The Kula Ring podcast is essential listening for manufacturing marketers who want to grow their digital presence and compete online.
Sponsored by Kula Partners—an agency committed to helping leading B2B manufacturers craft digital experiences that transform how they engage buyers, serve customers, and outpace their competition—The Kula Ring podcast features conversations about marketing, sales, and technology with top manufacturing executives from across North America.
The Kula Ring podcast is co-hosted by Kula Partners principals, Carman Pirie and Jeff W. White, both of whom are frequently sought after for their digitally-focused B2B expertise. They regularly share their insights with audiences including conferences like B2B Online and HubSpot’s INBOUND, the Gardner Manufacturing Marketer blog, and other podcasts focused on B2B marketing and technology.
We don’t have a crystal ball to predict the future, but we can foresee a wave of economic changes. From inflationary pressures and workforce shortages to living with COVID and a looming recession, these factors all have an impact on how manufacturing marketers are approaching their strategy. In this week’s episode of The Kula Ring, Jeff and Carman predict how marketers in the manufacturing industry will adapt.
Predictions on How Manufacturing Marketers Will Adapt to the Changing Economy 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 doing well. I’m happy to be here. And yeah, good to be recording yet another edition of The Kula Ring with you.
Jeff White: Yeah. And looking forward to today’s topic. Well, today’s topic is looking forward.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Well, look. This is one of those great times when we can say, “Okay, we’re going to try to in some way predict the future,” and in so doing understand that we’ll probably be horribly wrong and give people something to make fun of us for later.
Jeff White: But also hoping that there’s at least a nugget or two of good advice in here that people might be able to extract something from.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. So, I guess folks, what we’re chatting about today is just kind of… I know it’s still summertime. We’re in this kind of midyear point or a little bit beyond that and we have a lot of… Certainly, the pandemic, I don’t want to get political or suggest that it’s completely going away or whatever, but look, we’re moving into at least another phase of what that is, and what it means, and its impact on the economy and how we deal, and what that means for the workforce, what it means for employment, et cetera.
Jeff White: Likely as yet to be defined.
Carman Pirie: And this is happening at the same time as we hear an awful lot of rumblings about recession, many saying we’re already in one, and I guess-
Jeff White: Inflationary pressures.
Carman Pirie: Inflationary pressures for sure. And all of these things intertwined, of course. So, it’s just an interesting point to try to make some predictions about what’s next and what we might be seeing, and kind of how that impacts the world of manufacturing marketing, if you will.
Jeff White: As we’re potentially entering a recession, what are the jobs to be done? Because we’re seeing jobs figures out of the U.S. and Canada that tell a bit of a different story, each side, which is untraditional. Normally, we are kind of a mirror or slightly lagging what’s happening in the U.S., but talk a little bit about what we’ve seen there and maybe what it means for marketing teams within manufacturers.
Carman Pirie: Well, yeah. I guess in that specific thing as we talk about kind of the jobs numbers and whatnot, of course the jobs numbers for July in the U.S. defied all expectations and surprised everyone. In Canada, it was kind of almost what they were expecting in the U.S., which was pretty lackluster. Hard to know about those two mixed signals. Clearly, the U.S. economy is a monster by comparison to the Canadian one, so it’s a more significant tale of the tape, as it were. I guess what I’m curious, what I think that does is… We can leave it to others to debate if we’re in a recession or not, but it does seem like if we are heading into a recession, it’s gonna be a recession that has essentially full employment, which is really kind of wonky and not how we tend to think about recessions. You tend to think about recessions, you tend to think about everybody losing jobs and having to-
Jeff White: Yeah. Massive layoffs.
Carman Pirie: Right. And not to say that that’s not gonna happen, but there’s an awful lot of strong… The job openings, job vacancies are massive across the board in almost every category. So, I guess for manufacturing marketers, I think coming into the pandemic we heard an awful lot about people building out their internal marketing teams, growing their internal marketing teams, expanding their internal marketing teams.
