The Kula Ring podcast is essential listening for manufacturing marketers who want to grow their digital presence and compete online.
Sponsored by Kula Partners—an agency committed to helping leading B2B manufacturers craft digital experiences that transform how they engage buyers, serve customers, and outpace their competition—The Kula Ring podcast features conversations about marketing, sales, and technology with top manufacturing executives from across North America.
The Kula Ring podcast is co-hosted by Kula Partners principals, Carman Pirie and Jeff W. White, both of whom are frequently sought after for their digitally-focused B2B expertise. They regularly share their insights with audiences including conferences like B2B Online and HubSpot’s INBOUND, the Gardner Manufacturing Marketer blog, and other podcasts focused on B2B marketing and technology.
In order to understand the needs of B2B prospects and reach them through marketing, how can you provide a helpful experience? In this episode of The Kula Ring, Tracy Swartzendruber, the Marketing Leader of the Power Generation and Oil & Gas division at GE Digital, talks about how UX, cultural language, and feedback can help align your marketing with the ever-evolving needs of customers.
Being Helpful to B2B Prospects Through Marketing Transcript:
Announcer: You’re listening to The Kula Ring, a podcast made for manufacturing marketers. Here are Carman Pirie and Jeff White.
Jeff White: Welcome to The Kula Ring, a podcast for manufacturing marketers brought to you by Kula Partners. My name is Jeff White and joining me today is Carman Pirie. How are you doing, sir?
Carman Pirie: I’m doing well. Thanks for asking. You?
Jeff White: Yeah, I’m doing great, thanks. Just spent a lunch hour outside mowing the lawn and removing dandelions, you know? Just spring in Nova Scotia.
Carman Pirie: Seems like a very dad thing to do.
Jeff White: I know, right? Yeah. I don’t have cargo shorts and no socks and flip flops, though.
Carman Pirie: Seems like a missed opportunity.
Jeff White: Really own it for the neighborhood?
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Exactly. Exactly. Well, look. Beyond our typical exchange of weather pleasantries as hopeless and hapless Canadians, I suppose we could get onto today’s episode.
Jeff White: We should do that.
Carman Pirie: What are we here to talk about and all those things?
Jeff White: Well, I mean, I think we’re really looking to talk about how… You know, this idea of really not just selling, but being helpful to your prospects. You know, to your customers. And I think that’s something. You do hear that in a number of places. I mean, if I recall from years ago, that was very much HubSpot’s sort of thinking, you know, like you’re really… You’re not just getting people to sign up for forums and download eBooks. You’re giving them… You’re being helpful and helping them do their jobs better.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, and it’s always… Not to kick on the poor folks at HubSpot, but sometimes I guess when some people deliver it, it seems like it’s just kind of like marketing language, right? And that’s what I think is so exciting about today’s guest, because you know, look, the thing I love about this show is that we get to profile unique and interesting marketers every week, and kind of unpack in some ways what makes them tick personally, and see how that kind of comes to life in their work, and I think that’s what today’s all about, so excited for it.
Jeff White: Absolutely, and yeah, so joining us today is Tracy Swartzendruber. Tracy is the Marketing Leader for the Power Generation and Oil & Gas division of GE Digital. Welcome to The Kula Ring, Tracy.
Tracy Swartzendruber: Hello. It’s great to be here.
Carman Pirie: Tracy, I must say I really wish you would have told Jeff that your last name had some kind of really challenging kind of roll with the R or something, like you could have said it was “Rrrruber” or something, just to get him flustered.
Jeff White: I did six years of French immersion. I can roll my Rs like nobody, all right?
Tracy Swartzendruber: I have joked on occasion that you could pronounce it “Swartz-end-rub-ier” if you wanted to get real fancy with it, but I prefer the phonetic version.
Jeff White: That’s the sparkling water version compared to just tap. Yeah.
Carman Pirie: Just tap seemed awfully dismissive. I don’t know where to go. Okay, well look, ladies and gentlemen, I assure you that today’s guest is far more interesting than just tap water. And welcome to the show, Tracy, and I’d love for you just to give our guests a bit of introduction to you and what you do at GE Digital.
Tracy Swartzendruber: Sure. Well, Tracy Swartzendruber, as we’ve established that now. I hate to say it. I have more than two decades of marketing experience. Not that I’m ashamed about the experience, it’s just the length of time reminds me how old I’m getting. Largely in B2B settings, usually for large industry, and I’m new. I’m still in the honeymoon phase, just a couple of months in with GE Digital, so I still have that new penny lustre, if you will, as I look at things.
