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 this episode of The Kula Ring, Jeff and Carman chat with Ross Simmonds, Digital Marketer, Speaker, and Entrepreneur who specializes in B2B. They discuss B2B topics including the heartbeat of SEO, the viability of Facebook for B2B, and the threat of Amazon. They also talk about how providing value is key to engaging your B2B prospects online, no matter what the platform.
Business Professionals Are Human Too: Engaging B2B Prospects Online Transcript:
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 podcast. Carman, I’m really excited about the guest that we have with us today.
Carman Pirie: Absolutely. It’s interesting because we’ve talked to a lot of marketers and in our world we get to talk to a number of agency folks as well, but, I think our next guest is a bit of an odd hybrid of those things and many others. So, I’m looking forward to it too.
Jeff: Yeah. So, Ross Simmonds, thanks for joining us today.
Ross Simmonds: Thanks for having me on guys. I’m excited to chat with you. I’m looking forward to diving in and thanks so much for giving me the invite.
Carman: Bit of an introduction to Ross for our listeners. Bon vivant, B2B marketer, extraordinary social media maven. And, and I might say perhaps the nicest person in Canada.
Ross: Hahaha, I’ll take it.
Carman: So, for those who haven’t had the benefit of a getting to know Ross or hearing him speak—
Jeff: An excellent keynote speaker—
Carman: —You’re in for a treat. So Ross, talk to us about, what you’re up to lately and give people a bit of insight into your world and what’s keeping you busy and then we can start chatting B2B content and see where it all goes.
Ross: Definitely. So, as you guys mentioned, I do a lot of public speaking. That’s definitely something that I’ve been doing quite a bit over the last few years. I’ve spoken at conferences all over the world that definitely keeps me busy. But in addition to that, beyond globe trotting from coast to coast to speak at events and educate folks on content marketing and digital strategy in the B2B space, I run a content marketing agency called Foundation Marketing out of Nova Scotia. And what we do is we help organizations tell their story online. So we focus primarily on the B2B space. We work a lot with SaaS companies and organizations that are leveraging tech to connect with brands and help brands tell their story, whether it’s a Martech or if it’s in Fintech and they’re helping them with their payroll. We do a wide range of things in that space. So for the last few years that’s kind of been the bread and butter working with those types of companies and then along the way, launching a handful of different side projects ranging from software companies on our own to a coffee company called Hustle and Grind along with a handful of different media properties. So, there’s definitely no rest for the wicked and I’ve been pretty busy over the last few years.
Carman: Yeah, folks do follow Ross. We’ll put up the links to his social media profile—it’s always fun to follow along and see where Ross is at in the world and what’s up next. (Ross laughs) So we know, I think for manufacturing marketers that would be listening to this right now, they’d be like, what does a SaaS guy have to talk to us about anyway, and, and I think we’re going to get into that, but I do want to just kind of peel back a bit and talk about B2B content and just think about it more broadly and I know that your experience in day to day tends to be pretty focused on the SaaS space, but I think there’s probably some bigger trends happening out there in the world of B2B content marketing. And so talk to me about what you’re seeing and maybe what you think others are missing.
Ross: Yeah. So I think there’s two key, big primary trends that I would look at regardless of your industry. If you’re in B2B, I think there’s two key things that you need to kind of start your thinking about content marketing with. The first and foremost is that the majority of the searches of people trying to find out about what you offer or the service, or the solution that you offer, is starting with Google. And at the end of the day, Google is built on the back of content. And if you are not creating content that Google is then indexing on Google, then you are less likely to reach those people who are going through the buying behavior of looking for you. So I think that what a lot of people misunderstand is the idea that SEO is dead is definitely a trending topic that everybody is talking about. But in reality it couldn’t be more untrue.
