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 talk with Daniel Williams, Digital Marketing Director at Samtec, about how B2B manufacturing marketers can take inspiration from B2C giants like Amazon to provide easier experiences for B2B buyers, the power of data, and where to buy the best socks.
Cultivating a B2C Mindset for B2B Manufacturers 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. My name is Jeff White and I’m joined by Carman Pirie. Today on the show we have Daniel Williams from Samtec, a connector cable optics company based out of the US, and Daniel is the Digital Marketing Director there. Welcome Daniel.
Daniel Williams: Thank you guys for having me.
Carman Pirie: It’s fantastic to have you on the show today Daniel, it’s good to be chatting. I wonder if before we get underway, look, I just think you have … you’ve come to this business of marketing from a very unique point of view so let’s get that out on the table right now, let them know who they’re talking to.
Before you were a marketer you were a developer. Give us a little bit of that background and talk to us about your tenure at Samtec.
Daniel Williams: Believe it or not, I don’t think a lot of digital marketing folks like myself come from a developing background, but I did. A long path here at Samtec, started me as a software developer working on our internally-facing systems. Pricing systems and delivery calculators, and even our quality systems over time. That led me into development on our website.
We started our website in the late ’90s, much like everyone else. Around the time I was finishing up my time in software development before I started messing things up, they asked me to move over and kind of give some attention to our website and see what I could do with it. My development background and my knowledge of our internal systems really just allowed me to start to craft an ecommerce experience there that was kind of the foundation of what would become what our website is today.
That kind of kicked off a decent career in e-commerce, and it led me into digital marketing and a good passion for marketing as I am today.
Carman Pirie: Very cool. I think that’s where I wanna dive into for much of this conversation is that experience that you’ve had in evolving the Samtec e-comm experience over time, and that tension that we hear so much about in the space of manufacturing marketing these days. This notion of B2C expectations, and B2C experiences being expected or delivered, et cetera, in a B2B space.
I hope for our listeners that we’ll be able to, I guess, chat about this from a variety of different perspectives and hopefully cover it as well as we can here today.
I guess, talk to me about that some more, because I know that you’ve … I’ve read some of your writing on LinkedIn and other places with respect to B2C experiences in the B2B space, talk to me about the similarities and talk to me about when you need to be eyes wide open about the differences.
Daniel Williams: I think we traditionally started as a real B2B focused e-commerce experience, and it was primarily out of the naivete that we thought that’s just what was required, but as a lot of these e-commerce giants, Amazon for example, and the rest of the digital world has grown up, all of these engineers, and largely those are our customers, are engineers and procurement professionals—on the weekends they are B2C shoppers. You cannot re-train them Monday to Friday to have lower expectations because what they’ve enjoyed on the weekend, the things that were easy while they were shopping for e-commerce, or their personal needs, they grow accustomed to that and come Monday, when they come back in the office, if that checkout process is a burden, or is cumbersome, whether right or wrong it’s a negative reflection of your company and they remember that. You’ve got to start to mimic what made them happy on the weekend.
That’s really a lot of what we try to do on Samtec.com, is to remove those cumbersome checkout processes, get into making it easy, single page checkouts, remembering preferences …
When I shop on the weekends I would rather shop at the place who remembers my shipping preferences than the place that has it just a little bit cheaper. That may be lazy, but it’s easy and it’s what keeps me coming back to that website.
Carman Pirie: But people are lazy, aren’t they? It’s interesting too because I think as you mention, on the weekend versus weekday, I don’t know maybe it’s just the people who work at Kula Partners, all I know is that there’s an awful lot of product that arrives at our doors from Amazon through the week that is not a business purchase but instead a personal purchase that gets sent to the office, and I’m sure that that’s happening in other workplaces unless we’re incredibly unique.
Therefore it’s frankly the purchase experience that they’re even having in part through their workday, because of course people are doing personal things on work time.
