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 manufacturing companies tobuild that strategic marketing competency and nurture it, because if you don't get the strategicmarketing piece right, you can't get the product management or the communications right. Welcome to the manufacturing executive podcast, where we explore the strategies and experiencesthat are driving midsize manufacturers forward. Here you'll discover new insights from passionate manufacturingleaders who have compelling stories to share about their successes and struggles, and you'lllearn from B tob sales and marketing experts about how to apply actionable business developmentstrategies inside your business. Let's get into the show. Welcome to the manufacturingexecutive podcast. I'm Joe Sullivan, your host and a CO founder of theIndustrial Marketing Agency guerrilla seventy six. We've a killer guest here today and someonewho I see as a trailblazer in the manufacturing space, so let me takea moment to introduced MJ peters. MJ Is the vice president of marketing atfiretrace International, a thirty five million dollar business with approximately a hundred employees.firetrace designs and manufacturers automatic fire suppression systems for high risk equipment. MJ's firetracesfirst VP of marketing and as an executive member of the Global Board of directors. Before joining firetrace, MJ worked in various product and marketing roles across theHALMA group and FTSC, one hundred conglomerate of small the medium size manufacturing businesses. She's also the cohost of a new podcast called the industrial marketer, whichI absolutely recommend any listeners to this show check out as well. I'M Jwelcome to the show. Thank you for having me. I think it's areally good podcast organized around this topic of manufacturing leadership. Awesome. Well,I'm super excited to have you here because, you know, I met you rightabout the time that you were beginning this complete transformation of fire traces marketingprogram and it's been really cool to watch from the outside over the last yearor so. Is it's taken shape. Yeah, it's great to have youhere talking about that a bit. Yeah, I'm excited to take people through it. It's been great learning experience for me and I think there's going tobe some takeaways for others as well. Definitely so when my firm begins aconsulting engagement with a manufacturing organization. I find all kinds of things in termsof what marketing actually means for them. You know, worstcase scenario, you'vegot companies that really don't even have a marketing function. There traditionally sales heavyand relying on repeat business, trade shows, referrals, cold calling. And thenbest case, I usually find companies playing around a little bit in Googleads, maybe doing some Seo, starting to dabble in content creation. Butwhen I met you a year ago or so, what I saw looked verydifferent from my perspective in terms of where you were taking things. So I'dlove to start out here by going back in time a little bit and becauseI think you have a really interesting story to tell about sort of how yougot where you are today. So can you first give our listeners some backgroundon how you found your way to fire trace and earned a seat at theexecutive table so quickly? Yes, so let me talk a little bit aboutmy background first and then I'll address that issue specifically of getting a seat atthe executive table. Right. So you mentioned in your Intro, for mevery kind intro, that firetras is owned by Halma. I started in homehas graduate development program right out of college and in that program over the courseof two years, I got the opportunity to work at four different HALMA operatingcompanies, which are all small to medium size manufacturing businesses, and that allowedme to get experience in different parts of the business. So I worked inmanufacturing, in product development, product management and marketing, and I was movingevery six months and changing jobs every six months. So once that program cameto a close after two years, I took a role with one of thehome a subsidiary companies that manufactures water quality sensors, and my official title therewas product manager, but I was also in charge of all the marketing,so I was kind of a one woman product and marketing team. And thenmost recently I got this opportunity to lead my first marketing team. I cameover to firetrace and I started out as...