Carman Pirie: Nice. Nice. I thought you were heading down a new car smell reference.
Jeff White: That new marketer smell.
Tracy Swartzendruber: There you go. That new marketer eyes, I guess, that perspective. But you know, just to touch on it, you know, I’ve worked in industries, everything from trucking to electrical, heavy industry, lighting, automation. It’s really been a very interesting path and I daresay I learn something new every day, but what I love most of all about… Even if I were at the same employer my entire life, same industry, same product or solution, I do feel I would still learn something new every day because marketing is ever-evolving, ever-changing. Not only in the way that we go about it and the tools and techniques, but in large part because our customers are always evolving and changing, so we must do so, as well.
Jeff White: We can really learn so much from them. And I think that’s… Would you say that that kind of understanding that you gain from the customers and folks that you work with day to day is kind of what has led you to have this mantra, that you really do want to always be helping those folks?
Tracy Swartzendruber: I think it does because when I look back at my career, and yes, I’ve sort of changed employers, but even when I’m with an employer for let’s say 10 years, my role has always evolved every two to three years, and it’s always forced me to be in sort of that uncomfortable zone, right? That zone where I don’t have all the answers and I need to learn things. And what that’s allowed me to do is bring that sort of very fresh perspective. And not having the answers sort of forces you to be in that customer role and see things through the eyes of the customer as you’re asking the questions. Well, why do we say this? Well, why does the product… Why is that a value prop? Why did we build it this way? And I think it’s just really forced me in many ways to… Just when I think I’ve understood the customer, something changes and I’m back in that customer mindset, and it really forces me to ask the questions of how does this benefit me, and in turn when I come back into my own skin, how can I be helpful to that customer?
Because that’s the only way that I’m really gonna connect and resonate with them.
Carman Pirie: I’ve got this nagging question. I’m kind of wondering, because of the fact that you’re new to the role, of course, I think as you say, it kind of assists… You have no choice in some way but to try to see things through the customer’s lens as you’re learning. I’m kind of wondering, how long does that, if we’re gonna call it new marketer smell, how long… I kind of wonder how long it lasts? You know, I guess as somebody who works as an outside consultant most often, I mean, that’s always the lens that I’m bringing.
Tracy Swartzendruber: Yeah, yeah.
Carman Pirie: I wonder from the inside, it’s gotta be hard to maintain that over the long haul.
Tracy Swartzendruber: I think it’s a fair, fair question, and I think part of it is it’s just built into me, ingrained, and the velocity let’s say of change is what helps me stay on top of that, and what reinforces it. And maybe that is sort of that sort of take away the change and maybe I’m just wired that way. But I think you do have to… It’s a practice, right? You have to practice it. You can’t make the assumption. I actually am a journalist by training and it’s the one thing that I always try not to do, and I fall into the trap constantly it feels, but you never want to assume, right? You never… You always want to get to the meat of it, the fact of it, and so forth, and stop making assumptions.
And I think just always asking questions. You know, it’s funny as I verbalize this now, I’m like, “Maybe that’s it.” Maybe it’s because I’m a journalist by training that I’m always asking those questions and trying to understand without just making the assumptions that I know the answer based upon what’s in front of me.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. I wouldn’t want to discount that because you know, I’ve seen the opposite, I guess. I’ve seen folks new to a role and almost kind of squirrel away in the closet, if you will, and almost not ask the questions and not be of that mindset, and it’s never helpful in their role, so I would think that journalism kind of foundation is helping you, for sure. That, and of course as you change positions over the years, as well, you get new challenges, that would assist.
Tracy Swartzendruber: Yeah. I also think it’s somewhat contagious and it depends on the culture, right? For example, there’s a reason why I… You know, early in my career I had a healthcare track, healthcare marketing. I admit I did not do well. I was interacting with physicians, and I would challenge them. At that time, I don’t know what it’s like now, I should ask my husband. He’s a nurse. But at that time, a 20-something marketer challenging a physician is not pleasant, right? And there’s a reason why I’ve kind of gone into this B2B track and engineering, if you will, innovation if you will, is they’re more accepting of the challenge, right?
