WEAF members join the organisation for a variety of reasons, though principal amongst these is undoubtedly growing the business. The question is does it succeed? Paul Mallett, business development lead in aerospace for Hempel Special Metals, thinks it does. He highlights just one real life example:
“Why be a member of WEAF? We feel that it brings benefits in terms of networking with other members, access to OEMs and primes through events such as Spotlight. I attended in Jan 2017 ‘Opportunities in UK Defence Sector’. There were great speakers, from a wide range of organisations including primes such as Boeing, who gave really thought-provoking presentations.
“However, for me, the key benefit from this workshop was that I met several interesting people during the coffee and lunch breaks. I made a number of new contacts and we did the customary swapping of business cards. Within a couple of days, I determined that at least one contact in particular matched the profile of our type of customer and we matched his as a supplier.
“Unprompted, he sent me an enquiry which resulted in an order there and then. And we’ve done regular business with his company ever since, approximately £10,000 last year. And all because we were in the right place at the right time!
“And similar things keep happening at WEAF events. That’s the great thing about them. The other benefit that springs to mind is having space at major exhibitions. We couldn’t justify the huge investment taking our own stand would require.
“However, we can achieve the same objectives, with greater value for money, by being a part of the WEAF stand, for both Farnborough and Le Bourget. This also makes it a lot easier in terms of organisation, enabling me to focus on customers.”
And it’s not just about finding new customers. Finding a new, highly skilled supplier can be just as valuable. Peter Marchbank, managing director of RPI, takes up the story.
“We developed a state-of-the-art positioning device, IMAP, that Rolls Royce wanted to roll out around their manufacturing and MRO facilities. However, we needed ‘Rolls Royce’ levels of documentation, from user instructions through to maintenance manuals, all of course in line with rigid aerospace standards.
“The problem I had was that we were growing very fast and every man, woman and child in the company was focused on delivering for our customers. I had neither the capacity nor the expertise in-house to draw up these documents. Nor could I find external support with the right engineering knowledge and the right aerospace experience. This had the potential to seriously damage our business with Rolls.
“I find when faced with a conundrum like this that I won’t find the answer by sitting at my desk. Enter stage right a convenient WEAF networking event I attended, where I met a guy from AACE.
“They helped us with the documentation which helped us to deliver the contract in terms of cost and timescales. Without that documentation we wouldn’t have expanded our business in Rolls. And Rolls said it was the best documentation they’d ever seen, including that provided by the OEMs and tier 1s. Praise indeed.
“Ultimately this project has enabled us to expand our product offerings into other highly regulated industries such as power generation and satellite technology. It has changed the way we communicate with our customers. It has help us to speak their language. And all from attending one WEAF event.”
Coming back to direct sales, it’s not always about an order there and then. It can take months or years, but that initial contact can be productive.
Gary Lane, Business Development Manager at Helander Precision Engineering, explains how networking at WEAF events has helped him generate sales: “WEAF is fantastic at making new introductions. At a recent event, within the past month in fact, I met a number of new people and have already had a solid enquiry.
“Business development is all about contacts. And WEAF events nurture that. It’s not going to be a multi-million-pound order at the event. It could one, two or six months later that a contact turns into a customer. And that company could be one of the OEMs.
“For example, last year at the annual conference, I had a chat with a Rolls Royce Senior Manager which has given me an inroad, a leg-up, into that company, which will help our defence business. Now you imagine how far you’d get with a cold call to Filton. Not very.”
Gary expands on how a supplier can turn into a customer: “I once exhibited at a WEAF event and was able to put some business to a fellow exhibitor. He then moved on and is now a loyal customer.”
WEAF is all about boosting ROI. And Peter’s, Paul’s and Gary experiences show that this can be secured in more ways than one, with a little patience.