...a director, so I was nota full executive but I was a member of the board, and then afterten months I got promoted to the vice president level, which makes me afull executive member of firetraces board of directors. So that's kind of my career story. And then, in terms of how I reached the executive level soquickly, I think there's really three things that stand out to me. Firstof all, I benefited immensely from the visibility that that graduate development program provided, so in other words, the the Ham of leadership sort of knew whoI was, and I can't deny that that really helped me. Second,working in different areas of the business I mentioned, manufacturing and product management aswell as marketing, helped me understand, as a marketer, not just myimpact on marketing results but also my impact on business results. And then,third I have to highlight that there was just this one really high visibility projectthat definitely change the course of my career, and that was this twelve week innovationaccelerator that Halma was running where teams were challenged to combine technologies from twodifferent HALMA companies to create and market a new product in twelve weeks. Somy team ended up taking the water quality sensor hardware from censor x and combiningthat with technology from another company that specialized in data transmission, cloud data storageand analytics that they actually used in leak sensing applications, and we made thisIot sensor product that we ended up selling to transporters of live fish, whichis obviously a very niche market, but through talking to customers over the courseof that twelve week sprint, we discovered that there was a real need forthat kind of sensing, a data management capability in that application and that ventureultimately broke even within five months. So basically the company had this new productin their range, they had a customer for it already and we had coveredthe entire cost of development through sales after just five months. And what thatreally highlights is that product innovation is really important to Halma and it was atthe time and it still is now. And as a young person coming upthrough the ranks, I recognize that and I really tried to succeed in thatarea and I definitely failed a couple of times along the way, but ultimatelywe were successful with this fish transportation venture and and that was kind of whenI got rewarded with this opportunity to lead. Wow, it's really cool. Whatan interesting program and a great experience for, you know, someone tokind of get their feet wet in the industry. Oh, it's an incredibleprogram. If somebody listening to this has a person who's college aged about tograduate, I definitely recommend looking into it. Yeah, no kidding, and youyou're one of a few people that I know who has come through thisprogram. You know through my network online, through Linkedin. I've heard very goodthings. So super interesting. So it's a good segue, I think, into my next question for you. You know, something that's stuck outfrom a prior conversation that we had was you've mentioned that you've created a marketingfunction inside a firetrace that impacts the business and three key areas, one strategicmarketing to product management and three communications. So I was hoping you could kindof unpack that for us. I see where you're going when you were talkingabout product development, but dive into those three are is for us a littlebit and tell us what you've been able to do with the marketing function inthose three places. Yeah, so, fundamentally, I think the role ofmarketing in an organization is to bring the voice of the customer unbiased, intothe business and I think a lot of industrial companies struggle here because when theyfirst start out they are lean, their nimble, they're really close to theircustomers, but as the business scales and becomes more complex, you lose theopportunity to be in constant contact with the market because you're managing the complexities ofthe daytoday. So once you get to scale, you really have to bedeliberate about strategic marketing and it has to... this continuous process. So Ifind a lot of the times when you go into an industrial company as anew marketing hire, one of the first things you have to do is rebuildstrategic marketing as a core competency, and what I mean by that is justknowing what your customers care about, knowing how the industry is structured, howour competitor's position how are you positioned, and being able to tell a storywith all of that information and building that back up as a core competency canbe pretty challenging because sometimes you have to rebuild relationships with the end users ofyour products. A lot of industrial companies go through distribution and the business modelscan be really complex, so it takes a while to build those relationships,get the information from the end users and understand the whole business model and howyour company can adjust to be as successful as possible. I also think achallenge that marketer space is that oftentimes they don't share a lot in common withthe end users of their product because fundamentally they are a marketer and the enduser might be a production manager or a machinist. So you don't have thatnatural built in empathy with your customer and you really have to cultivate it.But it's really important for manufacturing companies to build that strategic marketing competency and nurtureit because if you don't get the strategic marketing piece right, you can't getthe product management or the communications right. So when I started at firetrace,I started with this strategic marketing objective. I was doing the work myself,but I was also hiring strategic marketing talent and building out that competency and buildingout that bench strength. So after about six months where where definitely the mainfocus in building this marketing department was on strategic marketing, then we started todo things like launching a new website, building out our text act with crmand analytics, and then we started to produce content. And I think thatproducing educational informational content is a really great next step to take because it allowsyou to leverage some of the market insights from the strategic marketing work that you'redoing on the one hand, but it also feeds back information in to strategicmarketing because you can see how customers react to and respond to your content andwhat kind of information of messaging is driving conversions. So you can see howstrategic marketing and content marketing really feed one another and playoff one another. It'sthe same thing with product management. Product Management was the third competency that webuilt out, after strategic marketing and marketing communications, and we rationalized and relaunchedour entire product range. We took it from two thousand part numbers down toless 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 product managementdid not become a full time position at firetrace until I had been in therole for over eighteen months in the marketing leadership roll, and so doing thiswork I benefited immensely from the strategic marketing that we had done, because Ihad the customer and the market knowledge to make commercially sound decisions about the productrange. which products do we need to make obsolete because they are not deliveringvalue to the right kind of customers anymore? What needs to be on the roadmap and what do we need to more adequately support in terms of ourproducts in the mature stage of their life cycle. So strategic marketing really drivesdecisions through product management as well as communications, and they're all really interconnected in atriangle. Yeah, that's a really interesting perspective on it and I thinkit's so smart because I think a lot of business to business companies in particularlythose in the industrial sector. From my experience, they wouldn't necessarily look atmarketing as a vehicle for informing decisions about their spectrum of products or, youknow, how they deliver solutions to customers. But so much can be learned fromwhat you're doing on the strategic marketing front. Right. Yeah, andI think a big area that manufacturing companies...

