The Kula Ring

Episode 3 Modern Marketing for Traditional and Technical Organizations

Carman and Jeff talk to Jeff Smeltzer, Marketing and Communications Lead at MetOcean Telematics, in this episode of The Kula Ring. They discuss how to get buy-in for digital initiatives at traditional organizations, the role of trade shows in the marketing mix, and how to approach content creation in a way that’s driven by technical resources yet curated by marketing.

Modern Marketing for Traditional and Technical Organizations Transcript:

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 I’m joined today by Carman Pirie. Carman, I’m really excited about our next guest, somebody we’ve known for a long time. And yeah, why don’t you tell us a bit about him?

Carman Pirie: Yeah, this is the first episode we’ve recorded in the same room, so it ought to be entertaining. And always good to chat with a marketer who we’ve known for a while and have worked with in the past and certainly excited to be chatting with today. We have Jeff Smeltzer  joining us from MetOcean Telematics.

Jeff, good to be chatting. Why don’t you introduce listeners to MetOcean a little bit and tell us a bit about yourself and how you got there?

Jeff Smeltzer: Yeah, well, it’s good to be here as well. I’ll start with MetOcean Telematics. We’re a manufacturing company based in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. I always get asked kind of the elevator pitch on this one, and it gets a little complicated. But we have essentially three business units. We have ocean sciences. So we develop buoys and flashers and different tracking devices for ocean assets. We also have a telematics line of business, which focuses on Iridium satellite communications products. We’re a licensed reseller, and we sell the products. We also develop and facilitate integration and data analytics. And we have our third business unit, which is defense and security where we do a number of different things from search and rescue. Our search and rescue products have been used on a number of natural disasters across the world. And we do have tracking technology that’s used by law enforcement agencies and government agencies across the world.

In addition to a product that kind of takes our ocean sciences products and our Iridium tracking technology together, and it’s our mass system, which is mobile acoustic scoring system, which is used for remote gun fire testing by navies across the world.

Carman: Very cool. I think that’s one of the really interesting things about MetOcean. And something that I think folks will be really interested to kind of dig into a bit is the defense and security specialty. Lends itself to a very nuanced approach to account based marketing.

How did you end up as the marketing and communications lead for MetOcean? What was the path up until now? Folks listening in should know that Jeff’s a reasonably young guy. He’s in his thirties, but very experienced in this space. So I find it fascinating that you’ve had this… I think a very rapid rise in your marketing career, and I’m curious how you got there.

Jeff Smeltzer: Well, I mean, like an journey, it wasn’t a straight one. So I’ve been doing marketing probably a little over 10 years. And I started actually in the nonprofit world. I was living in Ottawa and I worked for a company… Well, an organization called The Ottawa Folk Festival. I promoted concerts, wrote logistics, pretty basic stuff. This was even really before online marketing was much of a thing.

I moved back to Halifax after a couple years away and started working for a company called Eastlink, which is… For anyone here, it’s a communications company mainly based in the east coast of Canada, but with systems across Canada all the way to Vancouver. I started in sales, actually, when I came over. And I moved into as a marketing coordinator, and kind of quickly started to push Eastlink into the online world a bit. Which is a very traditional company. A lot of apprehension to putting too much out there or even really communicating with customers online. But I pushed to kind of change that. I was there for probably just roughly under seven years. I kind of moved around to the competition, did a little work on the agency side, and kind of landed at my current role by chance. Person I went to school with for years is director of sales over there, knew my background, knew what I could bring, and invited me to come on over.

Carman: So the sales connect… I mean, having started in a sales role previously and then you’re connecting to the new role of being, essentially initially, a sales versus a marketing one. I find that interesting. And the fact that both previous telecom role and the current role have a similar challenge in that you’re marketing a fairly technical product that is made, or a service that’s provided depending on the case, by people who are deeply technical and maybe don’t have a huge appetite for this business of marketing.

Well, how has that experience been trying to get buying in for progressive, digital marketing initiatives amongst a more traditional manufacturing and even telecom organization?

Jeff Smeltzer: I mean, it’s always been a big challenge, but it’s kind of been one that I’ve enjoyed. I usually take a step of doing the research so I can answer the questions, you know? Sometimes we like to rush into things and just take chances, but I always try to take a step back so I can answer the questions with the data that I need to speak to those kinds of minds.

I think in my telco experience, it was more of a traditional, corporate culture where even though it was a smallish company, things took a long time to happen. And I think coming in with… I hate the word best practices, but with an idea of what people view to be best practices kind of helped with any of the buy in that I needed. Once you convince someone to take one chance and it turns out well, the next one’s a little less challenging.

My current role, it’s a little more… It’s technical folks that I work with. More so lot of engineers, and I try to go in with the numbers to back up the decisions that I’m making. And once we have a success, I communicate it and try to celebrate it internally with the numbers to back up how well we are doing.

