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.
How is selling into science different than your typical B2B approach? In this episode of The Kula Ring, Jarett (Jay) Nickerson, VP of Sales and Marketing at C-Therm Technologies, discusses how they use problem-specific content and product-specific content for marketing and selling into science within different industries. He also describes the impact of the pandemic on how virtual demos are conducted.
Successful Strategies for Marketing and Selling Into Science 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: All is well. All is well. Good to be chatting with you today.
Jeff White: Yeah. Yeah, looking forward to our show.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. You know, one of the great things about working in the manufacturing space generally speaking is that it covers a lot of ground, you know?
Jeff White: It does.
Carman Pirie: We’ve been doing this a long time now, and I’m still kind of just always blown away when you discover almost every week of life, “Oh, there’s this thing out there that you didn’t know existed that people are engaged in the business of making that is used in other things that you didn’t know existed either.” You know-
Jeff White: And you’ve probably been using them in some way, shape, or form, or been influenced by them without even knowing it.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, like there’s something, there’s the endless onion, I guess, of manufacturing marketing, and that’s why today’s guest and company is one of those kinds of companies. You’re like, “Yeah, I guess you kind of do need that and it is really quite important.” Yeah.
Jeff White: Well, I guess it could be a corollary to that, but would be that our guest is also going to talk to us about selling into a specific group of people that very many manufacturers in all kinds of different industries are looking to sell to.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Everybody wants to sell to engineers or know how to better sell to engineers or better sell into the lab, or into research organizations. Selling to scientists, really, and what are the similarities and differences, et cetera? It’ll be fun to see if we can unpack that in today’s show.
Jeff White: Yeah. Yeah. No, it’s kind of like the selling to building managers.
Carman Pirie: The two big targets in the world of manufacturing.
Jeff White: They don’t even know it. Yeah. You guys are sales targets every time. So, to provide some insight into this, joining us today is Jarett Nickerson. Jarett is the VP of Sales and Marketing at C-Therm Technologies. Welcome to The Kula Ring, Jarett.
Jarett Nickerson: Thanks, Jeff. Thanks for having me, Carman. Looking forward to having a chat.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, it’s great to have you on the show. Maybe let’s just start with getting a bit of a deeper introduction into your background if you don’t mind, Jarett, for our listeners, and then tell us a bit about C-Therm, as well.
Jarett Nickerson: Sure. Well, first of all, I go by Jay, because nobody can spell my name, not since I was three. I made that decision. But I have a background in marketing product management, which led me to sales, and realizing as a profession that you really get to touch some amazing places. That’s physically, geographically, but also in uncovering, as you mentioned, the onion in different industries. And with C-Therm Technologies and our instrumentation specifically, we find ourselves in labs all over the world for R&D scientists to better understand heat transfer. Reaching those scientists and making sure that we’re present at the right time when they have a problem that needs solved is what we’re all about in the commercial side of things.
Carman Pirie: And I think it was really interesting when you were talking to us earlier about this notion of the electrification of everything, and specifically vehicles, certainly these days, and how that’s driving this requirement to better understand the thermal conductivity of materials and driving so much of your work.
Jarett Nickerson: Yeah. Absolutely. So, our reason for being is to better understand thermal conductivity with those that we work with. So, the problem becomes big enough when you have something like a traditional vehicle becoming electrified, or the electrification of it, and all of a sudden you have a thermal management problem. And what used to traditionally work for this heat transfer model in a combustion engine has to be reimagined. All these materials, all of the heat that’s generated by them and how it’s dispersed needs to be rethought. And in the case of our users, needs to be remeasured in a lot of cases or better understood.
There’s a lot of work being done to create better materials for this industry of electrification. Whether that’s personal vehicles, or transport trucks, trains, or a scooter, they all have thermal management issues that need to be considered, so all the materials they’re made of is even more important. Book values of thermal conductivity don’t cut it anymore.
Jeff White: I have to imagine there are all kinds of new materials that are even being introduced that no one’s ever studied before, so they don’t even know how much heat or energy they will allow to pass through, eh?
Jarett Nickerson: Exactly. A lot of our users, we don’t even know exactly what they’re inventing. They’re literally inventors of new materials that will help the future, really, the world of tomorrow, better manage not just heat. That’s what we measure specifically with Trident, our instrument platform, but other properties of the material that’s going to make the electrification of vehicles better and more accessible on a global scale.
