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.
Marketing to solve problems for your customers is the highlight from today’s episode. Kristi Flores, Vice-President and Chief Marketing Officer at Tektronix, explores how she uses marketing strategies to understand her customers’ challenges and create customer connections. She explains why customer obsession is one of Tektronik’s core values. By understanding which digital marketing strategies to employ, Kristi is able to create lasting customer relationships and engagement.
How Manufacturers Can Use Marketing To Solve Problems For Their Customers Transcript:
Announcer: You’re listening to The Kula Ring, a podcast made for manufacturing marketers. Here are Carman Pirie and Jeff White.
Jeff White: Welcome to The Kula Ring, a podcast for manufacturing marketers brought to you by Kula Partners. My name is Jeff White and joining me today is Carman Pirie. Carman, how are you doing, sir?
Carman Pirie: I am doing well, and you?
Jeff White: I’m doing great. Yeah.
Carman Pirie: You know, we should let our listeners know that this is like the first podcast back from Jeff getting smoked by a pickup truck while riding his bicycle, which sounds pretty horrible and I have it under some authority that it was, although luckily for Jeff he doesn’t remember a thing, so we can just get on with our day as if it didn’t happen.
Jeff White: Yeah. No, but I’m gonna be milking this concussion thing for decades. No question. Oh, no idea what happened there. Must have been the concussion.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. You can lean on that for a while, I would think.
Jeff White: My wife’s already starting to get a little tired of it, to be honest.
Carman Pirie: I would expect.
Jeff White: Yeah.
Carman Pirie: Add it to the list.
Jeff White: As is her right. Yeah.
Carman Pirie: So, look. I’m really excited for today’s guest. I think… I guess it’s been said, because I’ve said it a few times, that-
Jeff White: There’s a rumor going around.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Yeah. Sometimes I feel like manufacturers, as much as yes, they want new prospects, they want new customers, they also have a different I think appreciation for their current customers maybe than some other categories. Maybe I’m a bit biased because we work with manufacturers, so I just tend to like them, but I feel like there’s an awful lot of manufacturers out there that would like to figure out how do I get closer to my customer. How do I understand them better? What’s that, they know that voice of a customer research is a thing, but they maybe haven’t dove in as much as our guest has today, so I’m excited for the conversation.
Jeff White: Yeah. I think it’s gonna be really interesting, so joining us today is Kristi Flores. Kristi is the Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at Tektronix. Welcome to The Kula Ring, Kristi.
Kristi Flores: Thank you, Jeff. Thank you, Carman. And Jeff, I’m so glad you’re doing well.
Jeff White: I’m glad to have you as our first guest post-collision. Yeah.
Carman Pirie: There will only ever be one.
Jeff White: Yeah. No, it’s true. It’s true.
Carman Pirie: Kristi, why don’t you tell us a bit about the company and yourself if you would?
Kristi Flores: Yes. I’d love to. So, I’ve been at Tektronix, the company, for 14 years. I’m lucky to have grown a big part of my career at the company. I started in marketing communications. I’ve led most of our teams, from digital global campaigns and programs, the Americas team, and I even spent some time with our parent company, Fortive, on innovation management. Just about two years ago I moved into this role. So, I would say I often like to talk about just the belief and systems we have in place, and opportunities for development and growth at Tektronix and Fortive, and I think I’m a good example of that, for sure.
So, I live in Portland, and it is green and as rainy as a lot of people might think, but it’s a beautiful place to raise two children. My husband and I have two kids, nine and six. We love to travel and explore and right now I think we’ve had the wettest month on record for April for rain, but that is not… We’re still getting outside but we are looking forward to the summer.
Carman Pirie: As an East Coast Canadian, I’ve gotta say I love talking to people from Portland, because it’s like you guys rival us for folks that’ll talk about weather. And it’s similarly kind of gray and miserable for part of the year, but I think we get on just fine on both sides of the country here. I’m not sure about those people in the middle, but we’ll save that for another day.
Kristi, tell us a little about the company, just what do you sell and who do you sell to?
Kristi Flores: Sounds great. Yeah, so Tektronix has been around for 76 years. We are based out of Portland, Oregon, and we… If you haven’t heard of Tektronix, we’re really a company of engineers who also creates products for engineers. And if you haven’t maybe heard of Tektronix, I have no doubt that you’ve used your products or products in your everyday life that our products helped to get to market. So, we develop test equipment, oscilloscopes and other test equipment, that really engineers use to test electronic devices as they’re bringing them to market.
