Happy New Year!
I recently had a very interesting conversation with Pete Hoelscher, the Acting CEO of IEEE GlobalSpec. He shared his thoughts on the state of industrial marketing in 2020 and the challenges that manufacturing marketers may face in the new year and beyond.
I get to hear firsthand from my industrial clients about their challenges, but Pete talks to a variety of industrial companies in the US and across the world. His universe is much wider, and his perspective is global.
We had similar views on many of the key points, so it is good to hear that confirmation from him. I would like to thank Mena Buscetto, Account Executive at FINN Partners for arranging the interview and providing the recording.
Without further ado, here’s the audio of my interview with Pete (Note: there is no video). Scroll down to read the transcript in its entirety if that’s your preference.
Pete Hoelscher: Hello.
Achinta Mitra: Hello Pete, how are you?
PH: I’m doing well. How are you today?
AM: I’m doing well, thank you.
PH: Great, thank you. I just want to say it at the top of the conversation, and I know you have followed GlobalSpec for quite a while and have reported on our activities and we definitely appreciate that.
AM: You’re welcome. Yes, your research reports have been very helpful, and it’s very well received by my readers and, like you said, I’ve been familiar with GlobalSpec for a long time and I’ve used it with several different clients.
PH: Oh great.
AM: But things have changed, I have to say. So, go Mena, I didn’t mean to interrupt you.
Mena Buscetto: Oh no, no worries. I’m going to turn it over to you in just a second. So, just a reminder, Achinta, and Pete as well, so I am recording the conversation as we previously discussed, but with that being said, Achinta, I will turn it over to you.
AM: Okay. Thank you, Mena. Pete, it’s a pleasure to meet you even if it’s only virtually.
PH: You as well.
AM: Thank you. Today, I’m speaking with PH. Am I pronouncing your last name correctly?
PH: Yes, yes.
AM: Good. He is the acting CEO of IEEE GlobalSpec, and I appreciate you taking the time to share with me and my readers your views and insights on industrial marketing. After all, that is my focus and that’s what my readers come to read on my blog.
So, let me start with a general question. Pete, what are your observations and thoughts on the state of industrial marketing as we move into 2020 and beyond?
PH: Sure, and thank you, Achinta, for the opportunity to visit with you. I think the state of it is one I’d say is of complexity. Meaning that with digital marketing especially, it is in some ways the easiest way possible to measure results because some things are so instantaneous, but it’s also become some of the most complex because an industrial marketer has to look at all the various channels that their audience is accessing and consuming content.
And it makes the job far more complex to know, what channels do I go after? Do I include? How do I measure the success? And then, the focus on the personas too, right, to really understand, who am I talking to? I’ve got thousands of contacts, but who is this one individual, that persona, how do I interact with them? And so now, you’re adding another level of complexity.
And with the growing focus, we’ve seen GDPR, and now with California starting the new year, with a continuing focus, I believe, on the individuals wanting to have the voice and control over how their information is used and accessed. That also adds the complexity.
So, the industrial marketer, I think, is faced with that set of challenges, in terms of, how do they make the connection with the right people? And also, marketing budgets have always been under fire, especially when times are hard for a particular company. And so, I’ve got these challenges, these complexities, and I’ve got to do it on a budget that rarely is increasing, and is most often staying flat or shrinking. And so, I’ve got to find a way to be successful in that environment.
AM: Great. I really enjoyed that overview because you hit on some of the key points that I talk about a lot. Industrial marketing is challenging. There’s no doubt about it and trying to force fit B2C or even general B2B marketing strategies and tactics just don’t work.
PH: That’s correct. The successful industrial marketer is the one who is also always open to learning and knowing what else is out there and what can be used. I mean, there are certainly some lessons probably from the B2C space that I think transfer over, but certainly, definitely some different challenges for the B2B market that are unique to them because, certainly marketing principles apply across both, in the industrial space, because I think the buying process is obviously much longer and the people who are making the buying decisions or influencing the buying decisions, it can be a tough crowd, right?
They really are looking for a level of depth and detail that maybe you don’t see as much on the consumer side. I know in our own research, we’ve been researching engineers for the last five years on an annual basis through our smart marketing for engineer’s survey and it consistently shows, in the last five years, they really want that quality content with depth and some level of objectivity in their buying decision.