Jeff White: Really, what you’re talking about is a very specific problem that applies to a very specific kind of group of manufacturers, and inventors, and labs, and things like that. How do you go about identifying and letting them know that there is a product that solves their problem? Because it’s not even necessarily something that… You know, this is something that a lot of manufacturers run into. Nobody knows that they’re looking for what is being built. So, how do you identify people to sell into?
Jarett Nickerson: It’s a really good question. There’s a few things that are typical to all sales processes, especially in B2B. It’s that somebody’s problem has become great enough that they start to look for a solution rather than ignore it or use their previous source of solving that problem. So, first of all, the problem has to become big enough, and then once it does, you have to be present where they go looking for a solution. So, for us, largely with the majority of our clients, well over 1,000 being outside of Canada, even though our system is made here in Canada, that’s online, and that’s primarily Google at this point in time. In 10 years, it might be some other search engine or platform, but that’s primarily Google, and while there are ad campaigns that can generate some traffic, when somebody goes looking for a solution to their problem, you typically need content that speaks to it so that it comes up organically.
And that’s where we put the majority of our time, is in designing digital content that explains more about the problem that they’ve now identified as big enough to solve and how Trident might be able to help them do that, which is the way that we generally generate I guess the pull from the market.
Carman Pirie: I really like that balance too, you know, the notion of problem-specific content versus product-specific content. It seems like it’s just a real emphasis in the way you talk about it, Jay, is that it’s gotta be problem-specific and problem first. Is it fairly natural to work in the product side of things or the solution side? How do you strike that balance? Or is there one to be struck? You’re just all in on the problem and let people find the solution because obviously you’re the one talking about the problem.
Jarett Nickerson: It’s a great, great point, because at the end of the day C-Therm has a stellar product. And it solves many different problems. So, it is a balance, and truly at heart, I’m a product marketing manager, and that’s where I think understanding the crossroads of what a product can do and even when you start to introduce those capabilities and limitations versus bringing the right questions and better understanding scientists’ or R&D specialists’ problem first is so important.
Product-first sales can be good if somebody is at that stage where they want to self-educate. If it’s a conversation, I don’t want to talk too much about the product. I want to talk more about what’s your problem and then at the end we can dive into, “Okay, well, there might be this configuration that can help you, or there’s a limitation of the system that can’t.” So, it’s definitely a balance. It’s gotta be both.
Carman Pirie: I don’t know. Sometimes, I wonder if scientists get this bad rep or something, like there’s a book about writing for scientists like Houston, We Have a Narrative. Trying to remember who wrote that. It escapes me right now. We’ll try to link it up in the show notes because Google will remember for us at some point. But you know, but the whole purpose of the book was to say, “Look, for those who work in research, scientists, et cetera…” It was really encouraging them to write using a narrative structure versus just the problem and the solution and the facts, right?
Jeff White: Yeah. Well, and even the… I just looked it up and it’s by Randy Olson, and the subtitle is Why Science Needs a Story.
Carman Pirie: Yeah.
Jeff White: Which really kind of hits on the head.
Carman Pirie: Well, there’s just kind of this… Yeah, it’s like science gets a bad rep. We talk about them like they’re like these robots or something, but it’s like no, there’s actually still… They’re still people, though. Yeah, so-
Jeff White: Well, the inquisitive and curious nature is what drives this.
Jarett Nickerson: Absolutely. Yeah.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. So, I guess Jay, you talked to us about the fact that selling into science is different, so I guess tell us how it’s different and I guess, and in some ways how is it even maybe just more of the same?
Jarett Nickerson: Yeah, so I think that it comes with a predefined baseline of maturity in your product line, so there’s an expectation that it will do what it says that it does, that it’s accurate and precise, and beyond that baseline, which in some industries that tolerance might be different, ultimately people buy from people. Basically, what you’re saying. And that’s why if you talk to somebody from C-Therm, typically they have a background in chemical engineering, not a sales background.
Jeff White: Even in sales. Yeah. Even in your sales department. Yeah.
