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.
Tom McLaughlin, US Marketing Manager at Nord Drivesystems, shares how a sales-driven manufacturing organization can enhance the ROI of their trade show presence through public relations, email marketing, and social media prior to and after the show.
Enhance Your Manufacturer’s Trade Show ROI Before Stepping on the Floor 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. Joining me today is Carman Pirie. Carman, what’s going on?
Carman Pirie: Man, I should be more prepared for that question. I mean, we do enough of these recordings and I…
Jeff White: And it’s never really changing.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, it just kind of transition into this kind of thing about how I’m excited about today’s guest. That’s not to say I’m not excited about today’s guest because I am, but at the same time, I just feel like I need a better line.
Jeff White: Yeah, you can work on that for the next one.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, maybe a bit of warning them would, if only this was in my calendar and I could prepare into that.
Jeff White: You could prepare a monograph or something.
Carman Pirie: Nevertheless, look, I think today’s show is a fantastic opportunity to have a deeper discussion on something that, most every manufacturing marketer deals with. Most every manufacturing marketer out there is involved in the support of trade shows for their organization. Some would say that that sometimes feels like it’s all they do. I think today’s guest is going to help shed some light on that function as part of the overall marketing mix and how to make it better. I’m really excited for that.
Jeff White: I think so, too. And I think it’s a significant portion of a lot of organizations’ budgets, marketing budgets and it really, it needs to have that ROI in order to be worth it.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Look, I think it’s a good excuse to go to Vegas, which is fine, but let’s say maybe try to make it more than that.
Jeff White: For sure. Joining us today is Tom McLaughlin. Tom Is the US Marketing Manager at Nord Drivesystems and he’s a veteran of B2B and B2C marketing and we’re really glad to have you on the program. Tom, thanks for joining us.
Tom McLaughlin: Hi, thanks guys. Appreciate it.
Jeff White: Why don’t you go ahead and tell us a bit about your background and what you do at Nord.
Tom McLaughlin: Yeah. I was brought on to this company about a year and a half ago to help develop marketing strategies for the company and then roll up my sleeves, hire a team, and start executing. The first thing that we did was to identify what I’m going to call three pronged marketing strategy and that’s to build our brand awareness, drive sales with digital tools, and then improve our product launch success and, talking about trade shows, by reinvigorating your trade show strategy that achieves all three of what we’re trying to bring across the board here. It was a brand new challenge for us. We are a global leader, we’re number two in the world in delivering drive solutions for manufacturers. We kind of fell short on what our brand appearance was, what our level of brand awareness is, and certainly with our trade show activities, we really needed to refresh and with the goal of building a program that looks like your number two in the world and really shows that you’re a brand leader, a world class leader. This was a kind of an exciting challenge for us to really look at how we approach trade shows.
Carman Pirie: Tom, sounds like you’ve had your plate full over the last year and a half. How have you re-imagined the trade show presence within the marketing mix? If you had to point to the top five things or what have you that really have changed about the approach, what is it?
Tom McLaughlin: Well, the first thing that we did honestly is, there’s a quote that someone far smarter than me said, first you want to understand what the challenge is before you ask people to understand what you have to say about that challenge. I partnered with the sales team and this is a very sales driven organization. I partnered with the leaders that we’ve got on sales and listened to them and tried to understand what are they trying to achieve with trade shows and then come back to them with a marketing plan that supports that and takes it to the next level, honestly. I don’t know that sales guys are known for innovation and that’s why they bring marketing teams together and even agency support, whatever that might be. How do we take that vision that they have to the next level and bring some innovation to it. The first thing we did was kind of sit down and then have a come-to-Jesus meeting as to what trade shows are all about, what are they trying to achieve, and then put together a plan that helps them do that. Listening was our first activity and partnering with sales, which very often the marketing sales guys bump heads a lot and I said you’ve got to partner a lot. I took a different approach.
