Lisa Hargrove, Director of Sales and Marketing at LS Industries, shares with The Kula Ring her approach to taking highly technical content and reframing it in a way that’s accessible and appealing to customers. She also explains why you should never underestimate the effort it takes to write good content as part of a website redesign.
How Manufacturers Can Translate “Engineer Speak” Into Benefit-Focused Content 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, an agency made for manufacturers. My name is Jeff White, and joining me today is my co-host, Carman Pirie. Carman, how you doing, sir?
Carman Pirie: I’m doing well, and I’ve got to tell our listeners that this was a much nicer introduction into the podcast than we’ve had in a previous recording earlier today.
Jeff White: Yeah, well see, but now you’ve really done it, because we release these things non-sequentially, and now you see the editors are going to have to-
Carman Pirie: No, I’m all aware, but-
Jeff White: …to mess this up.
Carman Pirie: But at least now I kind of knew what was coming up, as opposed to you introducing me first, and then saying what your name is, and then I don’t know if my name’s supposed to be Jeff for the remainder of the episode. It’s really awkward.
Jeff White: I just try and keep you on your toes.
Carman Pirie: That’s good. Someone needs to.
Jeff White: That really is the way of it.
Carman Pirie: I think today’s guest is going to keep us on our toes, as it were, and help us understand a few interesting components for manufacturing marketing. One really is around the translation of highly technical or complex information into something that has a bit more marketing and sales utility, and then I’m interested to see where the conversation goes after that, so why don’t we introduce today’s guest?
Jeff White: Absolutely. So, joining us today is Lisa Hargrove. Lisa is the Director of Sales and Marketing at LS Industries. Welcome to The Kula Ring, Lisa.
Lisa Hargrove: Thank you for having me.
Carman Pirie: Lisa, it’s good to be chatting with you. Tell us a bit about LS Industries and your work with them. How long have you been there? Give us a bit of background.
Lisa Hargrove: I’ve been with LS Industries just about a year and a half, so I started a year ago in May, and LS Industries is a manufacturer of machinery that automates surface preparation. So, shot blasting, washers, vibratory equipment, a whole assortment of things to prepare metal.
Carman Pirie: Interesting. It’s one thing I’m… You know, I just love the manufacturing space, because you-
Jeff White: Oh my goodness.
Carman Pirie: You know, every day find stuff you didn’t know existed five minutes ago.
Jeff White: Yeah, I mean you just kind of assume that stuff became shot blasted, or sandblasted, or shot-peened, or what have you, like as part of a regular process. You don’t really think of it as a machine that is integral to that process, that needs to be sold, as well.
Carman Pirie: I think you’re quite right. You don’t really think of it. Well, Lisa, it’s great to be chatting with you on today’s show, and I wanted to kind of talk about your work with LS Industries, and an interesting thread in our earlier conversations in prep for today, really this notion of how you work to translate more highly technical engineering-speak concepts into content that’s a bit more digestible for your buyer personas. I want you to take our listeners through that, and let us understand a bit more about your approach.
Lisa Hargrove: Sure. We find through our sales process that we’re often dealing with many different levels in the organization, not always dealing with the people on the shop floor that engineering speak may mean the most to, or even dealing with other engineers, so we kind of have to break it down to the actual meaningful portion of what it is that they’re sharing. We find a lot of times that we’re working with people that are just getting into shot blasting, or moving away from hand grinding and those kind of things, and we’re having to make sure that they understand the process and what they’re gonna be getting into, without overwhelming them with information that seems too daunting.
So, when we’ll get specs from the engineering department about what a particular machine can do, or how it operates, we have to translate that into kind of more bite-size pieces that are meaningful, that it can do so many cycles, or that the conveyor moves at such and such speed. We like to try to translate that specifically to what our customer is doing, and tell them, “You can produce X, Y, Z in this amount of time-based on the parameters of this machine.” So, that’s more specifically the kind of information that we like to provide to a customer.
Carman Pirie: So really, it’s a translation of engineering information into just customer benefit, really, to put it simply.
Lisa Hargrove: Right. They’re actual, actionable details, that they can then take back to their bosses, and justify the purchase of the machine.