So, it can be anything from your cell phone or laptop to airplanes and cars. If it has electronics in it, you can guarantee that our test equipment or a piece of test equipment was used to bring it to market.
Carman Pirie: Really cool. I love that. A company of engineers selling to other engineers. Man, that’s-
Jeff White: And impacting everything.
Carman Pirie: Well, but it’s so much more common than people think.
Jeff White: Yeah.
Carman Pirie: You know, there’s a lot of people out there that marketers who find themselves surrounded by engineers and they’re not an engineer themselves, and when they look at who they’re targeting, it’s engineers. So, I guess let’s kind of start peeling back the covers a bit around how do you… how have you kind of tried to, if you will, wrap yourself inside the mind of the customer? How do you kind of get closer to understanding engineers?
Kristi Flores: You know, it starts a little bit with the culture I would say, Carman, and some of it is… So, one of our core values is customer obsession, and that means that we’re expecting everyone in the company, whether you’re designing the product and you’re an engineer behind it, or a product manager, or even a marketer that’s bringing that product and technology to market, that we need to deeply understand our customers. We have a great set of tools that’s also part of the Fortive company that owns us that… So, they’re world class tools that we help develop and train our employees on how we do voice of customer work, how do we think about our customers and the jobs to be done, and this really helps empower our teams to use that feedback, but also have a tools and a systemic process on how we gather it and how we get closer to customers.
So, part of it starts with the culture I would say, Carman.
Jeff White: I’d love to learn a little bit more about those tools and how you kind of leverage them and bring them to life, and sort of what makes up the toolbox, as it were.
Kristi Flores: Yeah. We’ve got… We call them our growth tools, so we’ve got lots of voice of customer tools, both qualitative and quantitative. We also lean heavily into experimentation to really reduce the uncertainty when we go to market or when we’re working with customers, and when I even think back on my own career in marketing over the last couple of decades, I think about the work that we would do. We would develop these really large global campaigns where we would work for months and months to get out the door, and oftentimes it was kind of behind closed doors. We would have focus groups but really not a lot behind that, which as you can imagine, there’s a lot of risk associated with developing something behind closed doors, not getting really great customer input on it, and then deploying it and kind of crossing your fingers like, “Let’s hope this is gonna drive the impact that we want.”
So, when you kind of balance that to what we’re doing today, we look at using both qualitative and quantitative customer research even from when we’re building value props, campaigns, getting it in front of customers and asking them to talk out loud on how does this message resonate, how’s the value prop working, driving a lot of experimentation to understand when we bring new things, new digital experiences, is it actually driving a better experience and how is our customer connecting with it? So, those are kind of two tools and a couple examples of how we’re thinking about it.
Jeff White: I think it’s really interesting because it’s bound to be a scary prospect to bring a product to market not necessarily knowing kind of what the reaction is going to be, or you think you understand what the needs are and all of that, but I think it’s something else for a marketer to approach this with the angle of, “We’re gonna show you some half-baked ideas and some thoughts and hypotheses, and we’d like you to tell us what you think of them,” and putting that work in front of people that isn’t necessarily finished or fully baked yet is a prospect that I think a lot of people would be concerned about. Especially in the C-suite, especially a marketer kind of putting that out there and awaiting the critique.
Kristi Flores: You’re absolutely right, Jeff. There is a lot of… Even the first time our team started transforming and doing some of this, there was a lot of concern around what are customers gonna say when they see this, and is this really gonna be an effective way to get a campaign that really drives what we’re looking for? But what I’ve seen through the process, Jeff, is how empowering and almost liberating it is for the teams because we all know how much uncertainty there is when you go and develop a lot of this in kind of this real business closed environment without getting customer input. So, it just… It’s incredible to watch the teams go. And then as you spend time with customers, you know how compelling that is, so it really kind of excites the team. I’ve seen the energy of the team when we do this really just improves, and then it also just develops their conviction of yes, this is the right way to do it, and then things that aren’t working, we just change it and improve it and there’s no… We really try to have this kind of culture of failing is okay and if things don’t resonate well, it’s okay. Let’s just change it before it drives a big impact on results and our customers’ experience.
