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.
For manufacturers optimizing marketing and sales processes to drive revenue performance, there’s one rule that stands out above all others. In this episode of The Kula Ring, Jeff and Carman dissect the Golden Rule of sales and marketing optimization while highlighting several illustrative examples.
The Golden Rule of Sales & Marketing Optimization 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 happy to be here. Good to be chatting with you once again.
Jeff White: Indeed.
Carman Pirie: And look, I think today’s show is going to be hopefully interesting for our listeners. And today’s show, what we want to talk about is kind of if there is a golden rule to optimizing a marketing and sales process for B2B manufacturers. Yeah, and anybody that has ever worked at Kula Partners for the last decade will have heard me say this, which is start from the money and work back. Now-
Jeff White: Sounds simple.
Carman Pirie: What do I mean? Sounds simple. So, what do we mean by that? So, I guess it’s probably helpful if we just kind of talk through some kind of more obvious examples and then maybe move to some more nuanced ones. But first and foremost, I guess the most obvious one that comes to my mind is e-commerce. Now, a good friend who owns a conversion rate optimization agency focused on working with e-commerce brands, in no way am I trying to suggest that he should throw away his practice and obey this one golden rule. But John, if you’re listening-
Jeff White: This is for you.
Carman Pirie: I think this does apply. Which is to say, if you’re optimizing an e-commerce environment, start from the money and work back. Start from the checkout and work back.
Now, what do I mean? Well, if the checkout is busted and the homepage is busted, I’m saying fix the checkout first and do the homepage second or later. And going further, if the product page layout is not performing but your checkout is, well then, start at the product page. It’s the next closest thing, conceivably, to the money.
Does that make sense, Jeff?
Jeff White: I think it does. And I mean it even applies to- and we’re not just talking about what do you optimize first, we’re talking about what do you work on first. Because if your checkout doesn’t work or your conversions aren’t working, then there’s no point throwing more traffic at a site. So you know, there’s no point spending a whole bunch in demand gen to drive to an e-commerce site that isn’t going to allow people to checkout, or if people are failing regularly as they move to do so.
Basically what we’re saying is, if your fundamentals aren’t working, there’s not a lot of point in investing a whole bunch of extra marketing to bring more people into your tent.
Carman Pirie: Right. And I guess it seems more obvious when we’re talking about e-commerce in some way, and maybe less so for some other aspects of marketing and sales, but I guess just to kind of… If you think about it—we’ll take my product page example—X number of people that come to that product page will arrive there via some sort of visitation path that maybe started with the homepage, as an example. And then their next step is checkout.
But an awful lot of those people may have arrived at the product page as their first landing destination from an organic search. And so, optimizing the homepage would only talk to a portion of those buyers, as an example, but optimizing the product page layout talks to all of them. And then, of course, optimizing the checkout talks to even more, because multiple product pages, etcetera.
So, I guess we’re probably not gonna be particularly controversial in that opinion.
Jeff White: Well, I don’t know, because there have certainly been times where we’ve spoken with manufacturers who were certain that the main thing that they needed to do was to bring more people into their funnel, and not necessarily make the site perform better. And I think in a lot of cases that’s probably the wrong approach.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, that’s true. And it’s like the notion of, we already have a lot in the funnel today and you’re making a number of them angry, or otherwise ignoring them, or giving them a poor experience. Why does it make sense, why would it make sense to invest even more money to get more people in there just so that you can turn them sour?
It kind of reminds me of the old advertising saying that the fastest way to sink a bad product is good advertising. Because it’ll actually get people to try it, they’ll find out exactly how bad it is. Right?
So, in that instance, starting from the money means improving the product, right?
Jeff White: Oh boy. [Laughs]
Carman Pirie: Does that seem like too much?
Jeff White: No, not necessarily, but I mean it’s interesting to think about that marketing is a continuum as part of the creation of a product right through to its use, service, lifespan, everything. Like this is all… It’s all just one big continuum of engagement of some kind with a product, or a brand, or what have you, and if any part of that isn’t working, especially closest to the sale.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Closest to the transaction or the exchange of value.
Jeff White: Yeah. No, it’s interesting.
Carman Pirie: So, how else does it kind of come to life?
One of the ways that I like to think about this that maybe isn’t immediately apparent to some is the notion of as you think about what types of marketing tactics to deploy, I try to think of it through the lens of the polarity of the sale in that moment. So by polarity I simply mean, are they coming your way or are you having to go get them? And in some way the rule of starting closest to the money in this instance means starting with the polarity that’s more in your favor, because there’s a greater chance of success if they’re already coming your way.