So, when I… It doesn’t matter who. Someone, a peer, a leader, when you sort of ask questions, rarely is it ever taken—would I say negatively or a challenge, if you will, right? It’s not necessarily viewed that way. It’s viewed as, “Oh. Well, let me help you understand.” Or, “Oh, I didn’t think of it that way.” Right? So, I think the culture, too, of the organization has a lot to do with I think fostering that within me, and I think it sort of then becomes a little bit contagious of people going, “Oh, well, maybe we should dig into that. Let’s unpack that a bit more.”
Jeff White: You think that has… You know, because you could certainly say, especially within that engineering mindset, there’s always that desire to innovate and create new things, and I think maybe that’s why those folks might be so open to the idea of somebody coming in who doesn’t necessarily know exactly what the product is, or who the customer is, or what problems the product solves. And starts to ask those questions of them and of your customers. It’s almost like it gives… The atmosphere of an innovative manufacturer gives you license to do that.
Tracy Swartzendruber: Absolutely. Yeah. I think so. I think so. And again, it doesn’t… You know, at digital, our software, we’re not the hardware, right? We’re digital innovators. But I agree that whether it’s hardware, software, services, having that sort of innovation mindset, and the only way that the innovation really scales, and you can support the innovation through revenue, is you have to have that customer-first mindset, and it has to be aligned with what the customer wants and needs.
Jeff White: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. I’m sure you can’t talk about the specifics of the kinds of the specific ways that you’re being helpful with GE Digital, but what are you seeing as good examples of organizations that are doing this, and if there’s one from internally, that would be cool too.
Tracy Swartzendruber: I really think organizations from… and I’m gonna again put on my marketing hat here from a marketing standpoint, is really not really just talking about what you want to talk about, right? Or selling what you want to sell. But doing the due diligence, really figuring out who your customers are, who are they really? Because it’s rarely everyone, especially not in the work that I’ve done. It’s not everyone. There’s always a target. Aligning yourself around their needs, their constraints, their challenges, we talk a lot about we help solve industry’s toughest challenges and I believe that’s true because the organization is aligned around those industries to understand them deeply and to develop solutions that are really gonna help them.
And as a marketer, it’s just an extension of that, right? It’s putting yourself in that customer mindset and then understanding how does this resonates to me, right? Of all the 3,700 things I’m gonna interact within a given day, how is this gonna cut through the clutter, get their attention, and help them see that we have something of real value to offer? And again, it’s really just being helpful in your marketing, and I’ll give just a silly, silly example.
But sometimes I think as marketers we should all go through some sort of UX training, right? What is UX and so forth. Because to me-
Carman Pirie: Did Jeff pay you to do this?
Tracy Swartzendruber: Oh, really? No, no, no. Good marketing is good UX, right? And this is such a silly tactical minute example, but it’s real. If I have a known contact in my database, and let’s scale it beyond just one person. If I have a marketing automation program which clearly is going to individuals who we already know, and I send them a communication with a link to a gated asset, in my mind it makes a heck of a lot more sense to take them past the gate if your technology can do that, and not put them on a landing page where they may or may not have to re-fill out that information. So, it’s those little, simple gestures… Now, that’s from a usability standpoint.
But then there’s the helpfulness of really organizing information and getting it in front of them in a way that is helpful. A good deal of my career has been in digital product ownership, I guess I’ll call it. Websites, if you will, for enterprises. And you know, you have to go through the discussion of what’s helpful from a marketing standpoint on a website? What does that experience look like? How does it feel? How does it behave? How are we aligning ourselves to the language our customers use? There are so many things that go in there, but at the end of the day, I distill it and boil it all down to—I feel to be successful—I would throw it under the umbrella of being helpful.
Jeff White: I love that idea of using the language your customers use because I think so many people… You know, you hear marketers often being told to write at a certain level or write for a certain type of persona or whatever, but that really kind of gets to the heart of it on a kind of almost a one-to-one basis. You know, what language are your customers and prospects using and how do they think about these things? And show them that you’re understanding that, as well.
Tracy Swartzendruber: You’re exactly right. And there could be let’s say a product, right? Let’s be very practical and tactical. There could be a product and if I’m speaking to—and there’s a whole influencer body around purchasing a product, it might go all the way up to the C-suite, and I might want to use language and speak about it where it resonates with them. It might be on a plant level, management level, where I might want to speak to them in a certain way using certain language. And it might go all the way down to the engineer and the maintenance person, the people who are literally laying hands on something, engaging with it, whether it’s technology, whether it’s hardware, and again, yet another way of speaking about something and describing it and helping them.
