RIP to the Marketing ‘Project’

Episode 156

October 26, 2021

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RIP to the Marketing ‘Project’ 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 joining me today, as always, is Carman Pirie. And today we have a guest I’m really excited to chat with, Carman, perhaps you could introduce her?

Carman Pirie: You know Jeff, I think of all the folks we’ve spoken with in the last several months in our preparation for the podcast, I don’t know I’ve been more excited for an interview than I am today. I feel like our guest today just illuminated something for me, when I first heard her speak, that I’d been struggling to put words to for a while. So it’s always nice when that happens, and I hope that happens for some listeners today as well. Monique Elliott, welcome to the Kula Ring, great to be chatting with you.

Monique Elliott: Thank you so much, thanks for having me this afternoon.

Carman: Our pleasure, Monique. Monique, you’re the CMO with ABB and I know that there’s a little bit more to that, and I don’t want to get it wrong, so why don’t you tell us a little bit about your role and what’s up in your world these days.

Monique: Sure, sure, so I am the CMO for the Electrification Products Industrial Solutions business. I know that’s quite a mouthful, but I’m the marketing leader for one of the business units within the Electrification Product division, which is one of the four main divisions for ABB. And this is a recent move, as the previous company that I was with, GE Industrial Solutions, was recently acquired by this division of ABB.

Carman: And exciting, I don’t know that there’s a lot of marketers that will be listening to this podcast that I’ve had the opportunity and occasion to ring the bell on their stock exchange, but you were there just recently, on the stock exchange.

Monique: I did, I was there just this past Friday. It was quite momentous, it was to celebrate the closing of the deal so I was able to join a few of my other colleagues from ABB with the CEO to ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange, on Friday the 13th, the closing bell.

Carman: I was chatting with somebody on Friday who actually suggested that we have the meeting on Friday because he adamantly didn’t believe in Friday the 13th or any superstition therein, and wanted just to tempt fate by having it then. So on his recommendation alone, I think it’ll all be a success regardless of the day on which you rung the bell.

Now, I’m curious, let’s just dive into this, because, Monique, it struck me, when I heard you speak a few months back, that you’ve had perhaps an uncommon level of success as a marketer. In getting your ideas accepted from those higher up in the organization, it seems that you’ve been very successful in capturing organizational support for your initiatives and I think there’s a bit of secret sauce there. What do you think has propelled your success there?

Monique: Well, you know, I think it is multi-factor. I often like to say that I’m a commercial leader, not just a marketer, and what that really means is I’ve spent a good time in marketing, I’ve also spent some time in the sales organization. And so as any good salesperson, the ability to listen, to try to understand the problem that you’re solving before presenting a solution forward, and so when we embarked on the recent journey of eCommerce within a very traditional space, within a very traditional manufacturing company, we took the time, I took the time, to listen as a salesperson. And sometimes I think as marketers we forget to do that. Through that listening is where we, you know, took the approach of, “let’s stop talking about marketing in the context of projects, and start talking about them as products.” But before we go there I think it is important to say that it all came from listening and really trying to understand the reason we have friction in the organization.

Carman: I think it’s so important to, you know, sometimes when I’m speaking with marketers and they’re talking to me about trying to get in sync with their sales organization, I guess I get the impression that maybe when they say ‘listening,’ what they really mean is that they’re pretending to pay attention in order to get their buy-in. But you actually sound pretty genuine about it, Monique. So did you carry some assumptions into those conversations that turned out to be false? Did those listening conversations with the sales folks really change your mind?

Monique: So I think what it was is I went in with the assumption, especially because this was such a new space for us around eCommerce or digital commerce, that there wasn’t going to be a very good understanding of what we were trying to do from a strategic perspective, and that there were certainly going to be a lot of resistance within the sales organization because when you talk about eCommerce or taking your products online, one of the initial reactions is, “Well, you’re just gonna get rid of my job. So if a customer can now buy without me there, as that relationship manager, that’s not gonna help me. That’s not good for me.” So I did go in with the assumption that I would have to tackle that hurdle. What I learned though is that there are a lot of folks who were actually interested in this as an enabler and were interested in the technology of how it was going to help. But that was one of the assumptions that I made, and maybe that was partly from having some experience in sales.

Carman: Very cool, and yeah, it’s funny; I’ve noticed too we often assume that. I’ve seen marketers assume that social selling, leveraging social media intimately in the sales process will almost be in some ways a new concept that marketing’s introduced into sales, when in fact a good number of some of the better sales folks have already been prospecting via LinkedIn, etc., for some time, and have a lot more experience in that than the marketers sometimes give them initial credit for.

Monique: Right, true.

Carman: So you mentioned briefly ‘the product, not project,’ but I want to do more than just briefly mention it. Talk to me about that.