Carman Pirie: Did you feel that what had happened, because it was just simply trade shows have been a standard part of the mix for so long and people had just fallen into a habit of how they are done, and how you conduct them, and how you think about them, so that they just had grown stale. Is that basically it?
Tom McLaughlin: Yeah, I think with B2B companies, there’s a lot of history that takes place. And with industries that aren’t known for innovation, what we did last year and the year before and the year before that, they’re comfortable with it, they understand it, and that’s kind of what they’re expecting. I think you’ve got to put on a different hat, look at different industries, look at the leaders within the industries that you’re in and look at competition really in the eye. What are they doing that’s different, and look outside of your industry to see what similar manufacturers or even manufacturers that might be in automotive that might be, I don’t know, delivering power solutions, electrical solutions to, it even could be the furniture industry, so look outside your own environment to help identify what the plan is and how to approach it.
We have a great management team that said, “Let’s go. Let’s take a look at what our global parent company is doing in terms of trade shows and adopt a global look and feel that they have, bring the best of their ideas to the US and then do some innovation here too.” In terms of how we go to a trade show and plan for it, I think it’s probably an enhancement to what our global team is doing and it’s probably just what’s right for the US. One of the things we want to do is understand what does success look like from a sales standpoint in a trade show. Although we’re doing things such as increasing the number of scanned leads, we’re doubling it to quadrupling the number of scans we’re doing, but quite frankly, and in a manufacturing environment or a bind cycle that may take a year or more for a prospect to become a customer, just generating leads is not necessarily the right benchmark for your success.
What we did is we took a look at what turns a current customer into a great customer or a prospect into a customer. We identified some of the KPIs would be, are they demoing our product? Do we have a product in their hand that they can actually put to the test against a current process or a piece of equipment that they’ve got? Are we sitting down and meeting with them? Does success mean, are we at a table with them, where we’re talking about common problems or solutions or challenges? Are we at their facilities so we get our butts in their door and take a look at their environment and meet their team and their decision makers? We found that any good new customer requires at least touching and connecting with seven people. There are seven decision makers in every new customer purchase requirement or environment. Have we brought them to our facility? Have they met our team, our engineers, our top management? Have they seen what our manufacturing environment looks like? Our customer service. We identified quite a few different activities other than how many leads can you scan at a trade show to determine our success.
Carman Pirie: It seems like you’ve really taken that from just the top of what you’re doing, obviously a top of funnel to bring in that new, and like you say with a long sales cycle that can be valued, I guess, differently from a sales organization and you looked at it and said, “What are we doing with prospects that were already engaged with?” Dealing with customers that the firm’s already doing business with to enhance share of wallet and to grow those relationships or to further a prospect down the cycle. You really included a bunch of mid and bottom of funnel, it seems, measures along the way. In addition to changing how you frame, how you measure ROI of the show, I guess what has been the result of that? I mean, what activities have you used to really drive those mid and bottom funnel metrics?
Tom McLaughlin: Well, part of it is, in our marketing plan, we develop a number of marketing activities that we’re going to do that build brand awareness, but also engage the sales team in prepping for that show. The very first meeting that you have with sales management talking about a trade show is that the sales guys say, “Once we get to the booth, we just know what to do.” Quite frankly, if you’re waiting for someone to get in your booth for you to think about what you need to do, then that means we really got to rethink what we have to do in our marketing. We put together marketing activities that include public relations, email marketing, social media, we are connecting with the sales team also and saying, “Your expectation is going to be something different now.”
We want you to identify for whatever industry this trade show is, who are your top current customers and your prospects? We need to use this trade show as an opportunity to connect with them. Whether they’re attending the show or not, let’s take another step with that current customer or prospect. We’ll bring some innovation to our marketing from the standpoint that we’re setting up landing pages now, we’re doing email marketing to drive prospects and current customers to landing pages so that they can learn more about our products, download literature, watch videos, or even set up appointments and see who are our top sales guys are, or management team members are, or even attending a show so that we can take them one step closer to connecting with us and learning about our products before the show or even if they never even go to our show.