So, again, being a marketer spans such a wide range of personas and challenges, I think that’s why I love B2B. I’ve always joked about, “Oh, I’d love to be in a B2C world,” but I don’t think it would be as… I don’t think it would present the challenge that the B2B world does. And I love it, because again, it’s just you learn something new every single day.
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Carman Pirie: I do like the notion, as well, of talking about it through the lens of speaking your customer’s language rather than sometimes I find this conversation devolves to, “Oh, let’s speak at their level,” which is somehow lower than your level. You know what I mean, like there’s a kind of implied, “We’re dumbing it down for certain people,” or what have you. And I like how just speak at the level of the person who’s consuming or speak their language. Not at their level, but speak their language is a nicer way of articulating that. It seems more appreciative to me.
Tracy Swartzendruber: Well, and I think it’s more accurate, right? Because sometimes we might have to level up if I’m being honest. If I’m being honest, I personally have to level up my game. I am surrounded by individuals who are far smarter than me at GE. I mean, the level of intelligence that is brought to bear within that organization is astounding. The number of PhDs. So, I feel like often I have to sort of try to level up my game, but I guess when I say speak their language, it really is understanding, how did they talk about it? And if I’m really being honest, that could even go… Let’s throw out personas. That can change by account, right? Because certain accounts, certain organizations have a way that they like to talk about something. They might have certain initiatives that align with what I have to offer.
So, if I were to get down into thinking about true account-based marketing if you will, and I wanted to get serious about it, now we’re really getting at that level of understanding and speaking their cultural language, if you will.
Carman Pirie: I love that. Looking at account tonality. Even the internal communication patterns and things of that nature when you’re looking at one-to-one ABM programs, that’s really, really good thinking. Curious, you know, a lot of the conversation around being helpful and things of that sort, and it’s come up today, this notion of listening to customers, understanding what they want, understanding the problems that they’re trying to solve. And in some ways, that kind of suggests that the customer can articulate the true problem at hand, and they understand what they are trying to solve, and I’m not suggesting that customers don’t know, but I think sometimes we… You know, building a better smartphone at one point meant building a better hardware keyboard until somebody thought that there’s maybe a different problem that we were trying to solve.
I guess, do you have any tips and tricks of the trade-in terms of… Okay, you’re listening to customers, you’re assessing the use case, but how do you in some way… I’m almost picturing it like when you look at those 3D puzzles and all of a sudden you kind of see it a little differently if you stare at it long enough. Do you have any tricks for how to do that?
Tracy Swartzendruber: Not really. I wish there were a magic bullet, secret sauce, call it what you will. And honestly, if I’m really being honest, I don’t know if I want to share that if I had that kind of lightning in a bottle. One of the most important things that I’ve really learned in this role in particular, given so much to learn in terms of industry and product, is giving others permission to call me out when I’m wrong, right? Or maybe not wrong, but when I’ve misunderstood something. And that is I love to take the opportunity to after someone has given input, or other, to say, “Let me paraphrase that back. This is how I understand what you just said. Can you tell me if it’s correct?”
And about 25% of the time, there’s room for refinement where someone will say, “Well, actually I also meant this,” or, “Actually, I didn’t quite mean that. I meant this instead.” And I really find that I have to say I don’t think people would call me out on those things, and again, I’m making it sound like it’s terrible, call me out, but I suppose give me that additional layer of understanding, if I didn’t invite it. And I kind of now look back and go, “Gosh, that’s a skill I wish I would have learned 20 years ago.” To just have that vulnerability and to let people understand, again, we all have our own perspective. We all have our way that we process information. And getting it right, getting that understanding, especially when it’s someone’s opinion, is really, really important to validate that back.
I also feel that people… Now I’m getting into a completely different realm of hopefulness, but I think also restating to someone is really powerful because whenever someone says that back to me, it’s like, “Oh, wow. They were really listening. Wow, they heard what I had to say.” So, that, again, if I suppose maybe I do have a little bit of a secret sauce, if you will, in terms of uncovering and drawing out that piece of helpfulness would be again, number of perspectives, and inviting the opportunity for myself to be vulnerable and for others to provide that feedback.
Carman Pirie: Well, you see Tracy, so what I think I heard you just say-
Tracy Swartzendruber: Touché, touché.
