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.
Our latest guest on The Kula Ring is Mike Currie, the General Manager of the Desktop Printing Unit at Nexa3D. He works in the 3D modelling business, making industrial 3D printers to bring the next generation of ultra-fast printing to the marketplace. In this episode, Mike talks about how he is creating and setting up his marketing and sales teams for success through leadership, empowerment and collaboration. He shares his strategies on how he’s found success in creating great customer experiences by leveraging the knowledge and expertise of his sales and marketing teams.
Empowering Your Sales and Marketing Teams for Better Results 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 are you doing, sir?
Carman Pirie: I am doing well. I’m happy to be hosting the show with you once again.
Jeff White: Indeed. So, you know, an interesting guest. Some worlds colliding here. Back to some early HubSpot connections.
Carman Pirie: Exactly right.
Jeff White: Yeah. Yeah.
Carman Pirie: Exactly right, but certainly not at HubSpot now, and I think it’s interesting to see how that and other experiences have informed our guest’s approach to his work.
Jeff White: Yeah. Yeah. And you know, it’s not every day that you get to create something entirely new within a manufacturer.
Carman Pirie: Yeah.
Jeff White: Or build something. Well, I guess you do get to build things when you’re manufacturers, otherwise, you wouldn’t be a manufacturer.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. But I do think everybody faces those in their career. I kind of call them a dog catches the car moment, right? Where you’re doing that thing for the first time, and you maybe know about it, in theory, a little bit or what have you. I’m hopeful that today’s conversation will maybe give some people some food for thought about things to consider as they build out their go-to-market teams, how they imagine what that could be, and I think today’s guest will shine a light on a number of interesting things.
Jeff White: Yeah. I’m looking forward to it. So, joining us today is Michael Currie. Mike is the General Manager of the Desktop Printing Unit at Nexa3D. Welcome to The Kula Ring, Mike.
Mike Currie: Thank you very much, gentlemen. Glad to be here. Happy to have this conversation today with you all.
Jeff White: Indeed.
Carman Pirie: I gotta say, Jeff, you’ve navigated that whole Michael in print versus Mike in audio thing really well. That was impressive.
Jeff White: Yeah. I’m a professional. We’re 170-odd episodes deep here. I should have figured it out by now.
Carman Pirie: We’re just not hacking this together, kids. Seriously, Mike, it is wonderful to have you on the show, and thank you for joining us. Why don’t we start by learning a little bit about the company that you’re with currently and your role there?
Mike Currie: Sure. Happy too. So, I’m with Nexa3D. We make industrial 3D printers, large format, all in the polymer space at the moment, and our goal is to really bring the next generation of ultra-fast printing to the marketplace. There are a lot of 3D printing technologies out there, but one of the critical factors is that you can get a design or get a production part through the 3D printer as fast as possible, and that accelerates time to market. It gives designers more time to try different varieties and flavours of a product to land on one that is the right one. I think a lot of people are getting to a similar place in terms of quality of a 3D print, and now it’s those other factors, such as speed, ease of use, and intuitiveness, which are now like the new battle spaces, I guess, or the next frontier for getting 3D printers more mass adopted in the marketplace.
Jeff White: It’s not necessarily germane to this conversation, but are Nexa’s printers more used primarily in the prototyping space or production?
Mike Currie: They have, so far, been used in the production space, and just recently, one of the reasons why you mentioned my title is that we’ve launched a new desktop business line. Over half of the market for 3D printing is in prototyping or in small numbers of units, like less than 10 is still the major portion of the pie, so to speak. So, the technology, if it just is production technology, then that value is trapped just in there, and so the idea is to bring that technology down to the desktop where individual designers, students, creators can take advantage of that same speed.
So, that’s the idea. 3D printing is still progressing from prototyping into mass manufacturing, and so there’s still that core need there for the tool at the individual level.
Jeff White: You’re relatively new to the organization, having had a long and varied career, and so tell us a bit about yourself.
Mike Currie: Sure. Thank you. I started off my career actually as an engineer working in the military first and foremost, and then in the DoD research space after that, so did a lot of work designing measurement prototypes, doing a lot of work designing algorithms, so that was sort of the first chapter of my career and around 10 years in, I felt like I needed to understand if I could hack it in the commercial space. When you’re in the defence space, in many cases there are unlimited budgets because the cost is a human life, so they can’t assign a value to it, so they give you lots and lots of resources to figure out a way to solve that problem.
