The Manufacturing Executive
The Manufacturing Executive

Episode · 1 year ago

Create Sustainable Growth By Knowing Your Market w/ MJ Peters


When a lot of industrial companies start out, they're lean. Nimble. Close to their customers. But as business scales and becomes more complex, they lose the opportunity to be in constant contact with the market.

Often, when you go into an industrial company as a new marketing hire, you have to rebuild strategic marketing as a core competency. Know what your customers care about, how the industry is structured, and how you are positioned. Then, tell a story with that information.

On this episode of The Manufacturing Executive Show, MJ Peters, VP Marketing at Firetrace, a $35 million business with approximately a hundred employees, talked about creating sustainable growth for your manufacturing company.

Here's what we discussed with MJ:

  • Three key areas where marketing impacts the business
  • Using tangible metrics to sort out what's working and what's not in marketing
  • How to create sustainable growth when you sell in a cyclical market

To ensure that you never miss an episode of The Manufacturing Show, subscribe on Apple Podcasts, or Spotify, or here

It's really important for manufacturingcompanies to build that strategic marketing compedency and nurture it,because if you don't get the strategic marketing piece right, you can't getthe product management or the communications right. Welcome to the manufacturing executivepodcast, where we explore the strategies and experiences that aredriving midsize manufacturers forward here, you'll discover new insides frompassionate manufacturing leaders who have compelling stories to share abouttheir successes and struggles and you'll learn from btob sales andmarketing experts about how to apply actionable business developmentstrategies inside your business. Let's get into the show, welcome to the manufacturing executivepodcast, I'm Joe Sullivan your host and a cofounder of the Industrial MarketingAgency Gerilla. Seventy six we've a killer guests here today and someonewho I see is a trail blazer in the manufacturing space. So let me take amoment to introduce MJ Peters MJ is the vice president of marketing at firetrace international, a thirty five million dollar business withapproximately a hundred employees, firetrace designs and manufacturesautomatic fire suppression systems for high risk equipment, MJ's fire TRAC's,first VP of marketing and is an executive member of the Global Board ofdirectors before joining fire trace, MJ worked in various product and marketingroles across the Holma Group and ftse one hundred conglomerate of small, themedium size manufacturing businesses. She 's also the cohost of a new podcastcalled the industrial marketer, which I absolutely recommend any listeners tothis show check out as well. MJ welcome to the show. Thank you for having me. Ithink it's a really good podcast organized around this topic ofmanufacturing leadership awesome. Well, I'm super excited to have you here,because you know I met you right about the time that you were beginning thiscomplete transformation of fire traces marketing program and it's been reallycool to watch from the outside over the last year or so is it's taken shape?Yeah, it's great to have you here talking about that a bit yeah, I'mexcited to take people through it. It's been great learning experience for meand I think there's going to be some takeaways for others as well.Definitely so, when my firm begins a consulting engagement with amanufacturing organization, I find all kinds of things in terms of whatmarketing actually means for them. You know worst case scenario: You've gotcompanies that really don't even have a marketing function, theyre,traditionally, sales, heavy and relying on repeat business trade showsreferrals, cold, calling and then best case. I usually find companies playingaround a little bit in Google ads, maybe doing some SEO starting to dabblein content creation. But when I met you a year ago or so, what I saw lookedvery different from my perspective in terms of where you were taking thingsso I'd love to start out here by going back in time a little bit and because Ithink you have a really interesting story to tell about sort of how you gotwhere you are today. So can you first give our listeners some background onhow you found your way to fire trace and earned a seat at the executivetable so quickly? Yes, so let me talk a little bit about my background firstand then I'll address that issue specifically of getting a seat at theexecutive table rigt. So you mentioned in your intro for me very kind, Antrothat fine trace is owned by Homa. I started in homosgraduate developmentprogram right out of college and in that program, over the course of twoyears I got the opportunity to work at four different Homa operating companieswhich are all small to medium size, manufacturing businesses and thatallowed me to get experience in different parts of the business. So Iworked in manufacturing in product development, product management andmarketing, and I was moving every six months and changing jobs every sixmonths. So once that program came to a close after two years, I took a rolewith one of the Homo subsidiary companies that manufactures waterquality censors and my official title. There was product manager, but I wasalso in charge of all the marketing. So I was kind of a one woman, product andmarketing team and then most recently I got this opportunity to lead my firstmarketing team. I came over to fire trace and I started out as a director,so I was not a full executive, but I...