...struggle with a lot of the timeis launching new products, and I think a big reason for that is becausethey're not applying marketing at the beginning of the product development process. They're onlythinking of marketing is something you do at the end and in reality, ifyou have strong marketing that feeds into new product development decisions, then it justbecomes so much easier to launch new products successfully because you know exactly which customersyou're going to be selling them to and what aspects of those products are mostattractive to those customers. Yeah, makes a ton of sense. So shiftinggears a little bit here. I know that you're big on data and I'mjust kind of curious to hear you talk a little bit about how you've beenable to use tangible metrics to understand sort of what's working and what's not onthe marketing front. Yeah, I have to be big on data because Iam very light in the experience category relative to most manufacturing executives. So Ihave to admit that. I think the challenge with marketing data is that thereis a lot of it and not all of it is really helpful when you'retrying to make business decisions. So so what we do at fire traces wereally focus on the data that we can tie to business results, and sofundamentally we're looking at things like inbound pipeline or marketing source pipeline. What isthe total value, dollar value, of opportunities that are sourced through marketing communicationscampaigns? What is the number of opportunities that are sourced by marketing communications campaigns? And we look at that because you can't always control the size of theopportunity, depending on what kind of marketing activity you're doing. So sometimes thenumber is indicative of success as well. And when we're looking at these thingslike inbound pipeline, marketing source pipeline, we only focus on pipeline where theopportunity has been generated with a type of customer that I would define as ourideal fit customer, because the role of marketing should be to generate more opportunities, more sales opportunities with exactly the right kind of customer that closes at avery high wind rate. So you should be designing your marketing campaigns to generatethat kind of customer. And so it doesn't make sense to measure opportunities thatare generated with non fit customers because your marketing activity probably didn't produce those.So we really focus on how many sales opportunities with the right customers are reproducingfor the business because ultimately that is going to be what leads to increased revenuefor our business. And when you look at that kind of data, aCoveyat that. I feel like it's important to mention is that sometimes you haveto be comfortable just trusting correlation. You can't have exact last touch attribution datafor every dollar of revenue. So you do have to have a sense forwhat channels produce what kind of results and what shape is that data likely totake, and you have to be comfortable making some assumptions, because if youobsess over attribution, you're just going to lose valuable time and energy that youcould be investing into more experiments and more activity that can drive business results.Yeah, that's all really well said and you know, something that I kindof struggle with sometimes that I'm curious to hear your take on it is youwith with all the data that is available to us these days. And keepin mind I've been running, you know, Co leading this agency for fourteen yearsnow, so I've seen a lot of changes on the marketing front andwhat can be measured and how much is available to us. I mean it'spretty amazing how much has changed in that period of time on the measurement front. But with so much that you can measure now, you know, Isee some companies becoming so obsessed with you know, we need to be ableto trace every activity that we're investing in to revenue or to pipeline, andI think sometimes I see companies going too far where they're looking too short term, and a lot of manufacturing organizations have...