The flip side is you’re not necessarily sure if you can handle it in a marketplace where there’s a different set of constraints around profitability, adding value to someone’s workflow, so I took the plunge. I moved overseas to Asia and lived in Singapore for three-and-a-half years, where I was working for Oracle Corp at the time. Very sales-driven organization. Great set of products. And that was sort of where I cut my teeth commercially.
And since then, I’ve had some stints at HubSpot. I also had a stint at another 3D printing company in the space, called Formlabs, which was part of a robotics organization, and now I’m back with Nexa3D. So, at each of those stops I’ve built one or two teams myself, so this is sort of like the sixth time around building out a new team, and so hopefully I’m gonna bring some new tricks to this build in the next few weeks here.
Jeff White: Very cool. So, where, when you’re thinking about this, and you’re coming into an organization, you’re not just gonna start hiring people willy-nilly. You need to have a bit of a strategy for this. Where are you starting and what are you looking at first?
Mike Currie: Sure. Yeah, for sure. There’s a lot to get done and also, obviously, the timeline is always compressed in business, so the idea of building out a team from scratch seems very appealing. However, the first step is to say, “Okay, where are the resources and what kind of allies do I have within the current company that can help achieve the objective before having to go out and then fill the gap that you see elsewhere?” So, that’s the first step, and so maybe if you can get half of your need filled with internal teams, that’s the first… at least they get you catalyzing and catalyze the start of this process, and then you can then stand up maybe more operationally efficient teams as you go, which takes some of the pressure off the immediate need to hire so fast.
So, I think of it as transitioning, first grabbing as many resources as are available and possible internally while you have the vision of standing up this ultimately more operationally effective unit down the line. And then for me, the first step in doing that second bit is finding the right leadership, and that’s probably the most critical thing is finding that next leadership hire that is gonna actually be the person that is the frontline manager for ultimately the sales, or the services, or customer support people that will be selling and marketing your product.
Carman Pirie: You know, I guess when you find that leader, if they’re particularly good, they often have at least some established ways of thinking about that work. I guess I’d be curious how you navigate that coming into an organization. You have your vision for the organization that you’re seeking to create. You’re needing to bring that to life through the assistance of other leaders that you’re bringing on. Any secret sauce you’ve learned over the six times you’ve done this to align or calibrate with the leaders that you’re onboarding into an organization?
Mike Currie: That’s a great question. I think if you’re developing from within, the person is already sort of a product of that culture that is coming in. If you’re hiring externally, then I think the onus is on you to spend a lot of time with that individual and communicate what you’re looking for, and make that almost part of the hiring process where you basically vet each other out to see if what I’m saying resonates, and then can they also build on top of that? Are they just sort of soaking it in and saying, “Yes, okay, that sounds great,” or are they gonna collaborate? So, if they can both at a first level understand where I’m going and see the value there, and want to build that, that’s a great first sign. If they can then also add to that, tweak it, and bring their own experiences to it, then that’s even better.
But I think you’re right. If it’s just simply like, “Okay, here’s the playbook. Go execute it,” then that’s ultimately not gonna be successful because they don’t have as much ownership in that process. So, it’s probably more like, “Here’s the vision I have. Here’s why I think it works this way. Do you agree with that vision? Okay, what tweaks would you make to it? Great.” And then, “Okay. Now it’s yours to go create.” If you do it all for them, then they don’t have that sense of ownership, and without that sense of ownership, they’re not going to do as well in the role or feel as committed and as bought-in as possible.
Carman Pirie: I think that notion that you just mentioned of can they build upon it, like can I take the vision and communicate it, and through conversation and dialogue, can we get to a place where they’re building upon it? Taking it and making their own in some way, shape, or form, I think that is such a critical piece. Frankly, if I think about in my career history the leaders that I would say were the best were the ones that were able to persistently navigate those conversations.
Jeff White: Yeah. Nurture your experience into something that adds. Yeah.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Interesting.
Mike Currie: Yeah, because if you only get your own opinion, or you only do things that you think are right, then you only have one shot at it, basically. You better be right about it. If not, it’s better off to have some flexibility and bring in those other points of view.