...was a member of the board and then,after ten months I got promoted to the vice president level, which makes me afull executive member of firetraces or of directors. So that's kind of mycareer story and then in terms of how I reach the executive level so quickly. Ithink there's really three things that stand out to me. First of all, Ibenefited immensely from the visibility that that graduate development program,provided so, in other words, the the Holmo leadership sort of knew who I was,and I can't deny that that really helped me second working in differentareas of the business I mentioned manufacturing and product management,as well as marketing, helped me understand as a marketer, not just myimpact on marketing results, but also my impact on business results and thenthird, I have to highlight that there was just this one. Really highvisibility project that definitely changed the course of my career, andthat was this twelve week. Innovation accelerator. That Hama was runningwhere teams were challenged to combine technologies from two different Hemacompanies to create and market a new product in twelve weeks. So my teamended up taking the water quality censor hardware from censorx andcombining that with technology from another company that specialized indata transmission cloud data storage and analytics that they actually usedin leak. Sensing applications- and we made this IOT censor product that weended up selling to transporters of live fish, which is obviously a veryniche market. But through talking to customers over the course of thattwelve weeks sprint. We discovered that there was a real need for that kind ofsensing, a data management capability in that application and that ventureultimately broke even within five months. So basically, the company hadthis new product in their range. They had a customer for it already and wehad covered the entire cost of development through sales after justfive months. And what that really highlights is that product innovationis really important to Halma and it was at the time- and it still is now and asa young person coming up through the ranks. I recognize that and I reallytried to succeed in that area and I definitely failed a couple of timesalong the way, but ultimately we were successful with this fishtransportation venture and that was kind of when I got rewarded with thisopportunity to lead wow. It's really cool. What an interesting program and agreat experience for you know someone to kind of get their feet wet in theindustry. Oh 's, an incredible program. If somebody listening to this has aperson who's college age about to graduate, I definitely recommendlooking into it, yeah no kidding and Y. U you're one of a few people that Iknow who has come through this program. You know, through my network onlinethrough Linkedin, I've heard very good things, so super interesting. So it's agood segue. I think into my next question. For you, you know something.That's stuck out from a prior conversation that we had was. You knowyou've mentioned that you've created a marketing function inside of fire traysthat impacts the business in three key areas: one strategic marketing toproduct management and three communications. So I was hoping youcould kind of unpack that for us I see where you're going when you you weretalking about product development but dive into those three areas for us alittle bit an tol us. What you've been able to do with the marketing functionin those three places, yeah so funamentally. I think the role ofmarketing in an organization is to bring the Voice of the customerunbiased into the business, and I think a lot of industrial companies strugglehere, because when they first start out, they are lean, their nimble, they'rereally close to their customers, but as the business scales and becomes morecomplex, you lose the opportunity to be in constant contact with the marketbecause you're managing the complexities of the day today. So onceyou get to scale, you really have to be deliberate about strategic marketingand it has to be this continuous...

...process. So I find a lot of the timeswhen you go into an industrial company as a new marketing higher one of thefirst things you have to do is rebuild strategic marketing as a corecompetency and what I mean by that is just knowing what your customers careabout, knowing how the industry is structured, how our competitorsposition. How are you positioned and being able to tell a story with all ofthat information and building that back up as a corecompetency can be prettychallenging, because sometimes you have to rebuild relationships with the endusers of your products. A lot of industrial companies go throughdistribution and the business models can be really complex, so it takes awhile to build those relationships, get the information from the end users andunderstand the whole business model and how your company can adjust to be assuccessful as possible. I also think a challenge in marketer's face is thatoftentimes they don't share a lot in common with the anusers of theirproduct, because fundamentally they are a marketer and the end user might be aproduction manager or a machinist. So you don't have that natural built inempathy with your customer and you really have to cultivate it. But it'sreally important for manufacturing companies to build that strategicmarketing comfedency and nurture it, because if you don't get the strategicmarketing piece right, you can't get the product management or thecommunications right. So when I started at fire trace, I started with thisstrategic marketing objective. I was doing the work myself, but I was alsohiring strategic, margeing talent and building out that competency andbuilding out that bench strength. So after about six months, wre we'redefinitely the main focus in building this marketing department was onstrategic marketing. Then we started to do things like launching a new website,building out our tect tack with Crm and analytics, and then we started toproduce content, and I think that producing educational, informationalcontent is a really great next step to take, because it allows you to leveragesome of the market insights from the strategic marketing work that you'redoing on the one hand, but it also feeds back information into strategicmarketing, because you can see how customers react to and respond to yourcontent and what kind of information and messaging is driving conversions.So you can see how strategic marketing and content marketing really feed oneanother and play off one another. It's the same thing with product management.Product Management was the third competency that we built out afterstrategic marketing and marketing communications, and we rationalize andrelaunched our entire product range. We took it from two thousand part numbersdown to less than five hundred, and I did a lot of that work myself, becauseI didn't yet have a product manager on the team. So actually productmanagement did not become a full time position at fire trace. Until I hadbeen in the role for over eighteen months in the marketing ladership rolland so doing this work, I benefited immensely from the strategic marketingthat we had done, because I had the customer and the market knowledge tomake commercially sound decisions about the product range which products do weneed to make obselete because they are not delivering value to the right kindof customers anymore. What needs to be on the road map and what do we need tomore adequately support in terms of our products in the mature stage of theirlife cycle? So strategic marketing really drives decisions through productmanagement, as well as communications and they're all really interconnectedin a triangle? Yeah, that's a really interesting perspective on it and Ithink it's so smart because I think a lot of business to business companiesand particularly those in the industrial sector fror. My experience,thit wouldn't necessarily look at marketing as a vehicle for informingdecisions about their spectrum of products or w how they deliversolutions to customers. But so much can be learned from what you're doing onthe strategic marketing frod right,...

