The Kula Ring

Episode 69 How to Humanize B2B With Design Thinking

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 this episode of The Kula Ring, Ellsworth Adhesives Marketing & Digital Experience Manager Jas Kaur talks about how her background in design thinking has helped her lead her organization toward a more human-centric approach to B2B. Her “business to everything” philosophy is guiding a tightly integrated marketing and digital team’s efforts in making their customers’ buying process fast, efficient, and intuitive.

How to Humanize B2B With Design Thinking 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. I’m your co-host, and joining me today is Carman Pirie. Carman, how you doing, sir?

Carman Pirie: I am doing well, sir, and you?

Jeff White: I’m doing really good. Yeah. 

Carman Pirie: Nice. It’s good to be chatting again today, and I’m excited for this episode, as well. 

Jeff White: I think it’s a very interesting company and an interesting guest. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. I think a lot of the marketers that we talk to on a regular basis, one thing that I guess that we’re seeing a lot is that the different types of kind of marketing organizations that are coming to life inside of manufacturing and distribution organizations—just the way that they’re starting to resource the marketing function, and think about what talent ought to be in-house versus outside, so I’m really looking forward to today’s conversation and just kind of diving into that a bit more. 

Jeff White: Yeah, me as well. So, joining us today from Ellsworth Adhesives is Jas Kaur, and Jas is the marketing and digital experience manager there. Welcome to The Kula Ring, Jas. 

Jas Kaur: Thanks for having me. 

Carman Pirie: Jas, it’s fantastic to have you on the show, and I’ve got to say, just before we went live here, you were giving a great tourism push for Milwaukee, so I want our listeners to know that if you have any vacation time coming up in the next little while, Milwaukee is the city to visit, apparently. 

Jeff White: Well, maybe you should wait till the spring. 

Jas Kaur: I was just going to say that. 

Carman Pirie: I mean, embrace winter, Jeff. Embrace winter, you know?

Jeff White: We are Canadian. I suppose we have to. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. 

Jas Kaur: You guys are Canadian, so you’re welcome year round, but my caveat to that would be definitely come in the spring or summer, where we have different festivals going on. We’re actually known to have a festival every weekend in the summer, so you won’t be bored. Along with that, we’ve just got the coast of Lake Michigan, and just a lot of fun. A lot of things to do in little big Milwaukee. 

Carman Pirie: Nice. I love it. 

Jeff White: You were mentioning you’d been to Halifax, as well, at some point, too. 

Jas Kaur: I had. I had an opportunity to attend a trade show there for IPAC, which is a trade show kind of for the infection preventionists in Canada, and it was in Nova Scotia, beautiful city. I love it and hope to be out there soon. 

Jeff White: Very cool. 

Carman Pirie: I feel like we have a budding sister-city relationship now with Milwaukee as a result of this podcast. The Kula Ring has done its job in bringing people together, I think. We can almost end the show now. 

Jeff White: Yeah. Yeah, but we shouldn’t. There’s too much good stuff. 

Carman Pirie: But we shouldn’t. Jas, why don’t you introduce our listeners to you a bit more formally. Let us know a bit more about Ellsworth and your work there. 

Jas Kaur: Yeah, so my name is Jas Kaur, as mentioned earlier, I am the marketing and digital experience manager at Ellsworth Adhesives. We are a distributor and manufacturer of industrial adhesive products. We’ve been in the business for 45 years, and we are family-owned. 

We are distributors for specialty chemicals. The rest of our business comes from a portfolio of other businesses, so we do, we actually create dispensing robots to dispense these adhesives. We can do custom formulation, as well. And then we also repackage large adhesives. And then finally, wrapping up our portfolio we have the Glue Dots brand, so if you’ve ever gotten a credit card, the little sticky glue behind it, that’s our company. That’s our product. And the Glue Dots company actually adds a B2C element, so we do have a consumer-friendly product that goes into it. 

Carman Pirie: Very interesting. 

Jeff White: I always thought Glue Dots were just… From a tactile nature, it was always a really great experience, because you never… It wasn’t like you got a paper sticker on something and you had to peel it off, and it just left a bunch of residue. You know? But the Glue Dots, they come apart. 

Carman Pirie: You’ve given this some thought as only a design student, an old design student might. 

Jeff White: Indeed. 

Carman Pirie: It’s like that, or if we can talk about paperweights, you’re gonna be really happy for the rest of the show. 

Jeff White: Serif edges and things.

Carman Pirie: Yes, and typefaces. Well, that’s not where we’re going today. 

Jeff White: No. 

