This week Lewis Simms extols the virtues of creating a simple message. Finding a pain point in your potential customer’s life and solving it is one thing, finding a way to concisely express that is another one entirely. Lewis walks us through what that looks like in a world known for being intricate and inaccessible to the uninitiated, 3D Printing.
Complex Industry, Simple Message 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. Carman, how you doing, sir?
Carman Pirie: I’m delighted to be here, and I’m excited for today’s conversation. You know, Jeff, we encounter in the world of kind of B2B manufacturing marketing, that’s pretty specific for a lot of people, so they… You know, I think a lot of times people think, “Oh, well then there’s the playbook for B2B manufacturing marketing.” Once you’re into that space, then it’s a bit of a one size fits all, or fits most, at least maybe approach, right? And I’m reminded of an old buddy of mine, actually, who’s a blues musician, Matt Anderson, originally from New Brunswick, so listeners, please check out Matt Anderson on your iTunes or Spotify or what have you. I think you’ll be delighted. But nevertheless, his first album kind of was born out of the fact that he weighed over 400 pounds, and is like 6’2”, and could never find clothes to fit him.
And the name of the album was One Size Never Fits, and it was really… He talked about going into a Walmart or something and seeing a one size fits all t-shirt and laughing at it. But I guess that’s kind of a roundabout way… Today’s conversation I think is a great reminder that where you start kind of changes everything, and you know, some manufacturers are breaking brand new ground with a new technology that nobody’s ever seen before, and nobody even knows they need, and then others are entering a crowded marketplace that can sell what they do to an awful lot of people, and that means that you’re kind of… What you do in each of those circumstances is very different from one another.
Jeff White: Right.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. And I think that’s why kind of as I was reflecting on today’s guest and kind of looking forward to today’s show I’m like, you know, the starting point of this, kind of the complexity of where this organization needs to start to go to market is just fascinating to me in terms of how that shapes the strategic options.
Jeff White: Yeah. I think you’re absolutely right. And one of the other things that I’m excited about is we’re actually getting to talk to the second person at this company that works in marketing in a very different area, and using very different marketing strategies to bring their particular slice of the vertical to life, so I think that’s super cool too.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. It is often very interesting to get those kind of different perspectives. Yeah.
Jeff White: Yeah. Absolutely. Well, without further ado, let’s get right to it. So, joining us today is Lewis Simms. Lewis is the head of Industrial Product Marketing at Nexa3D. Welcome to The Kula Ring, Lewis.
Lewis Simms: Hey, guys. Glad to be here.
Jeff White: We’re stoked to have you on the show.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. It’s awesome to have you on the show.
Lewis Simms: Yeah. Looking forward to it. I’ve been through the podcast. Love what you guys are talking about. As someone who’s in manufacturing marketing, there aren’t a lot of perspectives that you can find very easily, so it’s been incredible to hear people’s different stories, and backgrounds, and situations within this industry.
Carman Pirie: And with a tee up like that, why don’t you tell us a bit about your background and maybe introduce yourself to the listeners a bit more formally, if you will?
Lewis Simms: Yeah, absolutely, so today I’m the head of Industrial Product Marketing at Nexa3D. Nexa is a 3D printing company that manufactures 3D printers, provides the materials that go with that, services and software, as well, and we are all about ultra-fast 3D printing. Have been in the industry for going on 13 years now, so clearly something I love, and I have the opportunity to geek out about 3D printing and all the different possibilities associated every day, so it’s really exciting. Something I’m very passionate about. And because we are in an industry where you can… You’re producing something that can make anything. It’s constantly evolving. There’s always something new and that really keeps the excitement going.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. But it doesn’t make it any easier when you can make practically anything for everyone. It’s like now where do we target, right?
Lewis Simms: That is the challenge. Yes. So, certainly whenever you’re looking at the 3D printing market, there are an incredible number of competitors, particularly in the last five to seven years. We’ve seen this market expand quite a bit. 3D printing, probably unbeknownst to a lot of people, has been around since the late ‘80s, so it’s been around a lot longer than people realize, and then really exploded whenever desktop 3D printing hit the market, gosh, a little over 10 years ago. That’s really when it kind of worked its way to the forefront of a lot of people’s minds.