...yeah and I think, a big area thatmanufacturing companies struggle with a lot of the time is launching newproducts, and I think a big reason for that is because they're not applyingmarketing at the beginning of the product development process, they'reonly thinking of marketing as something you do at the end and in reality, ifyou have strong marketing that feeds into new product development decisions,then it just becomes so much easier to launch new products successfullybecause you know exactly which customers you're going to be sellingthem to and what aspects of those products are most attractive to thosecustomers. Yeah makes a ton of sense so shifting gears a little bit here. Iknow that you're big on data and I'm just kind of curious to hear you talk alittle bit about how you've been able to use tangible metrix to understandsort of what's working and what's not on the marketing front yeah. I have tobe big on data because I am very light in the experienced category relative tomost manufacturing executives. So I have to admit that I think thechallenge with marketing data is that there is a lot of it and not all of itis really helpful when you're trying to make business decisions so what we doat fire traces. We really focus on the data that we can tie to businessresults and so fundamentally were looking at things like inbound pipelineor marketing source pipeline. What is the total value? Dollar value ofopportunities that are sourced through marketing communications campaigns?What is the number of opportunities that are sourced by marketingcommunications campaigns? And we look at that, because you can't alwayscontrol the size of the opportunity, depending on what kind of markingactivity you're doing so sometimes the number is indicative of success as well,and when we're looking at these things like inbound pipeline marketing sourcepipeline, we only focus on pipeline where the opportunity has beengenerated with a type of customer that I would define as our ideal fitcustomer, because the role of marketing should be to generate moreopportunities, more sales opportunities with exactly the right kind of customerthat closes at a very high win rate. So you should be designing your marketingcampaigns to generate that kind of customer, and so it doesn't make senseto measure opportunities that are generated with nonfit customers,because your marketing activity probably didn't produce those. So wereally focus on how many sales opportunities with the right customersare we producing for the business, because, ultimately, that is going tobe what leads to increased revenue for our business and when you look at thatkind of data. Acadia that I feel like its important to mention is thatsometimes you have to be comfortable. Just trusting correlation, you can'thave exact last touch attribution data for every dollar of revenue, so you dohave to have a sense for what channels produce what kind of results and whatshape is that data likely to take, and you have to be comfortable making someassumptions, because if you obsess over attribution you're just going to losevaluable time and energy that you could be investing into more experiments andmore activity that can drive business results. Yeah. That's all really wellsaid, and you know something that I kind of struggle with, sometimes thatI'm curious to hear your take on it is you know, with with all the data thatis available to us these days and keep in mind I've been running. You knowcoleading this agency for fourteen years now, so I've seen a lot ofchanges on the marketing front and what can be measured and how much isavailable to us. I mean it's pretty amazing how much has changed and thatperiod of time on the measurement front, but with so much that you can measurenow. You know I see some companies becoming so obsessed with. You know weneed to be able to trace every activity that we're investing in to revenue orto pipeline, and I think sometimes I see companies going too far. They'relooking too short term and a lot of manufacturing organizations have longsales cycles. They, you know, they're,...