Carman Pirie: Where we are going, though, is Jas, I’d like you to kind of lift the hood, if you would a bit, on what’s going on inside of Ellsworth, and how you’re kind of building out the marketing team. I’d like to kind of get a… for our listeners to get a sense of the types of roles and kind of just the general structure that you’re bringing to the table there. 

Jas Kaur: Yeah, definitely. So, in my division, we are led by our global president, and within his reporting structure, right, he’s got a lot of reportees that are business functions, and then we’ve got our sales team, which that’s our largest value-add for our customers is our engineer sales representatives, so most of these guys and gals, they come from an engineering background, so they have an engineering degree or have been in the industrial adhesives market most of their life. They work with customers at the design phase, so as a customer is going through and designing a new product, our engineer will sit with their design engineer and come up with what that adhesive solution looks like. 

So, they’re one of our largest value-adds, and then we’ve got my department, where you’ve got a unique setup. We are the marketing and the digital department in one. We realize that marketing cannot function without digital, and digital can’t work without marketing, right? So, it makes sense to have it under one roof, and what that does is it provides synergies from a strategy standpoint, so as we build out what traditional marketing strategies look like, how does digital become either a supporting foundation or the backbone of it? And our team and our department actually behaves as an extension of that sales team. 

That’s where I really see the secret sauce for marketing and marketing campaigns to really work, is if it becomes that extension of the sales force, right? As the sales team goes and they’re the feet on the street, they’re going in, looking at prospective clients, looking at new applications. You need that in-house support from a marketing standpoint to then provide them with tools and resources, whether they’re sales sheets, or digital kits, or actual, like we have physical sample kits that we send out with different adhesive materials, so that a sales rep could sit with their design engineer and they can touch and feel and look at what type of products that we’re able to sell to them. 

So, we’ve been doing a lot of that, and building our foundation. We had… It was really separated for a while, and I’ve come in and really am trying to revamp kind of what our mission statement is for our department and how do we deliver, and how do we then become a data-driven, metrics-driven department, to report back to the company saying, “We invested X amount into marketing and digital efforts, and here’s the ROI, here’s what we see a lift in sales.” And that comes back directly to my team. And then that’s a feel-good metric for the team, too, right? As a content strategist is writing content, or creating digital ads, she can see, “I was able to impact X amount into sales and revenue.” 

Carman Pirie: Jas, I appreciate that overview, and wonder… Well, first off, I really like the notion that digital is kind of in some ways too important to be left to the IT department. I always… It’s always an interesting challenge when you have marketing and IT being very separate. But I’d be curious, can you tell us a bit more about the types of people that you have working on the marketing side? What types of roles you’ve brought in house? 

Jas Kaur: Definitely. So, just to go back to your comment about IT and marketing being together, the reason it works here is I actually have a marketing and IT background, so undergrad, I actually graduated with a marketing and IT degree, so it really helps when you have a leader that can take really abstract and creative ideas, break it down into technical terms, and write technical requirement documents, and then vice versa, right? When IT has a question, or the tech side of it has a question, we can take it back and break it down and make it more abstract for the more creative side of it. So, that’s why I think this works within Ellsworth.

But to then go back and then answer your question about what my team looks like, I’ve got a great team, and a wide variety of roles and experiences. So, on the marketing side, I do have a marketing assistant. She deals with day-to-day kind of projects and asks that can be executed quickly and turned around, provided back to stakeholders. Then we’ve got a marketing coordinator who is tasked with doing all of traditional marketing items, like trade shows, print ads, she’ll also manage some of our digital ads, as well. And then she’s tasked with coming up with what does the marketing automation and integrated marketing campaign strategy look like. 

Then we’ve got a content strategist, so you don’t hear a ton about content strategists, or people that are dedicated just to content being part of a distribution marketing team, but we have a great leader, who’s a visionary, Paul Ellsworth. He believed in this and he invested in it, so we’ve got a content strategist that goes through and builds all the content, all of our social media content, all of the content on the website. She will work with our technical team to understand really technical concepts, and then write pieces for our social media and our website. 

We’ve also got a web designer. She’s more of just a designer. I should take the web piece out of it, because she designs for both traditional marketing and then digital and web, as well. She’s been with the company now six years, and really holds the vision of how do we take the company to that next level from a design standpoint. And then we’ve got a web developer on our team, as well, so that kind of weird stance between marketing and IT, we actually have a developer on our site that works solely on all of the marketing digital initiatives. 

Carman Pirie: More frontend or backend dev? I would assume front, but I don’t want to. 