Daniel Williams: Oh, certainly. I can walk through the office and see a lot of browsers. It’s multi-tasking, and that’s the easy part. I said lazy a second ago, but really it’s … I don’t wanna say it’s lazy, I wanna say it’s easy. If I have the ability to be 100% effective in my day, buying what I need for work, and for pleasure, and just throughout the day, then I need that easy process. That’s the one, 9 out of 10 times the consumer’s gonna take.
Carman Pirie: I think one of the places that this comparison falls down a bit, or where people fall down in making it is that they get maybe a bit too literal. Obviously there’s a number of B2B purchases that aren’t going to happen by a credit card, they’re gonna happen by a PO or some other means, and checkout processes need to be accommodating of that, so just mimicking a B2C checkout experience in the B2B environment may not be the most ideal scenario. I guess that literal interpretation sometimes leads to an oversimplification.
Do you find that as you’ve evangelized, if you will, this B2B ought to be more like B2C? Do you have to at least have a few “yeah, buts” or caveats in there?
Daniel Williams: Yeah, somewhat. More and more I find that it’s…
Carman Pirie: You don’t sound convinced.
Daniel Williams: Well, in the past I’ve found that there were a lot of “yeah buts”, but the yeah buts are going away. There used to be “yeah, it can be similar, but I need to accept a P card” which was like a purchaser card, and I think that was fairly popular several years ago, and now it’s just … it’s more of a “yeah, and” it’s yeah, and you need to accept this other payment, and this payment process, and this payment portal. You need to almost be all things to all people because we’re not just a US company, we’re a global company. The minute you put yourself on the web you are now global and your audience is checking out in different payment processes in different currencies, and you’ve got to tap into those markets and understand what is the local preference. That’s gotta be something that’s accommodating, whether it’s a cash-based system or a credit-based system, or even a PO and an invoice based system.
Carman Pirie: So you’re saying it doesn’t absolve one of the requirement to be more B2C in the experience that they’re delivering.
Daniel Williams: No, I think the experience is always B2C first. I think it is a B2C mindset because it is what’s easy and fast. The faster you can get me through the checkout process, the faster you can get product in hand. That gives me an advantage over my competition that I can start my design, because I have the product in hand to start moving through the manufacturing process.
Carman Pirie: What advice would you have for B2B e-commerce marketers who are, I guess trying to struggle with the first steps of how to make that experience more B2C? It could be hard to give a global recommendation, I understand, but at the same time where do you see most of them falling down? I know we talked about ease of use and the experience as somewhat synonymous, can we dig into that a little bit further? Do you see them falling down mostly on the checkout experience? Mostly on product categorization? Overall site design? Product search? Talk to me.
Daniel Williams: Search is huge. Search is one thing that you’re often times not gonna beat the giants, so maybe join them, right? If I have a large amount of customers that are searching elsewhere for my products, if they’re searching at Amazon or they’re searching through distribution, I need to be there. I don’t just need to be there, but I need to be there and be there effectively, which means my data, my information, I need to be available in the channel, and if that leads to a purchase at my site that’s great. Search is hard to beat the experts at, and what I mean by that is it’s largely people like Amazon. They have parametric search engines that are data-focused, built on data for years and years of information. You can’t be afraid to re-use those strategies, and re-use that reach that they have.
Jeff White: At the end of the day you’re not gonna out-Amazon Amazon.
Daniel Williams: Exactly, yeah. If you aren’t going to out-Amazon them, then use Amazon to jump start it. Amazon business, they have products, they will list your products for you, or they will let you leverage their checkout process directly. I do think that is somewhat where the industry’s trending. You’re going to either do your best to mimic Amazon, or you’re going to allow Amazon to help you.
Jeff White: We see a lot with a number of the manufacturers that we work with, that they’ll actually have their own ecommerce platform, and that that will feed up into Amazon. Maybe not the entire catalog, but portions of it, so that they can reap some of that reward for their, a lot of high-turnover product, or things like that that Amazon would be a good choice for.