Jeff White: Adding a lot of different types of resources to marketing teams. Everything from web dev to branding specialists directly in there, PR, video. The teams are getting really robust.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Standing up essentially internal agencies for the most part. I guess prediction number one is that the labor market and the demand for talent is going to change that calculus for some. I think there’s an awful lot of organizations more in that kind of midmarket manufacturers who maybe had their eye on standing up an internal team of 6, 10, 15 people, and like I said, that’s more midmarket. Obviously, we’re not talking about the billion dollar plus organizations there. And they’re gonna see that that’s gonna just not be a particularly plausible scenario. Like frankly, they’re just not gonna be able to find enough talent to build that out in the way that they would hope, and that talent’s gonna be hard to retain, as well, inside of those organizations.
So, I think you’re gonna see some manufacturers look at their balance of how they get stuff done and maybe their north star for where they’re going in that regard may change a little bit.
Jeff White: Yeah. I think you’re right. I also think that the hiring of that talent, like you mentioned, is going to get more difficult. It’s gonna be harder to retain them. And there’s significant upward pressure on salaries in this area, as well. We see it as we’re helping our clients build teams. We see it as we’re hiring people. The salary expectations are significantly different than they were even two years ago.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. People listening, they know that their organizations are seeing that in every aspect. I mean-
Jeff White: 100%.
Carman Pirie: This isn’t just something that’s exclusive to marketing and sales orgs. It’s absolutely across the board.
Jeff White: I think what’s a bit different, though, and maybe I’m just thinking too much about our industry a little too closely, but the types of people who could go into these roles have a number of options. Unlike say an electrical engineer who works on a certain type of thing, or looking at similar types of manufacturers, marketers have the option of going agency-side, which to some can be very exciting. The opportunity to work with lots of different clients, all of that kind of thing. They have the option to freelance. They have the option to go internally with a manufacturer or any other type of organization. And I think those options mean that they’re going to be thinking more and more about what they want out of a career path and how long they intend to stay in any one place, because I think in a lot of cases what we’re seeing is people who are only sticking around a couple years.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. You’re right, although I just don’t think that that’s exclusive to marketing. I think that a lot of engineering titles where you’d have this same dynamic at play. There’s a lot of different options, a lot of different categories they could play in, and the salary pressure is going north as a result, and a lot of folks smarter than us have written articles about what’s next in the great resignation, et cetera.
But yeah, I think from our marketing listeners, I think the one takeaway there overall is just how you think about the composition of your team and how you imagine getting the work done. If it hasn’t changed since pre-pandemic, I would be shocked. And it’s going to have to, and it’s probably going to have to depend on at least a slightly more networked approach versus entirely rolling your own.
Jeff White: Do you think, and I don’t want this to sound self-serving at all, but do you think that this means a bigger reliance on agencies?
Carman Pirie: Yeah. I mean, that’s one obvious takeaway there, but I think it could go a lot of different ways. It could be also more reliance on technology and platforms potentially to scale efforts. Yeah. Could go a lot of different places. It could go even to more reliance on the freelance talent that you mentioned as an example.
Jeff White: Yeah. I certainly know a good network of freelancers who are more than booked with a lot of their clients and are doing quite a lot of work remotely with larger organizations. But yeah, it is interesting to think about what sort of mix you have between outside individuals, like freelancers, outside agencies, where you look for help and what you still try and do internally.
Carman Pirie: All right. Well, changing gears a little bit, I’m gonna also say maybe this is one area that hasn’t changed since before the pandemic, or since the start of the pandemic, because one thing that I remember hearing a couple of years back, lockdowns are everywhere, et cetera, is a strong, strong sentiment towards focus on your existing customers. Kind of if you’re gonna ride this out, you’ve gotta focus on the ones that brought you to the dance, right? Dance with the ones that brought you. And that’s often the advice that you hear organizations get as a recession is looming, right? The notion of finding net new customers might get harder. You gotta run what you brung a bit.
I think in some weird way a greater marketing emphasis on your existing customers is something that we marketers were facing two years ago, and I think the current economic environment doubles that message down today.
Jeff White: This is an area where there are a lot of marketers that don’t have a ton of insight into their existing accounts, or once things come in the door they may not know who they are. They don’t necessarily know who’s working what customers, what percentage they are of overall revenue. All of those kinds of things. So, how do marketers today look for those opportunities to help the existing accounts grow?
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Well, I mean a couple from a very tactical perspective. Certainly, cross sell, upsell initiatives, those are the purviews… That’s the job of sales, traditionally.
