Optimizing Marketing Initiatives to Get Closer to the Customer

Episode 129

April 6, 2021

How can manufacturers use customer trends to inform their marketing decisions during critical changes in the marketplace? In this episode of The Kula Ring, Mike Kazmierczak, Vice President of Marketing, Digital Energy & Buildings End Market at Schneider Electric, shares how he’s using data and voice of the customer to optimize new marketing initiatives. Additionally, he discusses how Schneider Electric is changing roles across the company to cater to customer types and personas and how this structure impacts the marketing content they produce.

Optimizing Marketing Initiatives to Get Closer to the Customer 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 am doing lovely as always, sir. Thank you for asking. 

Jeff White: Yeah. It’s a nice day here in Halifax. Cold, but-

Carman Pirie: You know, it’s always nice in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Ladies and gentlemen, I encourage you to vacation here at your earliest convenience. 

Jeff White: Yes, which may not be for a while yet. 

Carman Pirie: No, no. 

Jeff White: Yeah. No, you can stay away until the end of the year. But I am really interested in where we’re going with our guest today. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. As am I. It’s a really funny thing, and I think we’ve talked about this in a variety of ways in the past, not necessarily on the show, but this notion of it’s kind of hard to read the label from inside the can, so to speak. When you’re inside an organization, it’s hard to in some way view it like a customer views it, or even construct marketing or think about your go-to-market strategy in a way that a customer might perceive it. 

Jeff White: Especially when you’re in a larger organization that just has a lot of distribution, spread out around the globe, and really there’s a lot of layers there to go through to truly get to understanding who the customer is. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah, so I’m hopeful that today’s guest is going to help us understand how to get closer to the customer and build a more customer-centric, if you will, marketing function. 

Jeff White: Yeah. Absolutely. 

Carman Pirie: Excited for today’s show. 

Jeff White: Me too. Joining us today is Mike Kazmierczak from Schneider Electric, and Mike is the VP of Marketing, Digital Energy & Market. Welcome to The Kula Ring, Mike. 

Mike Kazmierczak: Perfect. Yeah, I want to thank you both for having me. It’s a pleasure to join you both today. 

Carman Pirie: Excellent. Well, actually, look, it’s a pleasure to have you on the show. I’ve gotta say, the folks at Schneider, that was a heck of a title there. That was a mouthful. 

Jeff White: Yeah. It’s very specific. 

Carman Pirie: Maybe the larger the organization, the more specific the titles get. 

Mike Kazmierczak: Yeah. One of the things is just to make sure that obviously as we’re interacting with our customers, they know exactly what we’re doing. With the title itself, Digital Energy, it’s about our division itself, but I think what gets close to the customer is what we’re doing, and that’s the end market itself, so I kind of tacked on that Buildings and Market there, so that way when I engage with customers or I’m talking to partners, they know exactly where and what I’m doing in the organization itself. 

Jeff White: And you’ve really come up through Schneider over the last number of years, eh? You’ve been there a while, and held a number of titles, and seen a lot of different divisions. 

Mike Kazmierczak: Yeah, absolutely. Today I’m responsible for the buildings and market, but I recently came from the industrial automation side. In the industrial automation side, it was really managing and leading the marketing strategy for our offers, our segments, and our channel, and this was the greatest experience because industrial automation is booming right now. Manufacturing is taking off, especially with what’s happening today with COVID and looking at how things are kind of changing in the landscape. Our market is changing, our customers are changing, and so this is always a way for us to reflect on how we look at ourselves internally and look at the marketing that we’re doing, as well.

I think that’s a really unique experience, especially with what’s happening in the world and how we adjust. And also, I have some background in sales and finance, and so that’s unusual for probably a marketer to spend a lot of time in Excel, but I spent two-and-a-half years in Excel, and a lot of that was to look at the marketing transformation that we were trying to drive, as well. I think some of that background, obviously you don’t necessarily need to be a marketer your entire career, but you can always take some of those elements and apply it to how you look at marketing from a customer perspective. 

Carman Pirie: Look, I’m gonna find that personally quite interesting, only because I come at the world of marketing from a finance and a natural resource economics background. 

Mike Kazmierczak: Wow. 

