Managing Career Paths for Manufacturing Marketing Teams

Episode 120

February 2, 2021

Career development planning and performance assessment can be a challenge for internal marketing teams. In this episode of The Kula Ring, Ryan Benbo, Senior Director of Marketing at Vermeer, talks about the framework they have developed to coach and grow their marketing team’s capabilities. Additionally, he discusses how Vermeer has been able to attract more than 70 talented team members to establish a cross-functional team that acts as an internal agency.

Managing Career Paths for Manufacturing Marketing Teams 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. Joining me today is Carman Pirie. Carman, how are you doing, sir? 

Carman Pirie: I’m doing lovely, and you? 

Jeff White: I’m doing great. Yeah. 

Carman Pirie: You know, I like it on the show when we kind of crack open a brand new topic in some way, and I don’t think this topic is new for marketers, but it’s the first time we’ve covered it on the show. 

Jeff White: Absolutely. And I mean it is a rare space to be playing in for a senior marketer to be working with their company in this capacity. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I should say, I think they call this foreshadowing or something.

Jeff White: It’s the build up. 

Carman Pirie: The build up. 

Jeff White: The story. 

Carman Pirie: The suspense is killing. No, but look, so folks, today we’re going to be talking about the impact of career pathing within a marketing organization that kind of resides inside of a manufacturing organization. I was thinking about it a little bit in the lead up to today’s show and it’s kind of like almost, I don’t know, like manufacturers are from Mars, marketers are from Venus. It’s like one of those things, like sometimes I think marketers do feel like they’re kind of the odd person out in the manufacturing enterprise. And sometimes that can extend to the HR experience, and maybe the manufacturers thought through career pathing and things of that nature, maybe a lot more for engineers or for people on the floor than they have for folks in the marketing organization. And today’s guest is just gonna shine a light on how to do it right and I’m really excited about it. 

Jeff White: Yeah. It’s very cool. And so, joining us today is Ryan Benbo. Ryan is the Senior Director of Marketing at Vermeer. Welcome to The Kula Ring, Ryan. 

Ryan Benbo: Hey, I’m glad to be here. It’d be fun for me just to listen to you guys continue to banter. I get a kick out of listening to you guys. I am gonna say one thing. The Venus and Mars, I think we could say that perhaps marketing and manufacturing are more like the Christmas star, where we could see Jupiter and Saturn coming a little bit closer together this week, and I hope that what we talk about today will shed some light on the fact with career pathing isn’t as distant as one might think. 

Carman Pirie: Very cool. 

Jeff White: Absolutely. 

Carman Pirie: No, I think it was like… Wasn’t that supposed to happen at-

Jeff White: It was supposed to be last night-

Ryan Benbo: It was last night. 

Jeff White: Yeah. 

Carman Pirie: So, like you could not see your hand in front of your face because of the fog here in Halifax last night, so there was no stargazing to be had. 

Jeff White: Yeah. Yeah. We would have to be in quarantine this morning had we driven far enough away to be actually able to see those stars and come back. 

Carman Pirie: That’s right. 

Jeff White: Yeah. Would have been about 10 hours of driving. 

Carman Pirie: If you were gonna see stars last night, it needed to be kind of from being otherwise altered, let’s say. It wasn’t gonna come from the sky. 

Jeff White: Yeah. That’s for sure. So, Ryan, tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do at Vermeer, and your career thus far. 

Ryan Benbo: Yeah, so I’ve been with Vermeer here for about five years, and for those who don’t know, Vermeer Corporation, we’re a company that manufactures agriculture and industrial construction equipment. Really proud of the work we do. We believe that we’re doing important work. Many folks might know us for being the first company to fully commercialize the big round hay baler, so you can thank Vermeer for seeing all the big round hay bales around the world, for bringing that technology to market. 

And then secondly, we work in a lot of industrial construction markets that help provide internet service like this. We make horizontal directional drilling equipment that helps install telecommunication lines, water lines, sewer lines, things that we say keep people connected to the necessities of life, right? And you know, believe it or not, communication is pretty necessary in these times, and so we’re pretty proud of the important work we do. 