Jeff White: Oh, yeah. For sure.
Carman Pirie: And very often marketing doesn’t even have visibility into what’s happening there. That’s the lowest hanging of low-hanging fruit is for marketing just to get involved in those initiatives. How do we provide a level of marketing support to cross-sell upsell initiatives? Whether that’s creative messaging support or what have you, there’s a lot of skillsets marketers can add to that to help increase the extent to which a cross-sell or upsell campaign would resonate with existing customers.
Jeff White: Well, they don’t even have to just look to the obvious places like sales for that. There could be customer service or actual service organizations, the technical service, that could be an assist.
Carman Pirie: Absolutely. Absolutely. I guess moving a bit more upstream, I guess, if you will, is I think marketers can begin to put… And look, there’s been certainly more of this lately in the last number of years. Certainly, voice-of-customer initiatives, et cetera, have become quite popular. But they’re not ubiquitous by any stretch of the imagination, and I do think that that is one area where many manufacturing marketers could, I guess, shift focus and expand their influence within their organizations through voice-of-customer initiatives, customer mapping exercises, things of that sort. How do we look at that, the fulsome nature of the customer journey, and look for real ways to improve it on those points of the customer journey that happen after the buy?
Marketers are so traditionally focused on those awareness phases, and early awareness and consideration phases, but there’s a lot of parts of the customer journey beyond that that often fall below the gaze of the marketing organizations, and that’s another opportunity I think for them to contribute, frankly, and add a lot of value.
Jeff White: Are you at all concerned about reticence of sales teams to allow marketing access to their existing accounts in any way?
Carman Pirie: That’ll happen in some instances, but in just many more organizations you’d have the sales organization wipes their hands of the customers too once they’re closed-won, and it’s the service org, so I think everybody has some different politics there, but I think a determined marketer would be able to find their way through, especially a marketer that’s determined on adding value, not determined to add fluff. Because if there is an objection, be it from a sales team or somebody else, the only reason that that objection exists is because they don’t think you’re adding value. They think you’re adding fluff.
And look, I was a kid once. I like marshmallow fluff as much as the next guy. But that’s the place for it.
Jeff White: I only liked it in Heavenly Hash Ice Cream, but-
Carman Pirie: Solid ice cream, it should be noted.
Jeff White: It was. It was good. But I do think there are opportunities to show value potentially more quickly with those organizations to get the sales team to understand that what you’re doing is actually having a net benefit, like perhaps there’s untested demand generation campaigns that could be released that have previously never been tried within those organizations, or account-based initiatives, or things like that. I think you’re probably gonna see a lot more people doubling down on some of those other technologies to begin to target those accounts, too.
Carman Pirie: I think anytime you begin to elevate the focus on your existing customers it opens up a lot of kind of different opportunities, and I think for marketers, some muscles that they’re not used to flexing. So, I would tend to… I mean, yeah, I think some of those more account-based kind of technologies, like I’m thinking of email signature type of technology that operates at the account level, that stuff can be very powerful in terms of fueling a customer-service-driven account expansion initiative, like those little pieces of technology.
But I think you could go quite a bit lower-tech than that. I think there are an awful lot of B2B manufacturers that have an onboarding process, for example, for new customers that is extensive. It takes a while to bring a new customer on board, have maybe your equipment synchronize with theirs, or whatever. There’s often lots of kind of things that need to happen before that business relationship really starts churning in a predictable, consistent, and seamless way. In those organizations, that onboarding process may largely just be in somebody’s head, or it may be something that is communicated very administratively, if you will. But you know, often marketers can find ways to introduce that information more in advance to show a level of discipline even during the sales process that kind of signals to a prospect that this is the quality of after-sale care that you’re going to get. They’re often able to elevate it.
Even things like onboarding guides or what have you that are delivered to customers once they sign on the line that is dotted, those types of things can drive real serious impact and value to a sales, or onboarding, or customer service team, right?
Jeff White: Yeah. That stuff brings a lot of confidence.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. And they’re fairly low tech. But in almost every organization, that type of information typically isn’t really infused with any kind of brand personality, or positioning, or thinking towards that type of stuff. You know what I mean? It’s a serious touch point with a new customer and it’s very… it’s so often just not managed really at all from a-
Jeff White: It’s administrative.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. It’s not managed through the lens of we’re actually trying to create a positive impression and perception of our brand at this time, too.