...not selling, widgets off the shelf,they're selling things with with complex long buying processes to youknow, committees of buyers, and these sales happen over the course of a yearor two years in some cases, yet they're still trying to measure results withinthat window and I'm just kind of curious. What balance you like tocreate- or you think, should be created between doing marketing that is moreLee generation focused where you can see the numbers very quickly versusthings that sort of build the brand and theyll trust with prospects over thelong hall, so that you're sort of you know cultivating this audience of theright people from the right companies so that when they are ready to buyyou're the first one that they're going to think of yeah. It's a good question.I think the beauty in some ways of being a new marketing leader at amanufacturing company or a manufacturing company- that's juststarting to use marketing communications techniques for the firsttime- is that there will be a lot of low hanging fruit. So the good news is,you can go out and grab that low hanging fruit and generate a bunch ofleads and harvest existing demand quickly, while at the same timeinvesting in some of those longer term initiatives, whether it's Seo orcontent marketing, to build a brand or building owned social media channels.You can benefit from the harvesting of demand quickly in the short term, butyou have to remember to invest for the long term, because eventually you'regoing to reach a ceiling with some of those short term Legion focus tacticsand your next level of growth is going to be dispurred by investment of someof these longer term activities. So, although it feels like okay, I'm layingout cash right now and I'm not going to see the results until later, you kindof have to compare it to any other function that you would invest in. InYour Business Right so, for example, if you're going to hire a new salespersonin a new geography, you don't expect to see tremendous results from that salesdevelopment exercise. You know within one or two months, you're going to giveit eighteen months to really build into a successful territory. Some marketinginitiatives you have to look at on those same types of time, horizon yeah,that's a good comparison or analogy, and- and I agree with you and prettymuch everything is had there. Soka Yu can tell me a little bit like what'sFon the impact of what you have done today on fire trace, you kno! Is thereanything you can Y speak to from a result, standpoint about you know whereyou guys have gone so far with this yeah. So what fire trace is looking toachieve with our strategy right now is we want to create sustainable growthand to create sustainable growth? You have to know which markets that you cansell into that are growing in a sustainable way. So I think this isparticularly pertinent for manufacturers, because manufacturerssell into a lot of markets that are cyclical oil and gas. Being a bigexample of that some other markets that manufacturers sell into Aur veryproject based. So construction comes to mind, but to grow sustainably. You needto deliberately target growth in those markets that are growing three fourfive percent year over year over year and that will provide you with kind ofa base of revenue. That's reliable and repeatable year after year, and thenthe cyclical or project based wins are kind of like your big winds or icing onthe cake. And so our strategy is to really focus on that sustainable growthand that doesn't have to be every manufacturing company strategy. Butmarketing has been really critical for us in chasing sustainable growthbecause first of all, strategic marketing has uncovered for us whichmarkets are attractive in terms of both being sustainably growing markets, aswell as being markets where our product...