But there’s a lot of other industries we play in, as well. We’re a highly diverse company playing in a lot of niche markets that in and of itself creates a little bit of challenges from a marketing perspective. But at the same time, really proud of the work we do. We’re based here in Pella, Iowa. I’m originally from Minnesota. Moved down to Iowa five years ago after 12 and a half years at a large agency in Minneapolis on the marketing and corporate communications side, and I had been doing some work with Vermeer and fell in love with the company, and the culture down here, and made the move from Minneapolis down to the small town of Pella, Iowa, and we’ve loved it ever since. 

Carman Pirie: That’s very cool and that’s gotta be a bit of a change of pace. 

Ryan Benbo: Yeah. You know, it really is a change of pace. I’m from a town of 200 people originally in northwest Minnesota, so for me, a town of 10,000 in Pella, Iowa, is like a city. Now my wife on the other hand is from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area originally and graduated with more people than were in the town I grew up in, so yeah, definitely a change of pace for her. But surprisingly, she had probably more of an influence on us moving to a small town than I did. 

Jeff White: That’s interesting. 

Carman Pirie: Very cool. 

Jeff White: I mean, I had an opportunity to visit Minneapolis after spending some time in Duluth last year before COVID, and it was a lovely city. I didn’t realize just how metropolitan it really was. You don’t necessarily expect that going in. So-

Carman Pirie: Says the Canadian. 

Ryan Benbo: Wonderful city and it’s got a very vibrant marketing, PR, advertising community up there, and a great place to start a career. No doubt about it. 

Jeff White: For sure. 

Carman Pirie: At Vermeer, you’re certainly not flying solo there. You’ve got a heck of an organization that you’ve built there. How many people in the marketing organization at Vermeer, Ryan? Just to give us some context. 

Ryan Benbo: Yeah, so today we have right around 70, but that spans a quite diverse array of individual functions. Within marketing today we have your traditional product marketing teams. We’ve been growing our digital team. We have our marketing operations. We also have a relatively sizeable in-house agency that’s comprised of a large number of video and design folks. And then I also am responsible for our dealer training, so we obviously sell all our products through independent distributors and dealer partners, and we have two distribution channels. We have our ag distribution and then we have our industrial distribution, and we are responsible for obviously training the sales, parts and service folks that are responsible for selling, supporting, and servicing that equipment. 

I have a purview over that, as well. Across the group, we’re right around 70 today and that’s grown over the last few years. I report up to our Chief Marketing Officer, who I consider a little bit of a talent savant. Knows how to find great people. And you know, he and I kind of have a bias for building within as much as we can. We have some great agency partners, but we also believe that having the in-house capability has a lot of advantages to it. We’ve been building some of that over the last few years. 

We’re pretty broad, pretty diverse, and have a lot of fun. 

Carman Pirie: 70 people today in the organization. How many would it have been say like three years ago or so? Just to give us a sense of the growth trajectory here. 

Ryan Benbo: Yeah. You know, it’s hard to compare because I’ve added a couple of groups into it. I would say we’ve probably grown maybe by 15% or so if I just had to say off the top of my head. I’d need to step back and take a look at that because as I said, we’ve added a couple of groups into the group over the last couple of years, including for instance we recently added technical communications into marketing. That includes the team that’s responsible for setting the standards and the vision for how we do technical communications, like our manuals, operator manuals, those types of publications, and as we shift that to more digital we think there’s some good alignment between marketing and that team. 

So right around there probably. 15%. 

Carman Pirie: Let’s look at that journey that you’ve been on with respect to career pathing in the organization, because I know that’s something that’s been happening across Vermeer. That’s not unique to the marketing organization, but it certainly has a unique application in the marketing space, and I’d like to hear about just kind of the work that you’re doing there, and then we can start to kind of sort through the impact of it. 

Ryan Benbo: Yeah. What I would say is a couple things. So, organizationally we’ve been on our engagement journey for probably the last five or six years, driven by our senior leadership, who really values our people. They take a lot of pride. We’re a family-owned, family-run op, in our third generation of family leadership that takes a lot of pride in developing people, providing work opportunities for a diverse group of people around the world, and I think there’s nothing more important to them than making sure their people feel engaged and supported. 