Daniel Williams: Oh, certainly. I see a lot of folks putting portions of their catalog on Amazon. Just because it’s there doesn’t mean it’s there forever. I think a lot of people do it for marketing reach and exposure. The first place I go to buy socks is Amazon. That doesn’t make Amazon the best sock maker or distributor on the planet, but it’s something that, it’s a necessity, it’s quick and easy, I can get it in one click and be done, and that’s just one less thing I have to worry about today.
Carman Pirie: I’m going to resist the urge to go down the road of talking about my online sock buying experiences because it may be the category of e-commerce I have the most consumer experience in, and I can pick this up after the show.
We talk about Amazon business and it’s a bit of a … it’s almost like a Morgan Freeman-esque kind of approach. You gotta get busy living or get busy dying, it sounds like what you’re saying to me. Am I overstating your point?
Daniel Williams: No, I don’t think you are at all. I think you’re right on. They’re not going away, at all. Like I said, there are a lot of ways to use Amazon, whether it’s directly and listed on there, or even just imitation. We have built a checkout process that is streamlined and meant for… similar to a one click approach. It’s not Amazon’s approach because Amazon has a B2C, almost 100% logged in user opportunity so they can remember those preferences, but being that we are B2B and we’re trying to be like B2C, the differences come in that we don’t always know as much about the user as Amazon does about theirs, so we had to stray a little bit different from there. We also have to require other parts of data for compliance. While we can’t mimic them exactly, we can reflect them, and kind of follow their lead with, I see what they were doing, I see how they were trying to make it easy, I’m gonna try to make it easy in my scope.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, exactly right. It’s interesting, Jeff, as you were mentioning with respect to perhaps a limited number of SKUs from the catalog or what have you being on Amazon, and one of the other approaches that we’ve seen time and again people using marketplaces like Amazon to test new products or new SKUs, split test new SKUs in that environment versus bringing it over to their main e-com environment, so I think there are lots of different ways to, I guess to get busy living versus doing the dying part we talked about.
Daniel, beyond Amazon, where else are you making sure that Samtec is coming to life beyond the e-commerce experience that you’re providing? Aggregators, et cetera. I guess explore that with me a bit.
Daniel Williams: As I mentioned, Amazon is so good at search and finding the product, that there are certain aggregators if you will, or industry vertical search engines, that are able to be better than Amazon at search because they have a limited scope of products. In our industry, that is connectors, cables, and as you said, things like that. The search engines in our industry are folks like Octopart, OEM Secrets, those kind of guys, and they are collecting amounts of our data as well as distributor data, and they’re offering it all in one space.
By saying aggregator, the correlation to that in the B2C space is a flight aggregator, or a hotel aggregator, just a travel … like an Expedia.com, or a Kayak.com. Oftentimes the consumer in our space needs a widget, let’s call it the connector with so many positions or rows. We have it, certainly others have something similar, and compare that to the B2C space, a customer may need a flight from Chicago to New York. Now reward points and those kind of things aside, they need to know which one is going to be at the right time, at the right price, and has seats on the plane. If I can see Delta, and United, and American, and Southwest all side by side by side, compare by price and flight times, it’s gonna make it easier for me, and that goes back to the easy and fast.
Aggregators are doing that in a focused space and they’re able to beat, or as you say, they are able to out-Amazon Amazon because they have a focused group of products. Those aggregators are doing a lot for us in regards to getting our product noticed, making it easy for consumers who have that B2C mindset, to find our products, to find what we have available, when we have it available, at the right price, and they’re offering referral traffic to us. Aggregators are really pushing our industry forward in the digital space.
Announcer: You’re listening to the Kula Ring. Conversations on manufacturing marketing. Don’t forget to subscribe now at KulaPartners.com/thekularing. That’s K U L A partners.com/thekularing.