Like at the end of the day, content marketing is simply an avenue to rank in Google. It’s simply an avenue to provide your sales team with assets that will help them facilitate and nurture relationships. It’s content assets that you can share on social media. It has a lot of value and I think that when you, when you recognize that it makes it easy to kind of better understand the fact that this is where your customers are starting. This is where your leads are starting their decision making process. And while you can’t control the motivation that gets them to Google to want to find a solution that provides an answer to their question, you can influence what content shows up there. And I think that that’s a huge and massive opportunity for manufacturers and anybody who’s in B2B is to really understand the role that content and SEO play in reaching that audience. I think the second trend—
Carman: Before we get to that second one, I’ve got to admit I got a little pissed off when people say that, that SEO is dead when at the same time, if anybody is paying any attention to what’s going on, on the paid search side, they would know that the average cost of paid search traffic is just going through the roof in many categories. And so if people aren’t searching and there’s no value to that, then what would be the economics behind the paid search price increase? And if, of course, any gains that happened in organic, you can almost value them against what it would cost you to pay to play in that same space. So I just think that that’s something that a lot of consultants like to talk about because they like the nice buzzword. But I agree with you. I think it couldn’t be further from the truth.
Ross: Yeah, and I think to that point, what you can do is you can really see the value of it based off of the cost per click. Like if you can see that ranking number one by paying costs you $50 a click, then you know, okay, there has to be a reason behind this. The demand has to be there, so I think you’re 100 percent spot on there.
Jeff: Especially when you consider that you’re paying 50 bucks a click, but that doesn’t even guarantee a conversion when somebody arrives at your site, nor is it guaranteeing a conversation further to that.
Ross: Exactly, exactly. So I think that’s where SEO can play a role in kind of ensuring that the content that you’re even writing is actually going to drive that conversion and you can ensure that or at least increase the likelihood of that by ensuring that the content that you’re sending people to is aligned with the search query that they went to Google looking for.
Carman: Of course. And trend number two?
Ross: So this one isn’t really even—It’s a trend that I think everybody in their personal life understands. It’s a trend that everybody as a human understands, but for the last few years, B2B brands have not woken up to the idea that Facebook is not necessarily just a place for B2C and similar with Instagram. Like I think we have this conception that people are wearing suits. They’re wearing their hard hats. They’re not necessarily always using Facebook when they’re in this little bubble of a persona that we create. But in reality, at the end of the day, people go home and they become people like we’re just all humans and there was a study done by comScore and they did a survey of a B2B professionals and ask them to take off their B2B hat for a second and just think about the channels and the websites that they’re spending the vast majority of their time with.
And without question. It was Facebook. So what I think a lot of B2B brands have discounted and overlooked—and I think it’s starting to quickly change—but I think that they’ve underestimated the value that Facebook can offer as an advertising platform and as a channel to kind of get your content in front of the right people. If you have an email list of the top manufacturers that you’re trying to target. If you have an email list of the C-suite executives that you’re trying to target, you can use that to remarket to the people that you’re trying to connect with. So I think that B2B professionals are starting to wake up to the idea that Facebook, Instagram are not just channels where you can actually reach your target audience. And I think that that’s one of the trends that is really going to unlock a lot of opportunities for those early movers in the space.
Carman: It’s interesting because, I mean Seth Godin has been on that forever and a day where he said, look, B2B is it simply B2C spending somebody else’s money. So people that still buy like people, but they’re spending somebody else’s money.
Ross: I love that. I never heard that before, but I love it.
Carman: I do think that there’s something sitting there that is a bit of a challenge for folks is how do we as marketers take attention that we grab when somebody is in that consumer mindset, how do we transition that attention and get them thinking business in that moment? So I’m willing to agree with you Ross. I’m going to say yeah, absolutely. Facebook is underestimated as a tool to reach B2B executives out there. They are people too. They’re not just robots, but how do we turn them into a business people again, in that moment when they engage with us on Facebook or in some way see a marketing message—talk to me about that.