Jas Kaur: He actually does both. You’d be surprised. So, he was hired for more of the frontend piece, but because again we’re a lean company, and for the longest time this was a very lean department, he’s self-taught, and he does a lot of backend development, as well. 

Carman Pirie: Ah, the sought-after full stack developer. 

Jeff White: We’re all looking for them. 

Jas Kaur: Yep, and I always call it and I say, I’m like, “I found a unicorn, right?” It’s very hard to find somebody that can do both, and do both very well, right? That it’s worked and we haven’t had to hire a backend developer. 

Jeff White: Especially important, too, when you’re part of a small team like that, that your backend developer, and designer, and content strategist can all work closely together on something, too. 

Jas Kaur: They work very closely together, and they actually sit right by one another, too, so if there is a question where the content strategist may want to do something different from a landing page perspective, she works with the  designer to design that landing page, and then works with the developer to say, “Here’s kind of the elements that I want that are interactive, or are not interactive,” and they sit right by one another, and we’re able to get work done very quickly because we’re face to face. We don’t have to sit there and cut tickets, or send emails and ask for requests. We do have a project management tool that we use where we do document all of our tasks and then assign team members to it, but them being able to be that close in proximity with this group is very important. 

Carman Pirie: Jas, I wonder. I mean, I think having that talent in house, we could probably pretty quickly list out some of the variety of benefits to it. Maybe it’s my contrary nature, but I’m curious. If you had to be forced to pick one challenge that it presents, what would you say?

Jas Kaur: Honestly, there isn’t a challenge. I’ve been blessed with a great team that meshes well with one another. We all know how to work around a super-technical mindset, versus a super-creative mindset, right? I’ve been challenging my team not to start with no to an answer, but to start with, “Yes, and,” right? So, if there is something that may be come a roadblock, we can figure out a way around it, so that at the end of the day, we’re delivering the best possible experience to our customer, and we’re also easily navigateable from a website standpoint, so that when a customer or prospective customer does land on our website, they’re able to find what they need right away. 

And that’s the beauty of having a designer, a developer, a content strategist, a marketing coordinator, all sit in together and be a part of these large projects. That’s also important. 

Carman Pirie: See, I couldn’t get you to take the bait. You’re very disciplined. 

Jas Kaur: I mean, I would be very transparent. That’s my leadership style, right? There’s really no challenges, and knock on wood, really, this team works really well together, and it is a blessing. 

Carman Pirie: Nice. I want to jump in a bit to your background in design thinking, and how we’re bringing that to life at Ellsworth. So, perhaps first things first, maybe take us through that a little bit, and what that background entails. 

Jas Kaur: Yeah, so I had the opportunity to get design thinking certified at my previous employer, so I worked for a large insurance company that was very successful for 160 years in delivering their value-add and their value prop to their policyholders, but now with our demographic changing, our workforce is changing, and we’re actually witnessing history right now, where for the first time ever, millennials and baby boomers in the workforce are at the same level, right? So, what does that mean? That means that these old styles of what my parents did, I’m going to follow, and I’m going to do, that way of thinking was changing. Millennials are very self-service, they like to do all of the research up front, and then make a decision, and then proactively go to a company, right? In this case, for life insurance. 

So, I was picked as a part of a larger group to get design thinking certified, so we had a bootcamp with Cornell University, and they really taught us this new way of thinking, this new way of designing and creating projects, and executing different strategies with this human-centric approach. So, I did that at my previous employer, brought that discipline over to Ellsworth, because what we were designing for is we were designing for very technical people. We were designing for engineers that needed really in-depth data about different chemicals and different adhesive products, and that’s what we were designing almost everything for. And when I came in and saw our website, and started diving in deeper into the metrics of our website, that was my first project, is really take a look at what our website is offering, what does our digital presence look like, and off the bat, the website looked really great. It looked very put together. It was responsive. It was checking off all of those high-level kind of requirements in what you’re looking for from a website standpoint. 

But when I started diving in deeper, being brand new to the industry, not knowing anything about adhesives, and trying to act like a buyer who’s going to come and purchase a product through Ellsworth, they also don’t know all of the technical details, right? They are provided a list from their design engineer, saying, “These are the products we need. Please go to Ellsworth and purchase them.” 

So, diving in deeper into the website, I realized that we had designed it with a lot of internal jargon, with a lot of just high-level information, and I realized that we didn’t design it for which person would be entering our website. And that’s where design thinking really came in, is really taking a step back, taking that human-centric approach of our different personas, what are they looking for from a website perspective, and how do we deliver that? And it really gets into what the customer wants, and what the customer’s thoughts are, and they’re a buyer for a business, however, they bring in a lot of their B2C kind of behavior, right, into that B2B buying world. How do we combat that? 