Carman Pirie: I think the parallel to travel on the consumer space is so solid, too. I think most people listening will get that immediately. It’s not a leap of imagination-
Jeff White: Not at all.
Carman Pirie: I’d be curious … I admit that I haven’t looked into the traffic trend data around sites like OEM Secrets or Octopart, but I would have to think that as those aggregation platforms get more and more, I guess road under their tires, that they will … the use of those platforms will continue to increase in combination with buyers’ propensity to use those platforms increasing as the B2B buyer, the laggard B2B buyer-
Jeff White: Transitions their behavior online, yeah.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, yeah. Are you seeing in your work with these aggregation platforms … I guess what dynamics are you seeing there beyond the fact that it’s been a great referral source, or what have you? Are you seeing that those platforms themselves are seeing a fairly accelerated growth curve?
Daniel Williams: They are, and it’s tremendous. It’s probably 2x our industry growth. They have the ability to see not only what products consumers are interested that I’m selling, but related products because they do offer a slightly larger scope of just connectors and cables, so they can kinda go outside that box and see the entire BOM, and I think where a lot of aggregators are probably heading is into deeper into the e-commerce space. Right now they do very well on click traffic and pay-per-click advertising, and even on-site marketing, but I do think there is a place where they become an Amazon of their own, and they offer kind of third party purchasing direct on their site, and whether they’re drop shipping from us as a representative or as an on-site seller, it’s certainly a reach and exposure that they’re gonna take advantage of.
Jeff White: I think the other things that’s interesting too, I mean we’ve talked a bit about e-commerce, we’ve talked a bit about the checkout processes and what people are anticipating or expecting from their B2B purchases, maybe we could talk a little bit as well about how this extends more broadly into the digital marketing space. What are you seeing kind of beyond just the e-commerce experience in terms of generating more top-of-funnel traffic? Are you seeing parallels with the B2C market there as well?
Daniel Williams: Yeah. The top-of-funnel for us really comes from not only the aggregators, but also distribution. EDA Tools is another great avenue, and that’s where I talk about having our … the on-site content that we have, I would say is best in class. If you’re on our site and you’re experiencing Samtec and our on-site marketing, you are getting the best of the best of our product. What’s important for me to do is to take that experience, and take it off-site, and have that same experience felt, whether it be at an aggregator, at a distributor, at an electronic design automation tool, and that just means having data portability. Putting that data, and that experience, and the content that I have here at every one of those channels, and helping either direct through that channel to their conversion point, or eventually back to Samtec.com, but I think the biggest impact is making sure the customer experiences what I expected them to experience on our own site, anywhere they do experience us.
Jeff White: That’s dead on. I think one of the challenges there of course is in ensuring that your data and content is, that the integrity is preserved as it’s utilized elsewhere. What’s your kind of methodology for ensuring that the quality of the Samtec brand stays intact across the web?
Daniel Williams: It largely depends on the channel I’m working with. A preference is an API approach where I give you API access and the channel that I’m working with, let’s pick an aggregator at this point, if they’re going to represent that product, when that product page on their site is pulled up, I would hope they would call my API to get current marketing content, current product descriptions, current product documentations, and even beyond that, something that I see as a major opportunity is offering the support, the people support. Samtec is tremendous on customer service, and support. We have tech centers all over the country, we have a giant call center here that I’m sitting in, and our people are our biggest asset. If we’re able to … when you experience Samtec.com, you do experience our chat support, and our people, whether it’s a call or an email, but that doesn’t have to only be accessed from Samtec.com. I see that no matter what channel I go to, being able to offer not only the documentation and the product information, but the people to support it. I think that’s going to be a major opportunity in the next couple years.
Carman Pirie: I think that’s gonna be huge. The one part of the omni-channel experience that people really I think are just now turning their attention to. Data integrity, et cetera, as Jeff mentioned, and the ease of integration, all those pieces need to be sorted, but I think now the attention can kind of … it’s almost like now it gets interesting.