And so, with that, there became a lot of new entrants into the market at both the desktop and industrial space, and when you are building this product that can build almost anything for anyone, and you’re entering into a crowded market, it becomes quite the challenge. What are these product features? What makes us different from everyone else around us? Who should we even be targeting for this product? Those are all very basic but very real conversations that you have to have from the very start because if you don’t, you can end up with a product that is either something that is duplicative of something that other people offer, or you have an incredible product, but you don’t have the right addressable market identified.
Carman Pirie: And I mean, another kind of side of this too is that kind of consumer crossover, I would think, like if you’re marketing 3D printing technology at the consumer level, you could kind of just market dreams and possibilities and what could be, but as you’re marketing at an industrial level and actual attaching services that need to deliver to it, you maybe need to ground yourself a little bit more in the art of the possible.
Lewis Simms: Absolutely. And I think you hit the nail on the head. So, I’ve worked on both the hardware side and the 3D printing services side, and I always say that on the hardware side you have the ability to kind of sell possibility. This is what you can achieve with this product. And on the services side, you have to really bring it down to reality, give a lot of guidelines, and assistance, and helping people to achieve what we call first time print success so that they can reliably produce something with these printers time and time again, which is incredibly important in a manufacturing environment. So, I think that as you enter into this consumer space, again, people are really attracted by the possibility and kind of think all 3D printers are the same, and you can build anything you want, and that is kind of the challenge. And so, you have to start to more clearly identify, even in the consumer space, who’s your target, what are the primary applications that they are trying to serve with these printers, and how do you do exactly what they need? And that is make printing easy for them. Help them achieve first time print success. Help them innovate faster. Help them build better products with 3D printing.
You know, and while that’s still rather broad, you start to clearly identify at least for us a little bit more of what we call a prosumer market, and those are people that are either the individual engineer at a company, or a very experienced designer or 3D printing enthusiast that can benefit from our technology. And then on the industrial side, you really get down to really needing to achieve industrial manufacturing capabilities, and that means not being able to make one good part one time. I need to be able to make tens, hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of good parts, and I need that printer to be able to do that time and time again, and I also need… If I have five printers, I need them all to be able to make the same part, the same way, giving me the exact same result, and with a machine that can make anything having something that brings that level of precision and accuracy is certainly an achievement.
Jeff White: Well, and I have to think too, because you mentioned that Nexa3D is a bit of a newcomer, but there’s even newer newcomers in this space who may be kind of presenting that dream with a bit less reality behind it, and you’re probably having to kind of reshape people’s perspective and make sure that they understand exactly what is the art of the possible.
Lewis Simms: 100%. So, competitive positioning is incredibly important in this market. You have exactly what you said. You have new entrants to the market, people who are even newer than Nexa3D, who are launching printers and honestly maybe trying to reach up a little bit maybe beyond the capability, the true capability of their printers. They’re trying to expand that idea of what’s possible, probably beyond the capabilities of that technology. And they’re doing that because they see manufacturing as kind of the blue ocean, right? That’s where everyone’s moving.
Prototyping is still by and large the most or the biggest application for 3D printing and manufacturing is quickly expanding end use production of parts with this technology, so they’re trying to reach up. Nexa, what we did, which I think is incredibly smart, is our founder, Avi, started with the idea that or the concept that the world doesn’t need just another 3D printer. You need a printer that does something different, that delivers capabilities that aren’t on the market yet, and particularly he zeroed in on the industrial commercial space.
So, what we did is we developed what I call an industrial commercial capable printer that answered a lot of the needs of manufacturing for those production components, and then we took that technology and said, “Okay, now how could this be beneficial for that prosumer consumer?” So, we took the industrial technology and distilled it down, so we were able to take that technology and deliver something that was well within our reach to expand what we could do in this market. And I thought that that was a really novel approach, because we see a lot of reaching up, and then people who are already in the end consumer industrial space just keep trying to go bigger. They think bigger is better, let me sell larger systems, or add more materials, or do more things all at once, and really and truly what people need out of a 3D printer whether you’re at that prosumer level, or whether you’re at the industrial level, is they just need that printer to do the one thing that they bought it for, and that’s 3D printing, and they need it to do it extremely well and reliably.
