Millennials Leading Digital Transformation

Episode 18

January 28, 2019

Carman and Jeff welcome Zach Garrett, Director, CX Programs & Communities at Belden Inc., in this episode of The Kula Ring. Zach’s aggressive career path has lead him to a director role in transforming Belden’s digital experience just a few years after his graduation from university. They discuss the opportunities presented by manufacturing marketing, how to get a traditional sales team to play a critical role in digital transformation, the importance of human-to-human marketing, and why large manufacturing companies must embrace Millennials to thrive in today’s market.

Millennials Leading Digital Transformation 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. My name is Jeff White, and joining me today, as always, is Carman Pirie. Carman, how are you doing today?

Carman Pirie: I am doing fantastic. And you?

Jeff White: I’m doing great. Yeah.

Carman Pirie: I feel like our podcast endeavors of late have followed some interesting paths, but this one in particular we have coming up today is an interesting intersection for me because I was just listening to a Simon Sinek video that was being shared around the other day. I think it’s actually fairly old, where basically Simon’s pontificating about the problems with Millennials these days and he’s going on about how they, you know, the attention deficit that comes from the social media and mobile phone addiction, suggesting that these poor people never develop meaningful relationships with other human beings, on and on. It was a quite dramatic assessment of it, and that was just three days ago I was listening to that, and today, here we are chatting with a real live Millennial guest, which I can tell you is very exciting, and I’m looking forward to it.

So Jeff, please introduce.

Jeff White: Sure, but I mean we also have to note that as Gen Xers we had exactly the same things were said about us-

Carman Pirie: Which is why, if you can’t see my eye roll, you can-

Jeff White: You can probably hear it.

Carman Pirie: You can probably hear it, yeah.

Jeff White: Yeah. Well, joining us today is Zach Garrett. Zach is a Senior Marketing Manager in the partner program and digital experience side of things at Belden. Zach, welcome to The Kula Ring.

Zach Garrett: Thanks for having me. Glad to be here.

Carman Pirie: Wonderful to have you, Zach. Why don’t you give us a bit of background about Belden and your work there today?

Zach Garrett: Absolutely. Well, Belden’s a technology company. It started in the early 1900s selling traditional wiring cable, really is a copper cable manufacturer, but over the last 10 to 20 years the company has really expanded into a lot of different markets and has acquired more than 10 companies, and really offers full technology solutions now from everything from the broadcast space to industrial automation to enterprise applications such as healthcare and hospitality.

My role with the company, I actually interned with Belden five years ago and then came back on full time and spent about 18 months in a product marketing role, and then about two months in a digital manager role, and then also did some demand generation, leading a team doing that, and now I manage our partner network and also the digital experience.

Carman Pirie: Wow, that is an interesting trial by fire. It seems like Belden’s been keeping you busy.

Zach Garrett: Absolutely.

Carman Pirie: Alright. Well, look, let’s just jump right into it, then. We’re gonna be completely unfair and have you try to defend an entire generation over the course of the next 20 minutes.

You know, you graduated university I believe in 2014. It’s been an incredibly aggressive career path since then with Belden. I guess, first things first. As a new marketer coming into the workforce I know that you interned with Belden. Not every marketer sees themselves, or young person sees themselves working for a manufacturer. A lot of them maybe see the software-as-a-service side of things and whatnot maybe as being a bit sexier or more consumer products as being sexier. Talk to me about your choice of Belden.

Zach Garrett: Yeah, well, it’s interesting you say that. I actually, my previous internship before I went to Belden, I was at one of those sexy SAAS companies. I was with a company called Exact Target which was an Indianapolis-based email marketing provider. A year after I was there they sold to Salesforce, and now it’s called Salesforce Marketing Cloud. They sold for about two and a half billion to them, and it was everything that you would think a tech startup that’s grown would be. It was the place everybody wanted to work. It was cool. It had a great culture, but what I found with Belden that was an advantage was in a place like Exact Target there was hundreds of marketing people and it was a marketing company, and so when opportunities came up it was just harder to seize opportunities.

When I spent some time with Belden I realized that within the manufacturing space or just within a larger company there’s just a ton of opportunity to really take marketing to the next level and look more in the future, and so I took the gamble that if I came to Belden and spent time, I would have crazy opportunities that I wasn’t qualified for and that I’d be able to prove myself, and that’s worked out really well.