And not that you don’t see it on the consumer side, it’s just far more prevalent, and I think almost threshold, on the industrial side.
AM: Right. I agree with you. Yes. Industrial marketers can certainly learn some valuable lessons from our counterparts in B2C, but the key is to be able to adapt it to this industrial buyers or industrial space.
AM: Okay. So, based on your conversations and interactions with manufacturers in the US as well as other countries, do you see some major differences between what industrial marketers are actually doing versus what they should be doing?
PH: Sure. I think one thing that we’re seeing more and more, but there’s still a lot of room left to grow that area in the industrial space, is that whole concept of personas. To really know, “Okay, so who are the different marketing personas that I have?”, if I’m an industrial marketer. Have I defined those? Are they informed through research and experience so that I can then take my marketing program and figure out, “Okay, how do I connect with those different personas in a way that really does feel personal? It does feel the connection.”
Because by doing that, most successful industrial marketers, I think, are beginning to realize, “Wow, that really works.” It cuts through a lot of noise and it gets us closer to having a positive relationship and transaction from a marketing perspective. And so, again, we’re seeing some, I’d say, companies that are on the early edge of that in the industrial space, but many more that have that distance to cover.
And I think the challenge there is to do, I just described, requires having the resources internally or parting with an appropriate agency to help you with that, to understand those personas. And so, I think that is one of the immediate challenges that we see for several still in the industrial space.
AM: Okay. I think that’s a very valid point because it leads right into my next question. One of the problems that I have seen in my daily work with industrial clients is sometimes they tend to use the one size fits all approach to content marketing. You’ve already touched on this, but can you go a little deeper on why you think that is not such an effective industrial marketing strategy?
PH: Sure. I think, because what that does, it misses an opportunity, right? So, let’s say if I’ve got my particular component or part that I’m trying to market as an industrial marketer, if I only have one message around that part, I’m only going to resonate with one of my personas. And you can’t just simply say, “Well, it’s for…” Everyone who could possibly be interested in this part. All I got to do is talk about the part and the part will sell itself, it’s so compelling.
It will only be compelling to one subset, and because, I think, for various reasons. One, certainly generations, right? A millennial engineer, or a purchasing agent is, is different than a baby boomer. So they have different ways of looking at the world. They have different things that are going to really get their attention and they’re going to find sticky in that marketing process.
And so, the industrial marketer who only takes one approach and one persona, or even worse, isn’t taking a persona at all and just says, “I’ve got this great product. Anyone who wants that kind of product is going to be interested in it.”, is missing a huge opportunity, and also missing opportunity to really prove to their executives that their marketing budget is valuable.
Because to me, that’s how a marketing person can show so much value internally is like, “Look, our audience is not just a single type of buyer. There are multiple types of buyers for this product. We’ve got to talk to all of them and talk to them in a way that connects to them.”
AM: Great. Understanding that age difference among engineers is important in making your content and your marketing relevant to the various stakeholders that are involved in the decision-making process. On top of that, typically in industrial sales you’re dealing with a much longer sales cycle. So, keeping in touch with relevant information is challenging.
PH: Oh, very much so. Right? Because I think, one, have some level patience if you will, in the marketing process in the industrial space, specifically in B2B. And thinking about, again, the demographics of age. And one thing that we see in our own research is that more than 80% of the engineers over age 35 spend more than half of their buying process, which to your point, can be very long based on what it is they’re looking for, online before speaking with someone at a company.
So, while we certainly understand and see it every day that there’s this anxiousness and urgency to get to, “I want to interact with that individual that is interested in the product.”, which is of course very important at the bottom of the funnel, for marketers to realize that and that process to nurture that lead, so much of that happens online with exposure to content that you have to keep track of, and information, and that if you rush that process too much, right, you may not be successful in moving them down the funnel.
And so, content, in terms of breadth and depth and quality is essential for a B2B marketer because, again, in regards to the persona, it’s very much groups that are very strong on, “I want to see unbiased, objective information that allows me to make that decision, helps guide me to that decision.”
