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  • Writer's pictureSusan Tatum

Manufacturing’s Move Into Digital Marketing

Updated: Sep 11, 2021

with Jeff White

For more traditional industries like manufacturing that have traditionally relied on trade shows or face-to-face conversations, moving to digital marketing was always a low priority, says Jeff White. But the COVID-19 pandemic created a huge shift in the marketing space, and B2B businesses have had to follow suit.

Notes from the Show

Jeff White from Kula Partners, an agency in Nova Scotia, helps manufacturers digitally transform their marketing and sales. While this B2B industry historically hasn’t adapted as quickly to digital marketing, Jeff has found success by helping his clients utilize marketing tools like CRMs, funnels and leads.

What would it look like if there are only 7 possible customers for your product in the entire world? Because Jeff focuses on manufacturers who often sell to other manufacturers, he is often working within an account-based marketing framework, or with a very limited number of customers. Upselling and gaining access to other divisions within the company have helped him expand his market.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced changes in how manufacturers can find customers, and some of those changes include:

  • Changing demographics within the industry

  • Increased emphasis on ecommerce

  • Methods used to reach out to customers

Digital marketing may not seem like a natural fit for a traditional industry like manufacturing, but Jeff’s agency uses it to bring manufacturers into the 21st digital economy.

What’s Inside:

  • For manufacturers who want to rise above the noise, Jeff puts his clients on a 3 part continuum.

  • The challenges of account-based marketing and sales in a small niche.

  • Some of the changes that Jeff thinks will remain in manufacturing marketing even after the pandemic ends.

Transcribed by AI Susan Tatum 0:03

Hey everybody and welcome to stop the noise. This is where we get to hear from some of the most interesting and experienced minds offering us advice and some great ideas about why and how to stop wasting money looking and sounding like everybody else. You know in business, being the same won't keep you safe. It will make you easy to replace, and even easier to ignore. I'm your host, Susan Tatum. Let's get started.

Hello, and welcome back to stop the noise. I'm Susan Tatum and today I'm talking with Jeff White, who's the co founder of Kula Partners. This is an agency in Nova Scotia, Halifax, I think designed to help leading manufacturers digitally transform their marketing and sales. Welcome Jeff,

Jeff White 0:55

thanks very much for having me, Susan.

Susan Tatum 0:57

So I think your focus is on manufacturers with a complex or, or highly technical product or thing that they make. And they have a what we call a complex sales process.

Jeff White 1:10

Yeah, for sure. Yeah. So the vast majority of the manufacturers that we work with, as you said, They're, they're b2b. So they're not selling directly to consumers. Generally, they usually make either packaging or parts of machinery or sensors or things like that. And their stuff often goes into other people's stuff. So you know, like selling to OEMs. And creating, like, what my most favorite sensor with one of our clients was the sensor that senses whether or not the sensors are working, so so he's like, the Omni sensor. And like, exactly, and, and as he said, they have really complex sales environments. They have distributors, often who rep their products. And so there's often issues of complexity and conflict that have to be resolved around selling directly via e commerce or inside an outside sales team. So competing against each other in different ways. So generally speaking, they are a very technical sale and have a very technical product, usually,

Susan Tatum 2:10

and they must be really experiencing change now.

Jeff White 2:15

Oh, goodness, yeah. Maybe they already were. But COVID is certainly accelerated that infinitely for them. Because the vast majority of b2b type manufacturers are used to selling in person via tradeshow events. It's the lion's share of their marketing budget, and it's completely gone.

Susan Tatum 2:33

And it's also in my mind anyway, in my experience, and you have a lot more than I do. But it's an industry that although they may be really very digital on their manufacturing lines, and things like that. They're their sales and marketing has not been traditionally been a bit more well, like you said, it's face to face, but they didn't adapt to the digital marketing or sales as quickly as some other industries did, precoat.

Jeff White 3:00

I'd say that that's accurate. You know, I can even remember one sales process that we were involved in, where everything was about to go through, and we're about to sign a relatively large marketing retainer and contract, and that was torn asunder by a need to purchase additional machinery and digital enablement for the shop floor. And, you know, you could just see the look on that marketers face when their budgets being taken away from them that they've been planning for this thing for six months, but it's always about can we manufacture more efficiently? Can we build things and get them out the door more quickly than it necessarily is in seeing value in the marketing and sales apparatus? digitally transforming that?

Susan Tatum 3:39

Okay, so we're here on talking on stop the noise? So to bring it back to that, what do you think it takes to rise above all of that noise and sameness in the marketplace? What What does it take to do that these days?

