Manufacturing a Virtual Factory Tour

Episode 80

April 21, 2020

Many manufacturers have not stopped working during the pandemic and they have continued to buy and sell from other manufacturers. So how does the sales team close a B2B sale without having the factory tour as a successful “club in the bag” when prospects are social distancing? Jeff and Carman discuss ways to harness technology and knowledgeable staff to make a virtual factory tour a personalized, meaningful experience for each prospect.

Manufacturing a Virtual Factory Tour 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 you doing, sir?

Carman Pirie: I’m delightful, and you?

Jeff White: I think it’s up to others to really decide if that’s true or not, but I think you’re delightful. 

Carman Pirie: Man, I don’t know. If you’re me and you’re waiting for somebody else to find you delightful, you’re gonna be waiting a long time, I’ve found. You’re gonna take your own counsel there. 

Jeff White: Yeah, you’re leading the witness, though. You know? 

Carman Pirie: But no, I’m doing well, and I’m excited for today’s conversation. I think, so guys, what we’re gonna try to do today is, so it’s just Jeff and I chatting again. We’re not going to interview any other guests. I hope people have been enjoying these episodes over the last few weeks. But today, we’re kind of just exercising a bit of a thought experiment around basically looking at the next time horizon, when we may be limited or restricted in the amount of personal interactions we can have, or what that looks like until there’s a vaccine for COVID. And imagining, and maybe this is strange to people, I don’t know, but what does that mean in the world of factory tours? 

Because for so many manufacturing organizations, they’ll tell us, like, “Man, the factory tour is the secret salesperson. Once we get somebody in the factory tour, we’re gonna be able to move them to closed-won.” And that seems like a pretty big club that’s now no longer in the bag, so what can we do? That’s the subject of today’s kind of thought experiment, if you will. 

Jeff White: And I think it’s a really interesting topic. I mean, even just kind of thinking about the importance and prevalence of the factory tour, because you know, you know as well as I do that a lot of manufacturers primarily sell to other manufacturers, especially in the B2B space, and as such, the capabilities of a factory, the capabilities of the people within that factory, they really are relied upon to help kind of bring those deals across the line, aren’t they? 

Carman Pirie: Absolutely, and it’s interesting to consider, of course, even now. If you go to most manufacturer websites, what’s the first thing that you’ll see is they’ll be talking about how it’s business as normal in the time of COVID-19 if they’re exempt, and I think whether you’re in the US or in Canada, or elsewhere, manufacturing is going to be depended upon to really power the economic recovery as we come out of this. And they’re being counted upon now to keep on keeping on. And so, that means if manufacturing’s expected to keep going, manufacturers need to buy things in order to keep going, and they typically are buying it from other manufacturers, so that buying behavior is going to have to continue. Buying and selling is going to have to continue, but it’s going to continue outside of some of these normal conventions, like a factory tour, that we’ve just gotten so used to. 

Jeff White: Yeah, and I mean, you also have to think of the real importance and the… What does somebody get out of a factory tour when they are the buyer? They’re probably, they’re most likely traveling, either via plane or otherwise, to visit the supplier. They are meeting with numerous people within that organization, most likely. Not just the salesperson, although they may be kind of leading the charge through that tour. And they’re getting to experience the technical prowess and capabilities and overall facility that is on display there, so there’s a number of different elements of a factory tour that help to be, help to make it that silent salesperson that it really is. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah, I think that’s a great point, because of course as people talk about replacing it or what to do in lieu of, often they talk about having a video of the factory or what have you. And while that can be a lovely asset to have, and I’m not suggesting that may not be part of the solution even, it isn’t just the factory, and in fact my guess is that what you said, the people have more of an impact on it all than the actual factory. 

Jeff White: Yeah, we’d be underestimating the value of the tour by discounting the importance of the people within the factory. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. Well, and of course the client or the prospect would know, like if they’re coming to a factory tour, they’re going to then at least assume you have one, and even-

Jeff White: A tour or a factory? 

Carman Pirie: The factory. You know, if they’re at the point where they’re considering it, it’s not like it’s a question of kind. It’s a question of degree. And they probably have seen other factories. As we just mentioned, they may well be a manufacturer themselves. It’s not that they can’t be impressed by the physical space. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to poopoo that in any way, but I guess it feels to me like you’re on to something when you say maybe there’s some wisdom in overemphasizing the people part of that factory tour as we try to imagine trying to bring it to life in this time. 