Carman Pirie: Fabulous. I think it’s Henry Mintzberg, the MBA prof out of McGill who was kind of like the anti-MBA guy, and he advocates that new graduates would be well-served to really focus in on an industry and get deep experience as managers in that particular industry rather than bouncing around, and I think he would be encouraged by hearing your last response.

What’s been the biggest … I appreciate that you have a little bit more room to stretch your legs and room to roam on the marketing side when you’re in a company like Belden versus, say, Exact Target. That’s quite a contrast. Beyond that, what have been your biggest surprises in the contrasting of those cultures and experiences?

Zach Garrett: Well, I think the resource and capital, obviously, at a manufacturing company is largely put into R&D and to Operations and the things that just have to be to make a manufacturing company work, and so the resource allocation to marketing versus other things of course is going to be much higher in a B2B SAAS environment, but I think there’s a lot of similarities. I think Belden has a unique culture of a … It has a play to win culture, a culture where people are being innovative. You know, you speak of Millennials; there are a ton of Millennials at Belden, a ton of Millennials taking leadership roles in the company and growing and having great influence in the company, and so I think that’s a credit to Belden and their leadership for recognizing that they’re gonna have to bring a younger generation in, and also providing the opportunities for A-players to step up and make a difference.

Carman Pirie: And in doing so, I know that in your work, just a few years back you had led Belden through a bit of a transformation of their digital platform when you re-launched the new site, among other things, and then really doubled down, it appears, on online demand gen, among other things. I guess, take me into that a bit. How was it, championing something like that at your age and experience and working to bring something like that to fruition within a bigger corporate environment like Belden?

Zach Garrett: Yeah, so, about two years ago at this time, actually, we started really … I had been in the digital manager role for about a year and we had really hit a lot of the metrics that we wanted to hit with the technology stacks that we had and we run a pretty outdated CMS and some other tools that we had. Just, we had kind of ran as far as we could with those tools, and to take things to the next level with we really needed to migrate to a modern cloud-based CMS that was one of the leaders.

And so I really took on an effort about two years ago to begin to push for that internally and to show people where we needed to go in order to achieve what we wanted to achieve. And, you know, I won’t say that the road wasn’t somewhat rocky at times as we tried to go through our different stakeholders and IT and other areas, getting funding from the business units, but really what we kept going back to was we kept looking at where we were right now and where we wanted to be and what the opportunity was to improve the customer experience.

And so we talked extensively about if we want customers’ experience working with Belden, we want it to be a delight. We don’t want it to be a burden. We feel like a lot of manufacturers, their experience, especially online, is a burden to work with and companies like Amazon and Google and Apple have changed the way that not only customers expect their B2C experiences to happen, but also their B2B experiences, and so we wanted to take an initial step in moving CMSs. And eventually, we were able to convince people by showing them a vision of where we could be and what the customer experience could be like and how that would help not only the bottom line but our customer loyalty, and we drove that home and were able to get the funding, and make that transition.

From the actual implementation side, it was definitely a growth experience for me leading a cross-functional, cross-global team who didn’t report to me at all. I had to basically get their buy-in by convincing them of the vision and getting them onboard to do what we needed to do, and so leading that was a great learning experience and something that I’m really proud of, I think a lot of people are really proud of here at Belden, but even more so than the project, I think that that project is one of the things that helps spur a larger effort at Belden going on right now to really transform the company digitally for all brands, and not just, as the corporate side or the enterprise and industrial business, but all the brands we own and to really be a technology leader in the future.

Carman Pirie: You know, and it is very cliché but there’s no question that you grew up in a time when a lot of these digital experience expectations are just absolutely baked into how you function, just as a person, and therefore I think some of the opportunities that are presented by a digital transformation initiative such as this are more obvious to you, potentially, because you just feel them more instinctively.

I guess, how has it been? Have you found that the organization more broadly, do you find that they need to be convinced that buyers have changed, that they need to be convinced that buyer behavior has shifted, or has that ship sailed? Does everybody just kind of get that and now we’re on to actually how do we change to capitalize on it? Where are we at with that?

Zach Garrett: Yeah, I think there may be some room to go, but I think in the last few years, at least from my perspective in the few years of my career, I think it’s shifted quite dramatically. People and companies are understanding that they have to be digital-first, and they have to create good experiences for customers. And I think a large reason of that shift is when you talk about Millennials as a whole a lot of people refer to Millennials as just anybody that’s younger, but Millennials are actually, by definition, anybody in their mid-30s now to their mid-20s, and everybody younger than that, like the students coming out of college, just starting their career, are actually part of Gen Z, is what it’s called.