Carman Pirie: I think that’s so important. I mean, I think so much of making a trade show presence work harder is about what you do in the lead up to the show. Once you’ve arrived at the show, it’s kind of almost too late to start making changes then, clearly. It’s about what you’ve done from a targeting perspective in advance of that show. I think you’re quite wise to be talking about this multi-pronged approach between email outreach and even other forms of digital advertising potentially to a target account list, et cetera.
Tom McLaughlin: Yeah, you’ve got to jump in front of the show by all means. Carman, the sales guys all know what to do, but you got to turn their head just a little differently to the side so they can think about things differently and that you got to let them know what we’re doing and what the planning is upfront so they can take advantage of it, and they can also get engaged with whatever their activity is for their personal engagement with prospects and current customers.
Carman Pirie: Have you found that it requires a change not only from the sales team, but also the other folks that are working the booth? How have you had to reframe expectations with them about what you’re looking to accomplish?
Tom McLaughlin: That’s interesting because very often, the trade show management team has been doing kind of the same old thing for a couple of years. It’s time to shake it up to get their expectations realigned with what the potential of this trade show might be. All of a sudden, we stepped up with a training program, I’ll call it training, but it’s really a webcast that we do. It’s a two-pronged approach where we’ve identified what the products are going to be at the show, we set up a webcast, we have one of our trainers, actually do a webcast with each and every person who’s attending the show to let them know what the products’ benefits and features are and specifically for this industry, how these products relate to those customers and what the applications are for this industry.
We do a training from a product standpoint and then we do a webcast for every person attending the show to let them know what it is we’re doing from marketing, where the booth is, what the booth looks like, what the giveaways are that are going to help them connect with customers, what the expectations for sales is prior to the show. We align with them again, we’ve got to do some things prior to the show. We also talk about how do we approach a customer at a show. We go through what the lead management program is. If we’ve got a special giveaway, how to use that giveaway as a hook to start talking to someone, how many products we want to walk a customer to see, what brand new product is, that’s at the show that’s a must mention or a must walk someone by. We actually try and retrain a little bit the activity and, I hate to say, but you have to get as granular as letting them know, “By the way, this is our showroom. It’s not a place to eat, it’s not a place to drink, it’s not a place to check your emails or have your own little sales conference.” We bring those obvious pieces to light as well because if you don’t, people forget about it.
Carman Pirie: I love the level of detail in your description there, Tom. It’s fascinating to me.
Jeff White: A training program is incredible.
Carman Pirie: Well if you want something to happen spontaneously organize it, right? I think what Tom is really telling us today is what are the products that we want this particular prospect to see over these three days. I mean, let’s get granular about the experience we want to deliver to each of them and who’s going to be responsible for doing that.
Jeff White: Yeah, for sure. I think one of the things you just mentioned too is you’re letting everybody know ahead of time what the booth is going to look like. I’ve seen in some of your writing on LinkedIn over the last little while you’ve mentioned, the importance of the design of the booth and I’d be remiss as a designer not to mention my proclivity for well-designed trade show booths. What do you think is really kind of helping there to draw people in and what have you seen that works really well?
Tom McLaughlin: From a design standpoint, I think we’ve got kind of unique white and blue graphics and we’ve got a counter that is right up front, we’ve got our products, we bring our products back a little bit, we open up the booth, we’re encouraging people to come into the booth and sit down in front of a, kind of, a customer care counter. In fact, traditionally the only seats in our booth are for customers to come up and talk to us. We’ve got a real logical place for people to come and start that conversation, and it’s a spot where our sales team knows that that’s kind of an anchor for us to engage our customers. Then we’ve got traditionally, a layout with three different product areas that are real simple. We’ve got enormous graphics, bold graphics that we display behind our products. Quite frankly, our products can be seen from several booths away. They’re that big and bold.
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Jeff White: I think that’s really interesting to consider not just what the booth itself looks like, but the architecture and flow of the space so that there’s an obvious place where sales can encounter people. It’s not threatening to prospects to walk up to it. The machines and gears are on display in a way that kind of invites people to come into the booth in order to, kind of, be in that environment. I think as a booth design approach that really makes a ton of sense.
