opportunity to show off your products in action, the unveiling of a new line or a before and after slideshow.

*We’ve got a few other ideas for content here, if you’re interested.

Using Digital Tools to Reach Your Customers 2


Getting in front of customers (consistently) is easier through digital media, and these platforms are an effective way to “keep you fresh in their mind and [help] really push new products also in front of people fairly inexpensively,” explains Travis. “Otherwise, really, the goal is to get them to travel and see facilities — but that's also expensive. And there's a lot that you can do to lead up to that point. Not only to qualify them but also get them to have interest.”

How to Measure Your Marketing Efforts

Qualifying your leads can be tricky. Tracking success with marketing presents a big challenge for many teams, but we talked with Travis about how Pathfinder measures success. “It's hard. When you start having a three-year sales cycle, how do you track that the campaign that you're in today is effective three years down the road?” he says.

For the Pathfinder team, it has helped to reframe how they measure the effectiveness and impact of their campaigns. “Oftentimes, we start looking more at opportunity generation. Are we in the door at every opportunity?”

There’s not a perfect way to track how your marketing strategy is performing, but keeping an eye on your click rates and site traffic is a good start. Find out what site visitors pay attention to most. “Sometimes, you kind of [have] to stick your thumb up in the air — and if the wind's blowing the right direction, continue that direction,” jokes Travis.

There is always more that can be measured and improved upon, so Travis sees these metrics as great feedback. “Just to make sure that the content we're putting out, there's interest in. People are clicking on, people are following up on, going to our website and ultimately calling our sales reps,” he says.

Want Even More Insight?

Understanding and helping your customer will help you stand out from the competition, and brands like Pathfinder Systems have helped us understand just what that can look like.