The Kula Ring podcast is essential listening for manufacturing marketers who want to grow their digital presence and compete online.
Sponsored by Kula Partners—an agency committed to helping leading B2B manufacturers craft digital experiences that transform how they engage buyers, serve customers, and outpace their competition—The Kula Ring podcast features conversations about marketing, sales, and technology with top manufacturing executives from across North America.
The Kula Ring podcast is co-hosted by Kula Partners principals, Carman Pirie and Jeff W. White, both of whom are frequently sought after for their digitally-focused B2B expertise. They regularly share their insights with audiences including conferences like B2B Online and HubSpot’s INBOUND, the Gardner Manufacturing Marketer blog, and other podcasts focused on B2B marketing and technology.
In celebration of the first 100 episodes of The Kula Ring, co-hosts Jeff White and Carman Pirie reflect on three game-changing lessons shared by podcast guests over the years. First, reconsidering marketing projects—apps, Ecommerce builds—as iterative, evolving “products”; a conversation with Monique Elliott, former Chief Marketing Officer at ABB Electrification Products, Industrial Solutions. Second, they highlight Greg Palese, VP of Marketing for Klein Tools, and his interview on connecting your brand to higher-tier issues, not just “quality” broadly. Finally, the co-hosts touch on Lisa Butters, GM of GoDirect Trade at Honeywell, and how a legacy manufacturer can drive innovation.
Game-Changing Lessons from The Kula Ring’s First 100 Episodes 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 making out, sir?
Carman Pirie: I am making out quite well, quite well, and I’m sorry once again for disappointing the listeners for being the person that you introduce. I mean, it’s always that great hope that it could be somebody else on the podcast, but-
Jeff White: Well, normally there is usually somebody else, but today it’s simply you.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, at least one more to help dull the pain. But today’s conversation gives us yet another opportunity to reflect on the first 100 episodes, and I wanted to extract some of the game-changing lessons or conversations that we’ve had in the first 100 shows.
Jeff White: Absolutely. I mean, thus far we’ve covered two separate topics that have both been not just interesting, but very much of the time that we’re in. Our first recap episode of the first hundred episodes was about ABM, and account-based marketing is certainly taking the world by storm. In the last episode, we were covering off how some of our guests have implemented and talked about customer feedback and really pulled it into everything that they are, and as you say, in this, our recap episode, we’re just looking to talk about some of the things that have been impacting us ever since the day we recorded the episode. We bring it up in casual conversation with people who have absolutely no interest in what we do, and yet we find it that interesting.
Carman Pirie: Yes. That’s what happens. You just go to the bar or what have you and strike up conversations with random people about manufacturing marketing. This is not a way to make friends, Jeff.
Jeff White: Yep. But hey, I have a podcast!
Carman Pirie: In all seriousness, there are topics that surface time and again, and lessons that seem to be enduring, so let’s just jump into it.
Jeff White: Absolutely.
Carman Pirie: The first show, I believe it was episode two.
Jeff White: It was.
Carman Pirie: So, it certainly was early days. We had the pleasure of having Monique Elliott join the podcast, and Monique I think was formerly of GE Industrial Solutions, and then moved to ABB Electrification Products, which purchased that GE division, and now I believe, Jeff, she’s with Schneider.
Jeff White: Yeah. Schneider Electric. At the time that we recorded the episode two years ago, she was the Global Head of Customer Experience, Marketing, and Communication in the electrification division of ABB, and certainly brought a very interesting way of thinking about marketing that as we’ve said has certainly stuck with us.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Well, let’s hear it from Monique first, and then let’s talk about it.
Monique Elliott: Sure. And look, I will be the first one to admit, this is not a concept that I created, that my team created. We actually took a page out of the IT organization, and in the world of agile IT development, this whole shift from we’re not delivering a project, we’re working on a product development. And the way that it all sort of went down is we had buy-in from a leadership perspective with budget and resources. They said, “Yes. We get it. This is the future.” But every time we would go kind of that one level down in the organization, so not the senior leadership team, we were still hitting some friction points and people not wanting to help us out. And that’s what we were really looking for, we were looking for assistance to drive this forward.
