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.
Brittney Zeller of AAF International walks The Kula Ring through how her manufacturing company’s new approach to martech helps bridge the gap between marketing, sales, and IT.
Finding The Right Martech Mix For 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 joining me today, as always, Carman Pirie. Carman, how are you today?
Carman Pirie: I am well. I am well. I find that I maybe … maybe we get me drinking water in the recording? I don’t know.
Jeff White: I am a former waiter from back in my university days and always good at asking people how things are while their mouths are full.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Yeah, so if I hack and cough or something like that, my apologies in advance to the people that need to edit this after the fact.
Jeff White: We probably just need a filter or something. Luckily, today we have joining us somebody from American Air Filter. Brittney Zeller is the Marketing Technology and Analytics Manager. Brittney, welcome to The Kula Ring.
Brittney Zeller: Hi. Thank you for having me.
Carman Pirie: Brittney, I don’t know if that filter transition was-
Jeff White: Yeah. That was lame.
Carman Pirie: I mean, we could hit record and start all over again, but I think we’re going to leave it in and let Jeff own that one, but you can tell which one of us has three children with that kind of joke.
Jeff White: Yeah. No, I am the dad joke captain here.
Carman Pirie: Brittney, welcome. Good to be chatting with you.
Brittney Zeller: Yeah. Good to be chatting with you guys as well.
Carman Pirie: Why don’t you introduce our listeners to you and your organization a bit, tell us what you do?
Brittney Zeller: Yeah, I am the Marketing Technology and Analytics Manager at American Air Filters, and so my role is to manage all of the different technologies that we are utilizing to the best of our ability and make sure that reporting and analytics are pretty much proving marketing’s return on investment at the end of the day.
Carman Pirie: That is a topic near and dear to our listeners’ hearts.
Jeff White: And ours.
Carman Pirie: And ours as well. I think it’s interesting … where we really want to dive into today is really the complexity in tech stack selection and in some ways the bit of the struggle that I think many marketers face between going with more open-source agile solutions versus more “enterprise-grade technology solutions.”
And American Air Filters has taken a decidedly enterprise approach to this question, and as a bit of a spoiler alert to our listeners, in no way should Brittney be held accountable for all the technology decisions that American Air Filters had made over the years. But I guess, Brittney, now this is the tech stack you’re living with and making work for AAF every day. Let’s dive into that a little bit. Tell our listeners a little bit more about the tech mix that you have at play, and then we’ll go from there.
Brittney Zeller: Yeah. So I actually acquired a lot of the tech stacks that American Air Filters uses today. When I first started as the marketing analyst, I was kind of thrown into the ring of Marketo, and I feel like that’s probably what most people would say is that they’re just handed something and they have to find a solution or make it work in some way, shape, or form.
But I feel like that’s also kind of, for me, a way I want to solve a problem, and I want to try to make it work as best its ability and how efficient we can be with that solution for as long as we use that solution. And I think that from any other type of technology, you just need to make sure that the usability of it and the integration of it works as best as you can.
Carman Pirie: No question. And you’re right. I think most every marketer new to a role … I mean, it’s not like you get to invent it from scratch. It’s a very rare opportunity. You’re always getting … inheriting some level of …
Beyond the Marketo technology, also in the site itself is Sitecore, I believe, is the CMS choice?
Brittney Zeller: Yeah. So we have Sitecore right now that we utilize from our website standpoint because of how robust it was. And at that point, when I was managing Marketo and trying to manage Sitecore, they’re actually not connecting. So there was a few integrations that I feel like were missing in some of the martech world. But when I go and look at a new technology, I try to say, “Okay. Well, does this connect to Marketo or will it connect to Sitecore? What does the future look like for this technology?”
Jeff White: I think it’s interesting, too, because even if you were to go back five or ten years, there’s no question that the CMS would’ve driven the vast majority of the choices. But today, what we’re finding instead is that most people are starting from the marketing automation and CRM angle and then broadening out into a content management system. Would you say that’s the case?
Brittney Zeller: Typically, yes. I think that was the case for our decision. Everything is built off of Marketo and Salesforce. And if those things integrate, that’s kind of how our data flows through our ERP system. The ERP system flows through Salesforce and then flows all of that data through Marketo.