Ross: Yeah. So I think it’s all about breaking a pattern. So the pattern that everybody sees consistently in now that we’re doing this podcast, the pattern might be a little bit more challenging to break because folks might do this, but breaking a pattern is when you’re consistently met on Facebook with baby pictures, cat photos, people’s great vacations, you’re met with memes, all of those things. That’s kind of a blur, but when you see a piece of content that is tailored specifically to you, you have the ability to kind of have your pattern broken and therefore you’re more likely to kind of have a mind switch where you’re focused on the content and you’re relaying and trying to understand how this relates back to you. So for example, if I was to run an ad and I was targeting CMOs, the copy is going to say, are you a CMO?
And having that question front and foremost at the beginning of the sentence is therefore going to allow someone to qualify themselves as I am a CMO. Yes. Even though I was mentally just on Facebook looking up information, trying to consume and connect with people in a social sense, but because I see that this is my title now I’m going into a business mindset and if I want to really engage, I’m going to read the rest of that post. So I think that breaking the pattern with content that references titles that references even their company’s name or references a competitor’s name, all of those types of things give you the ability to break a pattern, get somebody to bring down their walls a little bit and then navigate as a professional and think, okay, this is something I’m going to forward to my work email or this is something that I’m going to save and come back to.
Carman: Really—Jeff, I don’t what you think about that. I feel that that really has a certain—I don’t know, it almost has a certain invitation into it in some way. Like as you’re—”Are you a CMO” and I can kind of choose to almost engage in that by reading that sentence and do I want to answer that in my mind at that moment, yes or no, as opposed to seeing just an advertising message if you will.
Jeff: For sure. And I think a lot of times Ross you’re probably right, like kind of breaking that pattern makes a ton of sense because you know, in a lot of cases people who are advertising on Facebook or trying to stay within that visual rope that is consistent with what they see, but it may just simply be contributing to the noise.
Ross: Exactly. Yeah. And I think that once you do that, it gives also in the invitation, the benefit is that people have the choice. So you’re only paying for clicks that you know are relevant to you. So the only person who’s going to click an asset that says “Are you a CMO” is likely going to be a CMO or a VP of Marketing. Somebody who understands what that acronym is. You’re not going to get on Sally from up the street clicking on that ad if you happen to mess up with your targeting of some sort, you’re only going to get the right people who are going to opt-in for that content that you’re putting in front of them.
Jeff: Of course, this is completely different than buying advertising on LinkedIn where you ended up paying for clicks to almost anything on the ad, no matter conversion-oriented clicks or not.
Ross: Yeah, exactly. I have a love hate relationship with LinkedIn advertising mainly for that reason. Their approach to advertising is definitely understanding the fact that they have that B2B audience. They’ve definitely taken advantage of it with their business model and they’re raking it in because of it.
Carman: I quite agree with that. For folks that haven’t been intimately in the depths of the LinkedIn ad platform, I mean, basically the challenges are that clicks on an ad or sponsored content, doesn’t necessarily go to the landing page that is associated with that depends on where on the ad the user clicks. And it just leads to you paying for likes and pay for a number of what I might consider junk clicks or at least a sub-optimal and drives the average cost for a conversion in many cases, up into the hundreds. It’s an interesting one.
Ross: Yeah. I think for LinkedIn, what I’ve been doing recently is focusing on the organic side and the organic distribution around LinkedIn. A few months back I developed a piece where I went to their engineering blog and I found this piece where they talked about the LinkedIn algorithm and how they actually decided what content went to an individual’s newsfeed based off of their past behaviors. And one of the things that was a key insight out of that was the fact that LinkedIn is really focused on relevancy and recency. So, if you are able to create content around a topic that is very recent and new than LinkedIn is more likely to show that content to your newsfeed, especially if it’s something that is trending and it is a topic based off of keywords that are relevant to what is going on in your industry at the moment, in current day or the current, like the last three, three days or so.
