Developing a Third-Party and Distribution Channel Ecommerce Strategy

Episode 189

June 21, 2022

Paying attention to how your product is sold online is only the starting point to creating a positive customer experience for E-commerce shoppers. Jacki Lutz, Head of Communications, Training and E-commerce, Aftermarket, at Sensata Technologies, explores the marketing strategy her team uses to develop messaging that resonates with customers across all E-commerce platforms. She reveals why helping customers sell Sensata products and upholding Sensata’s reputation for customer experience is important to her team.

Developing a Third-Party and Distribution Channel Ecommerce Strategy 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: Look, I am delighted, Jeff, to be… The thing that our listeners will not know or appreciate is that most often when we record this podcast we use a tool called SquadCast to do it, and I’m not on the screen because I’m usually kind of off to the side. Jeff sets this up, people need to know, so that he gets full billing and he’s fully into the screen, and-

Jeff White: Or it may be just because I’m the one doing the recording. 

Carman Pirie: … and I’m just alienated from the conversation, honestly. But today we’re recording from different locations, and I feel like I’ve moved into the primetime because I’m on screen now. I mean, even though the listeners are of course… We don’t record the video because it’s only our guests that are worth recording video. 

Jeff White: Yeah. Exactly. Yeah. It’s for their benefit, not ours. 

Carman Pirie: Right. No, I’m good. How are you doing? 

Jeff White: I’m doing great. I’m doing great. 

Carman Pirie: Nice. 

Jeff White: Yeah. No, we’re recording this on a beautiful sunny Friday. Not so bad. 

Carman Pirie: And we can edit my complaining about the video out if you want. 

Jeff White: No, I think that’s fine. I think it’s fine. It sets the stage for what we should expect. 

Carman Pirie: Right. Just for me to complain. Okay, great. 

Jeff White: I am looking forward to our guest today. This is someone we’ve had on the show in the past. Geez, I don’t know how long ago. It was over a year. And positions change, and focuses expand and contract in different ways, and I think it’s really interesting to learn what people are up to after they have done a number of roles within a marketing department within a manufacturer. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. Yeah. We’ve had a few return guests and I’ve really, really enjoyed each time we’ve done that. It always seems like we can… Yeah, there’s just new experiences to unpack and it’s always good to reconnect, of course. 

Jeff White: Absolutely. So, joining us today is Jacki Lutz. Jacki is the Global Head of Communications, Training, and E-Commerce and the Aftermarket with Sensata Technologies. Welcome to The Kula Ring again, Jacki. 

Jacki Lutz: Thank you. Thank you for having me. It’s always a nice validation that I didn’t mess it up too much the first time when you guys ask me back. 

Jeff White: Not at all. Not at all. 

Carman Pirie: I mean, maybe the fact that Jeff continues to ask me back to co-host then I should feel good about. This is good. 

Jacki Lutz: Exactly. 

Jeff White: Yeah. The legal agreement there gets more sticky if I try and cut you out. 

Carman Pirie: Indeed. Indeed. Well, Jacki, maybe remind our listeners or those that haven’t had a chance to meet you before. Tell us a little bit about yourself and Sensata, if you would. 

Jacki Lutz: Sure. Sensata Technologies is a manufacturer. We play in a lot of different industries, like industrial, aerospace, auto is our biggest, but we really specialize in sensing technologies. Used to just be sensors. Now it can be a lot of things, but really starting to specialize in the EV space and all the exciting things happening with auto amongst insights and all the internet of things, so it’s fun being in a technology manufacturing company these days because it moves really, really fast, and Sensata’s definitely on the mark there. 

And I sit within their automotive aftermarkets business unit, so we sell into the distribution channels, usually products that we sell into the OE channels we sell into the repair world, so that’s kind of where I sit. And I head three teams right now, our global training team who actually teaches the end user how to use our products, which can be kind of complicated being on the technology side, and then our marketing communications team, which is really where my roots are, and then most recently our E-Commerce team, which we’ve just had for just over a year now. 

Jeff White: And refresh not just our memories, but our listeners’ memories, in terms of what Sensata actually manufactures. Because it’s changed over the years. 

Jacki Lutz: Yeah, it has. Where I still very much sit within the tire pressure monitoring sensor world, but they do a lot of engine management sensors. They have more I would say internet of things type products now that are… You know, we have cameras for the auto side. On the industrial side, there’s a lot of temperature and pressure sensors that go on various equipment. 