...has strong value proposition. So weunderstand which markets we are trying to target and trying to grow sales in.We understand which geographies are going to be critical for us, because weneed to target geographies where the market that we're going after isparticularly strong. So, for example, machining is one of the markets we sellinto, and machining is growing rapidly in places like Eastern Europe, Brazil,India and it's not so rapid in places like the Middle East or South Africa,for example. So we can kind of base ourgiographic strategy off of that, butto come down really to the nuts and volts of it over the last year, ourmarketing transpornation has meant that we focused on various of thesesustainably growing markets and just to give you an example, one particularmarket that we focused on and that we started building a brandon started.Doing content marketing started honing our messaging over the course of oneyear we increased new INBOUN pipeline, which is one of my key metrics ahundred percent year over year, and that ultimately resulted in thirtypercent revenue growth within that target segment over that same year andthe one hundred percent new in bound pipeline translating to thirty percentrevenue. Growth is exactly what I would have expected to see, because we knewgoing into this that those deals with that particular type of enues areclosed at a rate of thirty percent, that's pectacular and so powerful toyou know to be able to look back on that and see that we came in withknowledge about this market. We knew that we had to create focus here asopposed to taking a scatter shot approach, which I see so often and,like you said, the results were what you would have expected them to be socongrats on what you've accomplished there. It's really cool. Thank you,yeah. I think it can be challenging to stay disciplined in the long term,especially because a lot of manufacturers are fundamentally productcompanies, and so it can be so tempting to try to sell into every applicationall at once, because you feel like you're, limiting yourself by onlyfocusing on a few applications. But if your energy and your resources aredivided and spread too thin, what often happens as you don't make significantprogress in any one application and you fall behind where you would have been.If you had just focused on one or two or three and done those really reallywell, Yep totally makes sense. So mgyou've built a marketing functionfrom the groundup in a lot of ways here and I'm just kind of curious. Whatadvice would you give a manufacturing organization? That's not sure where tostart, because that's that's what I run into a lot. I know step in. I have afirst conversation and, like I said at the beginning of this episode, you knowit's. A lot of these companies have been sales heavy in the past. They havedone very little marketing or what they've done has been kind of throwingdarts and so you're an example o somebody who kind of figured out how todo something in a very strategic well planned out way. So where would youtell somebody to start? What would you have them? Do I think the best piece ofadvice that I can give to manufacturing companies that are starting to look atimproving marketing as a core piece of their strategy is that you have to lookat that decision as a really serious investment and just as with anyinvestment, it's a bet that you have to make. You have to make a bet thatmarketing is going to produce more results than anything else that youcould make that investment in within your business. So maybe you're thinkingabout overhauling your shop floor and implementing lean and bringing a newcapital equipment. That's a big investment that you would think reallyhard about, and I think companies should be thinking about making aninvestment in marketing the same way. So when you look at that, do I want tomake the investment in new capital..., or do I want to really buildup? My marketing function compare those to one another which one's going toproduce the best results for Your Business, which one is riskier versus asure thing and make the bet that you think is going to pay off in the longterm, because I think companies fall into this trap of thinking that theycan make their bets in terms of investments in all the things they wantto make their bets on whether it's operations, transformation or addingnew sales people, and then they think that they can do marketing really wellwithout making a bet on it and without investing and resourcing itappropriately. And that's where those marketing efforts fall flat. So I'm notsaying that marketing has to be a central piece of an industrial companysstrategy, but just know that if you're not making a bet on marketing andyou're not trying to resource it, that you're unlikely to achieve the resultsthat you might think that you can achieve in a really mean kind ofscrappy way. Now, if you do decide that yes, we're going to place a bet onmarketing, I would say the place to start. In my opinion. is to hire aleader for the function, and I mean it comes right back to this idea of makingan investment, because a leader in terms of their salary, in terms of whatthey're going to ask for in terms of resources from the business, is goingto cost you a lot more than making a more of a junior marketing higher. Butif you're committed to marketing being a keypiece of your strategy andsomething you want to invest in long term, it shouldn't be daunting toinvest that level of resources and bringing a leader in the business andthen that leader will be able to articulate a plan for how all thefuture investment should be made right. Should you be working with specificagencies? Should you be bringing on internal hires? How you' going toallocate ads, spend they'll help you make the right investments from thatpoint, but the first investment, in my opinion, is bringing in a leader. Ithink that's great advice, I think there's too much of a rerspective onmarketing in so many organizations is just sort of a tactical thing. Let's doa little bit of this. Let's try this: Let's throw some money here and I see alot of companies that just aren't being strategic about it, and you really younow, like any other major investment in your company. You've got a thinkstrategically. It's got to be planned out. You Du need somebodyquarterbacking it who can think that way and can really you know, lead thedepartment. So I, like that advice. Well MJ. This has been a supervaluableconversation. I really appreciate you taking the time to do this today andI'm more than certain that our listeners are feeling the same wayright now, so tell our listers, where the best place to find you is online incase they have follow up questions or would like to get in touch yeah. Thebest place to connect with me is on Linkedin. My linkton is just MJ, petersor Sah, MJ Peters one, and I connectwith anybody feel free to sendme a DM, and if you liked this episode check out my podcast, the industrialmarketer podcast, it's a little bit of a different focus. It's more marketingfocused and it's definitely appropriate for both marketing leaders, as well askind of midlevel junior level marketing employees looking to up their game. Soif you like this, I think you could get a lot out of our show as well greatwell, thank you for joining SMJ and for the rest of you. I hope to catch you onthe next episode of the Manufacturing Executive. You've been listening to themanufacturing executive podcast to ensure that you never missed an episodesubscribe to the show in your favorite podcast player. If you'd like to learnmore about industrial marketing and sale strategy, you'll find an everexpanding collection of articles, videos guides and tools, specificallyfor B, to B manufacturers at Gerilla seventy sixcom war. Thank you so muchfor listening until next time.

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