Jeff White: Yeah. Yeah. Even though we already got you, we’re gonna keep pushing.
Carman Pirie: Right. But almost if you look at that buyer’s journey, and of course you have to think of it as somewhat linear going from kind of completely unaware to being an advocate for your brand and all those phases that happen in between, if you thought about that as almost like you’re lifting it up with both arms, like this customer journey’s being lifted up with both arms, marketers flex a lot more on that one side, though, right? Their arm that holds up the post-sale side of the equation is probably a lot weaker than the arm that holds up… Yeah.
Jeff White: Probably so, but it’s also probably not their fault.
Carman Pirie: Oh, no. I’m not saying it’s their fault at all. Yeah. I’m more just saying that’s the opportunity.
Jeff White: Yeah.
Carman Pirie: And an opportunity for marketers who may be seeing themselves at the early stages of recessionary pressure with an organization saying, “Well, if customers aren’t buying right now, then why do we need… What are we doing? Maybe we need to scale back our marketing spend.” And sometimes that could catch marketers flat-footed. They don’t have another… kind of what am I gonna do if our demand gen program isn’t something I need to focus on, if they’re telling me we need to scale back here X, Y, or Z, what do I say against that, right? And the answer often is, “You know what? We need to serve our customers better and we can actually drive more net new revenue from existing customers if we do this right.”
Jeff White: Yeah. I think you’re right. I think the other thing too, marketers always do this. Look to Apple as an example of what to do for absolutely any instance, any company, any size, anywhere.
Carman Pirie: So, is that what you’re gonna do now?
Jeff White: Be more like Apple. No. But yes. But I think there are some lessons in how Apple has tackled recessions in the past, and not just discontinuing the development of new product and the introduction of new product, but continuing to push for things knowing that this is temporary and to continue to create new things and to continue to keep your name out there, and not… Jobs always said it was their job to double down when others decided to retreat, and I think maybe it’s a bit disingenuous to try and make yourself more like Apple, but I do think that there’s some wisdom in continuing to push. Maybe you change the messaging a bit, but you probably should still be visible in the marketplace. Still creating new things, releasing new products, continuing to market what you have.
Carman Pirie: Oh. Yeah. Lots of studies have shown that that is certainly not the time when you want to be pulling back, but rather you want to be doubling down on your awareness efforts, things of that sort, so if anybody’s looking for that type of research and information, it’s a Google search away. There’s so much of it.
I guess I think the reality that most marketers face is in spite of that type of information being out there, they work in an organization-
Jeff White: They’re still the first.
Carman Pirie: They work in the organization that says, “Yeah, your budget’s froze.” Or they’re the first one to have the budget cut even, right? And so, what I’m I guess in this instance trying to suggest is that if you’re faced with that, I think you could make equally compelling reasons as to why your budget ought to be enhanced and increased, and do it through the lens of focusing on existing customers, and I think in this time that will find in the C-suite often more purchase, if you will, than more kind of experimental, kind of lead gen initiatives or something like that.
Jeff White: Sure. Sure.
Carman Pirie: Okay, so let’s put on our kind of crystal ball hats or what have you a little bit more here and see. What do we see? I think one thing I think we’d be remiss, this focus on serving customers better, or just a recessionary pressure to focus on customers, we’re already seeing a level of kind of digital customer service delivery or digital service delivery, if you will, within B2B manufacturing, and I think that kind of service-design thinking, imagining the customer experience not through just the products that they buy and how the organization interacts with them at the various levels, but also how, what the digital experience is post-purchase is going to become more and more and more important.
And I’m not just talking about like recording information in CRMs and serving up people recommendations that are AI-driven or some darn thing. I’m talking about going much more beyond, to imagining designing the customer experience that largely unfolds in a natively digital way.
Jeff White: Yeah. Yeah. I think the organizations that apply service-design-type thinking to their digital experience platforms, whether that’s their eCommerce, or anything kind of related to purchasing, to research, to all of that-
Carman Pirie: Order management. Yeah.