Carman Pirie: I guess I’ll be a bit contrarian for a moment, Kristi. I just wonder sometimes when you… I guess sometimes I question how reliable customers are, how reliable a witness they are to their own behavior, if you will. You’ll ask them why they chose something or why they did something, and they may well give you a reason, but may not necessarily be the right one. It’s just the post-rationalization, if you will. Has this… I guess have you been able to measure in any way kind of an increased level of certainty or accuracy in what you’re bringing to market, or how these campaigns… I mean, I’m just kind of curious how much of it is it feels better because you’re connected with customers versus trying to get maybe a bit more objective? Does that make sense?
Kristi Flores: It does. And it’s a great question because sometimes we don’t expect customers to tell us what to do, right? Because oftentimes, they may not know the next great invention, right? So, a lot of it is just deeply understanding our customers, their jobs to be done, and their workflow, so then we can get much closer on how we might solve problems a little bit differently for them in marketing. And I think it’s always good that we start with what are we trying to learn here. We never go out to customers and say, “Hey, what do you think of this campaign?” It’s oftentimes it’s could we sell this product with them ever seeing the product in person? You know, if we’re really trying to drive a digital campaign for kind of more of a mass-market product. Or does this headline really communicate what we’re thinking it communicates?
And so, when we have customers talk out loud and they say things like, “Well, limitless. That actually… That couldn’t happen because nothing’s limitless,” especially for an audience that’s very, very practical, I would say. Engineers. And very data-driven. So, they can even talk out loud as they see some creative and start poking holes that we think, “You know what? They have a good point.” Or maybe this value prop isn’t actually as important in driving a buying decision as another one. So, no, we’re never looking for them to tell us exactly what they need. It’s just almost more of having a dialogue and deeply understanding what they’re up against and some of their biggest challenges. So, we use qualitative. We also use tools like FullStory that’s just… It is more of an ethnography view of customer data and behavior so we can see are they actually using the digital experience the way we thought?
But I agree with you. We have to be very careful about the type of questions we ask and what we infer from some of those responses.
Jeff White: I love that. Imagine an engineer saying, “Well, it’s not actually possible to be limitless.”
Kristi Flores: Yes. And it happened. We thought, “You know what? You’re absolutely right.” So, kind of from the beginning they’re already thinking, “Maybe they’re telling me that this product is too good to be true, right?” So, we went back, and we changed it, and we’ve even had engineers tell us like, “You know, I don’t quite know how to use this.” And we thought we probably over designed some of the digital experiences. So, it can be very insightful.
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Carman Pirie: You know, this is one area where the engineers being quite literal around, “No such thing as limitless. There has to be.” Yeah. And so, that’s I think a good example of where some marketers would hear that and they would roll their eyes exhaustively and say, “Really? This is where we’re at? We just can’t have an English headline here and just have a bit of fun with language?” So, they’d beat up on engineers a bit and there’d be almost like a… I don’t know, like engineers are from Venus, marketers are from Mars or something. But I guess is there an example of where you’ve been maybe surprised the most about how maybe they’re mischaracterized?
Kristi Flores: They’re humans like any of us, right? So, I think sometimes we think we’re so much different than an engineer, and they can enjoy a beautiful picture and a really simple, clean experience just like any other consumer. And so, sometimes I think we might think, “Oh, they want all the details and so we need to give them a 200-page manual or data sheet,” which happens, and we have, and those have their purpose, but do they need all of that data for some of their first experiences or some of their digital experiences when they’re just learning about the product? And the answer is no, they don’t always need that immediately.
They may need it later as they’re designing something at maybe… One of our customers is NASA. Maybe NASA might need that as they’re actually using the product and developing something, but when they’re doing early inquiry, so they’re humans just like anyone else, and they can be… They can enjoy and appreciate great marketing like anyone else, as well.
Carman Pirie: I think people really ought to listen to you there, frankly, because that’s… You know, part of what I was saying is the recipe why you see so much boring marketing in the manufacturing space, and B2B manufacturing, it’s because they think, “Oh, well no, you can’t possibly be entertaining if you’re talking to an engineer. You have to just keep the facts and only the facts.” Do you have any kinds of guidelines that you follow there or ways that you think about it? Like when do you shift to that additional detail versus when are you comfortable with being a bit more persuasive in your copy?