Jeff White: I think it’s important to just… You know, what do we mean by that? Who are the people that are coming to you versus being advertised? Because I think a lot of people would say, “Well anything related to advertising is me attracting them.” But that’s necessarily true, especially when we’re talking about paid search and some portions of paid social.
Carman Pirie: Well, there’s organic search, as well.
Jeff White: Oh, absolutely.
Carman Pirie: And paid search are the two very obvious examples. They’re actively raising their hand. You’re not forcing their hand, they’re raising it and saying, “Hey, I’m looking for this.” And in some way, whether you’ve paid to play or you’ve earned the right through organic, you’re getting served up and they’re landing there. The polarity of that potential sale is much more favorable to you as the manufacturer than if you were putting a display ad in front of a target account that has never heard of you before.
Jeff White: Absolutely.
Carman Pirie: So, you know, very rarely would I recommend that somebody spend a bunch of money on display ads to their target accounts unless they have, at the very least, optimized in some fashion their lead flow on the paid search side. Understanding that the polarity of that’s going to be better.
What I find interesting about that too, Jeff, is that as a marketer, your cost of acquisition of these leads—you know, that measurement isn’t a constant. You can’t expect the cost of acquisition in channels where you’re having to push being as favorable as those where the polarity is the other way, right?
Jeff White: Yeah. No, it’s true.
Carman Pirie: You can’t say, “Oh, well, if the cost of customer acquisition in this display campaign is any higher than what our paid search presents, then we’ve gotta shut it down. It’s not successful.” Like, well, hold on a second, right? You may get lucky and have the exception that proves the rule, and it actually be more favorable; but chances are the cost of acquisition on that’s going to be higher than when the polarity is more in your direction.
Jeff White: Assuming, of course, that you’ve set your paid campaign up properly.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. This all assumes that you’re not just paying a Google stupid tax or something like that, right? Which, there’s plenty of that out there.
I also think you could even… I guess one of the things that comes to mind with ‘this start from the money and work back,’ is that when marketers are trying to optimize lead flow in an organization—you know, optimize revenue performance—if you don’t have a pretty tight connectivity to sales and an understanding on how that’s going down, i.e. if you’re not able to start at the money because of organizational barriers, it is pretty much a guarantee of spillage of effort, wouldn’t you say?
Jeff White: Well, there’s no way it can’t be. I mean, if your knowledge of a sale ends at the handoff of a lead in the CRM and you never see that again, and you don’t ever have an opportunity to talk to the customer, or at the very least talk to the salesperson who deals directly with the customer, or service people who are working directly with the customer post sale… you know, there is a wealth of knowledge there that is still on the closer to the customer, closer to the sale side of things than anything you’re going to see in terms of a lead coming in through your digital platforms or what have you.
Carman Pirie: Well, yeah. I’m in violent agreement with that.
But I’m just reminded of a conversation I had doing some customer journey research with a salesperson in a particularly large regional jurisdiction, and the marketing organization had been charged with… They obviously wanted to increase their sale in this particular category, and the salesperson kind of repped a few different kind of lines that the manufacturer produced. And so, here’s this whole marketing initiative around trying to understand the customers better, trying to build out a better buying journey, on and on and on, and I talked to the salesperson and the salesperson’s like, “Yeah, I don’t even sell that product. I don’t even talk about it. I don’t seek out those accounts. Anytime that I’m in a competitive situation for that product, essentially we lose,” because their competitor was better known and had better pricing support in that market.
So it’s like well, my goodness, it seems like there’s an awful lot of things we need to fix before we worry about how many more customers we’re attracting in that market. Because anyone that did show up at the door, our salesperson isn’t even calling them back. I mean, he supported the entire European region. I mean, it’s not like there’s just like, “Oh, you’re missing out on Northwestern Maine,” or something. It’s a big market.
And so, the inability for the marketing organization to be able to start close to the money before going down this path, there’s a real kind of negative impact to that, right? There’s money spent, there’s effort put out that frankly is going to land on… I don’t know that I would say ‘land on deaf ears.’ Probably not the right phrase, but whatever.
Jeff White: Oh, and that’s interesting. To ‘land on deaf ears’ would be to suggest that you’re not going to reach anybody. But in reality, if you’re investing in marketing and then not fulfilling it all the way through to the sale, then it’s not that it’s landing on deaf ears. It’s actually landing on people who are interested in hearing from you, and then they’re being disappointed because you’re not following through.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. It’s almost like even worse, right?