Jeff White: Politics. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah, but the politics was a bit of a diversion along the way, but I was actually trained in finance and economics, and so I find that that skillset is actually incredibly useful in marketing, so it’s just great to hear that somebody else has had a somewhat similar path. 

Mike Kazmierczak: Absolutely. I think that again, that roundness, sometimes it brings value when you’re looking at just the different dynamics of how we can do marketing. And having the finance background, I can tell you that that data-driven mindset helps us also kind of get the right customer insights and think about how to build a relationship, because we know that data is so important to what we’re doing every day to get closer to understanding more about them. 

Carman Pirie: It’s like the saying, it always gets shortened, that jack of all trades, master of none. But I believe the full saying is jack of all trades, master of none, is oftentimes better than a master of one. 

Jeff White: I have never heard that. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah, so a jack of all trades is actually a better thing, but it gets abbreviated and-

Jeff White: And the impact is lost. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. So, there you go. All right. Well, we could just end the show now, but instead of doing that-

Jeff White: We’re gonna dive back in. 

Carman Pirie: I’d like to understand the work that’s been underway in getting closer to the customer and this transformation that you’re helping guide. Can you take us a little bit more into that and help us understand what’s at play and what kind of innovations Schneider’s introduced in terms of getting closer to customers and understanding them better? 

Mike Kazmierczak: Yeah, absolutely. And I think this is a great topic because I think it comes down to customer design marketing and what we can do to get closer to the customer. And a lot of times when you look at how we drive transformations in any company, they start with an internal objective. And one of the unique things that we can start to drive across the board in the organization is starting from the customer and working our way in. Understanding really what the customer needs are and leveraging that to start to look at what are the things that are changing in the market? How are our customers interacting with us? How do our customers want to interact with us in the future? 

Those are kind of the things that start to lead into how do you start to set up your organization itself. A lot of the transformations that we’ve done in the past also don’t necessarily need to be around the organization. They’re about driving specific initiatives, like digital, and making sure that becomes a really key part of everybody’s role. Some of these things today, like digital, it’s set up as a specific role in the organization in most cases, and we can start to look at how do we take this specific element and make it part of everybody’s role? 

This is something that changes the dynamic of an organization. We change the idea of taking specificity around marketing function and driving that closer to the customer itself. I think one of the unique things about this is that transformation itself by some can really be seen as a dirty word. It implies change. And in most organizations, people are resistant to change. They’re not really open to that because it implies that we’re changing maybe an organization, or a style of doing something, or the way that we work. But transformation is so natural to a marketer because it’s about adjusting and adapting to the market itself, and that’s the customer.

I think most cases when we look at what we want to do, by starting with the customer, we start to look at how we change ourselves, things that we’re doing, to adjust to the right touchpoints between sales and marketing? And that’s been one of the learnings I think that we’ve taken from COVID. As COVID’s changed the world itself, how do we change ourselves? How do we adjust and pivot so quickly so that way we become agile? And transformation itself should be something that we constantly do. We constantly want to look at what’s happening in the market, what’s happening with our customers, and how do we start to build the right marketing and relationships with them? 

And relationships in the last I would say six months to a year now probably have changed. We’ve become more digital. Less physical touchpoints. And what does that mean for the relationships that we’re building with our customers? It means that we now need to adapt our marketing. And you see a lot of this happening with a lot of companies where they’re looking at new ways of driving digital, but also, we need to keep in mind that there’s fatigue that’s about to set in, because we need to really innovate and think about different ways of driving relationships with them. 

Jeff White: Do you think that starting from that customer perspective allows you to, or have you experienced it this way, that customer perspective helps people accept and embrace the change more that they’re going to be required to follow in? Or to undertake? 

Mike Kazmierczak: Yeah, I totally agree. I think that starting with the customer and leveraging that outside view to drive the changes internally, no one can really argue with that. Because what we’re doing is just doing what’s best for the customer itself, so I think that’s the first and primary way to start to think about it. The other thing is to have, when you’re looking at some of these changes, to have clear objectives in mind. But always have the possibility to learn and adjust as you go. 