I started paying attention, this goes back to the listening, around what teams or what functions were getting the traction and progressing? It was the teams that were talking about our products, like the actual, tangible products that we sell. The products that I was trying to sell online. And there were a few reasons as to why I think those conversations were working so well. It was because when you talk about a product, there’s a lifecycle to it. There isn’t a stop and a finish. There’s dedicated teams. There’s this desire of an evolution. And when marketing was coming into the room, talking about their project, that word immediately evoked a deadline, and a budget, and a start and a stop, and temporary resources, because when the project was over, you could move on.
By watching how our IT organization was structuring the conversation, and more importantly watching how our product management teams were structuring the conversations, we thought, “Maybe we just need to reframe this and change the vocabulary around it.” I’m not working on a marketing project. I’m working on a product. My product just happens to be the development of an Ecommerce solution. We learned from our friends who were doing this successfully in other functions and tried to apply it to our function, and lo and behold after a little bit of time, we started to get the traction that we needed.
Carman Pirie: In listening to you reiterate that, it seems to me in some way it changes from almost a project’s like something to get through. What I jotted down as you were saying, I guess, and I don’t know if this makes any sense or not, but it’s like something to get through versus something to work on. It sounds as though that was part of the mind shift that happened there.
Monique Elliott: Well, you know, no. You’re exactly right. It does make sense. And I always like to share this story, like when I’d be walking in the hallways and people would say, “Hey, when are you gonna be done with that Ecommerce project?” And that just stops you in your tracks, because you’re like, “When are you gonna be done with Ecommerce?” That’s like saying, “When are you gonna be doing with marketing as a function?” There is no start and stop to what we’re trying to do from a digital enablement perspective. There’s an evolution to it. There might be ebbs and flows as you learn, and as you pivot, and as you adjust. And so, yeah, when someone asks you that question, when are you gonna be done with that project, that does assume that you just gotta get through something and then you’ll be done with it.
So, you’re absolutely right. I think that’s a great way of looking at it.
Jeff White: Yeah. Products certainly get iterated, whereas projects don’t. Projects are, “Well, the budget’s gone now and we’re done, and the thing is launched, so I guess we don’t need to do anything else with it.”
Carman Pirie: You only do it again if it failed the first time.
Monique Elliott: Right.
Carman Pirie: Whereas products, you assume they’re iterated.
Monique Elliott: That’s right. That’s right. There’s this lifecycle to products, and there’s an ongoing investment, there’s dedicated teams. Certainly, you may have a sunsetting to your point of a product, or an onboarding of a new product, but when people talk about projects, there’s this whole notion of approved, not approved. Like rarely ever do you sit in a product meeting and talk about it being approved or not approved. You talk about the maturity of it.
Carman Pirie: Making it better. Evolving it. Yeah.
Jeff White: Absolutely.
Monique Elliott: Evolving it. Right, right, right. So, it was interesting, and even now as we’re talking about this and I’m reflecting back, what struck me was the importance of language when we’re having these meetings. You might think using that term is really benign and there’s no downside to it, like, “Oh, that’s just a word.” But it really does evoke a particular mindset that drives decisions.
Carman Pirie: So, there’s the enduring bit, right? It’s like thinking about most of what you do as a marketer as creating, caring for, nurturing, and evolving marketing products, versus executing one-off marketing projects. I think as Canadians we get made fun of for saying projects sometimes, but I don’t know that we do that much. I think I always say projects, which is how everybody else says it. But nevertheless, so products versus projects.
I know in Monique’s case, at that point she was talking a lot about it through the lens of the Ecommerce initiative that was underway, and of course, Ecommerce is so obviously something that lends itself to requiring iterative improvement and evolution, so the notion of thinking of an Ecommerce initiative as a project is I guess the way she puts it, it makes it seem… Of course, that would be so silly. But that applies to just so much of what we do as marketers, that if you take that product orientation versus project, it’s going to not only change how you think about it. It’s going to change how you are able to get your organization to think about what it is you do.