AM: Correct. Okay. Since we’ve been talking about content, let me ask you something that I’ve heard sometimes, and you read a lot about it online. I’m talking about people saying or claiming that there is an information overload because everybody wants to just pump out more content for the sake of content marketing. What do you recommend manufacturing content marketers do to rise above that noise and really engage with engineers and industrial professionals?
PH: That is really a great point because to me that is both therein lies the challenge and the opportunity. You’re right. People are bombarded because that is one of the challenges of, I think, being both a buyer and being a marketer, right? As a marketer you’ve got to find a way to cut through the noise. As a buyer, you want to find a way to get through the noise and just say, “Where should I go? I almost have so many options, where do I start?”
I think if I’m the marketer though, how I can rise above everyone else in that space is to consistently provide content that is of quality, right? So, and quality defined as, again, there is breadth of the content there and depth of the content. So, if I want to dig deeper, I can.
So, for example, on white papers, our research shows that white papers still are very attractive and well-received piece of information for a buyer in the industrial space. Certainly, product demos, done well, are also very are very interested in by the audience, be it a small video or more detailed how to.
So, I think you have to have different types of content assets to cut through. So, just like with different marketing channels, you need to have, I think, something that is the written word, something that’s video based. So, you have to think through that as a marketer.
And then, you have to really step back. I think this is a real challenge for almost anyone in the marketing place is, am I being almost too salesy in what I’m pitching? Right? Because I think in an industrial space, because there is such a high level of being pragmatic in the buying process, right? Very objective. I want information but I don’t want to be sold to, so to speak. Right?
So, the marketer has got to find a way to navigate that path. That is, I’m checking all the boxes around breadth and depth of content in different ways, in different venues or channels, but I’m not coming across too salesy in that because that will turn people off. So, find a way to balance that.
AM: Yeah. Sometimes I guess it’s human nature. It is difficult to take the step back and think from a visitor or the customer standpoint and make your content more customer-centric because it’s easy to slip into that, talk about your products, how great you are. And frankly, the audience really wants to know, “How do you help me?”, more than anything else before they want to hear about how great your product is.
PH: Exactly. Exactly. And so, putting yourself in their place, right? So, it’s easy to fall in love with your own products and they’d be great products and they truly are, but you’re not the buyer, right? You’re not the one who’s going to influence the purchase. So, if you can’t put yourself in that person’s shoes, make sure you go outside, talk to them and find out what will work. You may not think it’s the best video ever made or the best white paper from your own perspective, but it may be exactly what connects your product with that audience.
AM: Yep. Going out, I’m talking about from a marketer’s perspective, sitting in on sales call or going out with somebody on an actual appointment can be eye-opening sometimes because some of the assumptions we make as a marketer may be completely off when you actually talk to a customer.
PH: Oh, absolutely. I mean, and even in my own role today, I make it a point to try to regularly have phone conversations with our own clients just to say, “What is it you’re facing?” It’s not a sales call at all. And my part is to understand their perspective, what they’re worried about, concerned about, and then, bring that back inside to say, “Okay, here’s what…”, as part of our overall learning process for our own clients, what does that tell us? We put that into our own process and I love the idea of going on sales calls that you mentioned because you walk away with a perspective that otherwise you wouldn’t have.
AM: Exactly. Okay. I have read the recent research report that IEE GlobalSpec released. I’m talking about the 2019 Trends in Industrial Marketing. One of the key findings that really caught my attention is that 81% of industrial marketers use both push outbound tactics and pull inbound marketing initiative, which is great. Yet only 24% of the people surveyed are satisfied with their mix.
And I think early in this conversation you mentioned the challenges of channels. Can you tell us a little bit more about how industrial marketers should diversify their channels so that they can maximize their marketing dollars?
PH: Sure. I think I would start with, do you know what channels your audiences are engaged with? And I know it’s a very fundamental and basic question, but I think before you begin to say, what should my mix look like, you’ve got to start with that question, and then, an informed answer.
Where are they engaging? Right? Is it YouTube, is it white papers, email, newsletters. And what we found in our research is those are still extremely valuable, at least in the engineering space, to audiences. They subscribe to multiple editions, we’ve done in our research. So, but you have to ask yourself first, “Where are they engaging?” Right? And then from there, say, “Okay, so what does that tell me about my channels?” And of course, that can make the balance, well, my budget will only allow me to go to certain ones.