We’ve been kind of down the path of engagement over the last several years and as part of that, our human resources team has been working across functions to develop career pathing. And we were one of the first ones to get to do that. They started with a couple of other functions and then early on we got to be part of those conversations. Something that myself and my boss are very passionate about, as well, and so I think we’ve been on this journey from a pathing standpoint here at Vermeer on the marketing side probably a little over three years now. 

And the journey started with the first and foremost thing is developing competencies. What are the type of people that we want inside our marketing function? Our training organization? The attributes that we value. Organizationally, we have some standard attributes that everybody has to live by. Then, within each of your functional areas within the company, there are just some certain competencies you expect people to come into the company with or to develop and grow. It took us about a year to really define those across all the functions that we manage within marketing, so we had competencies for our training team, competencies for our in-house creative agency, and competencies for our core product and digital marketing groups. 

That took quite a bit of time and then you roll that out, introduce it, help people understand what titles mean, what those competencies are, how to have those in your conversations with your managers, et cetera, and so we’ve now had it in place probably for two years in full and it’s been working quite well for us. 

Carman Pirie: And it’s gotta be… I’m just thinking you’re in a small town, or smallish town. It’s about 10X the size of my hometown growing up too, by the way, but you’re in a smallish town and in an industrial category and competing for frankly high-end marketing talent that could go in a lot of other places. And that’s gotta be part of the drive here, isn’t it?

Ryan Benbo: Yeah, it for sure is. We have to probably work harder than… We compete with a lot of talent in the Midwest with some larger cities, obviously. We’re 40 miles southeast of Des Moines, and there’s a lot of great agencies in Des Moines. Some we use. There’s a lot of other large corporations there that we are competing with that we respect and appreciate, as well. And then of course there’s some great universities here in Iowa that we want to be top of mind with them, as well. So, yeah, it takes a lot of extra work to convince folks that a small town and a company like ours is worth taking a look, and then what we’re seeing more and more because of this engagement journey, though, is when we talk to candidates, the first thing they start with is our culture. They notice the way we talk about our culture, or if they’ve heard word of mouth, it’s generally starting with, “We’ve heard such good things about the company and the culture.” 

And I think as an organization, we’re pretty proud of that. And we believe that’s gonna help attract people into this. Now, obviously we hope people love our products, and love manufacturing, and the work we do, so we’re trying to tell the story about the important work we’re doing that’s really come to light even stronger in this pandemic period with… You know, our customers have still been out working, trying to keep people connected, trying to work their farms and ranches to keep people fed. Their work didn’t stop, and so we’re proud to support them and we believe that this pretty important work we’re doing. 

Yeah, so those are some of the things we have to do. I mean, we’re just like any other company. The competition for talent is hard. 

Jeff White: Did you have to convince any folks in the C-suite that this was an important thing to do within the marketing function? Just as important as engineers or any of the more traditional manufacturing human resources complement? 

Ryan Benbo: That’s a great question. I would say no. And because our senior leadership team was really directing the overall engagement path and pathing became a part of that. And you know, they started as a manufacturer that’s strong in engineering, they started there. Because quite frankly, that’s an area that when it comes to recruiting and retention, that’s a pretty significant focus for our company because as we grow, we’ve been a relatively fast-growing company, there’s an extreme competition for that type of talent and having that kind of pathing defined has been important. 

So, we were a little bit of the beneficiary of the work that they started, so we didn’t have to make an argument for it. I think the harder part, Jeff, is that articulating to the team what it means and what it’s gonna mean for them when you’re done on the other side of the process. The hardest part was managing the patience of the team, because we talked about it for a year that it’s coming, and it took longer than we anticipated, and then when you roll it out, making sure that people are understanding why we landed on the competencies we did, what it means for them, and how we’re gonna use it going forward. 

So, no, we had great support from leadership. Yeah. 

Carman Pirie: I’d be curious about that, like were there some of those conversations where you create some competencies for some positions and then you start having the first conversation to introduce it to the individual and it’s-

Jeff White: Uh oh. 

Carman Pirie: It’s kind of clear that maybe one of those competencies are outside of their existing skillset. Did you kind of have that awkward moment? 