Monique: Sure, so look, I will be the first one to admit, this is not a concept that I created, or that my team created, we actually took a page out of the IT organization, and in the world of agile IT development, this whole shift from ‘we’re not delivering a project, we’re working on a product development.’ And the way that it all sort of went down is we had buy-in from a leadership perspective with budget and resources. They said, “Yes, we get it, this is the future.” But every time we would go kind of that one level down in the organization, so not the senior leadership team, we were still hitting some friction points and people not wanting to help us out. And that’s what we were really looking for, was we were looking for assistance to drive this forward. And I started paying attention—this goes back to the listening—around ‘what teams or what functions were getting the traction? And were progressing?’ And it was the teams that were talking about ‘our products.’ Like the actual, tangible products that we sell, the products I was trying to sell, online.

And there was a few reasons as to why I think those conversations were working so well. It was because when you talk about a product, there’s a life cycle to it. There isn’t a stop and a finish, there’s dedicated teams, there’s this desire of an evolution. And when marketing was coming into the room talking about their ‘project,’ that word immediately evoked a deadline. And a budget, and a start and a stop, and temporary resources, because when the project was over, you could move on. And so by watching how our IT organization was structuring the conversation, and more importantly watching how our product management teams were structuring the conversations, we thought, “Maybe we just need to reframe this and change the vocabulary around it. I’m not working on a marketing project, I’m working on a product. My product just happens to be the development of an eCommerce solution.”

So we learned from our friends who were doing this successfully in other functions and tried to apply it to our function. And lo and behold, after a little bit of time, we started to get the traction that we needed.

Carman: In listening to you reiterate that, it seems to me in some way it changes from like almost a project’s like  something to get through. What I jotted down as you were saying, I guess, and I don’t know if this makes any sense or not, but it’s like, “something to get through versus something to work on.” It sounds as though that was part of the mind shift that happened there.

Monique: Well, you know, you’re exactly right. It does make sense and I always like to share this story, when I’d be walking in the hallways and people would say, “Hey, when are you gonna be done with that eCommerce project?” And that just stops you in your tracks, because you’re like, “When are you gonna be done with eCommerce?” That’s like saying, “When are you gonna be done with marketing as a function?” Like there is no start and stop to what we’re trying to do from a digital enablement perspective. There’s an evolution to it, there might be ebbs and flows as you learn and as you pivot and as you adjust, and so yeah, when someone asks you that question, “When are you gonna be done with that project,” that does assume that you’ve gotta get through something, and then you’ll be done with it. So you’re absolutely right, I think that’s a great way of looking at it.

Jeff: Yeah, products certainly get iterated, where as projects don’t. Projects are, “Well, the budget’s done now and we’re done, and the thing is launched, so I guess we don’t need to do anything else with it.”

Carman: You can only do it again if it failed the first time.

Monique: Right.

Carman: Whereas products, you assume you’re iterating.

Monique: That’s right, that’s right. And that was the whole, there’s this life cycle to products and there’s ongoing investment, there’s dedicated teams. Certainly you may have a sunsetting to your point of a product, or an onboarding of a new product, but when people talk about ‘projects,’ there’s this whole notion of ‘approved – not approved.’ Like rarely ever do you sit in a product meeting and talk about it being approved or not approved. You talk about the maturity of it.

Carman: Making it better and evolving it.

Jeff: Absolutely.

Monique: Evolving it. Right. So it’s, it was interesting, and even now as we’re talking about this and I’m reflecting back, what struck me was the importance of language when we’re having these meetings. So you might think using that term is really benign, and there’s no downside to it, like that’s just a word, but it really does evoke a particular mindset that drives decisions.

Carman: Makes total sense to me, that language changes mindset which changes behavior.

Jeff: Well as marketers we better buy into that.

Monique: That’s true.

Carman: We’re in the wrong business otherwise.

Jeff: Nothing we do actually changes, oh no, that’s not true at all.

Carman: Oh man. Now you have me like rethinking my life’s work and-

Jeff: It’s all existential.

Carman: Yeah.

Monique: Right, right.

Carman: Crisis mode at this point.

Jeff: I think one of the things that’s interesting about that, Monique, is that in terms of taking on something like a product, like an eCommerce application for the organization, how much resistance did you find from people internally around the fact that they would think that eCommerce is largely a B2C thing, as opposed to a B2B thing? Talk to us a bit about that.