And so, really trying to solve those foundational issues for customers is what Nexa3D is all about.
Carman Pirie: Within this industrial space, I guess I understand how the prosumer side of it, maybe people using the technology in prototyping, et cetera, then see application elsewhere. But as we try to kind of just reach directly into the industrial category, can you give us a sense of how you’re reaching that market, how you’re getting in front of it? Because it would seem to me like it’s a fairly crowded space.
Lewis Simms: It’s a very crowded space. And so, again, we are all about ultra-fast 3D printing, and the reason why we focused on speed is because speed tends to be a limiting factor for the two primary applications for 3D printing. That’s gonna be prototyping, which is the biggest application, and then production, and that production might be series production, where you’re making the same thing over and over again, or it could be what you might refer to as mass customization, where you’re kind of building the same product but maybe customized for the end user, so every part you’re building is a little different. Those are the two main areas there.
Now, on the prototyping side, you’re prototyping, and this is basically step one of trying to get whatever you’re designing to production, so 3D printing, while super beneficial in the grand scheme of things, has been slow. So, depending on the size of your part, it’s taking hours to days to print, which is limiting your ability to accelerate that design cycle and get your product to market. So, we solved that by solving the speed problem. We overcame a lot of the traditional physics of the process that limit your ability to print faster, so we solved that speed problem, and now you can print parts in minutes or even larger parts in hours. We have a customer in the medical space that utilizes the full build volume of our largest printer, and they have a print in about two hours. We have other customers that have our desktop printer and they’re printing parts anywhere from 5 to 12 minutes, which is mind blowing when you think about the design cycle aspect of things.
So, as you’re trying to get that proof of concept designed, iterate, and repeating that process until you really feel like you have something, you are now looking at the ability to accelerate that process exponentially, so that solves the speed problem on the prototyping side. That same issue exists on the production side. They now see the benefit of 3D printing for production. But on the production floor, time is money, and so if you are spending hours and days printing your parts and you are only ever able to achieve low volumes cost effectively, that limits how you’re able to leverage this technology. And so, by solving that speed problem again, we were able to broaden the applicability of 3D printing technology as a whole for a lot of different industries, and we see that across medical, particularly medical device. We see it in the dental industry. We see that in the automotive industry and the consumer products industry. They are all rapidly adopting this technology.
And some of that is obviously solving these speed barriers, but we’re also benefiting from kind of a more macro level trend, and that is a post-COVID world. During COVID, manufacturing lines were shuttered or stopped. You had entire products that were… You know, there’s a great example of an appliance manufacturer who their entire production line was stalled not because they didn’t have the appliance manufacturer, but they were missing a clip, a really essential clip, and their supplier was overseas, and it was going to be weeks to months before they’d get that. And so, they just start piling up this inventory, and someone had the bright idea, “Why don’t we just 3D print it and the problem is solved within a day or two?” And now their manufacturing line is up and running.
Previously, adoption of 3D printing was… When it comes to production, a grassroots campaign, if you will. It was the individual designers and engineers kind of again speaking up towards management and to executives saying, “Look at what’s possible. Look at what we could do, what we can achieve, how we can do things differently or better.” And now, it’s actually being mandated from the top down. People, your CEOs, your C-suite, are recognizing that leveraging such an agile technology like 3D printing can really save them in a pinch, and so they are actively transitioning and building their 3D printing capabilities out of necessity and a little bit of risk mitigation, as well.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. It’s just funny, that notion of how do we get there, how do we break through, and you really brought that down to we solved the speed problem, and it’s funny because I meet two different types of manufacturers that solve problems. Some solve problems that nobody cares about or knows they have, and then they have to kind of in some ways then go out to the market and convince them that it’s a problem, that it’s a challenge, right?
Lewis Simms: Absolutely. And 3D printing has been in that space for a long time.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. But I guess I’m wondering as you solved the speed problem, did you find that you were… It sounded to me as you were speaking it there just now that you really… you connected with a latent demand in the market that they wanted this problem solved. They knew it was a problem. They didn’t have to be convinced that the speed of 3D printing was a problem.