For marketers, this is trying to be more impactful with the business itself. The objective is really not to just change the marketing organization, or the marketing that we’re doing, but it’s to look at how we can drive business impact and better the relationship with our customers. The biggest lesson that I think I’ve learned in some of this is we need to leverage data more. Data helps us benchmark. It helps drive decisions. But it’s also completely factual. It helps us for most points to start to look at how the customers interact with us in different ways and document that, and start to see how do we shift that behavior, or drive the behaviors we’re looking to manage? 

Data to me is one of those things, plus the customer or the outside-in view, that really starts to get the folks internally on board. 

Carman Pirie: And kind of push the internal emotion out of some of the decisions in some way, if you will. 

Mike Kazmierczak: Yeah. Absolutely. I think that the internal emotions are sometimes difficult because it applies that as a group we’re morphing, we’re changing, we’re adjusting. And transformation too, itself, when you’re looking at it from a customer perspective, like I said before, it’s something that needs to happen constantly. And transformation, some of the best transformations are ones that are ongoing. They’re multiyear, multiprogram-focused, because the fact that it’s not something that starts and stops. It’s about keeping that going to adjust and also keep the idea of self-improvement or group improvement involved. 

Carman Pirie: Mike, one of the things that’s interested me over the years in terms of work that I’ve done in trying to get closer to customers, understand them more, is I find that often marketers take an almost one approach. They may do some surveys or something of that sort, but they basically… They ask the customer. And you think, “Oh, well, that sounds logical.” I mean, you want to know what the customer thinks, you ask them. But people are kind of unreliable witnesses to their own behavior in some way, like people only say why they did something after they… They’ll justify it after the fact and they’ll rationalize what that decision was or what that process was, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s actually what drove that decision. Because again, people are unreliable witnesses to their own behavior. 

We want everything to make sense, so we’ll rationalize it after the fact. Have you done any work at Schneider in terms of informing your gut instinct around the customer, if you will? Versus the strictly objective approach of looking at data and simply asking the customer? 

Mike Kazmierczak: Yeah, so I think it’s a good point, Carman. One of the things that we often do when we drive a transformation is, we have an understanding of where we want to go, and sometimes that starts to lead into the type of data that we start to build around it. And we start to look at validation versus being open to understanding more of what we want to get done or how we want to get it done. And I think one of the important things is, especially with using data or the voice of the customer, which is probably the most important thing, is to really have an open mindset when you start. 

The objectives that you set for the change that you’re driving is the customer itself. If we start with internal objectives, we start to look at how we skew the data or the information that we’re getting from the customer to validate a point that we’re trying to make. And the idea of good marketing is not to validate the point that you made. It’s sometimes actually to say that we have an assumption, but it’s really not the outcome that we are expecting. I think the first thing that any marketer should be doing is thinking about having that openness to what’s going on, using the data to really be informed versus validating a decision that you’ve already made, and start to take that data to make it actionable. 

That’s one of the most important things about this too, is insightful data. How do you start to build the right customer relationships and journeys based on that data? There’s two starting points. You either don’t know what you want to do with the data and you’re kind of trying to sift through it to try to make sense of it, or the other point is you’re trying to validate with the data, and I think the best thing to do is just to be open and embrace what the customer is telling you, and then start with how do you make sense of the data to kind of share and build from there? 

That’s been my experience so far. I think that this is a great topic because there’s more to this in a broader way. 

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Carman Pirie: I like that notion of your starting mental state when you’re starting to do that data analysis is like are you starting from the point of view of trying to prove that you’re right? Or do you have an open mind to discovering what’s new or what you just don’t know? I’d be curious. I don’t want you to give too many trade secrets of Schneider out on the podcast. I kind of do, but I know you won’t. But can you speak of a time when you’ve been particularly surprised by going into analysis or looking at some customer trends that you… Yeah, you were just-

Jeff White: Not expecting? 

Carman Pirie: You proved yourself wrong, if you will? Or you were just-

Mike Kazmierczak: Yeah. And this is a great example, and it’s interesting, you can do so much with partners and customers. They’re really willing to provide that feedback. But there’s one example, very specific, that I can think of. We were launching a new offer and one of those things as we were launching was building a value proposition, a strong, differentiated value proposition. We spent tons of time internally to really think about how we would frame this, and how is it looking compared to our competitors? One of the interesting things that we forgot to do in that case was to ask the customer. To ask our partners. We took the time to do a survey with our partners and this was really a specific case where we were trying to simplify the life of our engineers, and we started to use terms like driving to zero engineering. And the idea was actually not to drive to zero engineering, but to really make the life of the engineer much more simple.