Monique: So the interesting thing is, within the business that I was with when we launched this, we had been doing the concept of eCommerce for quite some time, for about 15 years. By definition, it was allowing our distributor partners to purchase from us via an online platform. So the business as a whole had embraced that many years in the past, but what had happened was in the way that we were going about that, the technology that we were using started to age and that muscle really atrophied and so what I was trying to do along with my partners on the IT side was to reinvent that platform and really give it more of a B2C mindset of how to do the transaction. So the concept of doing the eCommerce had already been bought into, but it was this new way of looking at it with a better user interface and providing more visibility to our customers. So before, it was, “Sure, we’ll let you buy online,” but you couldn’t really track it, all those functions that we know in our personal life and our consumer life wasn’t there, because the technology had just aged.

So it was this concept now of, it was almost like this resurgence. And so as opposed, it was interesting; the friction that I faced was less around “we need to do eCommerce because everyone else is doing it.” It was, “We need to change the way we were doing it because we’ve been bypassed. Our competitors have now gotten better,” and the friction that, “well no, we’ve been doing it just fine, we don’t need to change.” So this little bit of a nuance there, right? Like the nuance is I wasn’t necessarily up against “I need to convince you of eCommerce,” I had to convince folks that we need to do it a different way because the way we were doing it isn’t acceptable any more. And I don’t know, in some ways that’s almost harder.

Carman: But it speaks to the wisdom of that product versus project mindset, however, because of course a project, the eCommerce project is done, then no wonder we don’t want to revisit it again, I mean, we’ve already cracked that nut. Whereas convincing them that there’s an eCommerce product that needs to be sunsetted so that a new eCommerce product can be iterated and evolved upon, it takes a different approach.

Monique: No, that’s true. And some of the friction we had, I mean, we were flowing, oh my goodness, you know, millions of dollars through this system, so people would say, “Well, why do we have to invest so much? Nothing’s broken. It’s working. The orders are coming through.” And what we were trying to impress upon the teams was, “Yeah, but when it breaks, it’s not just going to a little bit break. It’s going to really break. So you have to get ahead of that.” And that’s just a function of not having that ongoing investment, especially in this space. Anything around digital marketing, marketing transformation, you let a little bit of time go from an investment standpoint and trying to get back to where you should be, it’s incrementally harder than if you just systematically kinda went along, right, and invested along the way.

Jeff: Oh, so true, and especially given the digital world that everybody’s living in these days, especially as more and more younger people enter our organizations, the experiences they have with constantly evolving platforms, whether you’re talking about eCommerce or social media or anything else like that, this is what people are used to. They’re used to having the world continue to change on them on a near-daily basis, and if something stays the same for a long time, it’s pretty obvious that that product isn’t getting better.

Monique: Correct. Yep.

Carman: Yeah, it’s, maybe we’re more easily bored.

Monique: Yeah, you could argue, you could argue maybe it’s not a good thing, but it is more obvious now when interfaces don’t change, when product features don’t evolve. And what I will also say is it’s the rapid response rate as well. So it’s no longer acceptable if someone says, “Hey, this is a feature that I’d like,” and months go by before you see it. We have trained ourselves a bit of that immediate gratification to that constant improvement. It’s like, you know, for those of us who’ve been doing marketing for a long time, I would liken it to when you would survey people and then they would never know what happened to the survey results. It’s, “I asked you for something, I’d like to see that evolve. I’d like to see that functionality exist now.”

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Carman: I’m curious, we’ve talked a lot about, in the eCommerce space and making use of this product versus project framework for that, and you just mentioned that kinda expanded digital marketing in a broader sense. What has been your success in taking that in other areas of the marketing function? Have you seen a similar degree of success in other areas outside of eCommerce by taking this product mindset?

Monique: Yes, we have. I would say another area that’s akin to this is around our demand generation, or the revenue marketing part of my team. And so if you think about marketing activities, so everyone runs a campaign, and that campaign can be an email campaign, it can be a trade show, it can be a thought leadership piece that you put into the market, it can be social, but the ability to launch that, track the different touchpoints all the way through to whether an order is placed, to where that order is then subsequently shipped and booked, and to be able to say, “So we spent X amount on that one campaign, and then through the funnel, right, through the lower funnel, we then saw that into an order.”

And look, as a marketer, being able to have that marketing ROI, like talk about a big nut to crack, because that’s when you can say, “Here’s the actual return that I’ve given back to the organization based on all of these marketing activities.” I have a fabulous marketer on my team who leads this part of the marketing function for me, and we’ve been able to take this same approach of “this is a product that we’re developing.” And have created a process where we can now do that. So we can track all the way from the inception of a particular campaign, watch it go through the upper funnel, down into our CRM system, and then be able to say, “It was through that lead or that activity that this order was booked.” And we took the same approach. We said, “We’re not working on a project here, we’re working on developing a product of revenue marketing.”

And it took, this was not easy, this was a couple years to actually get the systems to connect together and to get the sales organization to understand, “Look, we’re not taking credit for this, we’re actually showing you what your marketing activities can yield.” But we took a very similar approach to it. So long way of saying it could apply anywhere you’d like. Because it’s just around how you talk about what you’re doing.