We can’t be Amazon. It’s going to be very tough. And we can’t be some of the other larger companies that we interact with from a B2C standpoint. We won’t be that, either. But how can we be the best that we can for our customers? And that’s when that design thinking piece came to it, and we conducted a design thinking workshop, where I was able to bring all our stakeholders into a room and just talk, and just talk about who our customer is, talk about our business processes, talk about where we want to be, and then talk about what are our roadblocks and how do we utilize technology to deliver that great customer experience? And we talk a lot about omnichannel, right? Omnichannel was a huge buzzword many years ago, but you have to get out of that mindset. It’s not B2C anymore, it’s not B2B anymore, it’s not omnichannel, it’s really business to everything, right? 

How do we bring in all the different aspects of business, and then apply that digital overlay and create these great experiences online that will allow our customers, my customers, to have a fast, easy, efficient way of getting their work done, and  then also feel, “Wow, that was great to work with Ellsworth. That was very easy to do. I would do this again. And I’ll be a repeat customer moving forward.” So, our overall vision really is deliver the information that our customer is looking for when and how they need it, so our web is not going to replace our inside sales team, right?

That’s one of our other great value-adds, is we offer a white-glove, a true white-glove experience and service to our customers. And they love calling in, and a lot of our buyers do love calling in and talking to their account specialist, catching up on life, and then placing orders. But then you have a lot of buyers that are in this new Millennial kind of age. They’re coming in more and more, and for them, they don’t want to get on the phone. They don’t want to talk to anybody. They want to be able to log into their account, order from Ellsworth, look at what their previous purchases were, and then be on their merry way. 

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Carman Pirie: I wonder, Jas, before we get too far from it, I’d like to kind of dive into that comment that you made earlier that kind of was a bit of a thread through all of this, and I know that the work’s… Obviously, you haven’t been… It’s not like you’re five years into the role at Ellsworth, so I’m sure that some of this thinking is still evolving. But this notion of you thought the site was very much, as you looked at it, was very much talking an internal language, and maybe sounded like maybe it was too engineering-driven versus some other buyers that were coming to the site. I think a lot of people struggle with that exact issue. They have people coming to their digital presence that vary in their level of technical competence. They feel internal pressures to show the technical chops, to show a level of seriousness or what have you, but then the communicator in them maybe feels that in some way they’re making it hard for the folks who aren’t as deeply technical. So, I guess how are you planning, or how have you thought about that? Is it about changing the tone of the copy and the approach that you’re taking, or is it bigger than that? What would you say to that? 

Jas Kaur: Yeah. I think it’s bigger than that, right? There’s a lot of improvements that we can do on our digital presence. Because we are looked at as leaders, we have this engineer sales force, and they do a great job face to face, but we’re not really promoting it much on our web, right? The way we’re combatting that is that we’re making our site easily navigateable, depending on what persona you fit into. So, we do have a lot of really technical folk that will come and come to our site to look at content that we’ve created. We have whitepapers, we have webinars, we have best practices.

But then we have the larger group, which is actually that buyer that’s coming in to buy online. We don’t have our full catalog online. Eventually we will, but for now, for some of our commodity items, they are available to purchase online, and we want to make it very easy for that buyer to look at the spec sheet that their design engineer has sent over, quickly glance at a SKU, type it in, and then get that product, so it should be a very easy, I’m typing in the product into a search bar, it’s coming up with that result, I’m gonna put it in my cart, and then I’m gonna check out. 

So, that’s what we’re trying to do, is we’re trying to make our digital presence adapt to who will be coming to our website. How do we serve up the correct content? So, like you had mentioned, we’re very new. We’re in the crawlspace right now. We’re building out our strategies for it, but eventually our vision is to really deliver that true omnichannel experience, meaning no matter which entry point you’re coming in and engaging with Ellsworth, you’re provided the content that you’re looking for, and the way it’s done is very fast and very efficient. 

Jeff White: I really like the approach that you’re taking, kind of thinking about things from the user’s perspective, and really bringing… As a designer myself, I always kind of like to see people beginning to take that approach with anything that they do. 

Carman Pirie: What you’re saying is you’re really happy that the rest of the business world is finally catching up to you and designing. Is that it?

Jeff White: Designers are known to be arrogant, but I wouldn’t say that. 

Carman Pirie: I think that’s it. I think it is fair. As a non-designer, I would say this is clearly one area that designers had right for a very long time. I mean, designers have been arguing with clients for 50 years about who they’re designing whatever it is they designed, who are we designing it for?