Carman Pirie: Now, this is something that you’ve worked on I understand through the launch of the new website at LS Industries, and kind of a reframing, if you will, for how you speak about LS Industries, and frame how you go to market. Have you found that to be a key part of this new site build, is really kind of almost taking that information and making it more digestible? Was that a big transition from where they were before you started with them?
Lisa Hargrove: Yeah. In working on the website, we definitely had a struggle with getting enough information from the engineering department, so that we were putting out information onto the site that would actually help a customer make decisions, but not so much information that we were losing them, either. So, we were again walking that fine line of finding the information that they had, particular to the machine, that would actually mean something to the customer. And so, we were translating that into the components of it that will be cost-saving, the components of it that will be easy maintenance, and what makes them easy maintenance, without getting into the very nth degree of the detail of those pieces and parts.
Jeff White: I mean, I think it’s really interesting to explore kind of how that has come to life on the current site, and the new site, because so often you’re coming into a website rebuild or another major marketing initiative, and what you’re working from in a previous version isn’t necessarily communicating what you would like to communicate, I guess. Kind of a better way to put it, but it’s not getting across the information that you really want, so how difficult was it to kind of stand up this new site, and glean all of the information, and get that polished in a way that your customers would be able to digest it?
Lisa Hargrove: Yeah, I think in undertaking the project, we had initially grossly underestimated how long it would take. I mean, I was aware that we pretty much wanted to scrap the entire old website, and just start fresh. I didn’t want to take the shortcut of kind of just copying over data, because I knew what we had provided in the past didn’t give that detail that was important to the customers, so it was kind of a process of sitting everybody down, and talking about what those parameters are, and me being new to this industry, I didn’t always know those things, so that kind of helped me force them to explain it more. When they would offer up a difference in our blaster say versus a competitor, I would really make them go into the detail of why that’s a positive difference, and then we were able to translate that into language that would make sense to a buyer.
Carman Pirie: I think you said something early on about how you dramatically underestimated the effort required in order to pull this together, and I’ve often said that the only people that underestimate web content creation and that information management that goes into that are the people that don’t do it. You know? But man, it’s… I don’t know. It’s interesting to me that it’s just something that gets so dismissed when it’s-
Jeff White: Oh, it’s just the content.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, like when it’s incredibly difficult work to do well. I was thinking earlier today actually about, you know, it’s the kind of thing almost… I think a lot of people would be wise to a year, or two years before they’re thinking about a website redesign, is really to undertake a bit of an information management project more than a… You know, it’s almost like when you get into the world of doing content creation in the middle of a web build, it’s almost like it’s way too late.
Jeff White: It’s too late, and it’s too difficult, and there are too many other things that you have to solve at the same time. Yeah.
Lisa Hargrove: Yeah. We definitely discovered a lot of that. I mean, I think there were people on our team that were developing it that thought if we had a product name, and a picture, that we were good to go. And so, there was a lot more that we had to kind of pull out of that team, to go, “Well, no. Now I need to tell people what it does, and now I need to tell people why this is the best one that does what that does.” We had a lot of struggle on, “Wait, I need more.”
Jeff White: Yeah, and did you find that it was a major re-education, not just for the engineers that you were trying to pull the information from, but also for the management team, as well?
Lisa Hargrove: Yes. I think there was a lot of times where there… We would pull up a product that we wanted to add to the website, because we had built it in the past, when management would be saying, “Well, I know we did it for XYZ customer,” and engineering would be like, “Well, but that was 25 years ago, and so now I don’t have actual drawings that I could recreate that machine from, and so are we sure that that’s a legitimate product?” And so, we had lots of those kinds of cycles that would go round and round, so we could define what our actual product line was that we needed to publish.
LS Industries is a company that does a lot of custom projects. We have kind of a standard core of products that we offer, but then we also offer the opportunity to our customers that we’ll build something specifically to suit what you need, and so when we were going back into our history to see, “Well, somebody needed this machine once. Maybe there are other people that do and we should put it on our website.” There was definitely a lot of gray area about whether we could really call that a machine we could reproduce.
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Carman Pirie: That’s an interesting little side effect of a web project, right? Like people, “Nah, we’re doing a site build.” Like it’s one item on-
Jeff White: Oh, all of a sudden we know all these other products we could sell.
Carman Pirie: Or that we’ve been saying we can sell, that we actually can’t. Or-
Jeff White: Yeah, we have no idea how we did that.
Carman Pirie: … we’ve thrown out a great idea.