Jeff White 3:52

For manufacturers, I think what it takes for a manufacturer to rise above that noise is, you know, we really see it that our clients, generally the people that we're talking to most of the time are on a bit of a three part continuum. So the first part is, you know, they got a website. So they have that digital Foundation, they they might be doing some email marketing, and you know, but they've got the blocking and tackling in place, if you will. And then the next sophisticated group would generally be the manufacturers who have adopted marketing automation, they have a CRM in place so that marketing and sales are talking to each other and then providing marketing is providing content for the sales team. And you know, leads are being routed into different funnels and you know, you see, kind of in that middle stage, you really have marketers who are concentrating on bringing more people to their digital properties, converting them on assets using inbound marketing techniques, and then kind of moving that down to sales. And I think there's kind of a for a lot of the people we work with, they have a very unique and small total addressable market. So There's one manufacturer that we work with, and they sell packaging for pet food. And there are seven companies in the world that are big enough to be able to buy packaging from our client. And so you know, it's a very small, ideal customer profile, if you will. And as such, they're able to really target those people quite individually and treat them as special in their marketing. And that's, that's kind of the next phase after you move beyond that funnel thinking where you're just looking to put more leads into the top of your funnel and convert more of them, and instead focusing on Okay, I know who these you know, 7, or 10, or 100 potential prospects are, and I'm going to take a real account based approach to identifying them, and then serving their needs all the way down through the organization. And that's where we help clients kind of move from one phase of that to the next.

Susan Tatum 5:51

In case anybody in any of our listeners are not totally familiar with account based marketing or account based sales, how and I think different definitions get used for that from time to time. How are you defining that? What do you mean, when you say account based marketing?

Jeff White 6:08

Yeah, so when we're talking about account based marketing, we're usually talking about, as I say, a small total addressable market within your ideal customer profile. So there, you know, there's not there's not an infinite number of people who can buy what you sell, there's a small amount that it's not like selling an iPhone, where anyone could use one or anyone could buy one, potentially, it's a very specific piece of piece of gear that is only really applicable to a very small number of people. And you can identify those accounts as the potential people who can buy from you. And then focus your marketing and your sales apparatus on really driving interest with the people who are maybe not aware of you yet, but you make them aware of you. And then you're kind of trying to tap into all buyers and personas within that account, who could be the right person to hear your message.

Susan Tatum 6:58

And there could be a large number of those people, I would think because you, you, I think you said there's only seven companies that are big enough to buy packaging from this particular client. So each one of those companies probably accounts for a number of different, almost like a number of different clients within the same account at some...

Jeff White 7:18

Very much so and that's one of the things that's really unique about manufacturers, as well, Mazda, as a group of companies for us to work with is that manufacturers often grow via acquisition. And they probably grow by acquisition faster than a lot of other business types, even SAS. So you know, we have a podcast as well. And we had a fellow on there from John Eklund from forgetting the company name right now, that's so good. But anyway, they are a machinery company that sells machines that help make packaging, as it turns out, and they acquire three to four companies a year. So if you're looking to sell into John's company, you know, you have all of these different avenues and all of these different places where you're trying to, you know, tap into a much larger share of wallet within the same company, you may be dealing with one division, and it's only a very small part, but upselling and getting access to those other divisions within that company is a whole different ballgame than selling the net new prospects

Susan Tatum 8:16

so I would assume that this brings sales and marketing closer together,

Jeff White 8:20

it often does. Yeah, and a lot of the work that we do is on advising the marketing and sales teams within our clients. So we're actually working with them to stand up revenue operations teams that comprise of you know, new inside sales, people who in a lot of cases these companies have never used before, you know, they've often had usually older white guys that are out running around the country with an expense account meeting with people on the shop floor and showing them the goods, you know, or going to trade shows and meeting them there. Now they're having to focus on Well, how do I work people through a fully digital process? How do I get the right content that hits the right people within that organization at the right time? You know, where are you know, I need to talk to procurement and engineering and the CFO. And each one of those people has a very different need when it comes to procuring that particular thing, and probably different metrics for what matters to them. So marketing needs to work very closely in hand in hand with sales to fully understand, you know, what, what is it these people need, because it's probably not just a brochure with a list of specs and outputs, which the engineer finds really valuable when you're talking to the CFO about the value, it can provide

Susan Tatum 9:31

what sounds like it's something of an upheaval that's going on there if you've forced to change the way you sell, because of COVID. And also, I guess, with younger people getting into those businesses that do expect for to buy from something that a company that's digital, they expect to be able to go online and find out all of the details, the specifics that they want to know. So you've got so what what do you think the changes that we see driven by COVID. What do you see sticking around,

