Case Study: ThomasNet Finds Success With Its Online Model
ThomasNet Case Study in a Nutshell
Challenge: ThomasNet has been online since 1995. But a few years back, it decided to improve its Web site, especially as it saw a growing number of visitors using the site. The company also wanted to see the number of visitors to its site -- both new and returning -- increase. And it wanted to stay focused on its core business objectives, which include connecting buyers and sellers in the industrial marketplace, and meeting its customers' needs.
Solution: ThomasNet began aggressively surveying customers online to see what they wanted from their experience on its Web site, and it used the information to improve it. ThomasNet also used e-marketing efforts such as search engine marketing, search engine optimization, e-mails, newsletters, blogs and forums to keep customers coming back and to acquire new ones.
Results: ThomasNet.com now enjoys 3.5 million user sessions per month from industrial buyers, engineers and purchasing agents from around the world.
The story of ThomasNet's move from a traditional print publisher of directories to an online powerhouse was presented at a session at SES Chicago earlier this week.
New York City-based ThomasNet is part of the Thomas Industrial Network, a wholly owned division of Thomas Publishing Company, which was founded in 1898. It helps industrial sellers target their marketing investment to reach the most qualified industrial buyers online and convert them into customers.
ThomasNet.com, where many buyers and engineers from Fortune 500 companies, the government and the military, among others, go to find suppliers, is the world's largest industrial destination site, with more than 650,00 companies listed and indexed by 67,000 product and service categories.
ThomasNet decided several years ago that it wanted to understand its buyers better, so it began using a variety of online research tools to do so.
"User-centered design is core to all of our product development," said Linda Rigano, director, strategic alliances for Thomas Industrial Network, during the session. "We always want to know what is important to our customers, what level of detail they want, and what types of features they want. We also want to know what they don't want."
The company also believed it was important to use online research to learn about how its customers were using its destination site. As a result, it moved away from traditional direct marketing surveys, focus groups and in-person surveys and toward online surveys, e-mail surveys and even online focus groups.
Jerome Shaver, director, analytics and intelligence for ThomasNet, who also was a speaker at the presentation, mentioned that the company uses a vendor called Channel M2 to facilitate the remote focus groups.
"The tool makes it much less expensive for us to do focus groups," he said.
In addition, ThomasNet can implement recommendations from the focus groups in days -- versus the weeks or months it may take to implement changes when using traditional focus groups.
The online surveys ThomasNet used allowed the company to learn that its customers spend eight hours a week looking for products and services online. It also found that its users wanted more detailed product information on the site, more categories to search within, more detailed information about product suppliers, an easier-to-navigate site and more CAD drawings, among other improvements.
With this information in hand, the company improved its site. For example, it made it easier for users to search for suppliers on the site by adding many more supplier categories -- such as by ISO certification or minority business.
ThomasNet also tracks activity on its site with Web analytics tools from WebTrends. These tools allow it to get a close look at how visitors are searching the site. If they're leaving at certain points, ThomasNet can analyze this information and then make changes to it. It also uses multivariate testing to see if the changes it makes are working.
To keep visitors coming back -- and to keep its suppliers happy -- ThomasNet also created an online newsroom with hundreds of articles and new product press releases from suppliers, and made them available via RSS feeds as well as via Google and Yahoo!. It also created a biweekly blog and biweekly e-newsletter, and offers daily, weekly and monthly product alerts on many industrial categories.
Over the past few years, to get new customers, ThomasNet also has increased its use of search engine marketing, search engine optimization and online banner ads, and it has exhibited at virtual trade shows. It also has created interactive catalogs and online video testimonials.
The results of all of theses changes? Rigano said that ThomasNet now has an average of 3.5 million user sessions per month on its site.
Now that's a success story.