But starting with, where are they engaging? And then, figuring out, okay, so based on that, what are the channels? And I will emphasize it’s got to be plural, because you cannot, I think, put all your eggs in one basket in a particular area for marketing dollars. Because, again, you’ll miss your audience somewhere. Because your audience, regardless of where you are in the industrial space, your audience is engaging in more than one place.
PH: So, you have to make sure that whatever your plan is accounts for the multiple places that you know they’re going to.
AM: Okay. Thank you. Yeah, that’s informative because people are struggling with so many choices, so many channels. Where do you put your money to get the biggest bang? It’s not an easy problem to solve.
PH: Oh, it’s very difficult, right? Even before the digital marketing times, it was advertising and print saying, “Where should I advertise? What are they going to read?”
PH: And now, the problem’s been compounded because there are so many places to read. Companies have their own websites, and then, associations have websites, and then, manufacturers and distributors have websites. And so, that’s one thing that we have found in our own research is that it’s a challenge being a buyer almost, right? It’s a challenge being a marketer too, but it’s actually a shared, different perspectives, but a shared problem.
That’s why investing in some level of research, if you’re a marketer, for your prospect or client set, to really understand what are the places that they’re going to, I think is so vitally important, and running some tests. One thing in talking to our own clients that we find is, let’s commit to a test for a period of time and see what kind of results you get.
It’s a great way to not just test the waters, but to test your thinking and to validate your thinking, is you don’t have to commit to this necessarily, something for an extremely long period of time, if you’re not sure. If you’re trying to figure out where the best places to go, find the right partner who can conduct a test with you from a marketing perspective, and then, check the results.
AM: Great. Okay. Can you share with us some information as to how GlobalSpec is positioning itself to help industrial marketers? I’m referring to, say, something like the recent release of Catalyst, your marketing as a service platform.
PH: So, I’ll talk about Catalyst a little bit, and then, the broader topic of what we’re doing. So, Catalyst is a tool that we’re offering to our clients and to our marketplace that provides, I think, it’s really attractive to those smaller marketing departments, as in, could be one person, could be a short handful, because it’s designed to help that marketer do a lot to nurture leads him or herself.
And so, it has built-in pre-designed templates. For example, if you’re going to nurture the lead from the top of the funnel to the bottom, it allows the client to get their leads from GlobalSpec, each night uploaded. So, they have that at their fingertips. They come in the morning and to manage their campaigns all the way through. And so, we’re very excited about that and proving that type of opportunity and capability to our clients.
On a broader scale for our clients, I think what we do today that adds value is something that we’ve done for a long time. It’s certainly to provide that opportunity to have that client get their information in front of our audience to make that introduction, if you will, of the content, giving them multiple ways to get that content in front of our audience.
So, we have, of course, newsletters, we have white papers, custom articles, product announcements, videos, different ways that people consume content. We can help our clients figure that out and provide that.
But then also, just insight into the engineering mindset. As you’ve done for years, you followed us. So, you know we have the research on an annual basis, but also just on an ongoing basis as we look at, from the broad sense of our audience, what types of things that they’re searching for, looking for? How they consume information. Having some insight onto what we think is going to be most effective for marketing to that group, be able to share that expertise with our clients, I think, is a big part of the value we provide.
AM: Yeah, I agree. Because I know I have used research findings from GlobalSpec to validate what I’m saying to a client. It’s like me telling them, “Don’t just take my word for it. Here’s independent research findings to validate exactly what I’m saying.”
PH: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Exactly.
AM: It’s very helpful.
AM: Okay. Good. Personalization of content, and I think you’ve touched on it already, is becoming more and more important in making content more relevant to different segments of the industrial professionals. Could you provide some guidance on the best practices of personalization while still remaining compliant with laws and regulations such as GDPR?
PH: Sure. I think that, for me, the fundamental part of successful personalization comes down to respect and trust. Respect and trust.
PH: Meaning that, I think, first you have to earn and maybe I put them in reverse order. You have to earn the trust. If you’re the marketer, you have to earn the trust of that person that says, “It’s important to me and to my organization, to the company, to establish trust with you so that if you share your information with me so that I can provide you a better experience, if it’s navigating to our website, a better experience in terms of being exposed to content.