Jeff White: And I think that was really the driving force where she was finding that she wasn’t necessarily getting traction with the organization overall. They would do something, execute on it, and then it was moving on to the next project, and as a result, I think getting people to think of an Ecommerce platform as a product, one thing that certainly contributes to that, of course, is that that particular platform had its own P&L that she was responsible for, so as a result, it’s probably easier to get people to begin to think about that. But I mean, as you go through the list of the kinds of things that modern, digital marketers are facing these days, more and more of them can really be thought of as products.
Whether that’s a mobile app, or an Ecommerce site as we were talking about, or anything that isn’t just a one-time get in, get out, see the results, and move on to the next thing. Anything that is going to require any degree of care and feeding. A website is a great example of something that should be considered a product, because it is not a one time build it, step away, and forget about it piece of marketing content.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, and I mean look, I’m gonna really date myself with the reference, but there’s something in her message that’s kind of suggestive of this notion of almost like manufacturers are from Mars and marketers are from Venus or something, like they talk these very different languages, and that she saw IT in particular and product development as well having a lot of success in how they talk about their initiatives through a product development lens versus a project lens, and I thought it was interesting to think about how that approach can get the marketer speaking the same language as the manufacturing enterprise they’re working for.
Jeff White: Yeah, and certainly engineers think of things in product lifecycles. IT people think of things in product lifecycles. The software that they use, and so much of what we do today as marketers is technology-driven, so again, something else that very clearly demonstrates and points to the use of the language of product as opposed to project, and I think it’s come up in so many of our conversations, most of them to do with work.
Carman Pirie: Look, it’s gonna be a long path to get the word project out of your vocabulary. I struggle with it still, so start now.
The next episode we want to highlight was a fantastic conversation for pushing you to think about things in a fundamentally different way and really take a more innovative approach to the challenge at hand. I know that’s being very vague, but Greg Palese, the Head of Marketing at Klein Tools, some people would say, “Oh. Well, Klein Tools, they’re such an established company, such an established brand within the market that they serve, his job is easy.”
And maybe there are parts of that are true. I don’t know if Greg would agree with that or not.
Jeff White: I think it certainly makes it a bit, in some marketers’ minds, it probably makes it sexier than a lot of straight-up B2B marketing, but this is still B2B marketing.
Carman Pirie: But it also means that kind of outdoing yourself might be harder though, too, right?
Jeff White: Quite.
Carman Pirie: In some ways. I think that’s where Greg really stepped up with his initiative with National Signing Day. Let’s see if we can roll a clip where Greg introduces National Signing Day.
Greg Palese: There’s a big issue going on amongst the skilled trades. There’s not enough skilled tradesmen, not enough people going into the trades. It’s been defined as the skills gap is the phrase that we’ll hear mentioned an awful lot. Quite frankly, a lot of people, electricians, HVAC guys, and plumbers, and all those skilled trades are 50-some years old, they’re all getting towards retirement, and there’s not enough young people going into the trades. And it’s something that obviously, being a brand that sells to the trades, has concerned us, and we’ve taken a look at it and said, “Hey, what can we do? How can we take a stand on this? How can we help promote the trades as a viable career for people to get into?”
We had done some infographics and some press releases, and we sort of felt like that was just us standing on the sidelines shouting and we needed to get some skin in the game and really help be at the forefront of this issue. We’re partnering with SkillsUSA, which is a career and technical student organization that serves almost 400,000 high schools, college students here in the U.S., and we partnered with them to launch National Signing Day. Just a couple weeks ago, on May 8th, we went out to about 300 high schools across the country and acknowledged, honored, and celebrated about 3,000 seniors across the country who had chosen to pursue careers in the skilled trades. And what this did for us was it put us at the forefront of the skills gap issue. It raised our awareness. Selfishly, it also raised our awareness amongst these future tradesmen who are going into the trades.
But ultimately, what it did was it sort of gave a new perspective to high school kids who are not sure what they’re gonna do that says, “Oh, hey. You know what? Going into the skilled trades is a pretty cool thing. We had that big signing day down in the gym where everyone got there, and there were businesses, and the mayor came out, and the councilman came out. You know what? Maybe I want to look into a career in the trades.” Too often the high school running back or the high school quarterback or point guard gets their National Signing Day, where they’re gonna commit to a college. All the kids who are going to regular four-year schools, they have a day where it’s decision day or commitment day. They get to come to school wearing their college sweatshirt and say, “Hey, I’m going to this college or that college.”