Jarett Nickerson: Exactly. Because the way that people will typically look at Capex instrumentation, which used to all be grey boxes, is, “Okay, well, it’s gonna give me a number at the end of the day.” Now, we kind of turned that on its head with Trident in that we took a product marketing approach to make us stand out against those that didn’t have the capabilities that we had, but we had the foundation that was critical first. So, specifically sensor technology for understanding heat transfer, we had a unique platform with multiple methods, but to make that stand out we took a product marketing approach, had an industrial designer focus on what our system looks like being just as important as the numbers that it gives. We’ve completely revamped our software to be more user-friendly, take inspiration from the best cell phones that you find in the world, and things feel intuitive right from the get-go.
There’s definitely above and beyond what I would consider the foundation, which can make the product better, but then at the end of the day it’s people buying from people. So, that’s where there’s similarities and I think some differences.
Carman Pirie: Kind of curious about this introduction of an elevated industrial design into the product and what was the experience in doing that as you transitioned from, I think as you said, the bland grey box to maybe one of the sexier pieces of gear in the lab. Did you notice a difference in the sales conversations? In reviews of the product? Did the aesthetics actually get brought up?
Jarett Nickerson: Yeah. All the time. Way more often than we thought. So, you know, there’s been a few generations of our technology. First, a grey box that gave you the right numbers. Then, a grey box with a rounded cover so nobody could put their coffee on it. And now what we call Trident, which really looks like a pyramid and represents the three different methods that it employs for thermal conductivity. It has meaning behind it, it looks nice. As you said, it looks sexy. It stands out amongst the other instruments in the lab, and it’s meant to.
Jeff White: It’s a bit of a secret weapon. I mean, people who espouse design principles, especially, we generally tend to be like, “Well, see? It looks good and so it sold better.” But it really, if you can imbue something with meaning and add to it and have more to tell about the story, as long as there’s probably not a massive amount of competition in this very specific testing space, but if there is, your product continues to stand out because you actually have invested in more than just making sure that you can’t put your coffee on top of it. Which is pretty smart, by the way.
Jarett Nickerson: Yeah.
Jeff White: Even in and of itself.
Jarett Nickerson: Yeah. For sure. For instrumentation that can be more than a car, you need to protect it, but I think the appearance from a marketing standpoint, from a seminar, or traditional conferences, or now what we do are video demos, it leaves a lasting impression. It finally looks as good as the data it gives, and you know, that’s what it deserved. That’s what C-Therm is. We’re a company that’s not necessarily the least expensive, but the leaders in solving the problems, but always having that baseline of performance.
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Carman Pirie: Well, and that notion of being a leader beyond just how the product works, and thinking about it more holistically, I’m almost reminded of an early client of ours who at Kula that manufactured fish pumps, and I don’t know that their fish pumps were demonstrably all that better than anybody else’s fish pump. Maybe they were, but what certainly got talked about most is that they were painted the most gorgeous coats of British racing green.
Jeff White: Yeah, they really looked good.
Carman Pirie: And it was like the only time you see British racing green is on like a nice Triumph or something, or on that darn fish pump. And it got talked about.
Jeff White: Well, it’s bigger than a car, so it certainly stood out, too. You know? But I mean, and you know, we’ve had other clients who have invested in the industrial design and the software design, because I think that that’s important, because no matter what the device looks like sitting on the counter, the thing that the scientists are gonna be interfacing with the most is the software. And I think there’s so many manufacturers now that are realizing that their products can be enhanced, controlled, pushed further, updated more frequently, whatever all those things are via the software, and so often that too can be treated like a bit of a grey box when in reality-
Carman Pirie: There’s an experience to deliver there. Yeah.
Jeff White: Yeah. Absolutely.
Jarett Nickerson: Yeah, for sure. Software and the output of it, of the data itself, can be really important. And if you are even trying to train somebody to use it internally, you don’t need this device to be… I think about one of those advanced calculators that you only use for plus, minus, and multiplication. It doesn’t need to be overkill. It’s about getting good data. And for us, we have a bit of an advantage because our proprietary method is really simple to use. But yeah, we had to completely reimagine the software too when we brought Trident to market.
Jeff White: Yeah. That’s very cool. You’re bringing back really, really horrible memories of grade 11 science math for me. Tangent, cosign.
Jarett Nickerson: Exactly.
Jeff White: It’s why I went to art school. Design school.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. My mother bought me a scientific calculator. I believe I was in grade six. Which, you didn’t need one then, but she thought that it would do me out, you know? If she bought it then, then I would have it for when I needed it because my sisters were older than me, so she knew that that was gonna be a requirement.
