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.
Before diving headfirst into a website redesign project, what are the moving parts a B2B marketer or other internal stakeholders should consider? Christina Wegner, Vice President of Marketing for The Vollrath Company, joins Jeff and Carman on The Kula Ring to talk about building the right foundation for your manufacturing company’s website redesign. She talks about developing a “listen-first” approach by assembling a stakeholder team early on in order to identify redesign objectives from feedback across departments.
Lessons from a Successful B2B Manufacturing Website Redesign 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: You know, I’m doing I think kind of normal.
Jeff White: Just normal?
Carman Pirie: Really, I feel like this is… People are used to hearing me say that I’m doing well, which I think generally I try to be well.
Jeff White: You usually are. Yeah.
Carman Pirie: So, I’m normal. Yeah.
Jeff White: You’re normal?
Carman Pirie: Yeah.
Jeff White: But normal’s good.
Carman Pirie: Well, as normal as I’m gonna get probably.
Jeff White: Well, it’s always good when we get to talk with people on the podcast, and you know, elevate-
Carman Pirie: That are normal too? Is that what you’re suggesting?
Jeff White: No, no. I’m saying they’re normal is-
Carman Pirie: Or they’re extraordinary and it stands out against my normal?
Jeff White: Against our normal.
Carman Pirie: I think that works. I think that works. I think today’s guest is going to help really kind of shine a light on an area of marketing that every marketer goes through, and they always ask the question, but they never have an answer to. And I gotta say, as an agency, we haven’t always had a great answer for this, either. And that is when somebody asks us, “How long’s it gonna take to build this website?” And they don’t ask-
Jeff White: What’s it gonna take from us?
Carman Pirie: Yeah, they’re not asking us how long does it take to build, but more what’s it gonna take client side. So, today’s guest is really gonna help kind of unpack that for us, and I’m really excited about that, and I should tell our listeners in advance that today’s guest didn’t work with Kula Partners on building the website.
Jeff White: No.
Carman Pirie: So, in no way is this like an inside baseball look at how we do things. It’s more just a look at how an American manufacturer does it.
Jeff White: Yeah. Yeah. No, I’m excited to hear the perspective. So, joining us today is Christina Wegner. Christina’s the Vice President of Marketing at The Vollrath Company. Thanks for joining us on The Kula Ring, Christina.
Christina Wegner: Yeah, thanks for having me. I love it. I appreciate the opportunity to talk with you both.
Carman Pirie: Christina, are you feeling extraordinary or just normal today?
Christina Wegner: I’m normally feeling pretty extraordinary, so I feel like a little of both might play into this a little bit.
Carman Pirie: Nice, nice. Well, I can tell you that what folks don’t know before we get on this recording is that the technical difficulties that we had to fight through to get here, so-
Jeff White: Yeah, so it feels especially good to be here, finally.
Carman Pirie: I can tell you that Christina’s troubleshooting skills would skew towards the extraordinary.
Jeff White: Yes. Yeah. I’ve met IT people with lesser abilities.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. That’s just too easy to beat up on IT people.
Jeff White: That’s not fair. That’s not fair. No, no. Especially going into this discussion.
Carman Pirie: Exactly.
Christina Wegner: We need those partnerships, so let’s not burn any bridges too soon.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Exactly right. Christina, why don’t you introduce our listeners to yourself, and let us know a bit more about The Vollrath Company, as well, if you would.
Christina Wegner: Yeah, no problem. So, as you all said, my name is Christina Wegner, and I am based in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, so south of you all, and today is a beautiful day, which is always nice to see the sunshine in the winter in Wisconsin. I have been with The Vollrath Company just over two years. I’ve got a little bit of an interesting path in my career that while I’ve always been in the brand and advertising space, I have been in a few different industries: financial services, the plumbing industry, professional golf, and then prior to that, intercollegiate sports. So, definitely dipped my toe into a lot of different spaces, and what’s crazy about all of it is they have so many commonalities amongst them all, so I’ve been able to take those learnings from those other industries and bring those with me to The Vollrath Company, and share that with our awesome organization that’s been around for 145 years.