And what we didn’t think about is what that meant to the engineer itself. Like that meant, “I don’t have a job if I adopt this software.” That’s not the message we wanted to make and share out, so we went back to our most strategic partners and we asked them what they thought and they provided that feedback. We went out to about 10 to I think 15 of those and they had the same message. It was super clear that we had this internal way of thinking about this is the UVP that we want to bring to the market, but our customers and the data say, “Hey, this is not the right thing for us.” Because it means something completely different to them. 

It gave us the ability to adjust before we entered it into the market, but also it gave us that insight to the customer and really adjust our own thinking around how we do this, and so we’ve implemented that now for all of our offers where we have a soundboard with our customers. Because it’s about getting closer to them and taking that feedback and voice as part of our process of doing marketing. 

Jeff White: I think that’s really interesting. Sometimes, it’s disconcerting or disheartening, I guess, to hear that what you’ve come up with really isn’t going to resonate and may actually actively work against you. But it’s certainly much better to hear that before it gets in the market than after. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah, but it does take the willingness to listen to what you’re hearing, you know? And to change behavior and change course. I think we can all probably look at times in our career when we’ve been trying to just-

Jeff White: Dug in? 

Carman Pirie: Yeah, dug in or trying to prove a point. All right, the tenth person I’ve talked to and they all agree that what I’m saying is ridiculous. 

Jeff White: Here you go, let’s go another one. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. I think I need to start over. 

Jeff White: I think that’s a skill for anyone. Not just marketers, but the ability to take criticism and take that feedback and put your own personal biases or thoughts aside and really allow yourself to dig in and be redirected to something. I mean, you’ll often come up with a better solution anyway. You know? 

Carman Pirie: Yeah, I don’t know whether that’s just a maturity over a career type of thing, or maybe some people just never learn. I don’t know. I think probably the smartest marketers out there delight in that moment of being proven wrong. Oh, great. I’m discovering something new. I’m actually learning. The point of optimizing for a customer is that you’re never done optimizing, because the customer is never done changing. And if the customer’s never done changing, then that means you’re never done transforming in order to optimize to serve them better. Yeah. 

Jeff White: Yeah. 

Mike Kazmierczak: Exactly, and I think that’s exactly it, so the transformation itself is this idea of self-improvement. It’s self-improvement to get closer to the customer, where we start to see some of these things, these behaviors that we do internally, to start to keep that transformation or that improvement of what we’re doing in the market as a core pillar of the DNA that you have as a marketing group. I think most of these cases, and you can see that there’s clear indication of the self-improvement as part of what we need to be doing as marketers, and taking that negative feedback sometimes, or at least the feedback that you didn’t think was going to be and applying that to what you’re doing as next steps. That’s part of transformation. It’s getting closer to that customer idea. 

A lot of times, too, when you look at what we’ve done in Schneider, but you look at generally in transformation, the organizations today are transforming to be closer to the customer. And that’s one of the unique things that you see. Titles start to become more customer-centric. I think we talked a little bit about my own title. Digital Energy is our division, but I wanted to make sure that customers knew who I was. I was working with the buildings and market, and so that was important for me too, so that way people know who I am as a Schneider employee, or a customer advocate, and that’s something that evolves itself throughout the organization. We get really specific roles to personas or customer types. 

The other piece of this, too, is we start to mirror what the commercial organization looks like. And I think this is so true because if we don’t have the commercial organization or the sales organization set up in a similar way as marketing, we lose that ability to really have an impact on what we’re doing. 

The other cool thing about it too is when we want to start to drive some of this self-improvement and change, everybody’s role becomes a little bit more important because they’re focused on the customer. They have a specific persona. They have a specific channel. They have a specific segment. The organization itself becomes flatter because everybody’s job becomes so much more important because it’s around the customer. And when you give functional-type roles, it’s sometimes more difficult to do that. 