Kristi Flores: You know, I think I tend to find the engineers very humble. They also have a great sense of humor, so we can sprinkle it throughout. I think the deeper they get into using of the product and thinking about purchasing it, we need to make sure that we have all of those details available for them, but we like to map out the customer experience and journey. So, oftentimes, Carman, what we see is earlier stages, when they’re really just doing a lot of research, or they’re learning about something new, we can bring in some of that humor. We can bring in some of the creative ways to connect and it can definitely resonate and be very effective.
Jeff White: I really like that you brought up the notion of a buyer’s journey here because what you were saying a moment ago made me think that you have the potential with this process, with this methodology, to not just map an individual buyer’s journey to bringing them in as a customer, but also given the listening side of things, mapping out what products might be part of their buying journey next. And are you getting to that level of it, where you’re kind of looking into the future and saying, “You know, we have these people. We’ve brought them in. They’ve responded to the marketing. They’ve consulted with us and kind of helped us understand what their needs are and how to communicate with them.” Have you then also kind of mapped out that future state?
Kristi Flores: You know, we try to, Jeff, and we’ve got a lot of products that we sell. You know, we’re most known for our hardware, so what different technology they might use to test, but we also have software, we have different services, so deeply understanding what happens post-sale and also how we can add value to customers post-sale is important. Typically, our customers have our products for years and years, and what would trigger a new purchase is when they have a new project and/or there’s a change in technology. So, if there’s a change in the USB technology, or PCI Express, for example, or new power, there’s huge trends in electrification and power right now so they might need something new for that. But they can use our products for a long time, so they may add to their bench of things that they need, or they may need to upgrade and change, or even add software and things like that.
So, I would say as a company we’re trying to get much better at that post-sale journey. So, how do we continuously support and connect with the customer and even sell new offerings that we have? Maybe the software, the services that we haven’t been as well known for, as well.
Carman Pirie: I think that’s… I’ll be curious to see how your learning evolves there, because I guess the side of that customer journey that I’m always intrigued with is how much of an impact the early impression stage has. The receipt of the product, first use, et cetera. And then obviously the transitioning over to advocacy in the later stages, it can be an interesting trick I think for marketers to try to find what are those moments of truth in that early impression phase that can really drive towards advocacy. I just wish I had a question there, Kristi. I was just more suggesting what I thought was interesting about that.
Kristi Flores: I know. And I’m nodding my head because I agree with you, Carman. It’s one of those kind of endless journeys for marketers and for product marketers to really understand some of those meaningful moments for a customer and how do we get better on the opportunities where there could have been an even more meaningful moment. So, we’ve been really leaning into that, I would say, and trying to do a much better job. We’ve tended to really focus on, like a lot of marketers, the early stages of it, right? Like how do we capture their attention and then how do we provide them enough information that they would be interested in raising their hand and connecting with us on purchasing or learning more? But it’s that full journey.
I think a lot of marketers have an opportunity to think a little bit more strategically, particularly hardware companies where it hasn’t been always a natural inclination.
Carman Pirie: I don’t want to end this conversation without having explored a little bit more your application of ethnography into the voice of customer work. Are you able to give us a bit more detail as to how that’s coming to life? I’m always curious about how people are immersing themselves in their customer’s environment, and frankly I’m always curious if the customer knows that they’re there or not, like have their certain ethnographic approaches… Like one I remember, a firm I worked with, they called it birdwatching, which of course we kind of know what that means when somebody says it. They don’t know that they’re being watched.
I guess what have you used to kind of bring that ethnographic research to life?
Kristi Flores: Yeah. It’s such an important part of the voice of customer work that can get us some deep insights into some of the jobs to be done, or even some of the workarounds that customers don’t even know are workarounds, and they’re taping up different devices. We’ve got some customers that are really on the high end of really complex tests, so these are customers that are testing really high-speed data, so very complicated setups. When we’ve done some of that ethnography, we’ve seen them do really, really complicated things just to connect. I’ve seen even customers like hold something up with their teeth to then try and connect a probe, and you think, “There’s gotta be a better way, right?”
So, that’s an example of the power of ethnography to your point, Carman. It’s been harder over the last couple years on how do we really watch customers when we haven’t been able to really do a lot of that face-to-face, so we also have tools. I mentioned FullStory, so that’s an ethnography tool that we use on the website so we can watch customers literally go through our site and have rage clicks if they’re going back because they can’t find what they want. So, that’s a really compelling way that we can even almost democratize the ethnography, as well, of let’s go out and look at what customers are doing on our site and are we creating delight or are we creating frustration? How is the experience we’ve built?