And so if it connects to Marketo, we know that that information can be sent back to Salesforce at the end of the day so that we can alert our sales team exactly what’s happening with these leads or these contacts.
Jeff White: Very cool. And you mentioned that Marketo and Sitecore are not connected necessarily. What are the kinds of things that you’d like to be able to do with those platforms?
Brittney Zeller: I think the main goal for connecting those two is definitely personalization. We want to be able to refresh our website and have a more personalized approach on our website for our customers.
Carman Pirie: I find it interesting too because … I think one of the things that we ought to be trying to do as marketers that are responsible for the implementation of technology in our organizations is to try to find ways to get the technology out of the way, to take it out of the equation, so that marketing ideas can be had. And then without, I guess, being overly concerned or have to be overly concerned with the technical implementation.
And it’s one thing that I feel … kind of I feel like I’m hearing in the middle of what you’re saying … we’re talking about Sitecore not connecting with Marketo … I mean, it feels to me like what we may have presently is a tech stack that creates a lot of, “I don’t know if we can do that,” kind of when you’re having a brainstorming session about something. It creates some roadblocks. Is that the case?
Brittney Zeller: I don’t think so currently since a lot of the stuff that we do is more of a “Everything has to connect through Marketo,” like I said. All of our campaigns are connected in Marketo. We run all of our ads, Facebook ads, and connect it back to landing pages via Marketo. So a lot of the stuff that we do from a lead generation perspective all flows through Marketo. Even our Marketo forms are on Sitecore. So I guess, they’re kind of technically integrated.
Jeff White: Interesting. And I think one of the things when we were chatting ahead of the show that you mentioned is that it’s a particularly interesting situation where you are six months into your role, and you’ve inherited some of this tech stack. How have you gone about kind of learning what was chosen and understanding exactly how that worked?
Brittney Zeller: Well, I just kind of dive right in. I’m a type of person who will just … I’m a very quick learner. I like to go after things and figure things out as best to my ability. And I think another thing though, I can’t always say that it’s all on me, but we actually have really good consultants who helped us get to where we are in our marketing automation platform. I know that we worked with several people for Sitecore prior, so I will give some credit to the people who really helped us get to where we are today.
Carman Pirie: When you look at where you’re at today, I’m curious, kind of with the benefit of hindsight and kind of the hindsight that … I guess organizational hindsight that comes with a bit of a fresh set of eyes that you bring to the role, if you had to do it all over again … You talk about starting from Marketo and working your way out. Would you still do that, I guess, number one, and number two, do you think that that would lead you down a fundamentally different choice from a CMS perspective, et cetera?
Brittney Zeller: I would say yes currently because of all of our tracking is currently inside of Marketo. If I were to look at it again, it would really all depend on what our organizational goal is at the end of the day. Most of the time, it’s bringing in leads to the sales team through email campaigns, webinars, and the website is just kind of a tool that brings the customers in. But a lot of that information already flows through Marketo. So I think we would probably stay with the same solution and just kind of building out and building more data into Marketo.
Jeff White: Oftentimes, when it comes to choosing a tech stack and making the list of priorities and all of that, these days, it involves all kinds of different departments. Marketing, obviously, has a role to play, and sales, obviously, has a role to play. How involved is your IT division at American Air Filters in terms of working through these choices with you and the rest of your team?
Brittney Zeller: Yeah. That’s a great question. So we manage the majority of our technologies, except the exception of Sitecore and Salesforce. That is all managed in IT at this moment.
Jeff White: Interesting. And I don’t want to get you in trouble if anybody listens from your organization, but oftentimes, the push and pull and the tug of war that we see is between who gets to maintain or who owns those different platforms. Is your … the IT team that you work with, I would assume that they’re very additive to that process and in terms of helping your team work through this?
Brittney Zeller: Yeah, I mean, they’re extremely helpful. Without them, we wouldn’t get to where we are today. But I do feel like there is this need for marketing IT in today’s world because of all of the different integrations there are between the different platforms. You kind of need someone in marketing that can, I guess, fight for the stuff that you guys are working on because sometimes IT and other functions, they have to think about everybody else in the organization and not just marketing.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, there can sometimes be a different sense of urgency when something’s being driven by the marketing or sales side of things that sometimes it just seems like they work on a bit of a different timetable, I guess, than many other more corporate-facing IT functions.