Lewis Simms: Absolutely. Again, this technology has been around for 30 years. There are people who have a lot of experience with this and kind of have just accepted that this was as good as it was ever going to get. And so, again, you just kind of start working with what you do. When you go buy a car and you buy your Volkswagen Passat, you realize that it’s never gonna run like a Ferrari. And then all of a sudden the technology comes along and a big part of our core messaging and positioning at Nexa was ensuring that people understood that we were all about ultra-fast 3D printing and high throughput capabilities. And that message resonated extremely well with the market because again, we’re speaking to a really basic problem. This wasn’t about needing to make something new or different. The technology can already do so much. This wasn’t about needing necessarily a bigger printer or more detail. People are printing at ultrafine resolutions with tolerances plus or minus the width of a hair, so that was already there.
Just no one could solve the speed problem, and so we did that, and it really did resonate. That sounds very basic, but it was really getting at the core need or problem that consumers already had identified, or even… At the industrial level and the prosumer level, had already identified speed as a problem and had just kind of accepted that as something that wouldn’t improve or wouldn’t improve in the near term, and so we kind of flipped that on its head and it was really interesting to see the response from the market.
Carman Pirie: I think that you mentioned the simplicity of it, but I think that’s the secret, I guess, if I’m gonna… This is a really weird parallel, but I’m reminded of a couple of local telcos up here in Canada that were battling it out over internet speed, and one, because one used fiber technology and the other used cable technology, there was just kind of basically… There was a built-in infrastructure advantage with one provider versus the other, so they got to claim that they were faster. I mean, the numbers don’t lie. This car goes faster than that car kind of thing, right?
And the other one was kind of had to try to sell the more nuanced conversation about the speed you need, right? Almost like the downstream effects, and okay, this is what this means, and that means you don’t really need all that speed or whatever, and I always thought at the time as a consumer witnessing that that, “Man, nobody’s listening to the rest of your argument because we just decided that speed is the thing, and faster is better.” And that’s what I kind of like about what you positioned here is that yeah, there are implications to being able to do this faster. There’s supply chain efficiencies. There’s risk mitigation. There’s more rapid agile prototyping. Product development cycles can shorten. All those things, but there’s a lot of ands when you start explaining all those things, and you need to get a lot of sentences strung together.
Lewis Simms: Exactly.
Carman Pirie: But when you just say, “We’re faster,” all of a sudden I know it.
Jeff White: But you still have to back up the other part and make sure that you could do the thing that people are going to want to do, and done that-
Carman Pirie: Yes, but people won’t listen to you unless you are fast. Yeah.
Jeff White: No, no. I know. Exactly. So, you have the differentiator, but then you also have to prove that the quality is there, and I think, Lewis, you were telling us a bit before about the sample piece that you developed with the printer that can be run extremely quickly through the printer and do things that are impossible in all other types of manufacturing. That kind of backs up the quality credentials quietly while you go to market as the fast printer, eh?
Lewis Simms: Absolutely. So, you know, as you guys acknowledged, you’ve got to grab their attention and that is the speed factor, right? So, you’ve gotta solve their basic problem, and the reason why you have to acknowledge that is people are gonna have a lot of different reasons, just like you mentioned. Some people need agile prototyping, some people need high throughput for production, and this printer can make anything, so if you try to overcomplicate that message and start to try to speak to the why you need this one level deeper, but start there, people stop listening. They really do. Because you can’t anticipate everyone’s need.
And for a product that makes anything for everyone, you can’t come up with the whole spectrum of potential situations and try to speak to that. It’s madness. So, you speak to that speed, and then you say, “Okay, now that you’ve got them hooked, how do you prove that? What’s the proof behind the statement?” Not only that it can build something fast, but that it can meet your other needs. It can make a nice prototype. It can deliver the accuracy, reliability, and repeatability for production. And again, how do you do that concisely in a way that speaks to, again, still a broad audience, but that they can see their problem solved in whatever your example is?