We’ve been manufacturing over 80% of our products in the United States. We are still family-owned and professionally operated, and so we are very proud of our history in the state of Wisconsin and other states across the United States, as well as located in Spain, and we also have a facility in China, as well, where we manufacture.
Jeff White: Awesome, and not to… I want to go back to this, but professional golf. In what capacity? Did you play?
Christina Wegner: No, I didn’t play. I ran operations on the PGA Tour at a PGA Tour stop in Wisconsin, and then after that, I worked for the PGA of America in Wisconsin at Whistling Straits for the 2004 PGA Championship.
Carman Pirie: That’s a beautiful track. Jeff, my guess is Christina can drive the ball further than you can. That’s all I’m saying.
Jeff White: Everybody can drive the ball further than I can. Not to diminish any skills you may have, Christina.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, but this is true. Jeff really over indexes on the mountain biking side of things, but golf is not his forte.
Christina Wegner: Awesome. Awesome. Well, I’m up for a challenge anytime. We do definitely have some amazing tracks in Wisconsin, and I love to share in the experiences when anyone is interested.
Carman Pirie: That’s one thing I love about folks from Wisconsin, is they remind me a lot of people from Nova Scotia, actually.
Jeff White: Yep.
Carman Pirie: In that you all are very keen to introduce people to your part of the world, and that’s something I find that we share. Christina, I wonder if we could just kind of start getting into this a little bit, because part of your work as you started with Vollrath was really to take a hard look at the digital foundation that was in place, and you made a decision to kind of tackle that big website redesign project, which a lot of marketers are really hesitant to jump into, frankly.
So, can you first just tell us a little bit about how that project was initiated and a little bit about the project governance, if you will? If you had any kind of committees that were struck to help guide the process or anything of that nature, and perhaps start bringing us into it a bit?
Christina Wegner: We are a global organization, and when I was brought in, I was challenged to really grow our brand as The Vollrath Company, not just from a food service perspective, but within our Vollrath Manufacturing Services, which is our Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) business. We have a cleaning business, as well, which is commercial cleaning, and we make custom cleaning machines. We have frozen treat side of the business, and then we also have a consumer brand, called NUCU.
And so, what my initial challenge was to really figure out a way to bring all of those businesses under one technology umbrella, and start really finding cohesion amongst the brands, and so when I started, the first thing you do is you pull up the website on your phone, and you start to kind of dig on things, and figure out more about the company. The first thing that I noticed when I pulled up Vollrath.com up on my telephone was that it was not a responsive experience. And the three of us know very well as marketers that if the experience the consumer isn’t having on their phone isn’t a good one, then they’re probably moving along and finding the next experience that is going to be a better one for them.
So, while that seemed so simple, that was one of my biggest opportunities that I had, that we could start peeling that back from the onion and figuring out how we were going to deploy a responsive website to the total organization.
Carman Pirie: I mean, it’s so interesting to me that… I mean, the responsive web has been around for a while now, but it is amazing how you, especially in the manufacturing space, that you still run into sites that aren’t responsive. I mean, in 2020.
Christina Wegner: Very much so, and I sadly have to say that we are not the only ones in our competitive set that don’t have a responsive website, so I’m happy to say that by the end of January we will, and I’m excited for those listeners out there, when they listen to this, hopefully they’ll be able to check out our new website and be awed by how beautiful it looks.
You asked me also how we started to build out the plan for this, and what was critical to me when I started was to do more listening than talking, and to really understand where the challenges were for the organization with the website, and marketing isn’t the only stakeholder with a website. Of course, we want it to be beautiful, and we want it to represent the brand, but there’s so many other pieces that come into play, so there’s product managers that have a say in it, there’s general managers that have a say in what’s on there. We have customer service that uses the website probably more than our customers even use the website.