Jeff White: Do you think that that side of backing things up with the numbers and maybe the fact that your previous sales experience, do you think that helps you in a marketing role to be able to kind of show an understanding of exactly how things come to fruition and become revenue?

Carman: Or even having an eye for numbers?

Jeff White: Yeah.

Jeff Smeltzer: Well, you know… I can do enough with numbers to be dangerous, but it’s not really my forte. But I think having some sales background has helped that journey. It’s also helped me kind of look at creating goals and numbers for my marketing teams that are based on our sales team’s goals. I’ve always been a proponent of really working closely together. In some organizations, even that I have worked with, sales has their goals, marketing has theirs. They’re run in funnels and they never really talk together. Once you kind of bring them together, that’s when you start to see some, you know, the magic happen.

Carman: I find your comments earlier about kind of early wins, I think there’s some wisdom in there I’d like to kind of pull out a little bit more. Because I guess I’ve found that we’ve worked with an awful lot of marketers over the years that are reasonably new to their roles. And I would say that one of the commonalities among those who seem to really succeed is that they seem to have an ability to identify the opportunities for early wins and they similarly aren’t afraid of communicating those early wins internally. And they seem to just have a natural way of doing that. And you almost said both of those things without saying either of them in your description.

Jeff White: I know that MetOcean does a fair amount of trade show work and kind of getting out there and meeting people. How do you really see that side of the physical world meeting the digital world? And how do you kind of bring those things together? And what’s MetOcean’s kind of trade show strategy and how are you working with it?

Jeff Smeltzer: Well, you know, that’s great that you brought that up because that’s something that kind of identified that we have to do better. Because we do between 25 and 30 trade shows a year. They’re based across the world. The majority would be in Europe and Asia, compared to maybe two or three in Canada and maybe five or six in the United States. So we’re really traveling a lot. It’s mainly our sales team that takes part in those. And we really need to kind of do a better job at bringing those leads into our… I’m trying to think of the word. But we really need to do a better job of taking advantage of those leads. They kind of get lost in the sales flow, I think.

Jeff White: Bring them into some sort of process.

Jeff Smeltzer: Exactly.

Jeff White: Yeah. You can capitalize on them.

Carman: I find that I’ve heard this from a number of manufacturing marketers that they have a lot of budget tied up in trade show. Inevitability, some very bottom of funnel leads do spill out of the trade show work that the sales organization will take ahold of because they’re very sales ready leads. But then there’s another bucket of leads that are likely, or could be being captured in those events, but they’re either A not being captured or B, if they are being captured, they’re not being nurtured appropriately because, frankly, they’re not sales ready at that stage. Is that what you’re encountering?

Jeff Smeltzer: Yeah, I think a lot of leads are being left behind. Maybe they get back to six months later, but I think there’s a lot that we could be doing to kind of provide them with more information and help sales with their job of backing it up with information that would be relevant and help move them further along the sales funnel. So, you know, hopefully that’s something that I’ll be able to work with you guys on over the coming time.

Jeff White: Well we can craft the no lead left behind strategy.

Carman: We’re talking about a trade show, fundamentally, every two weeks if you talk about 25 to 30.

Jeff Smeltzer: Yeah.

Carman: So it’s a huge, expensive, not just outlay of cash, but also of time and attention of team members. Do we see it going away? I mean, are trade shows… In your space, are you seeing more demand for them or less for them from the sales organization?

Jeff Smeltzer: Definitely not going away. We get a great deal of leads from trade shows, especially with our military products and our defense and security. Sometimes that’s the only way for us to really build qualified leads in those areas. A lot of our defense and security and tracking conferences are invite only, and that’s the only way you’re gonna be able to meet those leads, especially when you’re dealing with law enforcement agencies and higher ups in navies across the world. So for defense and security, no, I think trade shows are gonna be important for quite some time. Science community as well. I don’t see them going anywhere. Telematics I think is… Our telematics areas I think where we can see the most growth online, and we’re beginning to nurture that right now.

You’re listening to the Kula Ring, conversations on manufacturing marketing. Don’t forget to subscribe now at kulapartners.com/thekularing. That’s K-U-L-A partners.com/thekularing.

Carman: Jeff, tell me a bit about kind of where you see, beyond the trade shows and that sort of thing, where do you think the future of digital marketing lies?

Jeff Smeltzer: I’m a big fan of inbound marketing, something we need to do a lot more. And a lot of that and a lot of manufacturers, a lot of companies, find it challenging because of internal resources just to create the content that you need. But I find providing information that’s going to educate and inform and then sell later on is extremely important part of the marketing mix. If I can educate someone and show them how my products may be able to help them or how the types of products that we sell will be able to help them, they’re gonna come back in the end. So I think that’s something that is gonna continue growing.