I think that is often a source of frustration for marketers. I think that there’s … increasingly, people are finding their ways through that. With American Air Filters, basically, have they seen that your role is one of those key roles that bridges that gap, and do they have any kind of similar roles that sit within the IT, pure IT function that kind of work back the other way?
Brittney Zeller: Yeah, I mean, they totally see that the new martech and analytics team is going to be really helpful in bridging the gap between IT and marketing and even sales. We actually have a sales enablement team that works with sales, and we work directly with them. And the sales enablement team actually falls under marketing, believe it or not.
So we’re trying to bridge all of these gaps so that we are all aligned as different functions in the organization. And I think who I work really well with in IT, we have a Salesforce administrator, and we work back and forth with lead generation and lead management and all of the lead lifecycle workflows, so we work really well together onto “how do we map these things from Marketo to Salesforce?”.
Jeff White: It seems incredibly … I’m trying to think, Carman, if we’ve ever chatted with anybody on the program or otherwise that had a dedicated sales enablement team. I don’t think that I’ve seen that before.
Carman Pirie: Dedicated sales enablement person, I suppose.
Jeff White: Yeah.
Carman Pirie: And it’s interesting to see that being … seen as being one part of a broader conversation around the tech stack and the bringing together of marketing and sales. And of course, this is what happened once marketing became responsible for lead generation several years ago in the lifecycle of marketing. It used to be a sales function. And when lead gen was a sales function, marketing and sales didn’t need to speak. And now it’s been flipped on its head. It’s interesting to see these organizational structures evolving.
How long have you been operating like that? How long has the sales enablement team been in place? And I know you said you’ve been in the role for six months, Brittney. Are you the first one is this role or has it been around for a while?
Brittney Zeller: Yeah, so all of this was restructured six months ago, so we tried to structure our team around sales so that we could support them better, so my role was created. The sales enablement manager was created as well, and she has a team of, I believe, three people who help support the sales from … Like technology, we have a lot of different technologies that are in-house technologies, and we are actually creating a partner portal for our channel partners that will run off of Salesforce communities that will help enable all of our distributors.
Carman Pirie: Very cool. And do you have content creation working as part of that as well and kind of meshing with sales?
Brittney Zeller: Yeah, so we actually have a marketing communications manager and the usual marketing team that most people consider marketing, and he manages just the content generation, and then my team manages the execution of it, and then her team enables the sales team with the content.
Carman Pirie: So six months in, what have been the early learnings? Any early wins with this new structure?
Brittney Zeller: I think that with this new structure, it’s really helped all of us focus on what I think we’re … I’m not going to say what we’re best at, but where the key needs are. So a lot of people under marketing communications, they’ll have someone running social media or someone managing Marketo or whatever, but those platforms are all technology platforms that, at the end of the day, you have to execute, analyze, and report on. And when there’s so much content that needs to be created, I feel like that’s also a downfall. So we’re trying to get as much capabilities for content to be created and not have to focus on, “What do I do with the content now?” That’s my job.
Jeff White: Very cool. I think there’s another interesting story to be told there as well because if you have residential and commercial sides to the business, do the tech stacks evolve, and are they implemented differently across the different lines of business, or you don’t have any business to consumer direct connection, I don’t believe?
Brittney Zeller: Not yet. We are actually currently working on that, but we do have a commercial side. So we acquired Flanders back in 2016 and actually rebranded AAF Flanders for the commercial/residential side. And our residential team is working on building that up and trying to, “How do we get more into the market?” And so that’s kind of what we’re working on now.
And they actually currently don’t use a lot of the martech stack that we use today, so it’s more of a, I would say, a startup approach, and then eventually it will expand to what we are today.
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: As you kind of look ahead … and I know that asking you to do this six months into the role is a little bit unkind … but as you look ahead, I guess one thing that we know for sure is that this tech stack is going to get more and more complex. There’s new categories within it being invented every day it seems. There’s certainly new options being introduced, and yesterday’s leader isn’t always tomorrow’s shining new star.
How do you envision the organization will be approaching this going forward? Have you given some thought to how you go about I guess evaluating new technology options, and how you choose to say yes and no and think about in the bigger picture beyond the “has to integrate with Marketo” from a starting point?