Jeff White: Who’s it for?

Carman Pirie: And it’s not for your wife, who likes blue. You know?

Jeff White: True. True enough. But my follow-up to that was going to be the one thing about proliferation and popularity of design thinking is that it’s also creeping into decision-making about other components of not just marketing, but everything from a business perspective. Is that something that you’re intending to do with other types of marketing that maybe aren’t as design focused as designing a site, or analyzing the current site? 

Jas Kaur: Eventually, yes. So, we’ve done that in the past, where it’s just been decisions are made based off of internal business practices, and internal business processes, but now it’s really taking ourselves out of that shoe, and really looking at who is the end client. So, this could go for technologies that we choose for our sales team. It may make sense from a business standpoint to go with Company A, but if you look at it from our sales team perspective, Company A may not make sense, but Company B may make sense, right? From how the sales cycle works, and moving leads through our sales funnel, and all of that. So, I’m hoping with a successful delivery of a newly designed website experience, will lead to more design thinking projects on other areas of the business. 

Because it is a tried and true method. I think it works, because the pendulum swings so far, right? For the longest time, everything was pushed to digital, to a point where it’s not personal anymore. But as humans, we love when we get personal messages from the different companies that we interact with, right? Now, it’s we’ve seen it kind of go all the way digital, and now it’s, “All right, we’ve gotta come to a happy midpoint, which is really human plus digital.” And how does digital help make our lives easier, our work easier, us become more efficient and effective, and that’s really how I see design thinking, right? 

And for me, I’m always gonna have that kind of eye set on digital, and how will digital help the human element of it, and I get to start off with the marketing piece, and I think as we grow within the company, we deliver a successful website experience, and then attribute it to this truly design thinking and a new way to collaborate, we’ll then… We can use this as a plan in other parts of our decision-making processes. 

Carman Pirie: I think they’re at an exciting point in this journey. I mean, I’m excited for you, as it’s kind of just getting underway. And I feel like in some ways, you just kind of told us your secret plan to take over the world, you know? Starts with the website, and then it extends from there.

Jeff White: But it’s all from design thinking, right?

Carman Pirie: Yeah.

Jas Kaur: It’s all design thinking. It works, right? And that’s the thing. It really works, and it helps you organize your thoughts in a really visual way that… A lot of us are visual beings, but it’s also objective, right? It’s not just we’re gonna get in a room, we’re gonna think about what we think the customer wants, and not do the research of creating different personas of who our customer really is and talking to our customer, but then just making decisions in a vacuum usually don’t lead to a lot of success. And my leadership style is really I like to collaborate, I like being transparent with my peers and counterparts, and really lay it all out to say, “How do we work best together? We’re all in the same company. We’re all marching to the same drum beat. How do we make each other successful?” 

And then that’s what… That’s my experience with design thinking, is bringing in all our stakeholders, and getting their thoughts out there, and just having an honest conversation. We can agree to disagree, but at least we’re there talking about it, rather than being, making decisions one off in a closed room, right?

Carman Pirie: I appreciate the overview, Jas, and I can’t help but… I guess I’d be curious. Have you found any… I mean, because the thing about design thinking, of course when you talk about it, especially people who have been exposed to it in the past, or have just done it as part of their job and life, as you would as a designer, I suppose Jeff, is just sometimes you wonder why everybody doesn’t get it, or why you have to… why it’s sometimes a struggle to explain, or to get people over-

Jeff White: Sell it. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah, to sell it in. Any tips on helping to drive adoption of design thinking as we wrap up this interview, Jas? 

Jas Kaur: I mean, the big thing is define what design thinking is. It is human-centric design, and that in itself holds so much power. The only way we can deliver the best possible experience to our customers is by putting the customer in the middle. And who is the customer at the end of the day? He or she is a human, right? We’re designing for that human experience. It’s something that we as consumers, we’re not aware of it, but that’s what a lot of these large companies are already doing, so to bring that into the manufacturing space, which has always been known as the old-school mentality, very cold, not creative, to bring that in and say, “No, we are a modern day manufacturing, distribution, whatever company, and this is how we’re designing these experiences. It’s to make it easy for our customers to do business with us.” And that’s really what design thinking delivers, in my opinion. 

Carman Pirie: Jas, it’s been a pleasure chatting. Thanks so much for sharing your experience on the show today. 

Jas Kaur: Thank you for having me. It was a pleasure. 

Carman Pirie: All the best.

Jas Kaur: Thank you. 

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-Apartners.com/thekularing.

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