So, the best ethnography is going there and seeing it, to your point Carman on this birdwatching. We want to do that as much as we can, but also mixing in some of these digital tools are a great way to get our full team involved and have a full team sport and also do things right now.
Carman Pirie: And try to connect the dots in some way between those two things. Yeah.
Kristi Flores: Absolutely.
Jeff White: You bring up an interesting point that you haven’t been able to get out there and be with the customers physically over the last couple of years. You know, we all know why. How has your… I mean, obviously that’s one part of it and using digital tools may be another, but what are some of the other things that you’ve done in order to adapt this and kind of continue to move down this road since the beginning of the pandemic?
Kristi Flores: You know, it’s just it’s thinking a little bit differently and like I’m sure you can imagine, constraints can bring out innovation. So, as much as I’d like to visit all of our customers in person, I’ve also realized I can’t let that stop me, so I’ve even started a series where I’m just going and interviewing some of our customers so I can stay connected on what are your biggest challenges, and jobs to be done, and what’s changing in your market? If we want to go deeper on some of these trends in technologies, we can do that as well. Sometimes it’s even asking ourselves what would it take for me to get out to a customer this week. What would it take for me to go out and connect with a customer in a month? And connecting with our customers may look different, but we still need to go and push ourselves to really drive that engagement that we’re looking for.
So, I guess in summary it looks a little bit different in how we do it, but we can’t let this gap in face-to-face prevent us from staying connected with customers.
Jeff White: I really love that. Because so many people say, “Well, we can’t do that anymore. We’re gonna have to rebuild everything and start over and maybe there’s a whole other way of going about it.” It’s not… Obviously, that’s not an optimal way to move forward.
Kristi Flores: Absolutely.
Carman Pirie: I’m very appreciative, Kristi, of the length of time you’ve been at the firm and the depth of experience that comes with that, that frankly I think a lot of marketers tend to jump around a lot these days. Not to get too Henry Mintzberg on it all, but there’s something I think that comes with focus. I’d be curious if you were kind of giving yourself advice 16 years ago, if you’re gonna hit rewind, what’s the one thing that you maybe know now that you wish you knew then that would have served you best over that time? I know technology and things change, but marketing doesn’t change as much as technology.
Kristi Flores: You know, for one, I think about my younger self, it’s just probably believe in yourself a little bit more. I think as a young female, especially coming into an engineering world, I have a liberal arts degree, I think I thought I didn’t have as much to add to the conversation, so I would hold it in, right? I’d hold in ideas and thoughts, and it took me a while to continue to build that confidence. So, I think first it’s believe in yourself. You’ve got a lot to add to the conversation is one.
And the other is like don’t wait for permission. So, you’ve got an idea, the business just wants you to contribute and help with these larger goals. They don’t need you to wait and ask for permission all the time or see if this is your job or someone else’s. Just go make an impact and a contribution in a way that’s gonna help the company. So, those are a couple things.
Carman Pirie: I hope a lot of people really listen to that because I was having drinks with an old colleague last week and she was kind of commenting, had kind of a similar comment around this notion of imposter syndrome, and she said that she felt that maybe women fall victim to feeling like they’re impacted by that more than guys do because we tend to be overconfident versus the opposite maybe. And it just occurred to me in that moment that I think so many people coming into these types of organizations can feel outmatched, right? And man, you know so much more about so many different things that the rest of the organization has no concept of, right?
A marketer with a liberal arts background in a company of engineers brings a boatload of unique perspective. I really… That’s fantastic.
Jeff White: But knowing that you have it and being willing to bring it forward, I think Kristi’s point is certainly something that a lot of people could take to heart and learn, especially as they begin their careers in these organizations that are typically male and engineer dominated.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Look, Kristi, it’s been a real pleasure to chat with you today. I’ve really enjoyed having you on the show.
Kristi Flores: Thank you. I loved spending time with the two of you and I feel like I could talk to you for several more hours, but I do appreciate connecting and it was great to spend more time with you.
Jeff White: We’ll put that on the books for later this year or in 2023.
Kristi Flores: Great.
Jeff White: Always good to do follow-up episodes. Thanks again, Kristi.
Kristi Flores: You bet.
Carman Pirie: Take care, now.
Kristi Flores: Take care.
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