And so for us, we find that seeing is believing, and so we do a lot of heavy pushes for a sample request program where you can actually go in, you can select from a variety of different materials, and we print what we call the X rook, so it’s a very detailed chess piece, and a chess piece has been picked because it actually has a long history in the 3D printing industry and it’s been around since the ‘90s as kind of the demonstrator of what’s capable with this technology. So, we said, “Okay, let’s do the chess piece. It’s something that people recognize. But let’s take it up two, three levels, and really try to showcase everything that someone might need in this piece.” So, it is an incredibly intricate and detailed piece. It’s got… When you’re thinking about trying to convince someone to move from CNC machining to 3D printing, it shows that you can quickly do overhangs, and undercuts, and complex curves, and stuff like that very easily and cheaply. It shows detail and accuracy through printed and texturing, right? So, texturing is very common for injection molding, and so being able to see that, “Oh, this printer’s capable of doing this in this fine detail.”
We also offer tolerance guidance, so you can actually measure this. We’ll provide you with a copy of the model or the measurements and you can say, “Oh, wow. This just came out from their lab and it’s within five ten-thousandths of the original design, which is on any given feature pretty exceptional. And so, it’s this one design that kind of, again, further captures the attention and acknowledges that we are capable of solving people’s problems, whatever it might be within that space.
And so, that’s kind of why we push them there.
Carman Pirie: And then do you also tell them how fast it was produced?
Lewis Simms: We do. We do. Absolutely. And we do that at a material level, right? So, again, this is where you’re letting them kind of tell you exactly what they need, and we push them to kind of a gated landing page. They can fill out their information. They pick the material that they would like this product produced in. And even just understanding that, we now know what printer they’re interested in. You now know what material they’re interested in. That tells you a lot about their application before you ever talk to them, and so we’re able to explain to them the performance of the printer, the material they’ve chosen, and then get down to the details and the performance reliability and repeatability of those two solutions combined. And again, very quickly speak to the heart of their problem.
Jeff White: I don’t want to come up with ideas in the room, but I think you should shoot a video of the sales guy producing this piece in the material that they requested in real time, with a timer up beside it, and send them both. Send them the video along with that.
Lewis Simms: You know, it’s funny that you say that, but we have actually been tossing that around, so we’re looking at opportunities to further expand that experience. Kind of a you build something, they put it in a box, it takes seven days. How do you maintain that excitement from the time they put in that request to the time that they receive that part? And how do you show them and illustrate to them that manufacturing process whenever they’re not in your lab or in your facility? You know, we ship all over the world, and we’ve been talking about exactly that, so doing videos showing our lab technicians building their part in their material so they can understand just how fast this works. Exactly even the process of building the part.
You know, there’s a lot of complexity that can be built into 3D printers, so it’s also important to illustrate not only did we get you the part that you need and to the specs that you needed it at, but that we did it really quite easily, too. That speaks to the capability of the printer.
Carman Pirie: Man, I’ve got 40 ideas to build on Jeff’s amazing idea there. I just think-
Lewis Simms: I’ll take them all.
Carman Pirie: Oh, we can unleash those lab techs as almost like secret salespeople. My goodness. Anyway, it just… My mind is just spinning to the personal connections that can be built as part of that. And I don’t want to jump past just a great bit of advice that you gave about that bottom of funnel conversion. That’s to think about what is that sample request program? Well, that’s what it is. It’s a very bottom of funnel conversion. And you’ve built in mechanisms to gain an additional layer of sales intelligence, an additional layer of account intelligence as part of that conversion, and I think for marketers listening, you can take that and apply it to your own situation. I think that’s just very, very smart.
Lewis Simms: Yeah. Absolutely. It’s quite critical for us in particular. Again, it’s the ability to build anything for anyone, so any opportunity that we have to quickly and easily gather intelligence makes our sales process easier, and frankly reduces the amount of discovery that we’re requiring of a customer. You know, no one likes the general sales call of, “Oh, hey, so we saw that you downloaded this white paper and maybe you’re interested in our solutions, and what do you need it to do? And have you ever used 3D printing before?” I think we’ve all seen where people attempt to execute that sales call maybe a little bit too early in the funnel, or they have to do all this discovery, and I guess depending on your industry, maybe that’s necessary. But in today’s marketplace where the calls are coming too often, where your email inbox is blowing up with a bunch of unsolicited communications, any opportunity that you can have to quickly and concisely gather that intelligence is super important and you’d be really surprised at how easily a recommendation can come for a 3D printer or a 3D printing solution by answering just three questions. And that’s what do you need it to do, for how long do you need it to do that, and then in what environment?