...long sales cycles. They you know, they're not selling widgets off the shelf. There sell things with with complex longbuying processes to, you know, committees of buyers and these sales happenover the course of a year or two years in some cases. Yet they'restill trying to measure results within that window and I'm just kind of curious whatbalance you like to create, or you think should be created, between doingmarketing that is more lead generation focused, where you can see the numbers veryquickly, versus things that sort of build the brand and build trust with prospectsover the long haul, so that you're sort of cultivating this audience of theright people from the right companies so that when they are ready to buy,you're the first one that they're going to think of. Yeah, it's agood question. I think the beauty in some ways of being a new marketingleader at a manufacturing company or a manufacturing company that's just starting to use marketingcommunications techniques for the first time is that there will be a lot of lowhangingfruit. So the good news is you can go out and grab that lowhangingfruit and generate a bunch of leads and harvest existing demand quickly. Well,at the same time investing in some of those longer term initiatives, whether it'sSeo or content 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're going toreach a ceiling with some of those short term Legion focus tactics and your nextlevel of growth is going to be spurred by investment of some of these longerterm activities. So, although it feels like, okay, I'm laying outcash right now and I'm not going to see the results until later, youkind of have to compare it to any other function that you would invest inin Your Business Right. So, for example, if you're going to hirea new salesperson in a new geography, you don't expect to see tremendous resultsfrom that sales development exercise. You know within one or two months. You'regoing to give it eighteen months to really build into a successful territory. Somemarketing initiatives 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 andpretty much everything is head there. So can you tell me a little bitlike what's been the impact of what you have done today on firetrace? Isthere anything you can you speak to from a result standpoint about? You knowwhere you guys have gone so far with this. Yeah, so what firetraceis looking to achieve with our strategy right now is we want to create sustainablegrowth, and to create sustainable growth you have to know which markets that youcan sell into that are growing in a sustainable way. So I think thisis particularly pertinent for manufacturers, because manufacturers sell into a lot of markets thatare cyclical. Oil and gas being a big example of that. Some othermarkets that manufacturers sell into our very project based, so construction comes to mind. But to grow sustainably, you need to deliberately target growth in those marketsthat are growing three, four five percent year over year over year, andthat will provide you with kind of a base of revenue that's reliable and repeatableyear after year. And then the cyclical or project based winds are kind oflike your big wins or icing on the cake, and so our strategy isto really focus on that sustainable growth and that doesn't have to be every manufacturingcompany strategy. But marketing has been really critical for us in chasing sustainable growthbecause, first of all, strategic marketing has uncovered for us which markets areattractive in terms of both being sustainably growing... as well as being markets whereour product has a strong value proposition. So we understand which markets we aretrying to target and trying to grow sales in. We understand which geographies aregoing to be critical for us, because we need to target geographies where themarket that we're going after is particularly strong. So, for example, machining isone of the markets we sell into and machining is growing rapidly in placeslike Eastern Europe, Brazil India, and it's not so rapid in places likethe Middle East or South Africa, for example. So we can kind ofbase our geographic strategy off of that. But to come down really to thenuts and bolts of it, over the last year our marketing transfer nation hasmeant that we focused on various of these sustainably growing markets and just to giveyou an example one particular market that we focused on and that we started buildinga brand in, started doing content marketing, started honing our messaging. Over thecourse of one year, we increased new inbound pipeline, which is oneof my key metrics, a hundred percent year over year and that ultimately resultedin thirty percent revenue growth within that target segment over that same year. Andthe one hundred percent new inbound pipeline translating to thirty percent revenue growth is exactlywhat I would have expected to see, because we knew going into this thatthose deals with that particular type of end user closed at a rate of thirtypercent. That's spectacular and so powerful to to be able to look back onthat and see that we came in and with knowledge about this market. Weknew that we had to create focus here, as opposed to taking a scattershot approach, which I see so often. And, like you said, theresults were what you would have expected them to be. So congrats on whatyou've accomplished there. It's really cool. Thank you. Yeah, I thinkit can be challenging to stay disciplined in the long term, especially because alot of manufacturers are fundamentally product companies, and so it can be so temptingto try to sell into every application all at once because you feel like you'relimiting yourself by only focusing on a few applications. But if your energy andyour resources are divided and spread too thin, what often happens is you don't makesignificant progress in any one application and you fall behind where you would havebeen if you had just focused on one or two or three and done thosereally, really well. Yep, totally makes sense. So I'm you've builta marketing function from the ground up in a lot of ways here, andI'm just kind of curious. What advice would you give a manufacturing organization that'snot sure where to start? Because that's that's what I run into a lotI see. You know, I step in, I have a first conversationand, like I said at the beginning of this episode, you know,it's a lot of these companies have been sales heavy in the past. Theyhave done very little marketing or what they've done has been kind of throwing darts, and so you're an example of somebody who kind of figured out how todo something in a very strategic, well planned out way. So where wouldyou tell somebody to start? What would you have them do? I thinkthe best piece of advice that I can give to manufacturing companies that are startingto look at improving marketing as a core piece of their strategy is that youhave to look at that decision as a really serious investment and, just aswith any investment, it's a bet that you have to make. You haveto make a bet that marketing is going to produce more results than anything elsethat you can make that investment in within your business. So maybe you're thinkingabout overhauling your shop floor and implementing lean and bringing in new capital equipment.That's a big investment that you would think really hard about, and I thinkcompanies should be thinking about making an investment in marketing the same way. Sowhen you look at that, do I want to make the investment in newcapital equipment, or do I want to...