Tom McLaughlin: I agree. From a standpoint of you’ve got to make a welcoming environment for people to come in and for it to be real obvious for them to be able to walk to and take a little tour of your exhibits. That’s kind of an afterthought for us, I think after we came up with the design. It works and it’s real simple. I think you’ve just got to think of, can you capture a customer for maybe five minutes? What’s the best use for their five minutes in your booth?
Jeff White: Exactly. I think the other thing too, that I find interesting that you mentioned earlier in the program—and we’ve certainly seen this with a lot of the folks that we work with, the manufacturers we work with—there are just so many decision makers that you’re having to engage as part of a sale and it draws that sale out. What percentage of that buying team, I guess you might want to call it, is actually present at the trade show or are you just kind of seeing one member of that team and then leveraging that post-show to try and get in with the other six?
Tom McLaughlin: Good question. I think it kind of depends on the size of the show. Our last show there were 50,000 attendees and we have, I don’t know, I would guess for each target customer, that we are seeing there may be as many as five people attending that show. What we’re trying to do is that our sales team, we’re trying to connect with who’s going to be attending that show. We’re trying to invite them to come or we are inviting them to come to our booth. We’re also arranging that if they’re an exhibitor and quite frankly, you’ve got a lot of prospective customers who are exhibitors. You’ve got to plan on visiting their booth. Then the activity that we find that’s one of a kind for a lot of trade shows is now how do we introduce decision makers to our decision making team and/or can we have an intimate conversation with them over lunch or dinner. At our last trade show, we measured our success by the fact that we had eight customer dinners over the course of a three day show.
What that provided is that with one of our targets that we’ve been talking to for years, we brought them to our booth, we visited their booth, we ended up having a wonderful dinner with them and it was conversation on all different levels, including our, and our director of engineering had a kind of a brainstorm breakthrough with one of the customer executives. We invited them to come and visit our facility, which they had never done before, but had been a topic of conversation. As it turns out, two weeks later, I’m walking in the hall and there was this executive from this company actually taking his first tour here. When you get a prospect on your turf, where they get to meet anyone else that they need, now you’ve got a winning plan. That all came about through the trade show because we’d talked to him for years, but the rubber never hit the road. That trade show intimacy is an environment that helped make that happen.
Carman Pirie: I think I want to hook on one of the ideas that you’ve introduced there because I think it connects to one of Jeff’s earlier questions around how are you dealing with the fact that you have seven potential buyers from one client organization arriving at a trade experience. I think the fact is when you mentioned about your engineering team member really connecting with that prospect. I think so much of it means getting more of your organization involved in what that trade show presence looks like and understanding that the people that may connect with the potential prospect may not be a sales guy and it may not be the marketing person. It may be an engineer, and maybe elsewhere in operations, and maybe a senior leadership connection that you can somehow identify pre-show and then leverage once you get an in person opportunity.
Tom McLaughlin: You’re absolutely right. Quite frankly, we’ve got a hands-on, wildly engaged senior management team. At every show we bring engineers and we’ll bring maybe the CEO of our company or someone, a vice president of whatever industry it is that we’re working on, and who that executive might be. We’ve got a all-hands-on board approach from our management team to support these shows. Absolutely correct in the fact that your prospects have to meet the rest of your team or someone beyond the sales organization to help make that connection and drive that sale to the next level.
Carman Pirie: Tom, I’d like to drive into some of the results that you’ve experienced just as we bring this to a conclusion. I know that the trade show presence is part of a broader marketing strategy for you that’s targeted at continuing a double digit year-over-year sales growth and that’s not an insignificant target. How’s it going so far?