Jeff White: Does anybody know if George still knows how that works?
Carman Pirie: Exactly.
Jeff White: Yeah.
Carman Pirie: There may be more parallels between an LS Industries and a digital agency than you think.
Jeff White: Ouch. Oh, man.
Carman Pirie: I wonder. You know, one of the I think interesting aspects of LS Industries, as well, that I’d love to get your reflections on, is this notion that you are a manufacturer that sells to other manufacturers. So, sometimes… Well, I’m always curious what that means, because instinctively you think, “Ah, well, maybe you know the target a little better, because you kind of are the target in some way.” But I don’t want to put words in your mouth. I guess talk to me about that. What’s the dynamic that’s at play being a manufacturer that sells to another manufacturer? And to what extent do you feel that that gives you an advantage or an understanding in the process that’s unique?
Lisa Hargrove: I think the key for us to what it is that we provide is all about increasing productivity. So, as a manufacturer speaking to a manufacturer, we know that ultimately that’s what they need out of these machines. They need for us to either increase their capacity, or do something that they’re not able to find labor to do, or do it faster, so that those employees can do something else. So, I think that gives us an advantage, being able to translate what our machines can do for you into actual labor hours.
So, when I can say, “If you institute this structural blaster into your machine, you can take those four guys that have been hand sanding that piece of metal for four hours a day, those guys can go do something else, and you just need one operator that can push a button and take things off the line.” It becomes really easy to see the advantages of what we offer.
Additionally, I think we’re able to gain our customer’s trust in our parts and supplies by understanding that as a manufacturer, we know your equipment can’t be down. So, when we’re speaking with them on the things that we can offer after the sale, we can come to them on an equal level of saying, “It’s important to us, because it’s important to you.”
Carman Pirie: Yeah, I think that makes a lot of sense, of course, that you understand that more intimately as a manufacturer, and can obviously… you know exactly the levers to pull there.
Jeff White: Yeah, I mean their goals are your goals. Yeah.
Carman Pirie: Yeah.
Lisa Hargrove: Right.
Carman Pirie: I’m curious. Do you think you have any blind spots as a result? Does it… You know, it’s often said you can’t read the label from inside the soup can, as it were. Do you think there’s any blind spots being a manufacturer selling to another manufacturer?
Lisa Hargrove: Well, I don’t know what they might be. I guess they’re still blind.
Jeff White: That may be the best response to that question we’ve ever received.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, I suppose that does make some sense. I was maybe hoping that the benefit of your more recent entry into LS Industries, maybe the outside perspective may have something-
Lisa Hargrove: Sure. Yeah. I mean, my former company I know was also a customer of this company, so I’ve seen the advantages of our equipment being implemented on a shop floor, and I’ve heard the stories about what we can do for companies’ productivity and those kinds of things. We’ve done some really amazing projects on different things that just hadn’t been done before, and things that were taking eight hours to complete are now done in an hour, and they’re generating that much more product, and are able to expand and grow, and all because they’ve implemented this new machine.
Carman Pirie: I think that’s really cool, and maybe it’s a lot of self-reference criteria, but I was a marketer at an organization that I was once a customer of, and that really changed how I thought about… It really did inform how I could market them, and what I knew about them, because I had seen them from the customer side.
Jeff White: Yeah.
Carman Pirie: I don’t know that it’s a best practice I would necessarily recommend without some level of nuance, but if you’re looking to expand your marketing department, hiring people from your customers isn’t the worst idea, if you could find a way to do it nicely.
Lisa Hargrove: Right. Yeah.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, because it, like you say, your life as a customer before them gives you direct insight into exactly how to communicate the benefits of what you do.
Jeff White: Yeah, and exactly why it was a good choice for you, as well. I mean, and a lot of what you do… this is something you communicated to us in our previous conversations, is what you’re explaining, and how you’re doing your marketing, is all about telling your customer’s journey through the marketing, and explaining the benefit of what LS Industries can bring to that. Can you talk a little bit more about how you’re using that customer journey to help sell?