Ryan Benbo: Yeah. You know, I think that some of our managers certainly had some of those conversations. I don’t know if it would say it was an awkward moment as much as it’s an empowering moment, because then people can kind of see the path to the future, right? Before you have the competencies defined, it’s pretty subjective as to what your expectations are from a performance day to day outside of, “This is your job. Do this, do this, do this,” from a tactical perspective. But from a development perspective, when you can actually have clearly defined competencies and a path forward, it takes some of the emotion out of the conversation because there’s something objective to parry off of for both manager and team member. They can kind of self-reflect on what’s written there. Are these competencies perfect? No, it’s probably something we need to reevaluate every two to three years to make sure they stay relevant. 

So, yeah, certainly there were some what I would say crucial conversations, because you want to be able to… It was good for managers to be able to say, “Okay, with my team member, how can I help them see if there’s an area of opportunity for them?” It gave them an opportunity to articulate that in what I would say a development way instead of a critical way. 

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Jeff White: One of the other things that you did as part of this was to shift the conversation around how people were going to be assessed and reviewed, and to change the structure of that, and to be honest, we went through the same thing at Kula a couple of years ago where we moved to a more frequent model of discussing performance and discussing goals and aptitudes and things like that. Tell us a bit about the thought process there and what it’s changed and meant within the conversations with your team. 

Ryan Benbo: Yeah. Again, I wish I could take more credit for this, but it’s more organizationally we shifted to the twice-a-year performance summaries to monthly check-ins, monthly development check-ins, and performance check-ins, and the organization, we have a great internal training team that has provided us a lot of tools, resources, and training on how to have those conversations and how to align your competencies into those conversations. 

With our managers going through that, as well as having the competencies, you can talk about somebody’s development month to month. And it’s really shifted the conversation to a point now where when we look at development, it’s not just, “Hey, over the next year I want you to focus on this one item.” We’re trying this year to say, “I want a monthly development item with your individual…” To say, “What is the movement we need them to make over the next 30 days?” That obviously is working towards something bigger probably, but… Because I think sometimes when you lay down and say, “Over the next year, I really want to grow in my ability to drive strategic planning.” 

Well, that might be difficult to say, “Well, how do we know you made it?” And so, month to month we can do some incremental decision points on that all the way down to the tactical. Okay, if that’s a goal for you the next year, this month I really want you to focus on you’re gonna write two plans for this campaign that we’re coming out in the next three months. You know, so you can take it down to a very tactical level where it feels real for the individual. How that’s gonna work for us this year, I don’t know. We’re giving it a shot. But for the last couple years, we’ve been doing these monthly check-ins and it’s been pretty important. 

And across the marketing team, we’ve started to institute a little bit more. I love sports podcasts and I’m a die-hard Minnesota Vikings fan, unfortunately. They never win anything. But there’s a radio program in the Twin Cities that I listen to that every Friday going into the Vikings game, they always talk about their curiosities and their concerns and their confidences about the game or the team going into the weekend. I thought, “Well, that would be a good way to have a development conversation or performance conversation.” We’ve started conversations on the monthly basis around what are you curious, concerned, or confident in, and that has led to some really interesting conversations with the team members. 

It could be things like, “Well, I’m really curious to see as we’ve added this individual’s responsibility into our group how that’s gonna play out over the next three months and what is that gonna mean for me.” And then it gives the manager an opportunity to kind of share the vision. “Well, here’s how I see that working and this is what I might need from you.” Or for someone to say, “I’m really confident in hey, this campaign has been going along really well.” And then if there are concerns, that obviously opens a whole new conversation that perhaps they didn’t feel comfortable bringing up before. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. That’s a very simple framework. I think really, really powerful. 

Jeff White: Yeah. I think the simpler the better in a lot of ways. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. Yeah. It can just help guide the conversation and almost just opens up permission to have it, really. 

Jeff White: Yeah. 

Ryan Benbo: Yeah. 

Carman Pirie: I’d be curious, one of the reasons I think that you hear from a lot of younger marketers when asked why they choose the agency life versus the client-side life is variety. As a 70-person marketing organization inside of Vermeer, operating in a number of niche categories, you can offer some variety, but I’m sure from the outside looking in, sometimes they think, “Oh, the agency would offer more.” I would be curious. To what extent has the competency development and career pathing initiative, to what extent has it facilitated kind of team movement and giving them some variety of different career paths that they could follow and maybe explore other aspects of marketing that they previously hadn’t thought of or considered that they may be a part of? 