Jeff White: I think it is. I think it is, yeah. We brought you in here and then we just sort of ignored you.
Carman Pirie: So, a couple of other areas where I kind of just think of… I guess the one that’s kind of a fun one to think of, I used to be involved in politics way back in the day, and of course fundraising is a key part of political endeavor.
And look, there’s a number one rule of political fundraising which is frankly, start at the money and work back. And start at the money in political fundraising means start with the people who have given you money before, and then work back from there. I remember one political consultant said, ‘Never insult a campaign donor by only asking them for money once. Never assume they don’t believe in the cause so much that they’re gonna want to give again. Never assume that they don’t want to do that.’
Which is like, obviously you kind of see how they were trying to twist things, but it’s true. I mean, any time you deploy an ask against net new potential supporters that have never donated before, you’re going to get less uptake than what you’re going to get if you’re going back to the same well. Now, of course you can go back to that well until it’s dry. You can exhaust it. But most people don’t… When you apply that from a marketing lens, a lot of people—they’re not at all at risk of exhausting their existing relationships by trying to sell into them more.
Jeff White: No, no. I mean, expanding share of wallet—especially through things like using service organizations who are already embedded with a happy customer and using them to upsell to the next level service plan, or maintenance, or parts, warranties, or what have you—I mean, those are golden opportunities for almost any manufacturer to take advantage of. And that’s all close to the money.
Carman Pirie: Exactly. And in this instance, we say close to the value creation, close to the transaction. Well, kind of what’s closer to that in some way than when your people are on site at a customer’s plant working? That’s pretty close to where that value’s being created. And it’s also where it’s easiest to transition the conversation to expanding the relationship. Of course, you have to then arm oftentimes more technical service people to have what kind of seemed maybe to them to be sales-esque conversations. And this doesn’t maybe come without some impact on the sales organization if they sell by commission, etcetera, as well.
So, making this a reality isn’t easy, but I think the example is a great one.
Jeff White: Yeah. For sure. And you know, not necessarily directly related to fundraising, or investment, or things like that, but certainly where your mind goes when you’re talking about being close to that customer.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, well, you mentioned investment. I think that’s a pretty cool example. I was in this discussion recently with a marketer who has been working with a startup in a very highly technical scientific space, and a number of other competing businesses in their category have been receiving a lot of investor interest. And so, it’s left them kind of scratching their head about why maybe their approaches to VCs have not been going as well. And the marketer learned just prior to sharing the story with me that after more than a year of bringing new investors, new potential VCs to the table, they finally have learned what the company founder was saying in the room. They basically have gotten feedback about what the pitch was, and it’s not good.
So, as much as the marketer had tried to shape up that pitch with presentation decks and things of that sort to help support it and guide it, in this instance the founder was fairly closed in terms of kind of holding that close to their chest—and in those rooms where the marketer wasn’t present, we learned that things weren’t going particularly well. So, it’s like man, I bet that person wishes they could have started at the money. I really wish, I bet they wish they had a recording of the first pitch that the person did so they could begin to make the corrections there before spending a year connecting with potential VCs on LinkedIn.
So, there’s all these kind of…We can kind of come up probably with a dozen other stories about this, but I would just encourage our listeners to, when looking at dissecting a marketing or sales challenge, something that isn’t working particularly well-
Jeff White: Or a new challenge being brought to something for the first time. It’s not necessarily that it was broken before.
Carman Pirie: True. Start from the money and work back. If you optimize in that direction, essentially every dollar you spend is being spent in service of a more efficient and effective conversion and revenue generating process downstream. So, it just maximizes the utility of that spend all the way up the funnel.
And please don’t call me out on calling it a funnel when we’ve said that it’s not really a funnel, but that’s another topic for another podcast.
Jeff White: I think it is related to a funnel. It’s a process.
Carman Pirie: It’s a helpful visual, for sure.
Jeff White: Yeah. It gets evermore refined. All right. Well, I really enjoyed chatting about this with you today.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. It’s an interesting thing to explore and I hope our listeners kind of… You know, if you put this into practice, I’d be interested to hear any outcomes.
It’s a funny thing because it’s kind of very obvious, but if you don’t kind of hold yourself to account, sometimes you can find yourself spinning wheels and not starting close enough to the money as a marketer, and if you just pause for a second I think you can sometimes see the error in your ways and use this as a method of quick correct.
A pleasure chatting.
Jeff White: Indeed. Thanks.
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.