But the kids who are not going to college, nor not gonna be a quarterback at a big school, those kids are forgotten. We’ve now elevated and raised their profile and said, “Hey, you get your day, too. National Signing Day is for you. Feel good about your choice. Feel good about going in the trades. And Klein Tools is here to support you as you embark on your career.”
Jeff White: I think what’s so cool about this is how the concept of National Signing Day brings a real personalization of this brand to people who are going to probably be interacting with Klein Tools for the rest of their lives. You’re introducing a concept, and an idea, and a brand, to a group of up and coming tradespeople, and lifting them up in a way that is… They’ve probably never been lifted up before. You know? He talks about this. They were trying to create something with National Signing Day that was as big a deal as someone going to the NFL or moving on to a college with a giant sports scholarship.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, and there’s really some magic there in seeing the opportunity to address an issue and a challenge that is far bigger than them. Most everybody in the manufacturing space knows that the shortage of tradespeople, that sort of talent, is a big, big problem. Be it electricians, welders, et cetera, et cetera.
Jeff White: Welders.
Carman Pirie: And then to draw such a lovely connection between how they can kind of help address that challenge and between that and their brand, it’s a fantastic initiative. It’s one of those ones that looks so darn smart in hindsight, right? I mean, once somebody does it, everybody else that’s kind of at all like Klein… Well, I mean I think Greg talked about that in the show, having people at Snap-on tools kind of wants to be a part of it and others. It’s the kind of thing that seems a little bit obvious in hindsight, which is the case with a lot of good ideas.
But I guess what I think about when I think about this episode is that early bit of advice I received as a marketer. When evaluating big ideas that are going to take a lot of investment, it seems like it might be a bit of a game-changer for you, is that worth it or not? Ask yourself, “If my competitor did this, how happy or angry would I be about that?”
Jeff White: How much would I wish that it had been my idea?
Carman Pirie: Yeah, yeah. We see that of course in the reverse when folks like Snap-on call up folks like Klein and say, “Hey, could we be a part of that next year?” That’s just that same validation going in the other way. I really commend Greg and the team at Klein for having the courage to do that. And I know it’s only going to get bigger in the coming years.
Jeff White: Yeah. Maybe virtual next time. I think one of the lessons too that you can take away from this is that rather than… For Klein to come at this with such a… They did this across the country. This was a massive undertaking. It wasn’t just like one local high school.
Carman Pirie: I think if my memories serves, around 300 schools at their first rollout.
Jeff White: Yeah, so this was not insignificant in terms of effort, and cost, and all of that. But one of the things that this initiative helped them do was cement Klein Tools in the minds of other manufacturers, and people who buy their products, and spec their products. It connected them with a more important, higher tier issue, the skills gap issue, as opposed to simply being about we’ve got better quality pliers. And if you can do that, and you can come up with something that is going to tie your brand to a true pain point that may not be directly related to the product itself, you have a potentially winning proposition there.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. And those ideas don’t come along every day, which is why they’re so compelling when they do.
Jeff White: Yeah. Precisely. So, moving on to our last guest that we’re gonna talk about, and this is also one of those episodes that just keeps coming up. We’ve had a number of conversations with some clients of ours about this concept and just many people are really interested in what’s going on here, and Lisa Butters is the guest that we’re talking about. She’s with Honeywell and is the general manager of an Ecommerce marketplace for used aerospace parts called GoDirect Trade. And just I think one of the more compelling aspects of the story that Lisa tells is just how she was able to bring this concept to life within a large, old, manufacturing business like Honeywell, in an area that you wouldn’t necessarily think would be primed for innovation like this. Let’s listen to Lisa and hear what she has to say.