Jeff White 10:02

I think we're going to see, you know, it's funny, you know, you can talk about interruptive things where, you know, we we hear of a concept, and then we change our behavior for a little while and then go back to the way things always work versus fully disruptive things where something has happened. And it means that we're never going to go back to the way things were, I think there's a lot of that even in the trade show and event business and talking to a lot of people on our podcast about, you know, just how that's changed for them. And most of them are the ones who are really thinking about it or realizing, you know, we're not just going to go back to all getting together in a room anymore. And watching the same speaker on a stage and then milling about meeting for beer at the end of the day, there's going to be pieces of that that are fully digital components, there are going to be the integration of in person and digital events. So I think that you're quite right, the the demographic is changing, a lot of the people who are working in some of these roles in some of the companies that we work with are choosing to retire, they're hiring younger and younger people who have a very different expectation of digital interface with somebody, they're used to buying everything digitally, they they understand e commerce, they really get that. And you know, if you can begin to adapt how your marketing is working and who it's targeting, and truly understanding the kinds of buyers you have on the other end, you're going to continue to be successful as we come out of this pandemic, because it's just I think a lot of people just aren't going to be willing to change, they're going to stay working remotely, they're going to not go to as many events, they're going to need to use tools for account based marketing and account based advertising, which also Incidentally, have had to change as a result of the pandemic, we can't target the IP address of Coca Cola anymore, because there's nobody at the building, you know, when we want to do targeted advertising, so we have to target the individual machines that they might have, so that there's just so many things that are having to change from the software and technology that we're using to the methods that we want to use to reach out to people and what they value is different now to

Susan Tatum 12:02

Yeah, that's true. So what about your business? Jeff, you're in a a fairly competitive, I know you're well focused on this manufacturing, but you're in a pretty competitive industry. What What do you do so to make cool a partner stand out from other people out there potentially claiming to do the same thing?

Jeff White 12:24

Those and every things? You're quite right. I mean, they're the agency space is crowded. You know, we learned this over the years. Kula was founded about 17 years ago. It basically aligns with my daughter's birthday because I started the company after I got laid off when she was born. So you know, we really seen as we've focused our agency, initially, we became a HubSpot agency. But eight, nine years ago, when inbound marketing was really new, and for a while we rode that train away, it was very now but now everybody's doing inbound marketing and content marketing and marketing automation, it's no longer a differentiator. So as a result, choosing to focus on the b2b manufacturing vertical has allowed us to really fine tune and try to cramp and learn the special unique qualities of market of the marketing and sales machine within these kinds of companies. It's very different than working with SAS, it's very different from working in real estate or marketing any of those other things or consumer goods or whatever. It's really something that and we didn't we didn't understand this, I think before we made this choice, just how much it was going to matter to truly be able to differentiate the agency by focusing on something but we regularly get in conversations now with people who are like, you know, nobody else we've talked to is asking us these questions. Nobody knew to ask about how how we sell or about our distributor conflict or our channel conflict or things like that. And for us, the way that we've done that is we I mentioned my podcast a couple of times, we started this podcast a few years ago called the Kula ring. And we made it an interview based Podcast, where just very similar to what we're doing here, where we interview people who are manufacturing marketing experts, or manufacturing sales experts, and we can bring a lot more people into our podcast to talk to and learn from and really begin to see what's going on in that industry than we'd ever be able to bring on as clients. So it's really allowed us to expand our knowledge of the space at a much more rapid rate than if we had just focused on talking to the clients that we have or that we can get.

Susan Tatum 14:34

I think that's great. And do you see with your clients, do you see them being able to focus well, or do you see that they want to be everything to everybody or they suffer from? You mentioned SAS and I think that is a another industry that suffers from lookalike stuff. Do you see that in the manufacturing industry?

Jeff White 14:56

I think that there is a real push Within the manufacturing industry, especially, depending on the level of manufacturing you're talking about, I mean, if it's just a small kind of mom and pop shop that manufactures you know, a few widgets or a few parts for somebody else, and then sells them on, then maybe it's not quite the same thing. But one of the things that we really have been seeing, especially with the larger and mid market manufacturers is that they know really well how to sell via an outside sales team through distributors, you know, working with gray bar and Granger and these other great big distributor companies, they know exactly how to do that. But they don't necessarily know how to do is how to sell to somebody who only only wants to buy $20,000 worth of their stuff instead of 10 million, but they know that all the expansion in their market is going to be in that niche or niche, depending on which side of the border you're on, they know that there's a lot of opportunity for them in that smaller market. And then you also see the small to medium sized manufacturers who are looking up market and trying to learn how to sell into that. So you know, the way that you sell to him or speaking to somebody the other day on our podcast, you know, they sell to packaging and aluminum cans, to the biggest breweries and soft drink makers and all that in the world. But they also have this really amazing niche selling to craft beer companies, you know, and how you talk to a couple of guys who are renovating a garage into a brewery is a lot different than how you talk to Coca Cola, but the some of the needs are the same. And it's just a matter of sitting down and figuring out, you know, what do they need? And when? And how, you know, how do you get that to them? And how do you sell to them the way that they expect to be sold to?