Carman Pirie: Really cool. And I think the eCom is really the subject of today’s conversation. So, I guess you said it’s about a year old that you’ve really turned your attention to E-Commerce. I guess what does E-Commerce mean for Sensata? What are you doing? Are we talking about largely E-Commerce via other kind of third party sites, marketplaces? Is this something you’ve stood up on your own? Take us through it. 

Jacki Lutz: Yeah, so really what it means to us, I think it can be a really scary thing in the aftermarket world when our customers hear us talk about E-Commerce, because the last thing they want is for us to be selling directly to their customers. So, it doesn’t… E-Commerce doesn’t necessarily have to mean that you have your own store on your website and you’re selling your product to an end user. For us, what it means is that we’re paying attention to how our product is sold online and what our brand looks like online. So, really most manufacturers, it’s a very good possibility that your product is being sold somewhere online. In our case, we focus on our third party etailers, which is like our Amazons, or eBays, and then our customers on their websites, and really our main goal is to ensure that whoever is buying our product and however they’re buying it, they’re getting the full experience of working with our company. 

So, if somebody’s selling your product on Amazon, you just want to make sure that they have what they need to do it properly. Give them the nice, clean, crisp photos. Give them the correct descriptions. Make sure that they have the right training material and they’re being very clear on what that product is for and what it’s not for so that you don’t end up with a bunch of  returns because they bought the wrong thing that didn’t work for their product, and it wasn’t clear online. And also, just the reviews. Somebody bought the wrong product because it wasn’t clear what they were buying. They can get on there and kind of be upset. If nobody’s paying attention to that it’s very easy to have a discrepancy brand online because nobody’s paying attention. 

So, that’s really what we started to do is pay attention and start developing the right materials and things to help our customers sell our products. 

Carman Pirie: What I find really interesting about that introduction, Jacki, is that I think a lot of people when they start talking about third party E-Commerce, Amazon especially, how products are displayed or presented online, et cetera, so much it’s often through the lens of governance, if you will. Like it’s about how we create the legal framework so that people stop doing these bad things to us online. And you didn’t say one thing about governance. You seem to be all based around helping them do it better. 

Jacki Lutz: Right. 

Carman Pirie: I guess am I missing the governance side or is that an intentional strategy to just say, “Rather than try to spend too much time on the legal governance side, let’s just try to spend our time on the helping side.” 

Jacki Lutz: It’s not where my team is focused. We have legal teams and things for that. But you know, we do… Really, our strategy on the E-Commerce team for the automotive aftermarket is yeah, to pay attention. We’re constantly looking for where our products are being sold and that it’s being done properly, because again, it represents our company whether or not we’re the ones selling it, or whoever they’re buying it from. So, it’s really easy to mess up your reputation if you’re not doing that these days, which is something kind of… I wouldn’t say it’s new, but it’s new for I think the supplier in a distribution chain to be paying attention to that versus the people actually selling the products. 

Jeff White: What sorts of methodologies have you put in place in order to manage the brand and kind of pay attention to that? Because obviously if you’re in a number of different marketplaces and they all have different ways of using your content, and we’ll come back to that in a little bit. I want to talk a bit more about that. But you know, what sorts of things have you done to ensure that you’re staying on top of that customer experience? 

Jacki Lutz: Yeah. Every customer… I guess the complicated side of this is that every customer has different specs and things that you have to follow in order to get your materials on there. And we try to keep it as consistent as we can across all of the online platforms, but you do have to just be kind of flexible and work with our customers, but you’re gonna see the same with a few differences here and there where necessary, but you’re really gonna see the same brand across all of those platforms as much as possible. The harder part for us is getting customers to use the stuff that we give them, I guess, and some of the third party suppliers to… You know, we create the stuff. Getting them to use it is a step on their end,  so we really have to get their buy-in and help them understand why it’s important for us that they do it. 

And then we always make sure that again, our customers have different character counts and things that we can use to describe our product, so we just try to do it… be as flexible as we need to be, but truly try to stick within our brand guidelines and really try to make sure that the same message is really being spoken across all sites, across all regions, across all products. 

Jeff White: Have you implemented any technology to help with that? Are you using a PIM or product information management platform? 