We have technical services that go on there for technical documentation. We have engineers that have to have some say in it, because of the technical nature of our products, to make sure that they have the CAD files, or the Revit files. Whatever the things are that we need to support that, they need to be coming along in the process with us, so it was definitely a large group of people that we had to tap into.
Our sales organization was also another piece to that pie, and getting their feedback, and then the last piece was our end user and getting their feedback, as well. So, we created what we call still to this day our advisory council, and it’s made up of one or two people from each of those areas that I mentioned. They had a say in all of their priorities, that they felt were necessary for us to go through the discovery work with the agency that we moved forward with, and that really helped us to kind of develop what our goals were, and then what our KPIs were going into the project.
Jeff White: Now, I have to ask before you… and we’ll get into the kind of choosing of the agency you worked with in a moment, but with you coming on at Vollrath, was the organization, was anybody kind of surprised at the depth of team that you wanted to pull together in order to tackle this project? Or were they expecting that by approaching this, that everyone pretty much in the organization was gonna have to play a role of some kind?
Christina Wegner: That’s a really good question. I think that they were a little bit surprised, and not because of the size of the group that I pulled together, but more about the questions we were asking, and the level of participation we wanted. In the past, it seemed like a similar group, plus or minus a few, had been pulled together, and I think what had happened was that a really amazing website was promised and under-delivered. And so, we had to ensure that through our listening, and our conversations, that we didn’t repeat the same thing.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, it’s always almost a tougher assignment when you’re picking up people that have been kind of brought into that kind of a collaborative process, only to be let down or to be ignored.
Christina Wegner: 100%.
Carman Pirie: That’s a huge challenge to kind of get that trust built up again. So, as you bent to the task of procuring or securing an agency partner, and in doing so, you also have a fairly large team in house, as well, do you not? A 20-person or so marketing team?
Christina Wegner: Yep. Yep. That’s right for sure. So, we identified an agency that really fit well with our culture, and the needs that we saw kind of going forward, where we could fill a gap with our internal folks, and then where they had some strengths on their team, and how those two things fit together really beautifully. And so, we jumped right in and we went through a three-step process. There’s probably more steps in it, but kind of a three-bucketed approach, which was discovery, development, and deployment.
Carman Pirie: Yes, we have an agency consultant friend that always likes to make fun of agencies and their 3D processes, but you know, it does lend itself to it. I mean, yeah. But it’s always funny when somebody lifts a mirror up in front of you quite that harshly.
Christina Wegner: Right. Right. No, I appreciate that.
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Carman Pirie: So, this has been, just for clarity, the agency partner is helping to bring a level of kind of structure to the engagement and kind of how to tackle this beast, in addition to the development expertise, and then my understanding is that Vollrath is kind of handling more of the content and design side of the equation?
Christina Wegner: Exactly. Yeah, so our agency partner has really been helping us from a tech stack perspective, so helping us to identify what PIM we’re using, making sure that we have the right CMS, we have the right digital asset management system in place, it all connects with our ERP system, so all of that marketing lingo bingo that we all like to play. But so many of those pieces are so critical to having… The website can look really beautiful out in front to all of our customers, but if all that stuff behind the scenes isn’t working properly, it really slows us down, and it’s super debilitating when you don’t do the research and build that part properly. I call it the foundation of the house. If the foundation of the house has any cracks in it, or it’s at all shaky, then the rest of the structure isn’t… It can look beautiful, but it’s probably not gonna last you very long, and at the end of the day, we find that it may actually cost more money in the long run to keep it up if it hasn’t been built properly.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, you’re preaching to the choir there. I think so many people, in an effort to try to save a little bit of money at the outset of an initiative like this, end up spending so much more down the road by trying to take these shortcuts rather than just build the foundation right.