Carman Pirie: I guess, Mike, how are you… I don’t know whether I’d say philosophically, but I guess how are you thinking about building out the team? I understand there are steps that you go through. I love this notion of trying to leverage internal resources before we obviously begin to look outside. But I guess to what end? What are you trying to create that you feel is in some way either different than what your competitors are bringing to market, or different than you’ve seen similar marketing, sales, customer service organizations operate in the past?
Mike Currie: Sure. Sure. For this unit, this unit that we’re starting up, it’s a B2B business selling a manufacturing tool, 3D printer, for those businesses to use. So, the way that I’m thinking about this in terms of when that… The price point is not a… To a large degree, it’s an off-the-shelf component. It’s not something that has an amazing amount of ‘configurability,’ into the product. So, you can communicate a lot of the value to the product upfront in marketing and it’s not such a complex beast that you need to have an in-depth consultation or customization process that you have to go through. So, because of that, when someone does want to go engage with a sales team or a services team member, the assumption is that they’ve already ingested a lot of information about the product if done right, so when they do get to that salesperson, that sales team has to both be like… have two things, I guess. Curiosity and also experience generate additional value in that conversation with that customer.
If all they’re doing is sort of regurgitating or repackaging what is already on the website or the marketing collateral, then I think that’s a lost opportunity. And so, it really means that the team has to be curious about what they’re doing, or curious about the act of 3D printing. I’ve seen this a few times now, where selling from curiosity or selling from experience is one of the best ways to do it. It just creates more empathy for the user, gives people more authenticity and credibility around the product they’re selling, and what’s really unique about 3D printing, and even like HubSpot, for instance, the tools are not super expensive to bring on board, so you can actually use them yourself as a seller of those tools and techniques.
I’m recalling back in HubSpot, the first thing you do for the first month of your HubSpot existence is you actually are given a free instance of HubSpot, and you have to go create a company and make it grow and get leads. So, you literally had to do the job of a marketer, do the job of a B2B salesperson on your own and prove that to ‘powers that be,’ in that first month to keep on going as a HubSpotter. We implemented a similar program like that at my last 3D printing company, called Formlabs, where we taught people in their first four weeks how to become a CAD designer, and then once you’re a CAD designer, now you can now print something, and then once you can print something, you can go through a few design iterations. So, before you knew it, after four weeks you had at least imbued yourself with the empathy of what the persona you’re selling to, and what happened was a lot of people carried that with them, carried the printer forward, and would print sample parts for people.
When COVID hit, that experience and selling from experience, and selling from curiosity extended. We actually would give people 3D printers to take remote when they’re at home to then keep that connection with the product they’re selling. And I think that’s critical to what I’m looking to achieve here, is to have that type of seller that really understands and enjoys the act of this technology. From a business perspective, I’ve also seen that when you hire and build a team that has that DNA to it, they want to stay with the company and the product longer. They’re just much more tied to the mission of the company as opposed to seeing it as a way to like, okay, get closing experience and then move to the next potential company that may offer me a bigger paycheck or bigger salary.
So, it helps on the retention, and it helps on the selling side to see eye to eye with the customer.
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Carman Pirie: I love that, that notion of selling from curiosity and experience, and of course crafting the early days of someone’s work experience in the firm around-
Jeff White: The product. Yeah.
Carman Pirie: … gaining that experience and getting that level of customer empathy, and then I suppose in a lot of ways it’s probably about hiring for curiosity at the start.
Jeff White: Yeah. I’m pretty sure that our current rep or our previous rep at HubSpot now uses his HubSpot instance for his competitive barbecue team. I’m not even joking.
Carman Pirie: There you go. Nice.
Mike Currie: There are so many of those stories where that first four-week project became their company. I know a wedding venue destination business or a soccer training camp business, I’ve seen it so many times. When it goes to creating a demo, a lot of times a B2B company will give you a canned demo in a canned demo environment. Some of those folks pull up their own HubSpot instance and say, “Hey, here’s what I’ve done, and here’s how it’s changed my life.” And it really resonates.
And so, hopefully, the same thing can be true with some of the manufacturing technologies that are more compact and more accessible in the desktop space. You know, it’s hard to do with a massively large CNC machine or something like that, but the form factor of this 3D printer allows for this team to really get hands-on with it.