Carman: So I’m curious if the way you talk about what you’re doing, since it’s changed, has it changed the type of people you’re able to recruit into this? Have you noticed a difference with your team? Either in the types of folks that are attracted to this approach or in the types of folks that you need to fuel this thing?

Monique: It’s such a good question, because I really do think that we’re in such a unique position on the hunt for talent, right? Everyone’s looking for different talent, new talent. And here’s what I will say; this approach has certainly opened my eyes to the value of having different types of backgrounds on my marketing teams. So I no longer just look for the traditional marketer that either got their MBA or was a marketing major in college and then maybe did some time kinda in the agency world or maybe did some time in a traditional marketing function. My mind has been opened up to look at people who came out of the IT organization. Who are used to this type of approach, this agile approach. Or to look at folks with really strong project management skills, because at the end of the day, that’s kinda, these product managers, they’re used to this evolution. I’m also looking at folks in a customer service mindset, so that I know that I’m dealing with somebody, there’s someone on the team who’s always thinking about the customer first. Always. Those are fabulous folks to have on the team.

Oh, and the last thing I would say is everything that we’ve talked about also has such a heavy analytical bend to it, that having someone on the team who is highly analytical, maybe has a finance background which you would argue is almost the opposite of marketing, but we found to be very valuable. So it certainly has opened my mind that there are other types of business skills that when applied correctly and with the right guidance can really round out your marketing organization, and can really help you think about things differently.

Carman: Monique, this interview has been exceptional, if only for me in validating my crooked path, professionally. I’ve spent a lifetime, practically, as a marketer, but my education, I had a concentration in finance. And now maybe it’s finally a skillset whose time has come.

Monique: You can marry the two, you can bridge those.

Jeff: He was also an attempted politician as well.

Monique: Yeah, that I can’t help you with. I’m not sure I would hire that on my team. No, I’m just kidding.

Carman: It’s interesting because not only does the team get to benefit from a diverse skill set, but frankly I’m kinda picturing a collection of people that never thought they would be in marketing at all.

Monique: It’s funny that you say that. I have, the gentleman who runs my eCommerce function right now says that to me all the time. Like his background was not marketing. And now he finds himself in a marketing function, and according to him, having the time of his life. So it does help kind of give people different paths, right, and kind of different career choices. It’s been fun building these really diverse teams.

Carman: It could be a highly subversive way for marketing to finally take over the world.

Monique: That’s true. Well I will tell you this; by the changing the vernacular, changing the approach, at the end of the day what was really, how I knew that we were making inroads, was that there was a seat at the table for marketing. And that my function reports into the business leader and that I sit at the table. There’s that sense of credibility that was finally there, that you don’t always see with marketing.

Carman: You know, I think that’s huge. I speak to so many marketers and frankly they don’t have the benefit for working for an organization that has been that progressive. They’re still in the front end of that struggle, trying to figure out how they can raise the visibility of marketing within their organization that seems to— manufacturers seem to love data, love automation, love digital. When it comes to their production, and when it comes to many other areas of their business, but marketing has kinda lagged behind.

Jeff: Even in martech, I mean, even investing in CRM systems and other things like that are left as an afterthought, not really taking up the charge.

Monique: That’s what I see, so, and you know, I get this question a lot, is that frustrating kinda to be the lagger, as it relates to marketing and the industry, and quite honestly it’s the reason that I love it, because it is challenging and there’s so much runway to go with it. So it’s, I find that personally very rewarding, having that challenge.

Carman: Look, I think that’s not only a healthy way to look at it but I think it’s incredibly accurate, I think marketers would do well to acknowledge the room they have to roam in those kinds of situations and take advantage of it, rather than seeing it as a millstone.

Carman: Monique, this has been a fantastic conversation, we really enjoyed having you on the show today. Thanks so much and I think you’ve given lots of folks lots to think about in the realm of product versus project and changing that marketing conversation. I thank you for that.

Monique: Oh, absolutely. My pleasure. Thank you for having me on, I’m always happy to share my learnings and make us all better marketers.

Carman: Excellent. Until next time.

Jeff: Thank you.

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Monique Elliott

Chief Marketing Officer

Monique Elliott is the Chief Marketing Officer at ABB Electrification Products, Industrial Solutions. She is responsible for all areas of marketing including customer experience, digital marketing, demand generation, eCommerce, product marketing, analytics and strategic planning. Previously at GE, Monique has worked in various roles in marketing, sales and commercial excellence all over the United States and in Sydney, Australia. Monique currently serves on the board for the Center for International Business, Education & Research for the University of Connecticut and previously served on the executive committee of the Commercial Finance Association.

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