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think that that example that you mentioned about the salesperson kind of having to do that call, and kind of almost start from scratch, really-
Jeff White: Boy, that worked really well in 2013, though, right?
Carman Pirie: Well, I mean look, a good salesperson can still get away with it, and can still navigate the dialogue, and build rapport, and do what you need to do. There’s no question. But I think the piece that kind of jumps out to me there is that there’s an asymmetry. At that point, the buyer has done a lot more research than the salesperson’s aware of. And in some way kind of the… They don’t necessarily expect that the salesperson’s been watching them do that researcher, or knows everything, but the fact that they’re starting from a different place and the salesperson’s kind of rewinding a bit does kind of hold back the progress of that sales conversation, and I think that that asymmetry that you’re attacking as we build more account intelligence into those bottom of funnel conversions and inform those first… You talk about quality of first print or first output of the device, this is more about quality of first sales conversations, quality of first sales contact.
Lewis Simms: Absolutely. Yeah. Customers are walking in more informed than they ever have been, and I think we see this across different industries, but certainly for us in 3D printing. You know, when I entered this industry, you were having basic conversations with what is 3D printing? How does this work? And people just thought you took dust and put it… I literally have an article that was written the year that I started in 3D printing where a journalist came in and explained it in a way that it sounded like we swept dust off the floor, put it in a printer, and made their part. I mean, that was obviously incorrect, but that’s the level of understanding that we were challenged with a decade ago.
Today, people know all about 3D printing. They’ve done the research. They’ve probably researched your competition. They know the specs and what makes your printer different. You know, at least on paper. And that’s why you really do, you have to elevate your approach with these contacts. You know, you have to… Sure, be prepared to talk about your product if they don’t understand it to its fullest capability, but more importantly you’re moving beyond, “Here are the features of my product,” and you’re moving into more quickly a conversation of, “How does my product solve your problem?”
And if you don’t walk into that conversation at least having some idea of what that problem might be, then I think you end up with a really frustrated first time experience on that sales call. So, from a marketing perspective, quickly and easily trying to gather that information, providing resources to your CRM so you might be able to see what web pages they were checking out before, looking into their company, making all of that information really accessible and really easy for the sale just makes that conversation a lot more straightforward and frankly enjoyable for both parties.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Yeah. That’s a very good point. It’s both people win in that instance. Lewis, look, I think we could go on forever here. The time has flown by. So, I think let’s just… I want to just thank you for sharing your experience and expertise with our audience today. I think it’s been just a fascinating kind of discussion and a lot of great nuggets. Not to mention I think Jeff’s lovely idea on that video piece.
Lewis Simms: Oh, absolutely. Like I said, I’ll take all the ideas, so y’all feel free to let me know and we’ll add it to the list. But no, thank you guys so much for having me. I would say if there’s one thing to take away from a guy who works in the industry where you can make anything or anyone, it’s to do the exact opposite, and that’s to define who you are, who your target is, keep the messaging simple, and to speak directly at the heart of the problem. And I think in a lot of industries, you’ll find that you kind of rise above the noise and will find success there.
Jeff White: I love it.
Carman Pirie: Very cool.
Jeff White: Thanks a lot.
Carman Pirie: Thank you, Lewis.
Lewis Simms: All righty. Thank you, guys.
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Lewis SimmsHead of Industrial Product Marketing
Lewis Simms is the Head of Industrial Product Marketing for Nexa3D, working at the intersection of product development, marketing, and sales to develop and implement a marketing strategy for Nexa3D’s products, materials, software, and services. With 13 years of experience in additive manufacturing, Lewis partners with product management to align marketing programs with product road maps and release cycles, and engages with sales leadership to set priorities based on changing market conditions and emerging opportunities. Lewis holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration in Business Management and Marketing from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and a Masters degree in Business Administration from Texas Tech University.