Jeff White: I love that.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. I do too. I’m kind of curious, how do we extend that? Because it’s a wonderful kind of if you will start a business relationship when sales are operating that way. And I think a lot of organizations find there’s a bit of a hitch if you will, where people are transitioned from sales over to customer service. I guess how are you building the organization to navigate that handoff? Or are you trying to avoid the handoff altogether?
Mike Currie: Yeah. In the ideal world, I think you would like to have these superhuman beings that can slosh from sales to services without any operational frictions there, and it’s just that’s the way it works. But there are definitely different skill sets there that have to be honoured. Sometimes account managers don’t want to be account executives, and so there are some aspects of the job that maybe they don’t gravitate to. So, I think there is gonna be some specializations in between those two roles, but what I would like to do is to the extent possible kind of put them in pods where the organizational cutover or difference is within the pod itself. It’s not two or three levels of managers above.
I think when you have that functional crossover as low in the organization as possible, that’s when you get the ability to have that fluidity. When the functional crossover happens at the director level, the manager level, then you have to have all of these just communication processes back and forth, and that’s when you start to get some more calcification and it makes it harder. It’s slower to do stuff. So, if possible, push that functional crossover or cutover lower into the team. What I’m trying to do, what I’d like to do is create actually a pod level where sales, services, and customer success are actually operating as a unit at a pod level and then have managerial oversight above that that are folks that are successful sales, and services, and customer service, and so they’re more generalized.
And then ultimately looking out for the customer experience is number one in that situation.
Jeff White: I wonder, are you incorporating marketing into that, as well? And kind of bringing them into that pod?
Mike Currie: It’s a great question. What I’ve seen is that arming these pods with collateral that has already been sort of polished, vetted, and drafted by marketing is one of the things that I’ve seen that’s most effective, and there are a lot of tools now between knowledge bases and other sales engagement tools where marketing can create a repository of things that are approved and are putting our best foot forward, and they can use those as a starting point. I think if you ask a typical salesperson, they want to have some freedom and creativity, but this gives them a good starting foundation to then go from. And with that also in mind, with some modern tools these days, marketing also wants to know what is good and what’s not good.
So, the ability to then have a salesperson send out something that’s from marketing on their behalf gives them that feedback. It can give them feedback of what is working, what is not working. I think the marketer’s enemy is a sales rep that downloads the PDF and sends it as an attachment and then there’s no more tracking or no one really knows what’s happening.
Jeff White: Ah!
Mike Currie: Yeah, so as much as we can put in those tracking points so that we can start from a place of goodness and then let the teams also put their own personality into it yet still be having to track, and understand, “Okay, at the foundation level, this type of content is doing well,” and that’s just gonna help the marketers get a good sense of what is working and then they can double down on that because obviously, the salesperson wants to talk to more of the type of person that will be a successful buyer, as well as a successful customer in the long run.
Carman Pirie: I wonder, do you feel like marketing is missing out by not having more direct access to the customer in that model? Are they maybe not getting some nuance that they could otherwise get?
Mike Currie: Yeah. Great question. The marketing teams, so actually this is a good question. This harkens back to my robotics company. There, after every successful engagement, we would entice the client to get on a 20-minute phone call with us where we recorded it for the whole organization to be able to hear, but basically, the marketing team was the one that conducted the after action, the first after-action survey with the client to see did we meet the value we suggested and also what was the reason why, the crux of why they went with the product? And that was led by the marketing team, so I think the marketing team, sure, they can do some of the earlier beta testings, but they need to figure out a way to slot back in after the fact and be able to get their first-person feedback from the client in a way that’s unfiltered.
So, that’s what I would say. They have to plug in both before the product is created and then also plugin after and it’s up to the organization to put those hooks in to make that happen.
Carman Pirie: It’s an interesting way of thinking about it.
Jeff White: Yeah.
Carman Pirie: Versus having them along for the ride the entire time?
Jeff White: Which may not be always useful.
Carman Pirie: No, I think I could make arguments on both sides of this. I think it’s pretty interesting. You’re making me think about it more, Mike, which is I think part of the purpose of this podcast, frankly.
Jeff White: Yeah. I think too, one of the things you’ve talked about before is this idea of honouring the intelligence of the people that you’re working with, both the customers, the things that your sales team knows, the things that your marketing team knows in terms of what’s vetted, what works, what’s going well. How are you baking that in to ensure that as someone is coming on as a Nexa3D customer that you are really trying to understand and ensure that you’re using what they know as part of each sort of relationship?