Jeff White: It was coming.
Carman Pirie: And I still have that calculator with me right now and literally, the battery has only been changed once, and it saw me through university and craziness. So, you have all these negatives, this negative energy, Jeff, around scientific calculators.
Jeff White: It’s just warm, fuzzy memories for you.
Carman Pirie: It’s warming the cockles of my heart, you know? So, there you go.
Jarett Nickerson: Whatever brand calculator that is, it must have a good reputation.
Carman Pirie: It’s a Sharp.
Jarett Nickerson: Yeah? There you go.
Jeff White: There you go.
Carman Pirie: I don’t even know if they still make calculators. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t.
Jeff White: Maybe they do. Yeah. No, I’m pretty sure they do. Pretty sure I’ve got three students in high school, so-
Carman Pirie: You should know, Jeff.
Jeff White: Yeah. I usually don’t buy the school supplies.
Carman Pirie: Everybody has a calculator on their phone now, so…
Jeff White: Yeah. Exactly. So-
Jarett Nickerson: They definitely make electronics still, though.
Jeff White: That, they do. They do. Well, and you know, getting back to kind of what we’re talking about here, I think one of the things that’s really interesting is that although you have perhaps a specific target persona that you’re working within many of the labs and industries, it’s not necessarily that they’re all doing the same thing. You know, they’re not just all electric vehicle, or ebike manufacturers, or things like that. But you’re able to kind of discern the requirements of those folks based on the people that you’re currently working with and then look to potentially other industries to find new prospects. Tell us a bit about how you go about identifying the people that you can sell to and opening up those relationships.
Jarett Nickerson: I think that brings up a really good point and the first challenge is deciding which of the many different industries and applications as we would call them that require the equipment or have a problem that sometimes require the equipment to be solving it, deciding which of those you’re gonna focus on, and if you tried to focus on them all then none of them would get enough attention. So, at some point you have to make some hard decisions and build content around where you see in our case a pull from the market. So, once there’s enough brand recognition globally and you have an established presence online that will pull you up generally, if somebody searches for thermal conductivity in our case, then we can really focus on, “Okay, of all those people coming to our site, or giving us a quick call,” which happens way more than you would imagine. People call us all the time. “Which are we gonna focus on?” So, electrification of vehicles is a great example because it’s an industry, but it encompasses a lot of different applications. So, could go on and on about thermal gap fillers, and potting materials, and heat transfer fluids, and every one of those applications has different specialists and different people that could potentially be users of our equipment, and we have to have some internal knowledge about it.
But that’s just in EV. In geological, there’s a whole different set. Soils, and gravels, and in building materials, there’s a whole different set. You know, of course heat transfer matters in building, so you have to know how to measure wood, and cement board, and insulation. So, which to focus on is first. It’s like working out your to-do list for the week. You have to prioritize, and some stuff has to be pushed to the side if you’re gonna progress on any of it. That’s the first challenge.
And we follow the trends in the market, but most importantly, the pull from our clients. And a lot of our accessories and new applications, so our venture into high-pressure thermal conductivity, that was born from a need from a customer. So, it never used to exist until the oil and gas sector came to us and said, “We need high-pressure thermal conductivity, not just the ambient atmosphere pressure.” So, we designed a cell, and a pressure cell, and then that pressure cell can become part of the portfolio. But we’re not gonna design some sort of device or special accessory on a whim. It’s about market pull from somewhere we see a lot of R&D spending.
Carman Pirie: I want to switch gears a bit back to, because you had mentioned the fact that when we were speaking of the aesthetic of the product, that it helps when doing virtual demos. And it occurred to me that you know, you probably are doing a lot more virtual demos than you used to do in this day and age. I guess how have you seen sales in this category change with the pandemic and what are some of the kinds of trends that you think may endure as a result?
Jarett Nickerson: Yeah. I think at first there was a slow adoption of the idea of video demo, so we used to be on the road 80% of the time. Different countries. We’re in about 60 countries, so we’d be hopping around, showing the equipment, testing their samples live, but it was typically one person, maybe the local distributor with us. Now, with video demos, we can have an application specialist who knows specifically about that industry or their material type, plus a technical salesperson, and pull on any other resources we need, because it’s dial-in, so that’s the first advantage.