Jeff White: Yeah, now it’s all about delivering the best experience possible.
Daniel Williams: Exactly.
Carman Pirie: Since we’re on this crystal ball train and looking towards 2019, anything else that you might wanna point towards as something that’s coming around the corner that our listeners would wanna keep an eye out for?
Daniel Williams: It may be the most obvious answer, or maybe not, but it’s data. Understanding the data that you’re collecting on your own site. Really, this is mimicking the giants of this e-commerce industry in getting the data that helps to define buying habits. Knowing that it seems simple … we said at the beginning, because you bought this, you might also like to buy that, but understanding the natural tendency of what is this customer interested in, and what are they likely interested in. That is what makes B2C people so happy is that, just as you said earlier, when you go back to that sock website and they put in front of you the type of socks that you know, they know you were interested in, you were very happy. The pair of socks they put up for you is gonna be different than the pair they put up for me, and that’s based on our buying habits, based on our history. You’ve got to really forecast what the customer, what your visitors are gonna want, and expect, and need. Personalize that website to provide them that.
I don’t know that a lot of people know that’s happening when you visit websites. Maybe they think it’s a coincidence, but it’s not. I use it every day. If I’m interested in something, I don’t, I may not know where I’m gonna buy it from or when I’m gonna buy it, but I’ll do on my phone, I’ll do a quick Amazon search for some sort of widget just because I want Amazon to remind me that I wanted to buy that in about a week.
Jeff White: The search as reminder service.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, yeah. That’s not bad. I feel like I need to, almost I need to clarify the sock comment, because it could be serious value to the listeners.
Guys, something in the neighborhood of 15 years ago I ordered socks online from 10socks.com. Somebody broke into the package while it was on transit from Denmark. The thing about these socks is that they numbered the socks pairs 1-10. They were just plain black socks, but they had numbers. Then of course you could always wear the number 1 with the number 1 to make sure that they faded in a consistent pattern.
Jeff White: Good lord.
Carman Pirie: This is very critical.
Daniel Williams: Whoa.
Carman Pirie: But anyway, my 10th pair got stolen so I only had pairs 1-9. It was good that they stole a pair, however, and then beyond that … so there’s that, and then I’m now standardized on the Tilley Endurable sock. A good Canadian company. These are guaranteed hole-free for three years, and I can tell you that they will go hole-free for at least a decade. Daniel, your sock-buying days may be over if you go to Tilley and buy these incredibly expensive travel socks, you will be a happy man.
Jeff White: Just avoid the hats.
Daniel Williams: I believe that my sock-buying days are over. I thought I had the market cornered when I suggested to everyone I know just to buy all black socks. That way you’ll never have to pair them again. I don’t know that I want numbers on them because otherwise I’m gonna pair 1 with 4, and 3 with 7.
Jeff White: You just have to block off your whole day.
Daniel Williams: Yeah, I don’t wanna do the laundry in the way that folding socks matches up 1 and 3. I just want a big pile of black socks.
Jeff White: I’m with you.
Carman Pirie: See, now this is the value that our listeners can get from this podcast. Each and every episode there’s just this little bit of life advice at the end, maybe. News you can use.
Jeff White: We could use this maybe as something we can carry forward.
Daniel Williams: It’d be the most useful thing we’ve said all day.
Jeff White: Probably so.
Carman Pirie: Potentially.
Well, Daniel, on that note maybe we let the listeners judge and maybe they can let us know if they thought the sock discussion was helpful, or if the B2C versus B2B experience was helpful. I can tell you that it’s been a great conversation from my perspective. I think we’ve unpacked that discussion quite a bit further. I love the parallel with travel, and the aggregator platforms that you mentioned. That was incredibly helpful perspective, and generally speaking I’ve really enjoyed the perspective you brought to today’s show. Thank you for that.
Daniel Williams: Thank you guys, as well. I did really enjoy today.
Announcer: 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. That’s K U L A Partners.com/thekularing.