Jacki Lutz: With the automotive aftermarket, we have something called ACES and PIES that is very standard across the entire industry, so we pay close attention to that. We use a software system that helps us speak with different customers and actually keep track of our content with those customers so we can see… It’s almost like a grading that they give us. You can see where your descriptions are falling short with that customer because they might have different guidelines than what you were used to, and you can go in and realize you gotta look at that and tweak it. So, yeah, we do have a system in place that helps us with that, because it is… It would be very tedious to do manually. You would need a way bigger team than what I have. 

Carman Pirie: This may be really into the weeds of it all, but I guess do you concern yourself with any kind of SEO considerations, considering that you may be using the same descriptions for your product across multiple sites, et cetera? Is there any kind of effort to distinguish there so that people can continue to compete in search? 

Jacki Lutz: Yeah. We optimize everything that we do online now and we keep all of that kind of stuff into consideration, and we also try to keep too, depending on who the audience of that site is, so if it’s a site that’s really selling to an installer, we really make sure we’re speaking to an installer and using keywords and things that they would be using in search, where if we’re looking at a distributor’s site who’s selling into other businesses, then we would speak a little bit differently on those sites. But something… It’s just how I shop. I don’t know about everybody else, but I use Amazon very much for research, even if I don’t end up buying from Amazon in the end I’ll go on there and check out their reviews. So, you know, you can get to an Amazon listing through Google and all of that is connected through search, so if you’re not paying attention to the keywords and things on your descriptions, your product… It’s not gonna show up when people are searching or researching a product. 

Carman Pirie: And I think it’s helpful for listeners to consider, as well, that you’re not saying consistency at the expense of search performance, but rather modifying those descriptions in order to be cognizant of that across different platforms. That makes sense to me. 

Jacki Lutz: Yeah. While keeping the same message I guess is the point. 

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Jeff White: So, as you kind of moved into the E-Commerce side of things, did you see an overall increase and lift in the brand in terms of search and performance of the keywords and other things like that that had to do with your products as a result of this initiative? 

Jacki Lutz: Specifically on Amazon, our search… We saw this past Q1 of this year, compared to Q1 in 2021, we saw a 1000% increase on not just… We have almost 100 different products and SKUs on Amazon and that was for a select few, but we saw a huge percent of increase in people who… They’re called glance views on Amazon, so people who end up on our site looking at our product, so that was… It’s really incredible, especially considering that that was in the middle of COVID in Q1 2021, so E-Commerce had already been on a pretty steady incline through most of 2020, so then to see another 1000% increase on top of that was pretty incredible and definitely made it feel worth our while to be paying attention to this. 

Carman Pirie: I think that’s really cool, especially since most of what you’re hearing these days on the kind of more B2C E-Commerce side of things is that suggestion that the E-Commerce wave has crested, right? Like this, “Oh yeah, there was maybe a list in COVID, but now it’s back to old clothes and porridge.” So, it’s nice to hear experience of somebody in the manufacturing B2B space that’s seeing quite the opposite of that, frankly. 

Jacki Lutz: Yeah, it is. And especially with the automotive aftermarket, which traditionally wasn’t huge online. I mean, they had those platforms. There was definitely companies who were on the front end of that, but it was never talked about all that much up until the more recent years, and to see how far it’s come now, and I honestly… I don’t see it going away. I don’t know that we’ll continue to see thousands and thousands of percentage increase year over year, but just to see the industry coming along behind it too is pretty neat. It’s definitely been a game changer in the automotive aftermarket. 

Jeff White: I have to imagine, as well, that in introducing this new channel for Sensata you mentioned that some of your customers, the suppliers, distributors, were a bit scared of what that might mean. How have you managed and mitigated those concerns? 

Jacki Lutz: I’m sorry, you broke up a little bit during that question, but I hear you better now. Can you say that again? Sorry. 

Jeff White: Okay. Yeah. So, I think one of the things that you mentioned that you mentioned earlier on was around the idea of the concern that your customers, the suppliers, distributors, and so on, might have had with you moving into E-Commerce. How have you mitigated their concerns and kind of dealt with that to make sure that they were still happy? 