Jeff White: Investing in accessibility initiatives to make sure that content and platforms are available and work well for people no matter what their abilities are. Those are places to invest and grow. These are the things that you can make better that will have a legitimate impact on your bottom line throughout a recession, making products easier to access, ordering directly, redirecting people to the appropriate distributors in their area. Whatever that is, the digital platform can help create that connectivity for you.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. And I think we’re… You know, we talked about the labor market pressures beforehand, right? So, we’re not going to be able to solve any kind of service problem by just throwing more people at it, so I think that that in combination with a bit of the generational change that’s underway in the workforce, and digital expectations that come along with that, well beyond the world of just eCommerce. I mean, people are getting their driver’s license by going online or what have you. In their day-to-day lives, they’re being served digitally while doing pretty complex things and they’re going to start to expect that in their work, as well, more than they see it today.
Jeff White: Yeah. Digital platforms are not the kind of thing that you can just turn on and off. They’re built over time, especially with small teams. They take significant effort and buy-in from all levels of a manufacturing organization.
Carman Pirie: It’s funny. I don’t know. I feel like most of the people that have invested somewhat heavily in this area, the main thing that drives it is they feel like that it’s going to add a level of service revenue potentially, like they’re doing an app that helps monitor uptime, or blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, right? So, those types of solutions, they’re doing it through the lens of that might be kind of net new incremental revenue, or they see it as a bit of glue that their competitors don’t have that would help keep somebody there, which I guess that’s kind of like doing it for the good of just customer service.
But I think it’s more of a commitment to it is needed, like where I’m gonna invest in this regularly. I’m going to not just build it and deploy it, but I’m actually going to be a little bit more-
Jeff White: Iterating it.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. I’m gonna realize that that act of doing that is really setting up something that’s gonna help me learn more about what customers want, not something that’s just gonna serve what they need right now.
Jeff White: Yeah. Well, and I think that’s not necessarily the same thing for all people, either. For some, that might be creating your own eCommerce experience and making sure that you have the best product library and the easiest way to buy things from whatever source where it’s available, like thinking of the episode we did with Cynthia Kellam at TE a couple years ago about their product data initiatives, but then I’m also thinking of the recent episode we recorded with Jackie Lutz from Sensata, and they decided to go the Amazon route and kind of use that as the digital touchstone, because that’s where their buyers were. So, I think there’s very different ways that you can kind of tackle the creation and management of digital services for your customers to interact with.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, and both those examples are kind of on that buy side, right? But I think there’s probably the sexier and in some ways more obscure, interesting, and differentiating options come when you look at what’s the ongoing relationship that I have with this customer? What are all of those touches that we have? How many times does a salesperson visit? All those things. And then how do I digitally enable some of this service and in the process enhance what we’re doing? And I think that’s where the… I think there’s a lot of juice to squeeze there, I guess.
Jeff White: Yeah. For sure. Certainly, as different a muscle as any for a lot of organizations.
Carman Pirie: So, I guess kind of three things that we kind of covered. This notion of the 100% focused on rolling your own and building your own department, that’s going to have some increased pressure as a strategy in the coming months and year. And then if the economic naysayers are accurate, then this focus on serving customers and really exploring more of that what happens after the buy, I think that that’s something that we’re gonna see a lot more of. We’re gonna see a lot more voice-of-customer initiatives, customer mapping, engagements, things of that sort, where people are really looking to better understand that experience and find ways to build it better, and then I guess lastly building it better via digital means I think is in some ways a bit of the next surprise we’re gonna see in manufacturing marketing.
Jeff White: Yeah. Great advice. Thanks a lot.
Carman Pirie: Or it may be terrible. Because we’re looking into the future, so we can’t know.
Jeff White: Well, then we should be recording another episode mid-Q3 2023 and revisit these and see if we were right.
Carman Pirie: But then that takes away all of the benefit of being someone who just simply looks ahead. Because then why not… Why put all that pressure back on us, Jeff?
Jeff White: We will have no KPIs assigned, thank you very much.
Carman Pirie: Exactly. Look, folks, I hope folks enjoyed this show. I think it’s been great to kick this around and kind of imagine the world for manufacturing marketers as these kind of pressures come to bear in 2022, so thanks for listening.
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 kulapartners.com/thekularing. That’s K-U-L-Apartners.com/thekularing.