Jeff White: For sure. And I’d like to come back to that, but I think first let’s talk a little bit about what options are available to manufacturers to actually get a tour of a physical plant? What is it that they can do? And I think there’s… We are lucky to be alive in a time where cameras are ubiquitous, and small, and can be placed in numerous different locations, so you can get some really interesting views of a particular factory. These things could be done live, or they could be pre-recorded and saved for later, in terms of how you actually capture the facility itself. There’s just tons and tons of options there, and I mean depending on what the factory looks like, you may also be able to use drones and other technology like that. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah, and I know that there’s people who have even used software that became popular more for real estate tours to help power factory tours. Certainly a possibility folks could consider. Even in a physically distanced reality, a very small, even one-person camera crew that truly knows what they’re doing, I think could have a lot of success. Like you say, the technology is more enabling than ever in that respect. 

Jeff White: Yeah, and I think one of the things… I remember when I first got started in the web, one of the first types of things I ever did was tours of pulp and paper mills to teach kids about the forest industry in New Brunswick, and I remember some of the most interesting things that we did for those tours was to put cameras in places where cameras hadn’t normally gone before, like the inside of a giant saw blade and other things like that. 

Carman Pirie: Right. 

Jeff White: And you know, so I think that there are opportunities to showcase the technology that you have available, simply by perhaps not just thinking about it from the 5,000-foot view of the facility, but to actually kind of dive deep into machines, as safely as possible, of course, to showcase the technology that you may have and all of that. But I think that the really interesting component of this is when you’re going to bring this life in a way that is applicable to that specific prospect. I think that there’s… You can probably do the static elements of the tour relatively easily and have those assets available as part of that, but bringing it to life more personally and more specifically to the interests of the prospect are going to be the things that make this a replacement for the in-person factory tour. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah, I can kind of paint a pretty nice picture of this coming together. I mean, I can imagine those kinds of overarching assets that present the physical facility, and then kind of interspersing it with various kind of… Whether it’s by a video conference or what have you, bringing that talent that they would have been meeting at the factory tour, and bringing them to life on screen. And I think to the extent that we do that in real time, probably has a fairly big impact, as well. As opposed to just canning the whole thing and having it all pre-recorded. It would feel to me to the extent that you can make those components of the factory tour quite interactive, you could still do that in this environment I think quite successfully. 

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Jeff White: Yeah, and the other component of that as well is whether or not you can bring those things to life through that technology. I’m thinking, are there potential uses for augmented reality or virtual reality as part of this? That’s probably another level to a factory tour, but I don’t think that, especially given the importance of this and how the budgets are going to be shifting away from more traditional marketing spends, like on trade shows and things like that, it may be time to begin to think about investing some serious horsepower into the assets that you’re going to require for this. 

And you know, interspersing those with personalized messages from different operators, engineers within the overall entity, a message from the CEO or a conversation with the CEO as part of that. Make this… It really needs to be turned into an event, something that is worthy of a replacement of having gotten on a plane and gone and had a steak dinner, you know? With the person who’s trying to sell you. 

Carman Pirie: Oh, man. Now you got me thinking about going to Bavette’s or something in Chicago and eating a proper steak. 

Jeff White: Which will happen again at some point, I have to hope. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. Exactly. But it is interesting to consider that this asset would live well beyond any kind of 12 to 18-month horizon where we may be dealing with the COVID situation in a more intense way. I think as buyer behavior, this is going to shift buyer behavior in a more significant way than we understand or realize. Just because people will be able to get back on planes doesn’t mean that they’re gonna be necessarily as keen to do it as often, and I think we all will have learned new ways to do things remotely, and I think if you’re a manufacturing marketer and you’re investing in winning in those new ways, that’s a really seriously good place to be putting your dollars right now. 

Jeff White: Yeah, I couldn’t agree with you more on that. I mean, there’s no question that you’re going to need to be budgeting for this, and I think too, this is the kind of thing, this is a muscle that you’ve probably not flexed before. You might have captured some of this for some photos on the website. We know the manufacturers that we work with love to showcase their facilities, and often do so through photography to show the scale and breadth and depth of their factories. 

But you know, I think this is going to need to be a more living, breathing thing that you call upon as part of that sales process, and it’s almost like a choreographed dance that you’ll continue to improve upon as time goes on, and as you learn what works, and how you can leverage the physical assets that you have against that, and as well as the people that you have to introduce and present to your prospects. 