So that insight on its own is one of those things that should indicate to people if you want to really leverage LinkedIn, understand the way that they show content organically and start to inspire and show your team how to use it as a channel to drive organic traffic rather than constantly having to pay to play. I’ve had significant success on LinkedIn over the last year or so since they changed their algorithm and they were able to kind of make it a more open network. And I think that content marketers need to look at LinkedIn and take it more seriously rather than thinking it’s just a place where you can sell people and also view it as a place where you can now reach them without actually having to pay to do so.
You’re listening to The Kula Ring, conversations on manufacturing marketing. Don’t forget to subscribe now at Kulapartners.com/thekularing.
Jeff: You’ve become something of an expert in figuring out how to be shown organically in a number of different platforms. I remember your post about Reddit for a little while ago. Certainly a platform that despises marketers. And yet for some reason you seem to have cracked the code and gotten in there without getting people ticked off at you. How did you do that?
Ross: Yeah. So I always believed that in this concept of experimentation with all the different marketing channels. I have this thing that I talk about frequently internally called build-ship-learn-decide. And the idea is that you build things, you ship them to your audience, you learn how they respond, and then you decide whether or not it’s a channel you’re going to continue with or if it’s a channel you’re going to walk away from. It’s not necessarily the most scientific approach, but it works for us. One of the reasons and the approach that I’ve taken for all of these channels in experimentation is really been built around the idea of, okay, there’s no channel where marketers can’t add value. And because of that, even if you look at Reddit and you go into it leading with value, people will respond well to that.
So I do believe that whether it’s LinkedIn, Reddit, Slideshare, Twitter, Facebook, you name it, if you can go into these channels, understand the type of value that these people are looking for from you as a brand and you can deliver on that value, you will be able to find some value back from those networks. So it’s definitely been something that I love doing. I tried to experiment with channels on a yearly basis and Reddit was one of those ones where when I went into it, a lot of marketers thought I was crazy and I had a little bit of backlash, like there was a few people in Reddit who were saying, stay away from us. We don’t want you to understand how to kind of crack the code of Reddit necessarily. But again, once you go into these communities and you go with value, first people tend to respond well back to that.
Carman: I think that’s great advice and I want to kind of explore this idea of experimentation just a little bit further because I think it’s a question that a lot of marketers struggle with. Kinda twofold. One, what percentage of my budget should I be dedicated to experiments that I don’t necessarily have a clear path towards ROI? But for true experiments. And then the follow up to that is always how do I secure support for those experiments from the C-suite or above?
Ross: Definitely. That’s a great question. So the formula that I always recommend is a 70-20-10 approach. Coca Cola came up with this concept many years ago in the strategy that they called it the Coca Cola 2020, when 2020 sounded like it was far away. But the idea was that 70 percent of the content assets that you put out there into the world, 70 percent of your marketing efforts should be relatively low risk. So there are things that you know are going to do well. There are things that you know that your industry has accepted. They’re essentially the best practices of the industry. 20 percent of the things that you do should be a little bit risky, meaning that they should have maybe one or two things that are unknown. So let’s say for example, you’re creating content on a specific topic, but you’ve never ceded that content into a channel like Slideshare before.
But you also know that Slideshare is filled with B2B professionals. It’s not extremely risky, but it’s risky enough to to know that you have to put some resources behind this effort into trying this new thing. By doing so, you’re taking a little bit of a risk, but at the same time it’s only 20 percent of your overarching marketing budget. Then 10 percent of your efforts for year over year, I believe should be those high risk efforts. Things that have the actual ability to kind of give you a competitive advantage, but are very much something that nobody in the industry is trying. That could be a chat bot. It could be trying to leverage Facebook groups. It could be trying to leverage a channel like Reddit. It could be advertising on a channel that only your target audience is spending time on or sponsoring a handful of newsletters that nobody has ever tried to do before.