Brittney Zeller: Yeah, so when I … in my role, of course, six months ago, I was like, “Okay. What technologies are we using? What’s our contract like? How long do we plan on using it?” Because there’s a lot of things that go on. I feel like as marketers, we get stuck in this rut of contracts automatically renew, and you stay in that technology time and time again. Either you’re not using it to the best of your ability, or it’s not really the right fit for you now. And so what I see is that your technology has to be reevaluated either on a six-month basis or a year basis, and you need to make sure your data and everything is going to work with whatever technology you’re going to use.
We had a situation where we want to have account-based marketing. Well, in order to have account-based marketing, you have to have a certain type of data and criteria within your marketing automation platform, and we just weren’t there yet. And so I had to take a step back and say, “Look, we need to clean up our data and make sure we have these type of fields inside of our system before we can even move forward with that.” So having that conversation and that hard conversation with people to say, “Look, well, we’re not ready for that next new shiny thing. We need to take a step back and review and analyze what we need to get to that point.”
Carman Pirie: I almost feel as marketers like we should have to take one thing away when we add a new thing. You know? It should just be a rule. I don’t know.
Jeff White: Yeah, and I mean, I think it’s so smart of the organization to truly pull back and not just simply implement the next shiny object that’s being talked about at all the conferences this year. That seems to be … one of the biggest downfalls, I think, is the over-complication of tech stacks as a result of continually applying that new thing, that AI chatbot or whatever that happens to be just because we want to see how that does, and then it’s integrated across the whole site.
Carman Pirie: And I just wonder how much of that ends up absorbing time and attention in the organization as well beyond the complexity that it adds and potential downfalls of trying to integrate a new piece of technology or whatever, but just the … so much of it, as you mentioned, Brittney, adds questionable value and sometimes is only renewed because somebody forgot that the credit card was set to auto-renew or what have you.
Brittney Zeller: Yes.
Carman Pirie: Before that ever happened, somebody had to even … they had to look for a credit card number. Before doing that, they had to do research. They were online. They were doing demos. They were doing whatever. Times that by how much happening across the organization. I’ve got to say, I feel like maybe you folks are maybe on to something by taking a bit more of a … I don’t think siloed is the right way to put it, but more just a kind of a dedicated approach it seems within your area of focus to be the one that evaluates that and reevaluates it on an ongoing basis and wraps your arms around it.
Brittney Zeller: Well, I think with that though, if you look at it, the more technology you bring into it, the more resources you need to manage that technology. And then if you don’t add those resources, then that one resource is spread across 15 different technologies. Well, they’re not going to manage each technology, they’re going to miss something. Something’s going to be missed. So how do you … I don’t know. How do you make sure that that’s a smooth transition, and you have enough resources to manage all of those?
Carman Pirie: Yeah, and thinking about the ongoing care and feeding ahead of time. I mean, you’re quite right. There’s a good number of organizations that have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and wasted Google AdWord spend because they had somebody in the marketing department set it up and never look at it again as an example. It’s about one of the worst offenses for this kind of set-it-and-forget-it kind of approach to technology that we’re speaking of.
Brittney, it’s been really great chatting with you today. I want to conclude with any kind of parting thoughts or advice you might have for our listeners as they kind of … maybe if they were staring down that path today of selecting between the more enterprise Y-in-the-road versus going with more shall we say agile solutions. What advice would you give as we sign off?
Brittney Zeller: I think that with any type of martech stack, it’s going to be different for every organization. And you really have to look at internally what your organization is doing, what their goals of the organization is, and then start from the very beginning, like, “Okay, what’s the necessities? Marketing automation, a CRM.” Start with those and then integrate outward and make sure that you have those resources in place to manage those things. But I mean, that’s kind of where I would start and then also reevaluating, because not everything is needed at the right … there’s a right time for each technology.
Jeff White: Oh, exactly. And I think as the options get more vast, too, it’s just going to become harder and harder to make that decision, so having a base criteria or a base platform that you’re working from will probably give you all the difference in terms of narrowing those choices.
Carman Pirie: The right time for each technology but not each technology all the time, I think is maybe the right attitude.
Brittney Zeller: Yes.
Carman Pirie: Brittney, it’s been great chatting. Thanks so much for taking the time today to join us on The Kula Ring. It’s been wonderful to speak with you today, and we look forward to catching up with you soon.
Brittney Zeller: All right. Thank you so much for having me.
Jeff White: Cheers.
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.