Carman Pirie: I think that’s a great point. It’s one thing to ask somebody on the factory floor or what have you to say hi to a prospect as you’re breezing through. It’s quite another for that person to be even saying hi and having a conversation in front of a camera with a microphone. They’re just not used to it, largely. 

Jeff White: No, and I mean we know from the factories that we’ve toured before that if there’s a camera present, generally people are running to hide behind the machine, so we’re going to have to teach people that this is kind of becoming a part of their… They’re not gonna need to do this all day every day. Obviously, they need to be running that machine or what have you, but there will be an element of performance, I guess, associated with this, and finding the right people to be able to properly represent the company as they move into these digital tours and potentially live Q&A sessions with an engineer on the floor, there’s just lots and lots of opportunities for how you might decide to create this and think of each factory tour as an individualized experience. 

Carman Pirie: I was gonna ask you if you thought that maybe the… I guess do we think that if something’s being delivered in real time that’s fairly bespoke to the prospect, that there’s at least a bit of latitude then granted in terms of production quality? I.E. might it be something that the folks on the factory floor may not need to worry about quite as much about how theatrical they are in their performance or what have you? Like they should maybe take a little bit of comfort in the fact that people will just be happy to be experiencing at all, and that there’s a level of an authentic nature to it if it isn’t overly polished? I mean, we used to I guess think of social media video creation in that way. I’m not sure that people do any longer, but would you say that’s the case in this instance?

Jeff White: I think it probably is. I think there’d be an allowance for organizations to get up to speed with this kind of thing. It’s probably going to become more common. I mean, as we’ve stated already, we’re in this for a while yet, at least the next 18 months, and organizations will start to get better at it, but I think it’ll be okay if it’s a bit rough, if it’s a bit shaky, as long as there is value to the information being provided and you’re really kind of stepping back and thinking about what kinds of information are you looking to get across.

This is probably a fairly different skill set than what most salespeople are used to doing as they walk a prospect through the factory. It’s more akin to presenting a play than it is to just kind of walking around and looking at machines and saying hello to the people that are operating them. It really is going to require that people step back and maybe not deliver it quite as off the cuff as they might have, although I’m sure that there’s slightly different things that are being done when people are coming into the factory. It’s probably cleaner than normal. It’s probably all of those things. But in this case, you really are sort of looking at it from the perspective of what is that experience that you want someone to get on the other end of the computer or phone as they’re being walked through that tour. 

Carman Pirie: I think the technology to power this could be quite varied, so I’m gonna I guess hesitate to give any kind of concrete recommendations, but I guess one of the things that comes to mind, Jeff, in this kind of thing, the video is often a little easier than the audio to coordinate, isn’t it? In order to get decent quality. 

Jeff White: Yeah. I mean, our phones are more than capable of producing better than 1080P video, and they still absolutely are abhorrent at capturing decent quality audio. There’s no question that the single biggest differentiator in terms of any kind of content production like this is the quality of the audio, so making considerations for microphones, and how you record that kind of content, where you record that kind of content, maybe the operator needs to go to a more quiet space to do a Q&A, rather than standing in front of a machine that normally requires hearing protection. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. I’m just trying to think it through a bit. I guess my… I would say the advice would be first things first, as we talked about, kind of over index on focusing on the people side of that tour, and the impact that connecting with your people has to the prospect, and don’t kind of undervalue that, or understate that in any way. And then as you try to bring those people to life and bring them in front of your prospect, maybe think about if you’re going to overinvest on one side of that production, overinvest on the audio side, not the video side. And I guess Jeff, part of what we’re saying too is make a good chunk of this in real time, and then leverage pre-recorded assets as you can. 

Jeff White: I think that that makes a ton of sense. I wouldn’t have anything to add to that. 

Carman Pirie: It’s not bad. We’ve been kicking this around for 20 minutes, and I think it gives people at least an interesting little playbook to start with, and to begin some thought experiments of their own as to how they can bring their factory tour to life online in a meaningful way, so it’s been great chatting. 

Jeff White: Yeah. I’ve enjoyed it as well. Have a good day. 

Carman Pirie: You as well. 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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Jeff White



Carman Pirie


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

Listen to conversations with North America’s top manufacturing marketing executives and get actionable advice for success in a rapidly transforming industry.

About Kula

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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