They’re not Millennials at all, and so what you have in that age 35 to mid-20s you’re seeing a lot of people who are, by definition, Millennials, starting to take leadership roles in companies. Not only at manufacturers where they’re starting to have influence, but also at those manufacturer’s customers. And so those customers are expecting a better digital experience and we’re certainly seeing them on our side when we work with consultants and contractors as traditionally it might have been a Gen X or a different generation, but now a lot of the decision makers and people we want to influence are Millennials.

Carman Pirie: Man, I’m going to encourage you right now to get on the speaker circuit and start complaining about Gen Zers.

Jeff White: Gen Zers, yeah.

Carman Pirie: Or if you’re up in Canada it’s gonna be Gen “Zed”ers, but we’re gonna have to work on that. But nevertheless, I think, I mean, there are people making money about this literally for generations, complaining about the one that comes after it and how they don’t understand. So I think there’s some gold to be made here.

Jeff White: Yeah, we’ve got a speaking agent. We’ll turn you on to her; she’s great.

Carman Pirie: Well, there is this kind of … We’ve kind of talked about the understanding of today’s buyer and how that’s helped you lead a digital initiative. How do you find … I guess are there some traditional things that happen in the company or some traditional pieces of the marketing mix that still seem out of step to you or that seem out of date but still are obviously very important? I’m kind of thinking about trade shows when I say that, I guess.

Do you feel that we’re really there in terms of the digital transformation of the marketing enterprise, or are we kind of halfway there and kind of have our foot on both sides of it?

Zach Garrett: Yeah, I think one thing that’s never gonna change is that people wanna interact with people, and digital transformation and having great customer experiences, being able to automate things and have personalized content and all of that that comes from a digital perspective with marketing I think will continue to improve and get better. I think bots are really interesting right now.

But at the end of the day, I think people still need to interact with people, and so I think the other shift you’re seeing, you know, historically you had a lot of inbound marketing, people like HubSpot were kind of coining the term, and people’s whole marketing philosophies were inbound, and I think you’re seeing this cross-section now where people are still doing inbound but they’re also doing ABM or account-based marketing, and they’re targeting specific companies and specific brands with specific messages, so some of that might be digital. Some of it might be print content. Some of it might be going to events and actually talking to them, and I think you’re seeing that shift because people want to … because, one, there’s so much noise from inbound, but two we have to interact with people on a personal level.

And so, you know, our ABM strategy that we work with, I am responsible for a couple of our verticals, and we are producing content from an inbound strategy and digital content around hospitality, is an example of one of the verticals that we have, but we also have dedicated people on our team who are meeting with customers, who are going and spending time sitting on standards boards, who are attending events and trade shows, and they’re being the face of the company.

And I think, you know, there will be maybe a swing of the pendulum back to that to some extent as we get so digital as a universe. The people want to see more of that face to face, and so I don’t think it’ll ever be digital or ever face to face. I think you have to balance both of them and you have to do both really well in today’s world to win at marketing and win commercially.

Announcer: You’re listening to The Kula Ring, conversations on manufacturing marketing. Don’t forget to subscribe now at That’s K-U-L-A Partners dot com slash TheKulaRing.

Carman Pirie: It’s funny, I saw a tweet stream the other day from Rory Sutherland, the British adman. I guess, I don’t know if you follow him much at all but he’s I think the head of creative for Ogilvy these days, but nevertheless, Rory was kind of doing this great grumpy old man bit about, and I forget the brand, but he’s just like, “To hell with your tech stacks and changing this experience and your digital transformation initiative. Maybe just get me a customer service agent I can speak to on the phone.”

Jeff White: As a person who sat on hold last night for 25 minutes trying to get through to a credit card company and never actually did get through, it would have been nice to have a few extra people to talk to.

Carman Pirie: And the poking-the-bear response that he got was, “Rory, you know that doesn’t scale.”

I think his response was, “That’s the problem with the world these days. Everybody’s obsessed with scale. Nobody really wants scale but economists.”