Has it changed the fluidity with which you can kind of move people through the organization and have them see the opportunity? 

Ryan Benbo: Yeah. I’m not sure it’s had as much an impact on the fluidity of moving across the organization as moving them in a career trajectory if that makes sense. So, the team member can see what their next move is within their function, but it also does open some potential and opportunity for if they want to work in an adjacent part of marketing. Maybe someone wants to move into a training role from marketing, or maybe someone wants to go the digital side. Those conversations obviously happen, and we open those. We’ve had some folks move from different functions over to others. But in these early stages, in these first couple years, it’s been more about getting folks moving up the path that they’ve started on. 

We have a lot of early-career folks that we obviously have in our marketing organization who are wondering what’s the next step for me, and by having the career pathing, it makes it clear what the next step could possibly be and the performance attributes and competencies they need to achieve to get there. Within those competencies, we have four levels that they have to be achieving and demonstrating that align to our ladder, and there’s very objective performance attributes that they have to be demonstrating to know that they’ve made it to the next level if we think the organization needs the next level. It’s not always clear that we need another senior specialist either, right? 

I think those sometimes open the conversations about is there an adjacent role or a new opportunity for me. Yeah, so I don’t know, fluidity across functions not quite as much as fluidity up and down the ladder. I think it’s given folks a little bit of a path. And I think that it’s pretty important, Carman, from the standpoint of when we get a lot of folks coming in who are interested in agency and trying to understand corporate, to be able to have something that is relatable across those, and we can share obviously some of the distinctions between corporate and agency, but for them to know that there’s a ladder not a whole lot different than what they might see at an agency helps turn a corner. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. I mean, I think a lot of people listening to this that have worked agency side say, “What ladder?” 

Jeff White: When do I stop writing blog posts?

Carman Pirie: Yeah. I worked at an agency once where nobody would go in and look at my LinkedIn profile, because it’ll be really easy to see what agency this was, but the method was basically like you had senior people, you had nobody in the middle, and then you had a whole bunch of people at the bottom and the idea was to basically work them and burn them out within three years. 

Ryan Benbo: Oh, wow. 

Carman Pirie: And just one after the other.

Ryan Benbo: My experience was very different. I came from a large agency. 

Carman Pirie: You were with Weber Shandwick. They’re a fairly serious global player and would have more rigor around that. And as a small agency at Kula, we’ve certainly aspired to not take that burnout route, but rather to think through pathing and development even for our small team, so I’m very much, Ryan, picking up what you’re putting down, as it were. 

Ryan Benbo: Yeah. You know, and the other thing that is important that we think about in competencies when we have conversations with folks, we say hey, if they look at the competencies objectively and they say, “Hey, but I’m doing this.” And they might one off to say… So, our competencies go from, “Hey, are you developing? Are you applying? Are you leading? Are you a role model?” You know, it’s not unlike what other organizations might do. But someone might be in the applying category today and then starting to show signs of leading. For us, it’s about consistency. Have you consistently demonstrated those over a period of time? 

You know, it’s not just, “Hey, I performed awesome at this one event and now I’m ready.” No, it’s have you done it consistently? And again, takes some of the emotion out of it, and that’s something we’ve been trying to teach and train our managers to be looking at it objectively from that perspective of… Because it’s not about roller coaster performance. It’s about performance elevation over time is kind of the way we’ve been looking at those. 

Carman Pirie: Man. Our scrum masters would love to hear that. They know exactly… We did not want the dips, you know?

Ryan Benbo: That’s right. 

Carman Pirie: On those burn downs. Man. 

Jeff White: Yeah. Yeah. For sure. Ryan, could you talk a little bit about some of the things that get applied, like one of the things that we talked about in our conversation earlier was this idea that after you’ve been doing this for a while, okay, now can we assign you to handle a budget? What are some of those functions that go along with those steps on the ladder? 