...really build up my marketing function?Compare those to one another. Which one's going to produce the best results forYour Business? Which one is riskier versus a sure thing, and make thebet that you think is going to pay off in the long term, becauseI think companies fall into this trap of thinking that they can make their betsin terms of investments in all the things they want to make their bets on, whether it's operations, transformation or adding new sales people, and then theythink that they can do marketing really well without making a bet on it andwithout investing and resourcing it appropriately, and that's where those marketing efforts fall flat. So I'm not saying that marketing has to be a central piece of anindustrial company's strategy, but just know that if you're not making a bet onmarketing and you're not trying to resource it, that you're unlikely to achieve the resultsthat you might think that you can achieve in a really lean, kindof scrappy way. Now, if you do decide that yes, we're goingto place a bet on marketing, I W would say the place to start, in my opinion, is to hire a leader for the function, andI mean it comes right back to this idea of making an investment, becausea leader, in terms of their salary, in terms of what they're going toask for in terms of resources from the business, is going to costyou a lot more than making a more of a junior marketing higher. Butif you're committed to marketing being a key piece of your strategy and something youwant to invest in long term. It shouldn't be daunting to invest that levelof resources and bringing a leader in the business, and then that leader willbe able to articulate a plan for how all the future investment should be made. Right. Should you be working with specific agencies? Should you be bringingon internal hires? How you're going to allocate ad spend? They'll help youmake the right investments from that point. But the first investment, in myopinion, is bringing in a leader. I think that's great advice. Ithink there's too much of a perspective on marketing in so many organizations as justsort of a tactical thing. Let's do a little bit of this, let'stry this, let's throw some money here, and I see a lot of companiesthat just aren't being strategic about it. And you really, you know,like any other major investment in your company, you've got to think strategically, it's got to be planned out and you need somebody quarterbacking at who canthink that way and can really, you know, lead the department. SoI like that advice. Well, MJ, this has been a super valuable conversation. My really appreciate you taking the time to do this today, andI'm more than certain that our listeners are feeling the same way right now.So tell our listeners where the best place to find you is online in casethey have follow up questions or would like to get in touch. Yeah,the best place to connect with me is on Linkedin. My linkedin is justMJ peters or MJ Peters one and I connect with anybody. Feel free tosend me a DM. And if you liked this episode, check out mypodcast, the industrial marketer podcast. It's a little bit of a different focus. It's more marketing focused and it's definitely appropriate for both marketing leaders as wellas kind of midlevel, junior level marketing employees looking up their game. Soif you like this, I think you could get a lot out of ourshow as well. Great well, thank you for joining us, MJ,and for the rest of you, I hope to catch you on the nextepisode of the Manufacturing Executive. You've been listening to the manufacturing executive podcast.To ensure that you never missed an episode, subscribe to the show in your favoritepodcast player. If you'd like to learn more about industrial marketing and salesstrategy. You'll find an ever expanding collection of articles, videos, guides andtools specifically for bdb manufacturers at Gorilla Seventy sixcom learn thank you so much forlistening, until next time.

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