“If you trust me with your information, I’m going to honor that trust.” And therefore, over time, now we have a respect-based relationship because our research has shown that, again, from the engineering perspective, engineers are certainly willing to exchange information about themselves as long as the content they get in exchange matters to them and is valuable.
PH: And that could be their work email address, their name, their company name, last name. They’re definitely willing to do that. They understand because they do that in their personal lives, right? As we shop for things in our personal life, if we trust the provider of the information and we like the experience and it doesn’t make us feel weirded out or creepy, we’re very willing to do that.
And that is something, I think, a lesson learned from the B2C side to the B2B side is, you’ve got to take that seriously as an industrial marketer, that you’ve got to earn the trust so you can build the respectful relationship. And so, the practice I think has come exactly in that is that the burden, if you will, is on the marketer to make sure they take the first steps to do that.
And so, if I come to your site as an industrial marketer or how you first contact me, how you come across is everything. So, those first few experiences that I have with you, if they’re brand new, is everything. So, every marketer should really put themselves, again, in the shoes of their audience, of the engineer, or whoever it might be and say, “What’s it like to be a brand new potential customer with our company? What does that feel like?”
That’s some things that we have done internally at GlobalSpec in saying, “Okay, so I’ve just signed up and registered for your site. What does that look like? What’s my experience going to be?” So, I think auditing, if you will, that is vitally important. And then, internally making sure that your process is ongoing, not just are compliant by whatever law, GDPR or CCPA because I think over the next five years we’re going to see that’s going to be pretty much the standard, I believe.
PH: So, it’s going to be, today, the smart industrial marketer are the ones that are already planning not just to meet the minimum compliance of what’s existing today, be thinking about their internal processes so that becomes almost their standard before it has to become the standard across the country.
But so, look at your internal processes and making sure that you can keep your word about being respectful and having that trust relationship because you don’t want to clearly say something that we’re going to be, and then, you may have some hole in your internal processes that breach that trust. So, making sure that internally that you’re solid on all your operational processes.
AM: I agree with you 100%. I think earning that trust and respecting their privacy comes before just the technical aspects of compliance.
PH: Yes, absolutely. And I’m glad you said technical pieces because we think, “Oh, they’re technical buyers.” And all that matters is the rows and columns that the data is, and the bits and the bytes, and now, it matters. It’s important but you’re not going to have a relationship at all unless you base it on some level of trust and respect.
AM: Correct. Okay. Any final thoughts on industrial marketing that you’d like to share before we wrap up this call?
PH: Sure. Just a couple of things. I think, as I mentioned at the top of our conversation, complexity is the biggest challenge but there is so much opportunity for the industrial marketer, because there are people who are searching every day trying to find answers to questions. Sometimes questions are simple, sometimes very complex, but they are operating in an environment of a lot of information. Some of it organized, some not. They’re searching for objectivity, unbiased information. They’re looking for it in different ways, through different channels.
And so, as complex and challenging as it is for the industrial marketer, there is so much opportunity for the marketers who do it and do it well, and recognize the environment and adjust appropriately because the people are out there and they’re looking for answers and a really savvy industrial marketer is the one who understands how to present those answers.
AM: Yep. The opportunities are definitely there. It’s up to the marketer to realize that and understand how best to help us, whether it be the clients, or if you’re an in-house marketing person, your own company. Great.
AM: This has been very interesting. I really appreciate you spending the time, Pete, because it’s great to hear from somebody who’s on, let’s say, on the inside. I get to hear only what my clients are telling me, whereas your world is much bigger than mine. It was really insightful. I truly appreciate it.
AM: And, Mena, thanks a lot for arranging this. I really appreciate this opportunity to talk to Pete.
MB:Absolutely. No problem.
PH: Thank you, Achinta. I really enjoyed the conversation very much. Look forward to… Any time if you want to, please give us a call if you have a question or want to bounce something off of us.
Let’s start with a free 30-minute consultation to determine if this will be a good fit for both of us. It will be a friendly chat to get to know each other better, not a high-pressure sales pitch.