Lisa Butters: We’re trying. I mean, I think everyone’s so used to this concept of B2C. I mean, you and I, we purchase things online every day, and that consumer experience online, I would say it’s far easier to design for a consumer experience than it is to design for a B2B experience. And the reason why is that when it comes to a business-to-business transaction, there are so many more complex things that occur inside of that transaction than when you and I buy something on etsy.com with a credit card. When it comes to B2B, you still have companies that play with really antiquated ways, like paying with a purchase order. You still have the need for companies to be able to map to multiple bill-to codes and ship-to codes and sold-to codes. You have global companies that have taxation across a hundred different countries.
That’s where the complexities really start occurring for these B2B transactions. For us, the key is really figuring out how to understand the consumer experience, but then take that consumer experience and overlay it, and try to mask all the complexities that you have to really design for in a B2B transaction. While it may seem like, “Hey, within GoDirect Trade, it really is a B2B marketplace.” But we’re trying to bring in that consumer experience.
Every single day, like we just had a spread that went live. We’re still trying to design for making an easy, consumer-like experience within our marketplace. I mean, there’s still so much work to be done in this space, even though yes, I think we’ve come pretty far in trying to design for a good consumer experience on our B2B marketplace, but still a long way for us to go with that.
The decision was first made by Honeywell, probably back in March of 2018, to say, “Hey, we’re interested in doing something within the used aerospace parts space.” What was really interesting is I took over as a general manager, there was no site or anything like that, but I took over as the general manager in April, and when I first got into the job, like on day one, the idea that they had really come up with from the powers that be was to create kind of like a listing service, almost. It was actually very similar to what all the competitors are doing today, and they weren’t gonna make pictures required, they weren’t gonna make product images required, and so honestly, the first decision I made as the GM on day one was, “No, screw that. If we do that, we’re gonna be just like all the competitors out there, which is like a Craigslist but without price and pictures.”
That’s when we made that decision to say we’re gonna be more like a blend between Amazon and Etsy. We’re gonna be like Etsy in that we’re gonna let storefronts launch and have all of their listings, and bring in the branding, and all that they want within their own storefront. And we’re gonna be like an Amazon in that we’re gonna be an incredibly easy, consumer-like experience. And we will never let anybody list without price, product images, and quality paperwork, because without that level of transparency, you can never have Ecommerce. People will never checkout unless you have the right level of transparency, where they feel comfortable enough to checkout. Our entire strategy and business model was really decided really like the first week that I started.
From there, it just kind of took off. We actually did our first minimum viable product. It took us about 14 weeks to build our first MVP one, and then we launched on December 18th. So, actually it’s kind of funny that you and I, we’re doing this podcast, because today is our first birthday. So, like outside of this office, like this little cubicle that I’m hunched over at right now in the dark, because our light’s broken, we have streamers, and we brought in a cake, and we have this huge banner, because we’re celebrating our first birthday today.
Carman Pirie: There’s so much here that it’s kind of almost hard to know where to start, right? I mean, the initiative to see the opportunity in this multi-billion dollar used aerospace parts place or market space, and to create the marketplace upon which that kind of industry can exist, and to have the foresight to say that really it’s the trust that’s enabled by the frameworks we create and the technology we deploy that’s going to power this long term, and bringing blockchain to bear to make that happen. It is all just fantastic.
Jeff White: It is, for sure. And I think one of the things that resonates with me in particular, and this goes back to Monique’s point of this is very much not… This isn’t a project. This is a product within Honeywell. It is as much a product as a Honeywell thermostat. It has a profit and loss sheet. It is something that needs to be managed. It’s also really cool how it was basically devised as a startup. They came at this with a minimum viable product, got it launched, I think the day that we were interviewing Lisa, she was actually saying that it was their one year anniversary and there were streamers and cake around the office, but it was still dark and everybody was just head down, working, because they’re constantly adding new features and new components to this marketplace. But the way that they’re thinking about it is how can we enable that level of quality experience that people expect from an Ecommerce platform, no matter whether they’re purchasing something from Amazon, or a store down the street, and getting that same level of experience, and quality, and ease of transaction when you’re buying multi-thousand dollar aerospace parts.
Carman Pirie: And of course, for those of us who don’t spend our day in the land of aerospace, we don’t always think, of course, that there’s a bunch of used parts on all these planes we’re flying around. And mentioning a birthday, or kind of cake and streamers in the office in a time of COVID, it occurs to me just how strange that seemed.