Carman: What you hear a lot of from the folks at CEB/Gartner these days, which I think is very instructive for inbound marketers, is this notion of challenger content. And I think manufacturers have a unique opportunity there because they often have a level of, I guess, information advantage over those they’re selling to. Often, what they’re manufacturing is proprietary or what have you, they know more about it than those who are buying from them. As opposed to, say, a car salesman who simply has the same information about the car as the person about to buy it.

So CEB and Gartner, with their focus on challenger content, they’re really encouraging people to create content to fuel their inbound programs and they don’t even state it that way. They don’t focus on inbound necessarily. But as part of this sales conversation, content that fundamentally tells a prospect that there’s something about their business that they do not understand. There’s something about their world that isn’t obvious or hasn’t been obvious to them so far. And here’s a new way of looking at the world as an example. That’s kind of the definition of challenger content in a way, and I’m probably bastardizing that in some way for any CEB/Gartner folks that will ever listen to this.

I’m curious, as you’ve looked at inbound content and the role of inbound marketing from MetOcean in the next three to five years, I guess, how big of a hill is that do you feel to get to the level where you’re creating the type of content that can really advance those sales conversations? And really, do you feel like the… How easy is it going to be to get a manufacturing organization into the world publishing?

Jeff Smeltzer: You know, I really don’t think it’s gonna be that difficult as long as we can have some wins and show the successes that come along from it. Every time that I publish something on social media or even a blog post on my website, I can track the amount of leads for the day that it’s published and the two days afterwards and you can see a spike on that on your analytics. I mean, the more you publish useful, relevant information, the more that’s gonna bring traffic to your site, and I would argue, more qualified leads. As long as we can find the time and the resources to facilitate creating that content, it’s really a no brainer from my perspective.

Carman: There seems to be a bit of… I would say a bit of a divide in the marketing community. On the one side, it’s folks who believe that content is far too important to leave to anyone other than those in marketing and communications roles. It’s up to them to, I guess, harvest the knowledge from the more technical members of the team and translate that into something more consumable.

And then there are marketers on the other side of it that feel that it’s their duty in some way and that that success lies in creating capacity in the organization for it to create its own content. So to have those engineers and technical resources creating their own content as an example. Do you have any thoughts on that? It sounds as though the method that you’re going down is to have marketing more having the pen on those resources and pulling from the technical expertise as needed.

Jeff Smeltzer: I think I’d kind of be in the middle of that. I think marketing’s role is to curate the content. Some of our clients are very technically minded, and an engineer could write a brilliant piece that would benefit them. I think marketing’s goal is to take that brilliant piece of content and make it accessible for anyone who might come across it. So I kind of think of marketing as a curator of content for the organization.

Jeff White: Certainly. I mean, marketing’s going to be a bit more skilled at kind of crafting the language around that, but you can’t take any shortcuts when it comes to describing technical products either. You have to have that knowledge to kind of pull into it and ensure you’re providing the data and details that people are looking for.

Jeff Smeltzer: Agree 100 percent. For any of our marketing material, our product sales material that goes out, and even on the content on our website, we have a technical resource that we depend on heavily to provide us with the right information.

Carman: I know that, Jeff, that MetOcean’s been involved in quite a bit of MNA activity over the last while. You know, it’s a small manufacturer, but growing rapidly, and that puts you in an interesting position as the marketing lead there. And that you’re undoubtedly, as the organization continues to grow, you’re likely to be growing your marketing complement with it and seeking to attract marketing talent to MetOcean. I wonder if you’ve given any thought to that in terms of… What do you believe some of those key marketing roles of the future might be as the organization scales? Where do you think the challenges might lie in that recruitment path? I’m curious. Many manufacturers are challenged to recruit large departments of digital marketing talent, et cetera. So have you given that a thought about crossing that bridge?

Jeff Smeltzer: Well, about six months ago I was involved in hiring a marketing coordinator for our team. And we kind of… We took the approach, kind of a jack of all trades. Strong design background, yet moderate writing capabilities. That’s turned out quite good so far. But I mean, as we continue to grow, we’re either going to need to up our reliance on our agency partners or start to expand the team. I would kind of envision my ideal group of marketers as someone focused on our social media management, someone focused on our online content creation, and a graphic designer to add to the team. With that mix, I think we’d be in a very strong position. But until we do that, we’re gonna continue working with our agency partners to kind of supplement the work that we need to come out.

Jeff White: Well Jeff, really like to thank you for being on the Kula Ring today. I enjoyed chatting with you and hearing about the challenges and opportunities and everything that you’ve been doing from a marketing perspective at MetOcean, and thanks again for joining us.

Jeff Smeltzer: Always a pleasure. Thank you guys.

Thanks for listening to the Kula Ring with Carman Pirie and Jeff White. Don’t miss a single manufacturing marketing insight. Subscribe now at kulapartners.com/thekularing. That’s K-U-L-A partners.com/thekularing.

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