Jacki Lutz: Yeah. We make sure that they know that really what we’re doing is trying to help them sell. That’s something that Schrader has always done at that level, Schrader being our biggest brand in the automotive aftermarket, and it’s really who we are supporting mostly with this E-Commerce effort. But something that we’ve always said is that we’re not gonna sell you a product and then walk away, especially when it’s such a high tech product. People have to know how to use it properly. In order for our customers to be successful, their customers have to know how to use it, so we really invest a lot in training. We invest a lot in marketing for them, in category management. And E-Commerce is just another service that we are providing. It is not to undercut them in any way. It’s to help them sell more of our products. 

Carman Pirie: I’m kind of interested. I guess you’ve been at this now for a year and a bit, and it sounds as though there’s been some really solid early successes. I guess what has you excited for the next year? Where do you see this evolving? 

Jacki Lutz: Well, now that we’ve kind of cleaned up… I mean, when you first start, it’s a lot of clean up, so we had to really go through all of the E-Commerce sites that we were aware that our product was on, we had to go through and clean it all up, get them the right stuff, get them the right images, right descriptions, start measuring, so it was a lot of clean up, and now… We started specifically in North America and probably more specifically in the U.S., so now we’re actually able to be a little bit more on the offense so we can start looking into advertising and trying to get people to those sites. It’s something that we can actually measure, which is really nice, so if we put ads out there that link to Amazon, or to any of our competitors’ sites, we feel pretty good about what their people are gonna see when they get onto those sites. So, we can go a little bit more on the offensive. 

Something we’re working on that we haven’t completed yet is doing like an Amazon storefront and actually getting a little bit more sophisticated there. We spent the first year just cleaning up what was there, so now we’re actually working on a storefront, which will be exciting. And then I think we’re gonna just start expanding into other regions and looking at what we can do and see where E-Commerce is really taking off in other regions and start supporting those. 

Jeff White: I’d like to dive in a little bit to this clean up and the creation of content that was going to serve you well. I mean, one of the things that we know as marketers is that we always underestimate the effort that’s going to be required in creating content, whether that’s written, or visual, or anything else. I’d love to hear a little bit. Maybe they’re war stories. Maybe it just went really, really well. I don’t know, but what kind of effort are we talking about in order to bring that content up to the level that you really wanted it to be at? And I’m assuming it’s probably still an ongoing kind of thing. 

Jacki Lutz: Always. And I think that’s something with E-Commerce, is that you always have to go back, and review, and tweak. Always. But you know, this was new for us and our team, so there were a few times where we developed things to be put on for certain products, and then we’d go back and be like, “Oh, that wasn’t quite the right message.” Like one that comes to mind is our easy sensor, which is a tire pressure sensor that you have a tool, and you have to program it in order for it to talk to the vehicle. You have to tell it which vehicle it’s on. And that message was not getting through on Amazon, so people were buying the sensor not realizing that they had to program it, throwing it in the car, and then it wasn’t working, and they were like, “This product sucks.” That’s what they would go onto Amazon and say. 

So, our rating was down, so we had to create content that was just very clear and very forward. When you’re scrolling through images, it was one of the first ones. Be very clear. Don’t buy. You have to have one of these tools in order for this product to work for you. Just to be very, very clear, to keep those returns down. And we had a couple takes at that message before we actually saw it be successful and started seeing fewer of those reviews. It’s a little bit of trial and error and I think that that’s something that we welcome. We know we’re getting better with each try. And another thing that we found that was kind of a positive is we kind of grouped our products together, so we have some products that you have to program, some that are more just like OE replacement type sensors, others that are retrofit kit, so we can kind of group those together and tackle them as groups in certain ways, too. 

So, our branding is a little bit for each one, but you know, if it’s our OE replacement sensors, we can really use the same messaging for all of those. We can use the same branding elements for all of those and switch out the picture. We can use the same description in a lot of ways for those but change out the applications, or the vehicles that they work for, so we’re starting to get a little bit more organized and sophisticated in that way, and it wasn’t… I wouldn’t say it wasn’t easy first year, but it was a… What’s the word I’m looking for? I don’t know. I don’t know the word I’m looking for. 

But I guess it wasn’t easy, but it was definitely… It worked in the end. 

Carman Pirie: You mentioned the online reputation management component of this a number of times, and you just mentioned it with respect to reviews, of course, in eCom. Just curious. Do you mesh this initiative at all with social media monitoring, reputation monitoring on social? 