Susan Tatum 16:34

So I think I hear you saying that it's more focusing on who you're selling to, or trying to sell to, and building that relationship than it is worrying about what your competitors look like, in comparison with you?

Jeff White 16:50

Oh, I think absolutely right. Most of the, you know, when you're talking to smaller manufacturers, they are more concerned about the big manufacturers eating their lunch, because that's who they're you know, they're maybe they make one thing, or, you know, they have 500 skews, but the people they're competing against have 360,000. You know, so it's and they make a small subset, but they make it really well. But it's so they're trying to break into these larger and larger markets. And and they really have to think about, you know, how are we going to approach these larger companies? And then how do we fine tune the content that we're going to get to them and and it really is about, you know, it's about leveraging your scale, whether that's up or down? And and fully understanding exactly how you're going to, you know how you're going to approach that developing the strategy to do it?

Susan Tatum 17:40

Well, it sounds like you're in a really interesting spot to me, because you're you're able to see it sort of from the top of the marketing funnel all the way through to where it's actually affecting sales and becoming a client rather than just doing the, you know, marketing part, and then letting sales handle the rest of it.

Jeff White 18:00

Yeah, and we've we've all even before we were a manufacturing focused agency, when we were in a conversation with a prospective client, one of the things that made us different is that we were really focused on how much revenue Can we help drive? How much value are we bringing? Is there a return on an investment with Kula, and we really focus on that we measure it, we want to know in the CRM, exactly how many dollars that ABM program brought in how you know, how the PPC is converting, and all of those different pieces in order to truly understand and help develop a better picture of how we can help our clients grow. We're really focused on their revenue, and we really care about it.

Susan Tatum 18:40

That's awesome. We're good. We're running out of time. And but before I let you go, I want you to tell us what Kula Partners means.

Jeff White 18:49

It's funny, we get this question a lot. People think it's just a funny word, or they say Kahlua. And which is fine, too, depending on the time

Susan Tatum 18:56

I thought it, I thought it might be some Canadian bear or something like that.

Jeff White 19:01

I don't know. I don't know. I mean, where where we got it from is in Papua New Guinea, there is a tribal trading ring that happens around a series of islands called the trobriand Islands. And there are dozens if not over, I can't exactly remember the exact number. But in any event, the Kula ring is a tribal trading ceremony that happens between tribes from one island to the next. And they pass along a relatively worthless things that trinkets made from seashells, bracelets, bracelets, necklaces, things like that. And the whole point of these ceremonies, these elaborate training ceremonies is when I give you a piece of Kula, it's not yours to keep it's about elevating your social capital and the connections between our tribes and you don't get to keep it. The whole intent is you have to then pass it on again at some other point and create social capital with another tribe. And these bracelets and necklaces get traded around the islands in clockwise and counterclockwise fashion. There are different aspects to the way that they're traded and we saw a lot of parents levels between that travel trading ring and the anthropology of it. And the early days of social media when you know posting what you're having for breakfast on Twitter really wasn't, you know, earth shattering, but it helped to create connections and other capital between you and other people out there in the world. And, you know, we've seen that in the time since we founded the agency. There's been great things about social media and horrible things. But we certainly saw some significant societal benefits early on that we're mirroring some of these things that we see in the coloring and

Papua New Guinea

Susan Tatum 20:27

That is one of the best brand stories I have heard. That's great.

Jeff White 20:31

it's what we used to tell people is, you know, if you buy a brand from us, you're not just getting a pretty icon and some great typography, you also have a story to tell about where it came from. And that's why it cost so much money.

Susan Tatum 20:41

That's a good one. Well, thank you for being here. Jeff. I think this has been really interesting and informative for folks, for the listeners that want to follow up with you. What's the best way to do that?

Jeff White 20:51

Probably the easiest way to find us is Everything is linked up from there.

Susan Tatum 20:59

All right, and they can catch you on your podcast.

Jeff White 21:02

That's right.

Susan Tatum 21:03

Where podcasts are found

Jeff White 21:04

everywhere podcasts are sold. Yeah.

Susan Tatum 21:07

All right. Great. Well, you take care.

Jeff White 21:09

All right, you as well. Thank you, Susan.

Susan Tatum 21:10

Bye bye, Jeff.


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