Carman Pirie: I think I heard you describe actually in pretty fine detail what the lightning in the bottle is, which is it’s really the marketer’s job to have those conversations and to get that diversity of conversation happening. And it’s by having those discussions and doing so in a way that you’ve just highlighted that will enable you to see the patterns that other people don’t see, enable you to say, “Maybe it isn’t about building a better hardware keyboard this time, maybe it’s about something different.” So, I think that was really powerful, but that’s only what I thought I heard you say.
Tracy Swartzendruber: I think you’re onto something there.
Carman Pirie: Well, this has been a wonderful, wonderful conversation, and it’s been great to benefit from your experience and expertise. I wonder, as you reflected at the start of this about now a couple of decades in as a marketer, and I can appreciate that being… feeling similarly experienced, shall we say? Beyond having the… inviting that level of feedback, if you will, any kind of parting advice that you might give to people a little earlier on in their career, just starting out in industrial manufacturing marketing?
Tracy Swartzendruber: Oh, gosh. Sure. I mean, I think it’s always wise to never… Keep your eyes open. Learn as much as you can from as many people as you can. And you know, in marketing, because you intersect with so many different teams, internal, external, customer, it is really about building that network and building that trust and credibility with them. I would also say if I was coaching someone early in their career, I would say look for the white space. Look for an area where you think that there’s some opportunity and just do it, right?
Whether it’s, “Hey, I think we can do something different here with content. I think I have a hypothesis about data.” And I’m gonna take a huge tangent here and say if there’s anything I have absolutely learned being in B2B marketing is we have to speak with numbers when we speak internally, right? It is the language, especially with I would say publicly traded organizations, companies, is we speak in numbers, and as a marketer, to have a seat at the table, it is not good enough to come with anecdotes and feel good and so forth. You have to be able to articulate your value as an organization, not only to sustain funding, but more importantly to get greater share of that funding and have a voice, a real voice.
So, you know, if there’s anything I have learned, it’s those who can really demonstrate whether it’s a leading indicator, whether it’s a lagging indicator, whether it’s the holy grail of actual return on investment, come with your numbers. Come, and it’s okay to show numbers that aren’t performing that well, because what you are showing is that you are measuring it, you’re being transparent, and come with a plan on how to address it.
So, you know, I go from the squishy to the very hard, the very hard, hard advice of just be an active proponent of speaking in numbers and it will do you well through your career.
Carman Pirie: I love that notion, speaking in numbers, because it doesn’t take all the storytelling away. Sometimes people think in some way, like, “Oh, now I need to be hard-nosed and just it’s all about these metrics that were somehow predefined.” No, no, no. There’s some storytelling that can be done with the numbers now, guys. It’s just-
Tracy Swartzendruber: Oh, absolutely. I mean, and you will… It’s not only the storytelling, but you will command attention, right? If you just come with like I said, anecdotal or other just examples of this is what we’ve done without that data behind it, that’s where you start to lose that credibility. It’s not saying that all of that is not valuable and critically important and so forth. I am not discounting the everyday marketing. All I’m saying is that if you want to advance your career, if you want to advance your practice within an organization, and gain more and more share of voice, you have to demonstrate why you matter and in most organizations that’s through numbers, right?
I always joke, like I’m a journalist, I’m a marketer, why do I have to deal with all these numbers? But you do. You really, really do. And as a matter of fact, it’s just gonna make you a better marketer because it’s gonna tell you what’s working today, what isn’t, and spoiler alert for those early in your career, that never stays the same, right? What worked for me 20 years ago might partially work for me today. Heck, what worked for me two years ago might partially work for me today. I think it’s the fun part of the job, it’s the challenging part of the job. I wouldn’t have it any other way because if it were the same as it were 20 years ago, I’m sure I would be doing something different.
Jeff White: I also really love that notion of inviting critique and being willing to learn from it, even when presenting these data-driven stories to senior management. Being open to hearing other interpretations even at that point is going to drive respect, certainly, with an awful lot of people.
Well, Tracy, it’s been absolutely wonderful having you on the show today. Your perspectives have been really, really interesting and I think they’ll be quite valuable for our audience.
Tracy Swartzendruber: Thank you. This was really fun, the best part of my Friday I’m pretty sure. Well, I’m looking at the clock. I do have a couple of hours left, so maybe there’s a gem in there yet, but certainly the best part of my Friday so far.
Carman Pirie: Well, I can only hope for you that it gets better.
Jeff White: Thanks very much.
Carman Pirie: All the best.
Tracy Swartzendruber: Thank you so much.
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