All of these things that are more high risk would open you up to opportunities that the rest of the industry is ignoring. The way that you sell it to the C-suite is very straightforward. At the end of the day, that 10 percent is things that nobody else is doing. If you can even get 50 percent of your 10 percent to actually hit and be successful, then you are going to have a competitive advantage over your competitors because they haven’t done those things yet. And then once you start to validate the different channels and once you start to kind of identify that this is an opportunity before your competitor, very quickly, that 10 percent becomes your low risk content and you have a handful of ideas that are a part of your 70 percent budget that the competitors that are ignoring and ultimately giving you the ability to stand out and get those leads that your competitors aren’t able to because they never innovated in the first place.
Carman: I think that’s a solid framework and frankly, marketers being able to say that the 70, 20, 10 breakdown came from Coca Cola in and of itself, it can be a bit of a stamp of approval on marketing efforts. Almost like if you said Apple did it.
Ross: Exactly, exactly.
Carman: I think there’s other interesting piece to it and that was really one of the core reasons I was excited to chat with you and bringing on the podcast today, Ross, was this notion that the everything that’s happening in the world of Martech, over the last number of years, I mean, so much of it is targeted in some way towards the SaaS community. Obviously most martech platforms themselves are SaaS, so we’ve had in our relationship and partnership with HubSpot and that they tend to view the world as an organization through a bit of a SaaS lens because they’re a SaaS company. And that means that sometimes we need to talk to more junior team members that might not be as seasoned outside of HubSpot. They sometimes can seem like they have some blind spots towards—I would say— the kind of real world of business, if you will, the real world manufacturing as an example. So I guess talk to me a bit about that. I’m curious what, I guess, what are the lessons that you think SaaS can teach manufacturing marketers and what are the lessons that you think SaaS might be trying to teach manufacturing marketers that they should ignore?
Ross: Right, so that’s a great question. So I think one of the pieces of SaaS that constantly is talked about in his kind of drilled in the heads of a lot of founders and people were starting these SaaS companies is the idea that face to face doesn’t matter, that you don’t really need to meet your customers. Everything can be done online. You don’t need to go to events. You can just run some ads on Twitter, run some ads on LinkedIn, run some ads on Facebook, and the world will be yours. When in reality there’s still, when you’re dealing with some high, a highly expensive transactions, it is still important to have that face to face. You still need to go to events. You still need to go to trade shows. You need to build those relationships in the flesh. I think that that’s something that is oftentimes overlooked in a lot of SaaS companies and it’s something that for manufacturing companies that they still need to embrace the need to recognize as they do their business.
The Internet is not going to solve any structural issues that you currently have with your sales cycle. It can facilitate assisting with kind of helping your team adopt technology. But I think that at the core we need to recognize that people want to do business with people and that that one to one relationship still matters a lot when you’re dealing with these, these significant contracts and be significant purchases. I think that that’s one thing that a lot of SaaS marketers are kind of pushing to get away from, but that real one to one connection is still very important. I think another piece that is something that’s SaaS is doing right that I think a lot of manufacturers can learn from is the systems that they put in place around onboarding and just applying that to their own success. So when you think about a SaaS product and you were signing up for that experience, it is a very intuitive and process driven experience. It feels like you’re going through a machine and you are going through a machine of becoming a customer. I think that there’s a lot of value in that from a manufacturer’s standpoint and that they should think about ways that they can systemize their customer experience to make it seem more customized to them, but also at the same time make it a little bit more flawless in the process.
Carman: I think that’s a really fascinating point. I mean, if you’re a SaaS company, you know, for instance, if we were HubSpot, let’s stick with that example, and you know, you sell a license, that’s an annual contract and that’s that. But they know the importance themselves, like as you just mentioned, like a lot of SaaS companies do about getting that onboarding experience right and making it seamless, and something really worth talking about in a positive way. They know the importance of that and how much that can drive retention. Well, you just think for most manufacturers, the value of retention is so much significantly higher than that.
Carman: It’s a lot easier, frankly, to swap out a SaaS platform sometimes than it is to swap out something that you’re buying from a manufacturer or supplier.
Jeff: A wire supplier, for example.
Carman: It’s a really interesting point.