Zach Garrett: I think that’s a good point, though, because when you talk about great customer experience, I think we talked a little bit about it being digitally, we want great customer experiences, but when you think about the best brands or companies that give great service, oftentimes it is those companies where you can get to a live human quickly and you can speak to someone if you need to. So, you know, I think the balance is gonna be for companies how do you make sure that you have enough support staff where you can make it accessible for people to do what they need to online, but also if they want to talk to people that we have those resources there.

Jeff White: And we’ve certainly heard this from a number of folks that we’ve both interviewed on the podcast and clients, and just kind of in general, you know, just this idea that you have to be able to service the customers that you have in a better way, in a more one to one way, and keep that experience in that, as HubSpot calls it, the “delight” going after the sale.

What strategies are you employing with Belden to kind of keep people happy well into their relationship with the company?

Zach Garrett: I think from a marketing perspective it’s always balancing how you nurture people post- that initial interaction or post- the sale, and we try to do that by providing relevant content that they may want at a high level, but also, you know for us, we work with … I run our partner program so we have a lot of people that we work with closely, and so we give them additional resources, help. The more that they work with us, the more we try to do for them to try to build that relationship, and of course getting in front of them with our sales team and making sure that we’re having that personal human to human relationship is also important.

So I think it’s hitting it from all ways to try to maintain and nurture that relationship and grow the business.

Carman Pirie: The sales organization at Belden, how has that changed, I guess, as the digital transformation effort has unfolded? There’s certainly, I mean, you don’t have to go back … you just have to look at the Wayback Machine in your browser and look at the Belden website to see where you come from, from a website and kind of the marketing face perspective.

So I understand, at least in some ways, how you’re transitioning on the marketing side for today’s buyer. How has that shifted on the sales front?

Zach Garrett: Yeah, I think it depends by business unit within Belden. Belden’s a large company with a lot of different markets, so there’s different kinds of customers and different sales needs, but from my business unit, I think we still have a fairly traditional sales model. I kind of look at all this stuff we do digitally and from marketing kind of with a military analogy. It’s kind of the Air Force, you know, we’re flying over and dropping the things we need to drop, supporting the guys on the ground who are in the fight every day, and I think that we still have people regionally that focus on regional accounts, growing business regionally, and a lot of relationship-based selling, and then we also have teams dedicated to more strategic accounts who are focus on end-users, helping solve their challenges, targeted by specific company.

So I think like a lot of companies we still have a traditional sales force. I think it will continue to be something that’s very important. I think digital is a way to help and a way that we need to continue, but you know, like I’ve said, I think that that personal touch in the traditional sales teams and function is going to stick around.

Jeff White: How integrated were the sales teams with you folks as you built the new website? Did you bring them in and get their participation and ask them questions about the kinds of things that they’re hearing from their customers, or were you kind of working a little bit more siloed than that?

Zach Garrett: Yeah, absolutely. We got their feedback. You know, one of the challenging things as a marketer is sometimes the feedback you get is just that something sucks, right? And that’s hard to quantify and then improve from that. So we have-

Carman Pirie: We never get that, Zach. We don’t know what you’re talking about.

Zach Garrett: Yeah, yeah, I’m sure. But I think for that team, and it’s a different function, all they can see is what you currently have, and so when you ask them, you know, “What do you think of our website?”

They say, “Oh, it sucks.”

“Well, how can we make it better?”

“Well, I don’t know.”

And so-

Carman Pirie: You can make it not suck. Yeah.

Zach Garrett: Make it not suck, exactly. And I’ve heard that many times, but I think the strategy that we took was we started brainstorming, sketching things out, putting some structure together, and showed that to them first and said, “Okay. Forget what we have right now: look at these templates, look at the plan, look at this idea of where we’re going and give us feedback based on that.”

And I think that was really helpful for us, and they were able to give us great feedback. Once we were able to put a visual in front of them and show them the direction we wanted to head, they know what the customer needs much better than I do, you know? They know what that customer’s gonna want, but I think when you talk about things like a website or digital, it may not be their sweet spot, so if you can kind of give them a visual of what you’re trying to do they can help give you input and that certainly helped us refine what we wanted to do.

It also, you know, during that time we were able to set expectations that, you know, I’m under no impression that currently does everything that we need it to do. I think we’re working towards it; we’re continually making further expansions into our catalog and our search functionality and how smart our content is, but you know, it’s a good time to level-set, too, and say, “Okay, here’s where we need to get in the end-state and here’s what we need to do now,” and getting their feedback through each stage of the process so that you can continually make it better.