Christina Wegner: Yeah, and you know, you mentioned that my team is really building the content and that side of the infrastructure, and I would say that that is equally as important, as well, in making sure that the information that’s going into our PIM system is clean, it’s really clean data. I think I had given an example at one point, we make a lot of stainless steel pieces, and if in the system, it was noted as “SS,” or “stainless,” or “stainless steel,” or whatever other permutation you can make of stainless steel.
Carman Pirie: “Steel brackets, stainless.”
Christina Wegner: Exactly. I mean, any permutation of that, if it is not entered consistently into the system, that impacts our customer’s ability to search the term properly in finding a product, and so that is something that we have taken the time to really clean up that going into the new system, so that we create the most robust search engine we’re able to create for our new website.
Jeff White: It’s so refreshing to hear, because you’ve actually bit the bullet and actually gone ahead and ensured that you have a clean taxonomy going forward, because it will give you a foundation for everything that comes after, both internally and externally from a marketing and operations perspective, as well as ensuring that your customers have a good experience. But aside from that, it is just a massive undertaking to fix all of these little data points that all have such a huge impact on overall experience.
Carman Pirie: And how many SKUs?
Christina Wegner: We are in the neighborhood of 13,000 [stock keeping units] SKUs. Because we have such a robust number of SKUs, we’ve definitely had to take it one chunk at a time, and so what we did is we played the 80-20 rule, so we looked at 20% of our SKUs that offer 80% of our revenue, and we really focused on those first, and made those as perfect as perfect can be, so everything from 360 photography, to making sure that CAD symbols, Revit files, all the technical documentation, all of that stuff exists on that product detail page before it goes live, and then after this first phase launches, we’ll start to go back and fix the next set of 20% of our 80. We’re breaking the SKU number down bit by bit, so that we can be really productive and we can get the site up, and we can feel some sense of accomplishment as we move down the path.
Carman Pirie: That’s some good bit of advice. I think a lot of people do struggle with that, and it’s like you gotta eat the elephant one bite at a time.
Jeff White: Yeah, so you might as well eat the most expensive part of the elephant first. Yep.
Carman Pirie: True. I don’t know how long we can extend this metaphor, but you can start chewing at some point, right? You gotta start doing it. I’ve often said that the only people that underestimate how much time it takes to create web content are people that have never done it before. Did your team have a pretty good understanding of what they were getting themselves into at that point, or did you kind of get that kind of awakening along the path?
Christina Wegner: Yeah. No, I laugh, because I think that it is such an underestimated time sucker, if you will. We expected that we were going to have to go back and rewrite, whether it was the product detail pages, or we were going to have to write a little bit more of that marketing, glamorous, fluffy copy, if you will, and it is because we have our heightened sense of quality that we’re going after, and even just going back and rewriting copy that hasn’t been touched for many, many years, that has been a source of opportunity for us. And we did not estimate properly for that.
So, we’ve had to bring on three new freelance writers to help us to just expedite the timing of it, so that we hit our deadline to launch the website at the end of January.
Carman Pirie: Three freelance writers. Okay, how long have they been with you, and I’m just trying to kind of wrap my arms around the total writing effort that you see for V1 of this.
Christina Wegner: We have a full-time content writer. I would say he’s more of a general writer on our team. And then we have a technical writer on our team full-time, so the two of them have been involved, but on a much smaller scale, just because they have their full-time jobs that they’re also focused on, but they’re really overseeing the other three freelance writers that we have. So, one of them had written for us previously, so had a good understanding of the voice of the brand. The other two… Actually, two of them had written for us previously, and then the other one was new to the organization, so had to bring her along a little bit more in understanding the brand, but I would say for all three of them, it was a new approach for the organization, because we needed to take a very simplified approach to writing.
Because writing for a website, as we know, is very different than writing a printed catalog, and we needed to be short, sweet, and succinct on things, and we needed to make sure that the content from a search engine optimization perspective was definitely popping. And so, that was a little bit of a skill that we needed to work with our writers on through this process.