I think the other piece of this, too, is an indication of really a mature transformation, especially in a marketing group, is that some of these priorities that we have, digital, and focusing on maybe specific types of relationships, or customer journeys itself, become a thing of everybody’s responsibility. There’s no longer a single role that’s responsible for digital marketing, or there’s no longer a role responsible for customer relationship. What you start to see is that customer relationship, persona, digital marketing, they start to be part of an integrated responsibility of everybody’s role. 

Jeff White: Man, I love that. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. As you’ve kind of realigned, if you will, not completely abandoning obviously functional delineations, but at the same time going a bit more persona-based in how you organize, has that allowed you to have a bit more functional redundancy? Or redundancy in the talents of the team members? And perhaps added a bit of flexibility? I don’t want to put too many words in your mouth. When you talked about flattening the organization a bit, it felt like that might be one of the benefits. 

Mike Kazmierczak: Yeah, absolutely. I think that one of the things that you’ll see is that it helps upskill employees. It upskills them because they have a better understanding. When I first started, early in my career, I led an effort to drive social media when it was really, really early on, when social media really wasn’t huge in companies because it was being used personally. And one of the interesting things was to take social media and tie it back to the business process. At the time we weren’t even doing really true marketing with social because it was just getting off the ground. One of the things that was interesting to see was how can social be used for customer listening? How can it be used by the sales organization? How can it be used by marketing? How can it be used by HR? That same philosophy holds true because social becomes an integrated part of everyone’s strategy. 

Although that was probably really early on, it was about 10 years ago when that really kind of started, when you look at what we’re trying to do now it’s the same concept. It’s making things so integrated that these processes or business processes become part of marketing, or part of the functions that we’re doing today. The second thing is that we’re able to upskill people much quicker. And I don’t think we’ll be able to fully get away from functional roles, and that’s not the case at all. You’re always going to need to have functional roles, but the ultimate way to get closer to the customer is to start to think about how you have titles in your organization that have customer types or personas attached to it. 

And then how do those other functional roles really support those specific initiatives around the customer types. I think it’s definitely a mix or a blend of both, and it’s important that we look at both sides of it, and really figure out what the right balance is. 

Jeff White: I really like the idea of mirroring the customer organization with how you’re aligned, so that they can see themselves in you… It’s just so many times I’ve seen even something as simple as a web build where people are trying to structure the thing according to how their internal organization is built as opposed to how it’s seen from the outside and how it’s accessed from the customers. It just doesn’t align. And sometimes-

Carman Pirie: It’s like they’re speaking two different languages. 

Jeff White: Yeah. And you have to step back and really kind of work with people to help them understand that this is going to benefit everybody if the people who are using this can see themselves in it and find what it is that they need rather than trying to understand your complex internal hierarchy. But what I want to ask is, so we talked about how this has aligned people around personas and things like that. How has it affected the kind of content and marketing that you’re creating? Like what are you thinking about and what are you building? 

Mike Kazmierczak: Yeah, it’s a great point. I think one of the things that happens when we start to look at marketing to specific personas or verticals is that content itself becomes much more specific, as well. And what that means is that unique differentiation becomes kind of a vehicle to start to tell our story. Because what people want is to understand better how this is going to help them. What are the benefits for them? When you’re doing generic or transverse marketing, you can’t really pull that out. You can’t extract the right proof points to show that here’s the right outcome for this customer type. 

What you’ll find is I think in most cases that the content really starts to talk to the person. It becomes conversational marketing versus I would say just transverse marketing itself, and again, there’s always opportunities to do I would say more of transverse topics and thought leadership. But when you want to have impactful marketing, or you want to have the right set of conversations, you need to be specific in most cases. It has to be what the outcome and what the benefit is for them, and then it gives you the ability to really uniquely differentiate yourself in the market itself. Otherwise, you’re really thinking about how any organization would be set up. How the internal setup is affecting the way that we share our messages, our content itself, but it doesn’t resonate. And that’s something that we can clearly see through data itself, that most of the things that have an impact on the funnel are ones that we’ve created to be really specific around a need or an outcome. 

Jeff White: Yeah. No, I think that speaks to the same kind of pragmatic approach that the internal alignment is taking, for sure. 