Carman Pirie: Well, Zach, this has been a fantastic conversation. I wonder if we might conclude with a few … I think this may well be the last podcast we do where we ask folks to project what the next year might bring, but then I say that and who knows? I may change my mind.

But I’m curious where you’re seeing things going as the calendar prepares to flip over to another year here. What’s the big focus for Belden, 2019?

Zach Garrett: Yeah, I think from a commercial, from a marketing perspective, I think you’re gonna see three things, and I think we’ve touched on them. They’re not necessarily ground-breaking, but I think you’re gonna see more evidence within our company and within manufacturing and within marketing as a whole.

I think, number one, you’re gonna see companies putting more and more effort and energy into creating amazing customer experiences and taking their customer experience online, the support, all of it, the delivery, to the next level to try to win loyalty and win business, as customers expect that, now.

I think secondly, you’re gonna see a lot more account-based marketing where people, instead of just having a shotgun approach of making blogs or white papers or case studies for a whole industry or just in general on an application, they’re gonna be targeting towards something very specific, maybe a company or a niche, and spending more of their efforts doing that to try to gain a larger ROI.

And then I think third you’re gonna have a continued push for that human-to-human marketing. You know, in everything that we do, that we’re authentic, that we’re not just sending out mass things, that we’re personal, we’re authentic. We’re getting in front of people and they really feel like they’re not just working with brands or working with websites but they’re actually working with people behind the scenes.

And then I guess lastly, you asked me to defend Millennials, so I’ll throw in that I think you’re gonna see Millennials continue to take more and more leadership roles in companies, and I think the common misconception with Millennials is that in every generation you have your bad apples. I’m sure in Gen X there are bad apples; in Millennials there are bad apples; and Gen Z, there’s bad apples, but there’s a lot of great Millennials who are hungry to grow. They’re hungry to learn. I know people like me and people I know, they want to be part of something bigger than themselves and they want to do things outside the box. They want to make groundbreaking change for companies, and I think that’s something that companies should welcome with open arms, and I think you’re gonna see more and more of that from maybe traditional manufacturing companies who have influence from Millennials, that they’ll continue to push the envelope and do new things to try to attract customers and take their business to the next level.

Carman Pirie: Well, Zach, perhaps we can make 2019 the year where we stop talking about Millennials like they’re a zoo exhibit or something to be watched and wonder how they behave. I’ve got to say, I’ve just never found it to be my experience. I was actually poked the other day that my professional continued existence depends on me being Peter Pan, basically, the boy that never gets old, so therefore I was told in some way my view on this is a bit skewed, but I guess the bottom line is I just have not found … you know, I surround myself with people who would fall into the group of Millennials every day-

Jeff White: And we continue to be impressed by their output.

Carman Pirie: Yeah. I find that, you know, I guess this notion that this blinded by technology, failure to create deep relationships, et cetera, is just not the experience that I’ve seen, and in some ways I think frankly, if I was being critical of my own generation, I think Millennials have figured a few things out that we didn’t. I actually think that people of my vintage are a lot more likely to be obsessed by technology and maybe just kind of absorbed by it, whereas I think Millennials are more likely to know and put Facebook in its place among other technologies.

So all of that to say I don’t share the same dim view that many others do, and I didn’t assume that you would either. But hopefully we can just stop talking about it in 2019.

Zach, it’s been an absolute pleasure.

Zach Garrett: Yeah, thanks for having me. I appreciate it. It’s been fun talking to you guys.

Carman Pirie: We shall catch up at some point next year with any luck, and hopefully we can reminisce about that time way back when, when people used to talk about Millennials.

Zach Garrett: Sounds good. Looking forward to  it. Thank you guys.

Carman Pirie: Alright. And I hope you have a great time, continue to move the yardsticks forward at Belden and best of luck with that.

Zach Garrett: Will do. Thanks, guys.

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 K-U-L-A Partners dot com slash TheKulaRing.

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Zach Garrett

Director, CX Programs & Communities at Belden Inc.

Zach is a Director, CX Programs & Communities, responsible for developing best in class digital experiences and program synergies across the portfolio of Belden brands. Zach was the project lead on the new launch in 2017 and continues to be a leader in Belden’s digital strategy. He joined the company in June of 2014 after graduating from Purdue University and works in the Indianapolis office. Outside of work he enjoys spending time with his wife Kate, his young son Micah, and German Shepherd Gibson.

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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