Tom McLaughlin: Well, something we haven’t touched on greatly, but one of our three objectives is to build our brand awareness and you need to use trade shows as a hook for your public relations and brand building experience as well. We always develop a PR plan that includes a press release. We connect with members of the press prior to the show and for instance, we specifically do a pitch to invite a couple of members of the press who are attending the show to come to our booth and interview one of our executives. Our CEO and Director of Engineering—they’re going to be available and we’re going to pitch them. At our last show, we arranged four interviews there in our booth.
What occurs from that is that you’re building relationships with the right members of the press in key industry publications. It’s not only good just for the first article, but now you can become a resource for future articles and you build that relationship. On the PR front, in our first year we generated, it was like 112 mentions in the press, versus a previous year where we had been mentioned in the press 10 times. You really can use a trade show to launch products, to excite the press to come and see a brand new product, and to talk to an executive about that product and why that’s important and maybe even learn more about your organization. In our instance, why we’re growing at double digits and quite frankly, we had our third year double digit growth here at Nord, so things are working.
Carman Pirie: That’s incredibly impressive to get that kind of PR. All that kind of 10x improvement. I mean, admit it, they were starting from a, they were starting from a less than optimal strategy there. But, my goodness, I just love how Tom has shown, demonstrated to our listeners how just adding a few additional activities onto what is already a very large investment for your organization can really dramatically enhance the ROI of that activity.
Tom McLaughlin: If you are going to launch a new product, anytime throughout the year, you’ve got to make some noise at a trade show because it excites the press, it excites the sales team, and it gives your sales guys something to talk about. It gives you something to advertise, it gives you social media content, it gives you content for your press release, something to put on your website. That’s all part of building awareness of who you are, letting your customers know what you’re going to be doing at a show, that you’re going to be at a show. You want to set yourself up for success well before walking on the trade show floor itself.
Carman Pirie: Tom, that has been some fantastic advice and I wonder if, but no, I must tell you, I have a bit of a, I think cultivating a bit of a reputation for asking very hard to answer questions at the very conclusion of a podcast. I don’t want to do that to you. What I’m going to do, is I’m going to ask two questions. You can choose which one you want to answer. One is, if you have any kind of parting advice that has yet to be given around enhancing trade show ROI, but not to put you on the spot and assume that there’s something you haven’t told us. If you don’t want to answer that question, I would love to have your perspective on what’s next? I know that you’ve done a lot of evolution of the trade show presence, but where do you think the next level of opportunity is for Nord’s Marketing? I guess take your pick and enter one of those as we send off.
Tom McLaughlin: Sure. Well thanks. I want it. From the standpoint here, let me tell you something that’s really cool that people need to jump on. It’s how do we use social media to our advantage? In our last couple of trade shows, they have offered apps for attendees to participate in, by downloading and finding out what’s going on with the schedule and everything. The last show, there was a great integration between the show app that connected to all the attendees who were at the show and you could integrate that with LinkedIn. In one instance we had a national brand customer stop by our booth.
We had a short conversation because he was on his way to another meeting but he was interested in our product and we did not get a chance to scan his badge but because we knew the company, we went into LinkedIn, we went into this app, we saw what company he’s with and we identified exactly who he was and now we could send an invitation back to them to connect with us after the show. There’s some really cool technology and integrations that you’ve got to take advantage of if you can. That was really cool. I would say one of our next steps is how do we further use social media to do target customer marketing. We did a pilot program last year and we’re going to be rolling something out, across our entire sales force this year and the endgame there was to build our brand awareness and set up meetings with these target accounts and our pilot program was a success and that’s why we’re going to roll it out across our whole sales team this year.
Jeff White: Well that’s fantastic, Tom. Is that leverage mostly LinkedIn or have you used other platforms as well?
Tom McLaughlin: We use LinkedIn and we’re going to be exploring another one this year.
Jeff White: Alright. Well Tom, I thank you so much for the insight and for joining us today. It’s been great chatting.
Tom McLaughlin: I love it. Jeff, Carman, thanks very much. Glad to talk again.
Carman Pirie: Thank you.
Jeff White: All the best to you now.
Tom McLaughlin: Okay. Take care.
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