Mike Currie: So, time will tell. I think the first thing that I think is important is that there is definitely a process… The nurturing process itself, in terms of getting the client educated to a point so that when the salesperson does interact with them, it’s not a… Obviously, if the person wants to come and speak to a salesperson early and learn a lot, sure, we can. That’s part of the job. But what we’d like to do is give enough proof points, and enough opportunities for that client to self-educate, and then when they do come to the sales team, the first question we can ask is, “Okay, what brings you here? What level of experience do you have with 3D printing?” And quickly level set where they are in terms of their experience with the matter. And then we can create the dialogue and have the conversation that advances that.
And maybe they’re someone who has a huge amount of experience with 3D printing and then the salesperson may need to quickly pull in one of our experts, too, to match that requirement. So, that’s how I would think about it. Giving the customer the opportunity to learn more on their own and self-educate and then once they do request to be contacted, or have a reason to be contacted, then you quickly level set like, “Hey, what is their experience level? How new are they to the product? What other types of things do they do?” And really we try to understand the functional environment as soon as possible. And then from there, we can say, “Okay, what will move the needle for this person? What will move this conversation forward?”
Carman Pirie: I have no idea where this is going to go, but I find that sometimes in business, or life, or what have you, some of what you choose to do is based upon having seen it done so poorly in another way. So, an example I always use is like I think a lot of my approach to management is informed by the fact that I had an incredibly bad manager when I worked at a grocery store in high school. He was just like… It was a textbook about what not to do. So, you could almost plan your managerial style around what would… I won’t even say his name, but what would he do? Do the opposite of that is probably the right thing.
Jeff White: It’s a good starting point, anyway.
Carman Pirie: Now, so I guess, and I think as marketers, as salespeople, as we build out these functions, we think about what are the frustrations that we’ve experienced, what do we want to avoid, I guess what are… As you build this out, what are the top things you’re trying to avoid? Like, “The last thing I want is for somebody to say X about this organization.”
Mike Currie: That’s a great question. Where I was gonna go before that was some of the things that I think I want to avoid is what I don’t want to do is attempt to boil the ocean, I guess, in terms of attempting to sell to everyone at the same time. You know, when you get a set of targets, the first thought is like, “Who else can I talk to,” right? And the tendency is to go find a big pool of people that could potentially use the product, right? We had the situation where we started to go find jewellers, but then somehow sooner or later the jewellers devolved into pawnshop owners that may be doing jewelry, or reselling, or melting down jewelry, and it kind of like… became this process of like, “Where can we find pools of people to call into?”
And you know, what happened is you would dial a lot of times, and as a salesperson, you think you’re progressing because you’re getting your 100 dials a day, but you’re not necessarily thinking if this has a high degree of success. And that leads to a lot of burnout, so I think what I would not want to be like is a team that is trying to boil the ocean and find every possible person to buy my product versus focusing on the places where we think that our product has a lot of advantageous qualities and really get to the bottom of that barrel first before we go looking for other more tangential things, which could be psychologically damaging to someone if they never succeed.
And so, you want to really define the balance of success versus struggle for your team so that at the end of the day they’re feeling like they’re winning and not just losing all the time. So, I think that’s the thing that I would want to do and would want to create for the teams.
Carman Pirie: That’s certainly something to live into, the notion of focus and not letting yourself get distracted by tangential opportunity.
Jeff White: Numbers. Well, and you know, honestly, it’s a vanity metric. I made 100 calls today. Yeah, 40 of them were to jeweller pawn shops who are gonna melt stuff down and not build stuff.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. They’re not the right people, but yeah. Fascinating.
Mike Currie: And yeah, when the numbers get big, and the targets get large, there’s the, “Where else can I go find stuff,” idea. And I think that’s the one thing you have to be careful of.
Carman Pirie: Well, Mike, this has been a fascinating conversation. Thanks so much for joining the podcast today. It’s been great to have you on the show.
Mike Currie: Thank you. I really appreciate it. It was a great conversation. I’m looking forward to hearing this one live. I’m an Apple Podcasts guy, so hopefully, you’re on that one, or if not I’ll have to download Spotify.
Jeff White: Yeah. No, we’re on them all. We’re on them all. Thanks again for joining us, Mike.
Mike Currie: All right. Thank you. Have a great day.
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