Ryan Benbo: Yeah, so for us, we really have our… Our competencies are built around four core elements that are defined a little bit differently depending on what part of the organization you’re in. But it really starts with relationships and partnerships. That’s our first attribute or competency, is the idea that culturally, we’re a caring culture and we want to make sure that you can work inside this organization with the type of people and the culture we’ve developed, right? The pace our culture works at, the expectations of the culture. So, can you get along and manage relationships up, down, and across the organization? And you know, there’s things all about being dependent, being reliable, leading conversations, all that kind of stuff that comes with it. 

And the next competency is around market and product intelligence. Do you understand how our business works? How our competitors work? Who our competitors are? Do you have an interest, and an appetite, and a passion for our product? And are you demonstrating that, right? And for some of the roles, like for instance in a marketing operations side or digital operations side, they may not be involved with our competitors day to day. You know, they’re thinking about how do I get this CRM. For them, it might be learning how to know the playing field of the CRM systems out there. Which is the best for us? And understanding for our distribution partners how do we make sure ours is the right CRM that we’re selecting or are you continually learning about the best CRM programs out there and how to apply them to our business, right? 

That’s a little bit different in terms of they may not have to be product experts but start to think about how can CRM help us in our business. And then, so that’s kind of what I would say is a little bit of the soft side of do you have some of those intangibles? Are you hungry and passionate for our business? And can you relate to the people and inside our culture? 

And then, you get more to the hard side of marketing and measurement. So, the third competency is about marketing and creative strategy, at least on the marketing side. On the training side, it’s about instructional design and delivery. They’re training people. Do you know how to put a course together? Can you deliver the course? All that kind of stuff, right? And that really starts with okay, if you’re in applying an early career role, can you do the function of execution? Someone basically says, “Here’s your assignment list.” Can you do those well? Are you executing to the expectation? From there, you might start to move to things like, “Okay, the next level is you’re actually responsible for writing the plans.” You know how to write objectives, you know how to connect tactics back to those objectives, and we’ll start to maybe give you some small budget responsibility. You can manage a budget for a trade show, right? 

As you’re applying in those skills, soon you could start to take on more. Maybe you’re gonna have budget management for an entire segment, a business segment. That’s the kind of things that are leading. And then from a leading standpoint on the marketing strategy, it’s like are you actually going out, identifying trends, opportunities, and then inserting those into how we’re gonna change the game for marketing inside? Are you leading conversations with some of the key influencers inside the business about the way we should go-to-market with product, right? That’s kind of how we see development. 

And then the final competency is around measurement. We don’t expect everybody to be a data scientist, but we do expect them to think about as you’re writing a plan or executing it, what are our measures of success and how are we gonna measure those right? So, those are the four categories that we build around for competencies and try to articulate to folks what it means to move through each of those as they grow. 

Did that make sense? I was kind of rambling there a little bit. 

Carman Pirie: No, absolutely. I have an entirely new podcast episode that we need to do now around just kind of talking through which of those aspects are hardest to coach. Anyway, I think that there’s a really interesting conversation there, but it’s a can of worms that we cannot crack. 

Ryan Benbo: Yeah. I have an opinion on that, but certainly we could get on that, I think. 

Carman Pirie: Okay, okay. We can’t just get there and not get the opinion. 

Jeff White: Yeah, no. Yeah, let’s hear it. 

Carman Pirie: So, what’s the hardest to coach? 

Ryan Benbo: My opinion is that particularly in the early career roles, we love to teach people how to do marketing the Vermeer way, right? Those are skills we can help teach and mentor. It’s very tough to coach ambition and natural relationship skills, right? So, we kind of look for those that are naturally gonna fit into the type of culture and the team environment that we’ve built here and what our expectations are, and we try to articulate those, and obviously we ask good questions in interviews to feel that out, right? 

When we come to make hiring decisions, it’s rarely about the competence of the individual, because we generally think their resume shows they’re competent to do the job. It’s about do they fit culturally. And a lot of that has to do with the way they can relate to people and are they gonna have passion for our industry and the discipline. It’s tough to teach curiosity and ambition, and you either have that or you don’t. 

I don’t know, does that make sense?

Carman Pirie: It does. It makes total sense. I think anybody that’s managed folks and led a team for any period of time would be nodding their head in agreement. I’d be curious, Ryan, as we wrap up the show, you came from an early marketing career on the agency side with certainly a larger agency. I’d be curious, moving to Vermeer, what’s been the biggest surprise with that career shift?