Jeff White: It sounds very, very odd. But I also really like, again, this goes back to the notion of GoDirect Trade being a product, is revisiting some of the early implementations and things that you’ve put in place, and optimizing them, and picking off those components in a very agile way. These couple next sprints, we’re going to fix a broken checkout process, or make that process smoother and better to work with. And I mean, this is also something, the learnings from this can apply to almost any Ecommerce business, especially an international one, when you’re going to need to be thinking of all the different kinds of ship-to codes, and different ways that you might need to break up a shipment in a B2B sale type application, that you’re not necessarily thinking of when you’re devising an Ecommerce platform on Shopify to sell some t-shirts.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. I remember being in a conversation with a steel producer. I believe they were out of Germany and had established essentially a third party marketplace for steel, online marketplace, and in so doing, actually gave up control of the marketplace to a kind of cooperative industry group in some way, shape, or form, which was obviously a different take on it than what Lisa has done here. But both of them are saying, are about seeing opportunity in that secondary marketplace, and capturing that opportunity online. And man, you might not be able to apply blockchain to your particular scenario, or your marketplace may look different in some way, shape, or form, but that nugget can be applied to so many industries out there. There’s so many people listening to this podcast right now that there’s a secondary market in your space that nobody owns yet. And owning it can be the key to advancing your position in the primary market.
Jeff White: I mean, I think what’s really interesting about that too is just having that fearlessness to open it up. There are so many ways that their management, the C-Suite, could have said no about this. Like, “No, we don’t want to be associated with our competitor’s product. No, we don’t want to open this up and allow them to sell stuff on our network. Are you crazy?” I mean, there are so many different ways that they could have shut this down, and most of them make a lot of sense if you’re thinking about this in terms of the way that traditional manufacturers would be approaching an idea like this, but I do think that it just shows a tremendous amount of trust, and a tremendous amount of-
Carman Pirie: Well, it’s a commitment to innovation, really. Isn’t it?
Jeff White: Yeah. There’s a chutzpah about it, just being willing to take that leap and open it up to something that may not be directly what you’re used to doing as a manufacturer.
Carman Pirie: For brands the size of Honeywell, the notion of taking, carving out kind of the startup or innovation center or what have you, and having it operate somewhat on its own set of rules or a different set of rules, that’s not entirely new, but I do wonder how far that could come down to mid market industrial B2B manufacturing. Because at a certain level, you stop seeing that happen, right? But I think there’s probably more opportunity for it than folks maybe think, like sometimes people look at that and they say, “Ah, that’s an idea for Honeywell. That’s something that they can actually do, but we couldn’t.”
Jeff White: Sure.
Carman Pirie: Well, when you look at the fact that I think their initial marketplace development was like a 12-week cycle.
Jeff White: Yeah. They stood it up really quickly.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. I mean, you’re not spending $10 million in those 12 weeks.
Jeff White: No.
Carman Pirie: You know? So, it is something that would have been accessible to a lot of other people in that space.
Jeff White: For sure.
Carman Pirie: If they had just chosen to think about it that way.
Jeff White: Riffing off of what you just said there, this isn’t necessarily something that a startup without expertise in the space could come in and do. Certainly not in 12 weeks, because they wouldn’t necessarily understand all the intricacies of the product lines, and all of the things that are required there, so this may be the domain of existing and entrenched manufacturers, and they may be the ones who are best suited to stand up marketplaces like this and other things for connecting people to each other.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, and I just want to push our listeners that don’t see themselves at Honeywell or some similar-sized organization to say, “You know what? That doesn’t mean that you can’t play this game too.”
Jeff White: No, no. Yeah.
Carman Pirie: I think these three episodes really showcase just some great kind of different ways of thinking about today’s marketing challenge and seizing on the opportunity that it presents, and I really thank these guests for sharing their expertise and experience with us.
Jeff White: Absolutely, and we’ll be back to normal interviews with fascinating manufacturing marketers next week, and we hope you’ll join us then.
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-Apartners.com/thekularing.