Carman Pirie: I know we’re reaching the end of our time together and I almost want to take a bit of advantage, if you will, Mike, of your customer closeness and the fact that you come at this from both a marketing kind of sales-

Jeff White: And finance. Don’t forget finance. 

Carman Pirie: And finance background. And like let’s just put on, let’s look into the crystal ball a minute. I mean, what do we think is gonna happen as the vaccination rollout continues in terms of that customer behavior and customer expectations? I know we talked about it and it seems a little bit obvious these days, of course things have moved more digital, more remote, but any predictions about what’s gonna happen as people can maybe move around a bit more? 

Mike Kazmierczak: Yeah. I think it’s a good point and it’s something that if you look at what happened last year, I think most marketers spent their time pivoting quickly. To really think about how to adjust to what was happening in the market. And then the other interesting piece of this that many people don’t think about is it impacted everybody. It impacted the people that were working on this too. We were all kind of part of something that was quite global, and coming from a global company, you could see people in Italy, you could see people in Hong Kong, you could see people in France, you could see people in the U.S. going through the same type of thing. 

One of the interesting things that came out of that is really the priorities became very simple, because it was about adjusting to what was going to happen in the market, but also making sure that we had that ability to be there for our customers. What I think came out of it is this empathetic view of marketing. How can we be there for the customer when they need us most versus how do we sell to the customer? And this is super important I think in any type of critical moment like a pandemic. It’s more about being there. 

The interesting thing, though, is digital marketing’s taken off. Most of the companies I think that I talk to, they said that they’ve been struggling to do digital marketing for many years. And then it happened overnight. And what happened overnight also indicates that the digital side of this is now flooded because people are more receptive to digital, people are responding differently now, but it also means that people are gonna become fatigued with what’s going on. We see how webinars can evolve and how we can start to do different tactics with digital even for sales. How does sales engage with customers? 

I think as we start to see people shift a bit and hopefully in the next couple of months with the rollout of the vaccine and other things that are happening where the world is becoming a bit more adjusted to the new normal, I think there’s gonna be the opportunity and the itch to do things that are physical again. But I don’t know if it’ll ever get back to the same way it ever was before, because people have learned now we can do things more effectively, more efficiently. We can have better customer engagement without necessarily even being on-site. 

How do we create the best practice tools to engage with those customers digitally? Just from the Schneider side, we saw a huge spike on our channel partners with us digitally over the last year, which is amazing. It means that they’re receptive to digital. They’re receptive to working with us digitally. I would expect that digital continues to be the focus and then we find the right ways to do a hybrid of physical and digital, and that’s the world I think we’re gonna live in probably going forward, where there’s a stronger hybrid model than we’ve ever seen before. 

Carman Pirie: Interesting. I love putting these predictions out there. 

Jeff White: Well, and I really like what you’ve seen in terms of your channel partners, too. Because for so many manufacturers, that’s been a challenge, and it’s nice to see that they’re kind of coming to the same level that you-

Carman Pirie: Yeah, certainly the call for change, wasn’t it? Yeah. My considerably better half has been trying to convince me that we’re going to move into a redo of the Roaring ‘20s once this all kind of blows over and people are going to be partying it up like crazy and doing everything we can do to be in-person with each other, so I don’t know. We’ll get all the predictions out on the table and see where it all lands. 

Mike Kazmierczak: Yep. Absolutely. 

Jeff White: Thanks for joining us, Mike. 

Carman Pirie: It’s been a pleasure chatting with you, Mike. Yeah, I really appreciate you joining the show today and bringing your expertise. It’s been a great chat. 

Mike Kazmierczak: Yeah. Absolutely, guys. Thanks for having me and I appreciate the conversation and the insight hopefully that this’ll bring for others. 

Jeff White: Wonderful. All the best. 

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Mike Kazmierczak

Vice President of Marketing, Digital Energy & Buildings End Market

Mike Kazmierczak is the Vice President of Marketing, Digital Energy & Buildings End Market at Schneider Electric, a global leader in the digital transformation of energy management and automation. Mike holds an MBA from the University of Rhode Island College of Business and a Bachelor of Science from the University of Rhode Island.

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