Carman Pirie: Have they been on for… Has this been a six month, nine month—how long have they been at this?
Christina Wegner: I would say they’ve been writing for about nine months. Two of them specifically, and then we just brought on another one, probably in the last two months.
Carman Pirie: Fascinating. This is really helping to shape up, and I think give our listeners a really good kind of feeling for what they might be getting themselves into here.
Jeff White: Yeah.
Carman Pirie: I’m curious, who else on the team, I’m sure those writers needed to kind of lean on some more technical resources to help get them the information they needed, et cetera. Were there other folks that were also in this mix, and what does that time commitment start to look like?
Christina Wegner: Sure, so we have a digital manager and he has overseen the entirety of the process. He came on probably three to six months into the project, so nothing better than jumping straight into the deep end on that. So, our digital manager, I mentioned our two content specialists. We have a graphic designer who has been helping us with photography, and she’s been art directing the photo side of it. We just had a videographer start on Monday, last week, and he has been jumping, again, into the deep end, to help us start building out some additional content that will live on the website.
And then we have project managers that oversee each one of our businesses, and I would say they’ve been a key support to the project, as well, making sure that product is ordered, and it’s photographed. They’re helping get copy approved from the product managers. So, it’s definitely a team effort. I did hire a contract project manager for the project; that is the only thing that he works on, is project managing the entirety of this project, and I would say that was a key to this entire project.
As I said maybe at the beginning of this part of the conversation, that the digital manager came on about six months into the project. Without Marcus, the project manager on this project, there’s no way I would have been able to keep the project moving without the digital manager in place.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, that makes sense, and how long has this been on the go? Like we’re staring down the barrel of a January 2020 launch, fingers crossed, everything goes well. When did it start?
Christina Wegner: Well, it started in 2018. In December of 2018. So, we’re definitely a full year into the project, so we’ll just be over, just over a year, I think, to get to this phase one launch.
Carman Pirie: That is… I wish I could say that that’s uncommon, but I don’t think it is.
Jeff White: And this is particularly well planned, and staffed, and executed, too.
Carman Pirie: Yeah.
Jeff White: So, you know, trying to do that with even fewer in-house resources can certainly make a big difference in terms of success pulling it off in a timely manner.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Agreed.
Jeff White: Yeah.
Christina Wegner: Yeah. I would say that we’re probably leading up to the December kind of, “Go start running,” and doing the discovery work, and all of that, there were definitely a few months ahead of that, so I would say that we’re probably a year and a half into it. Creating the information for the RFP, and interviewing agencies, and all of those pieces, there was definitely some work that went along, or before that December kind of start executing with the agency work.
Carman Pirie: That makes sense. I wonder, I mean we talked a lot about the content time commitment, as well as some of the PM oversight. And for you, leading the entire organization, what was it like for you? Are we kind of talking about the kind of thing where it was like about half your job for the first three to six months and then it scaled down from there?
Christina Wegner: Yeah. You know, it was probably half if not more of my job because I didn’t have that digital manager in place, and I was filling the gap of that role with the project manager, so the project manager hadn’t worked with the company before, so I was filling the gap of really getting him up to speed on the organization, and I was still kind of in the infancy of my position, so we were trying to figure out what we wanted the brand to look like in this new space, and really working through a lot of things in parallel with the website redesign happening. So, it definitely took a good amount of my time, and I was extremely committed to it, because I knew it was the right thing for the organization.
And as I said, kind of back to the foundation, as soon as this foundation was in place, I knew that the other brands will be able to quickly fall into line with these platforms, and we’ll be able to do a lot of website redesigns right behind this. And quite honestly, I don’t know if I mentioned this, but our Stoelting food service brand will launch within a week or two of the Vollrath food service website, because of how great these platforms are and working with each other.
Carman Pirie: Nice. Nice. And like you said, there’s a lot more brands to come after that. I mean, even some of your consumer-facing products.