Ryan Benbo: Yeah. I get this question a lot. I have a chance to speak to folks at… We have a great partnership with Iowa State University and a few others, and when I speak to classes, they ask that same question going from the agency, still relatively new enough from… I’m five years out now, but I think the biggest thing is the pace. The pace of progress inside a corporation versus an agency. We move stuff pretty quickly through Vermeer and do a pretty good job, but when you’re on the agency side it’s you sell a client, sometimes that takes some time, but once they say go, you generally execute and go. Whereas inside the corporation there’s a lot more consensus building, having to bring people alongside with you in the idea and the strategy before you execute, because there’s a lot of players that are involved in every  decision you make. 

And I think that was more surprising to me than anything, is having the patience to see the idea believed in and bought into across the organization versus on the agency side, it’s usually a couple clients you’re pitching and then they have to do the yeoman’s work to pitch it inside. Not maybe having the appreciation for how hard that can be or how important that is to get consensus and buy-in internally was probably the biggest surprise for me. And there are some folks that are just brilliant at that and you know, we’re fortunate here. We have some really good, strong marketing minds, and we have great partnerships with our sales, and engineering, and product management groups that when ideas come to the fore, we all work through them. But it just takes some time sometimes. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. There’s an awful lot of people that turn their nose up at the notion of having to do that kind of… they say just internal politics, you know? And I’m just reminded of the Tom Peters quote, “If you’re not into internal politics, then you’re not into getting things done.” And man, yeah, that’s so true, and I do think it is a side of the client side marketer’s job that maybe the agency folks can underestimate. 

Ryan Benbo: Yeah, and I don’t know, I hesitate at least in our culture to call it politics. We’re not perfect by any means, but we have great partnerships, and I think it’s organizational alignment. I think it’s just the understanding that we can’t make decisions in a vacuum within marketing, because there are ramifications downstream for other players who have to catch up that without alignment, you don’t want to take two steps forward and then two steps back because you didn’t think through something with one of your internal partners. We obviously work very closely with our IT partners on digital strategy. If we’re not aligned there, that can be very difficult to unravel something on both sides. 

And a lot of folks are gonna have opinions on how to execute for a lot of good reasons based on either customer feedback, dealer feedback, internal feedback, or sometimes just gut instinct, and having a willingness to listen to those, and culturally we’ve actually defined that, that cross-functional partnership is one of the attributes that everybody has to be able to demonstrate. That’s not just marketing, but that’s across our organization. And so, we value that, but that takes some time. 

Carman Pirie: Ryan, this has been a fantastic conversation. I really thank you for sharing your work at Vermeer. I think this is really instructive for marketing leaders looking at their organization and trying to bring more rigor and shape to the organization that they’re growing. Just thank you for helping those folks today. It’s been a real pleasure to chat. 

Ryan Benbo: Yeah. Likewise. Thanks for having me on, guys. I appreciate it. 

Jeff White: Thank you. 

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 That’s

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Ryan Benbo

Senior Director of Marketing

Ryan Benbo is Senior Director of Marketing for Vermeer Corporation, an agricultural and industrial equipment manufacturer based in Pella, Iowa. In this role, he has the opportunity to combine his passion for branding and storytelling with his love of farm and construction equipment. He leads a global marketing and training team focused on equipping dealers with the expertise they need to support customers and helping the company share how its equipment makes a real impact on businesses, communities and families all around the world. Ryan joined Vermeer in 2015 after serving as a senior vice president in the Minneapolis office of Weber Shandwick, one of the world’s leading public relations and branding firms. In his more than 12 years, he led strategic brand, marketing and communication initiatives for a variety of global clients in the defense, outdoor powersports, construction equipment and health care industries. He began his career with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture serving in a variety of communications roles. He holds a BA in Communications, as well as a Master’s in Theological studies from the University of Northwestern St. Paul.

The Kula Ring is a podcast for manufacturing marketers who care about evolving their strategy to gain a competitive edge.

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Kula Partners is an agency that specializes in maximizing revenue potential for B2B manufacturers.

Our clients sell within complex, technical environments and we help them take a more targeted, account-focused approach to drive revenue growth within niche markets.


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