But all of that said, it didn’t matter until the people that were making the decision and the people that had the problem became comfortable with it as a concept. And that came because of the pandemic. So, a video demo was rare prior to the pandemic. We didn’t have a dedicated space for it. We developed it very quickly. And I’d say there was a couple of months everybody was figuring out Teams, and Zoom, and everything was kind of in chaos. But at the end of it, now we’re talking about 16 months later, the majority of our sales right now are through a video demo. Whether it’s prerecorded, or one on one with an application specialist, or one on one with a technical salesperson that can show them what it feels like, or show them what it looks like at least, can see the software live. So, it comes down to the customer or the end-user being comfortable with buying in that way.
Without the pandemic, I think that still was a couple of years off. It was accelerated because the pandemic forced it. Now, after travel opens up and everybody is back on the road again, as we say, it’s gonna look very different. There’s probably only going to be… It will be a hybrid, I would say. There will still always be the need for going into labs, better understanding the customer’s needs, the environment, and what they’re trying to accomplish. But it won’t be all customers. A lot of times, we’re gonna be able to do it much more efficiently for everybody, primarily the customer, because they don’t need to get you a pass to get into their lab, and have your passport screened, and then meet you at the door, and then… You know, if they like you and let you, they might take you out to lunch, but what if they don’t like you and that kind of thing?
So, it’s a much lower commitment to have a video demo.
Jeff White: No kidding. One of the things that I don’t want to miss on that you said there is that it’s a two-sided requirement for people to be able to adopt these new technologies. I mean, the people that you’re selling into have to want to be sold that way now, and your sales team also has to understand and want to be able to sell well virtually. I mean, there’s-
Carman Pirie: And sometimes it can really feel like a chicken or egg question, like sometimes you’re like, “The market would be fine with it, but these salespeople can’t get their head around it.” And then other times it feels the other way, you know?
Jeff White: Yeah. Yeah. No, very interesting.
Carman Pirie: I thought the great comment too is there’s lots of talk these days and have been for a number of years now around expanding buying committees, and there’s five people, there’s seven people, now nine or eleven people in the average buying-
Jeff White: I thought it was 38 now.
Carman Pirie: Who knows, right? So, it always looks at the buying side as becoming more of a team sport, but selling’s becoming more of a team sport, too. And I thought, Jay, really a kind of interesting note there around the fact that selling virtually to virtual demos and things of that sort allows you to bring more talent to the table. Like you can have more expertise on the call.
Jarett Nickerson: Yeah. Absolutely.
Carman Pirie: That’s a real win.
Jarett Nickerson: That’s the number one benefit to the customer. I used to have our applications specialists on speed dial when I was in a live demo. And you know, from the odd time that I’d get stuck, I’d give him or her a call and just put her on speakerphone and ask for her help to walk me through it. Now, you have that person live with your customer, showing them the system, potentially even working with their materials that they shipped you the week before. It can work really beautifully.
Jeff White: That’s a nice dance. When it works. Yeah.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. It’s one thing, okay, I have somebody on standby. I can phone a friend. It’s like yeah, but that’s gonna be clunky as hell, right? That means you’ve hit a roadblock and now you’re phoning a friend.
Jarett Nickerson: Exactly.
Carman Pirie: Whereas the other way, they’re there. Yeah. It’s a much more-
Jeff White: Cohesive.
Carman Pirie: … managed process. Yeah. Exactly.
Jeff White: Yeah. Very cool.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Lovely.
Jarett Nickerson: Yeah. It’s been well received. It just took some time.
Jeff White: On everybody’s part.
Jarett Nickerson: And a pandemic.
Jeff White: Yeah. Yeah, but I mean, plenty of them out there.
Jarett Nickerson: Roll with the punches.
Jeff White: Exactly.
Carman Pirie: If that hasn’t been the way of describing the last year and a bit, I don’t know what would.
Jeff White: Well, listen, Jay, it’s been really wonderful having you on and talking us through what you’re doing at C-Therm, and how that’s all working.
Carman Pirie: What it takes to sell into science. It’s been a great chat.
Jeff White: Appreciate it.
Jarett Nickerson: Yeah. It’s been my pleasure. Great chatting with you guys.
Jeff White: All right. Have a great day.
Jarett Nickerson: Cheers.
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