Jeff White: Yeah.
Christina Wegner: Right. Exactly.
Carman Pirie: I wonder, any big surprises now that we’re a year and a half into this? Outside of maybe just the absolute commitment required to get that much content created?
Christina Wegner: You know, it’s a great question, and I actually had the opportunity to work through the beta today of the website before I jumped on the phone with you guys, so I got to get really jazzed up about what we’re working on, and I think the biggest surprise for me was the amount of work that hadn’t been put into auditing and keeping our CMS system and our PIM really clean, and so now because of that, and the lack of a digital asset management resource, all three of those pieces have set us back a little bit of time, because we’ve needed to clean the data, we’ve had to build a library of photography to be able to deploy that into the website, and those pieces are so critical for us going forward to keep clean, so that we don’t have to do this again.
And while I call it a website redesign, it could have been easier in some cases to just start from scratch. And we didn’t do that, but going forward, that will definitely be a critical component or critical role on our team that we have somebody that keeps all of that information really up to date, so that if we ever have to put it into a new system again, we won’t have to spend the time doing that.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. You know, it’s interesting. Listeners to this show will possibly remember a very early guest from… Was it ABB that taught us about the merits of projects versus… Products versus projects?
Jeff White: Products versus projects.
Carman Pirie: Or was that GE? I’m terrible. I’m gonna offend somebody if I keep going.
Jeff White: Yeah.
Carman Pirie: So, without giving somebody-
Jeff White: One or the other.
Carman Pirie: But I do think this is, it’s key. Again, when you think about a website redesign and all of those other pieces that contribute to it, getting the data right, and the PIM, et cetera, et cetera, when you start to think of them as one-and-done projects, well, then things don’t get managed in between those redesign cycles.
Jeff White: Yeah. You end up missing something like making sure the PIM is fully up to date with the proper data.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, but if you manage it as an ongoing product, and we resource against it, now once this thing is built and live in January, well then you’re going to be in a much better position five years out, or whatever, when you maybe go to refresh the visual look and feel of the site, that it will have evolved and been much more of a living system if it’s thought of as a product.
Jeff White: Yeah.
Christina Wegner: 100%.
Carman Pirie: Now we’re just getting on the soapbox and trying to…
Jeff White: That’s not what this is for.
Carman Pirie: Christina, I wonder, this is absolutely a completely unfair question to ask, because I’m asking you and you haven’t even launched the site yet, but if you had to do it over again, is there one thing that you would do differently?
Christina Wegner: Oh, that is a good one. You know, I don’t know that I would right now. I think that we have done a really good job of challenging ourselves to find really creative ways to continue to hit our deadlines by not sacrificing the quality of the product, and making sure that we’re gonna provide our customers with a really amazing experience, while at the same time meeting the needs of our internal stakeholders. So, fingers crossed, I think we’re in a really, really great space. I guess one thing that maybe everybody would love to have is more resources, both financially and human resources. I mean, if I could go back and ask for more money and more people, that would without question help speed things up and move things along a little bit faster.
But otherwise, I think that I would do it the same way again if I could.
Jeff White: I think that’s wonderful, that it actually has been that good of an experience, despite having taken as long as it has, because they are big beasts of a project. Product.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Yeah, there’d be a collection of people in your shoes that would probably say don’t ever do it again would be the do-over advice, so the fact that you’re not singing from that song sheet speaks volumes, really.
Jeff White: Yeah. Yeah.
Carman Pirie: Well, Christina, thank you so much for taking the time to introduce us to Vollrath, and kind of just talk us through this. I think it’s been really helpful to help us understand how you’ve resourced the redesign of this site, and just really a look under the hood as to how that came together has been just extremely helpful I know to Jeff and I, and I’m sure to our listeners, as well. Thanks for sharing it today on The Kula Ring.
Christina Wegner: Yeah, no problem. Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.
Jeff White: Thank you.
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