Jacki Lutz: No, we don’t do a ton of reputation monitoring on social. Our product that is our Schrader product, which is our biggest one in the automotive aftermarket, it’s not a big social driver, I guess, so we don’t pay a ton of attention there. But we do… We are paying more attention on the review side of things and focus on those platforms a little bit more. Google reviews, Amazon. We actually have part of the training group that I’m leading, our tech support is a part of that, so that was kind of part of combining all of these teams under one person, was because they all kind of have a hand in the game in one way or another. So, we’ve done a lot of work there just making sure that they’re monitoring what makes the most sense. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. It just seems to me like at some point people will, if they’re in the mood to complain and write a negative review, sometimes they’ll try to amplify that in their social circles, right? So, I’ll be curious to see if that becomes more of an issue over time or something that your attention needs to be turned to. But I don’t want to jinx it on you, either. 

Jacki Lutz: Yeah, please. 

Jeff White: Leading back to your last point, you were talking about the teams that you’re growing, and how training’s part of that, and support is part of that, and I think that’s really smart. I think it’s an incredibly insightful way to go about managing this and especially in terms of creating a more fulsome and better experience for your customer and the end customer, as well. But you know, you’re starting from a relatively small team from what I recall. How has your team changed, or grown, or… Yeah, I guess how has the team changed and grown as you’ve gotten into this? 

Jacki Lutz: Yeah. I think when you talked to me last was several years ago. I was just the global head for marcom and marcom definitely spoke well globally amongst regions, and talked to the sales team a lot, but we never really looked at it at the time as our training team, for example, being really a part of marketing and now E-Commerce. So, having them put… So, now we have another global head of marcom who reports into me. We have the global head of training who reports into me and now E-Commerce. So, all of these functions really are speaking on behalf of our company to the customer daily, so by putting them all under one umbrella, we’ve been able to really synchronize our messaging. It’s really helped having all of these teams really report into one person and one vision so that they’re constantly working closely together. 

We have weekly meetings where these teams are all talking now, so when we’re doing one thing for training, our E-Commerce is there to know, to be able to say like, “Yeah, that would be useful for us too, but we’re gonna have to make these tweaks.” So, that way we’re just… We’re not doubling efforts anymore. We’re making sure that the same message is staying consistent across regions, across products, and across… It’s really synchronized everything and that team… I think when I was just over marcom, I want to say I had maybe four… a very small team of four. Now, my team just with all these teams together, I think it’s more like 15. But they all have different functions, but they’re truly all serving the same goal, which has been really neat to see this team kind of flourish that way, being all brought in under one vision. 

Carman Pirie: It’s really cool, Jacki. I mean, I think you’ve ended on just a really nice point, there’s a nice summary of the evolution. It’s one of the great reasons why I love having smart guests back on the show, you know, is that it really helps connect the dots and I think shows some great progression for our listeners, so I thank you for sharing your experience and expertise with us today. It’s been great having you again on the show. 

Jacki Lutz: Thank you guys for having me. I always enjoy these things. 

Jeff White: Me as well. Talk to you soon, I hope, and we’ll see what you’re up to as this continues to grow. 

Jacki Lutz: Okay. Thank you. 

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Jacki Lutz

Head of Communications, Training and E-commerce, Aftermarket

Jacki Lutz, the Global Head of Communications, Training and E-commerce, Aftermarket at Sensata Technologies since February 2021, has over 15 years of marketing experience with a demonstrated history of successfully leading large and small teams both locally and internationally. As an award recipient of the 2019 Auto Care Impact Award, SEMA’s 35 under 35, Master Automotive Professional (MAAP), member of the Tire Industry’s exclusive Club 3633, and recognized as a 2021 Women at the Wheel, she has proven skills in results-driven marketing, communication and brand strategy. Jacki holds a Bachelor of Science from Saginaw Valley State University and an MBA from St. Mary’s University, Twickenham.

The Kula Ring is a podcast for manufacturing marketers who care about evolving their strategy to gain a competitive edge.

Listen to conversations with North America’s top manufacturing marketing executives and get actionable advice for success in a rapidly transforming industry.

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Kula Partners is an agency that specializes in maximizing revenue potential for B2B manufacturers.

Our clients sell within complex, technical environments and we help them take a more targeted, account-focused approach to drive revenue growth within niche markets.


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