Lisa Hargrove: Sure. I mean, like I said, when we are engaging with a customer, we have standard products that will serve a lot of different industries, to do a lot of different general practices, but we also have the opportunity to create something specific for them. Whether that’s creating an entirely new machine, or if it’s just adding adaptations to a machine to work for their needs. So, I mean right now on the shop floor, we have one of our regular fixture basket blasters, but it’s been increased to about… I don’t know, three times what our standard basket size would be, so that it could handle these really ginormous parts that the customer wanted to be able to blast. Whether it’s working on scale, or whether it’s working on just the process in general, so we can offer monorails that can incorporate with their existing line to get things from our machinery onto the rest of the process, or it’s all about really solving the problems that they’re seeing every day.
And so, if we think about what the machine does, and what those problems might be that it solves, communicating that we have that actual solution, I guess is what I’m trying to get to. That they have a problem that we can alleviate.
Jeff White: I think that’s… That obviously comes through loud and clear. This idea that you can adapt what you have, and not just solve the individual problem of potentially creating a larger surface, so you can shot blast greater sized whatever-they-are in the basket, but also help them connect different aspects of their process together by simply communicating with them and developing a deeper understanding of what their needs are, so that you can solve other problems that are maybe sort of peripherally related to the core of the LS Industries products. I think that’s really interesting.
Lisa Hargrove: Right. Once we’re connected with a customer, we’re always trying to learn more and more about what they’re doing, with the belief that if we’ve provided them one machine, surely there’s other things that we can do with the diversity of our product lines, so if we can convince them that we can be their partner, more than just their supplier, it’s served us well.
Carman Pirie: Lisa, I would be curious. I mean, we’re 18 months in at LS Industries. There’s a new website that’s been deployed. It’s obviously a key foundational part of the digital transformation you’re bringing to bear at the firm. I guess kind of give us some insight into what’s next, or what has you excited as you look to 2020 and beyond?
Lisa Hargrove: Well, we’re looking to get all of our print material caught up with our website. Like I said, through the process of developing the website, we’ve kind of discovered other products that we hadn’t been communicating about before, so we’ve got literature that we need to create, to get caught up, to make sure that when we’re at trade shows, or talking to customers on the phone, that we have something additional to share about those things. And we are getting into a trade show season for us right now, so we’ve got… for the rest of the year, we’ll be attending shows each month, and working on communicating what those things are that we have to offer.
And then LS Industries actually has a sister company that is now next in line for a web refresh, so we’re trying to take what we’ve learned from this last one, and implement it hopefully better on the next time around.
Carman Pirie: Ah, that’s always nice to have the opportunity to do a couple of those back to back like that. See if, like you say, if you learned anything along the way in the first go around.
Jeff White: For sure.
Carman Pirie: I guess one thing we know, if there’s lots of content to be created, or product information to gather, now’s the time to start.
Jeff White: Yeah.
Lisa Hargrove: Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. Oh, on this new website, my boss initially asked us if we thought we could turn it around in 60 days now that we had completed this other one, and I was like, “No.”
Jeff White: Now we know it needs nine months. We’ve learned nothing. It’s certainly done that. Yeah. Yeah. For sure. One of the other things that you had mentioned that you were working towards, as well, was a subscription service for your customers, and tell us a bit about that, and how you’re thinking about bringing that to life.
Lisa Hargrove: In speaking about the trade shows, this one we’ve got this month is actually here, located in Wichita, where we are. And so, we’re really gonna be playing up this subscription model here, thinking that that’ll be the best place for us to try to grow that, is here locally in our manufacturing market. But for the machines that we provide, there are things like the media that you use for shot blasting, or for vibratory applications. There’s dust collector filters, there’s different solvents and those kind of things that they use with our washers and that kind of stuff, so we’re really trying to increase our awareness of being that supply partner, so that once we get people started as their supplier of these things, that we can put some more thought and technology behind actually being able to set them up on a subscription-type basis.
Jeff White: Very cool. Do you think that might take the form of ecommerce, or will it kind of continue to be a more sales-led approach?
Lisa Hargrove: Yeah. Internally, we think our system will still kind of be more manual, but kind of more working on an actual agreement with the customer of setting up time-based shipments that we can hopefully apply some of our systems to, to make that more automated internally.
Carman Pirie: Lisa, thanks so much for taking us through your experience and background, and introducing us to LS Industries. It’s been fascinating chatting with you, and really enjoyed having your thoughts here on The Kula Ring today.
Lisa Hargrove: Thank you again for having me. I appreciate the time.
Jeff White: Awesome. Thanks.
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