Ross: I think there’s definitely a lot there. From your guys’ experience, have you seen anyone like, looking for a optimization around the onboarding? Is that a conversation that manufacturers are having around how to think differently around those first few days of kind of turning a lead into a customer?
Carman: I have found that particularly on the manufacturer ECOMM side the focus on how do we better—it’s interesting—they will almost have more of a focus mentally about how do we serve existing customers then they will, how do we find net new ones? And so there is a focus on the customer, but it isn’t necessarily on that onboarding process. I honestly think you’ve just said something that a lot of people listening to this will not have thought of at all.
Ross: Awesome, that’s great.
Jeff: They certainly think of it from the UX perspective, you know, they think of it from, ‘let’s make this transaction as smooth as possible’. And, they’re not thinking about providing guidance on how to use the product via post sale marketing automation or anything of that extent.
Carman: It’s a bit more almost on a purely customer service kind of posture, not on a customer onboarding. I guess it’s almost a different if you think about it differently it results in a different outcome.
Ross: That’s true. That’s true. Yeah. One hundred percent. And I think that when you look at Amazon, even putting a stake in the ground to get more into B2B with Amazon business, it’s going to become increasingly more important for manufacturers in these organizations to think about how they can differentiate their experience from organizations like Amazon. We’re going to be coming in with a seamless ecommerce experience, but what’s the relationship level going to be like once the onboarding begins? It’s probably going to be a little bit hands off. So I think there’s an opportunity for manufacturers to look at that as a way to differentiate themselves and give themselves long term competitive advantage.
Carman: Yeah. I think for distributors in particular, Amazon businesses is just a basically a distributor of sorts. Right? And I think there’s a huge number of industrial distributors out there, for example, HVAC, plumbing, distributors, things of that nature that are out there are in for such a rude awakening if they do not get with religion and understand that they can’t just rest on the personal relationships because, as you know, you can be in very remote areas of the United States and get the next morning delivery of a very significant purchases from Amazon. And that can happen on the consumer side. It can happen on the business side and the price advantage that they’ll be able to deliver it, that kind of scale will be enough to turn off any of that personal loyalty.
Jeff: I think when we saw this, at a recent B2B Manufacturing conference where Amazon was talked about as a four letter word amongst many of the distributors in the audience. So they’re running scared for sure and need to get some form of digital strategy in place in order to be able to compete.
Carman: Man, talk about the power of first mover advantage, being the first mover here. Amazon has had such a long time to get good at what they do. If you’re a distributor just starting an ecommerce for the first time you’ve got, you don’t have a lot of iterative cycles ahead of you to get really good, really fast.
Ross: It’s so true. They’ve been investing in research and development for years and now folks are just waking up to it. So it’s gonna be a tough one. But, I think it’s going to be interesting to watch.
Carman: The best time to start doing it was 10 years ago, but I guess the second best time is today.
Ross: Exactly, exactly.
Jeff: Call 1-800…
Carman: It’s interesting times and we’ve spoken with a gentleman out of Pittsburgh, a lawyer in Pittsburgh who helps manufacturers and navigate the legal complexities associated with marketplaces like Amazon and others on the B2B side. So, I think it will be interesting to hear that edition of the podcast.
Ross: Looking forward to checking it out for sure.
Carman: Well, look, this has been a lot of fun. I think we could keep talking B2B content forever. But maybe it’s nice to call it a day here. So, Ross, it’s been an absolute pleasure. Thank you for coming on The Kula Ring. We hope to hear from you again soon.
Ross: Definitely. Thanks so much for having me on. It’s been a blast and I look forward to hearing from everybody who’s listened to this episode. Feel free to reach out via Twitter, LinkedIn, whatever works for you guys. Thanks again for having me on. I appreciate it.
Jeff: Very cool. And we’ll include those links on the podcast page for sure. Thanks a lot, Ross.
Thanks for listening to The Kula Ring with Carman Pirie and Jeff White. Don’t miss a single manufacturing marketing insight. Subscribe now at Kulapartners.com/thekularing.