The Kula Ring

Episode 94 From Metrics to Relationships: A B2B Marketer’s Leap to B2B2C

The Kula Ring podcast is essential listening for manufacturing marketers who want to grow their digital presence and compete online.

Sponsored by Kula Partners—an agency committed to helping leading B2B manufacturers craft digital experiences that transform how they engage buyers, serve customers, and outpace their competition—The Kula Ring podcast features conversations about marketing, sales, and technology with top manufacturing executives from across North America.

The Kula Ring podcast is co-hosted by Kula Partners principals, Carman Pirie and Jeff W. White, both of whom are frequently sought after for their digitally-focused B2B expertise. They regularly share their insights with audiences including conferences like B2B Online and HubSpot’s INBOUND, the Gardner Manufacturing Marketer blog, and other podcasts focused on B2B marketing and technology.

What is the role of a B2B2C marketer? In this episode of The Kula Ring, Dirk Mortensen, Marketing Manager for ARB 4×4 Accessories, North America, talks about his move from B2B to B2B2C marketing. He talks about making the shift from a heavy metrics-driven B2B background in business equipment to creating B2B2C marketing programs for consumer goods where success is more dependent on emotional connection and empathy.

From Metrics to Relationships: A B2B Marketer’s Leap to B2B2C Transcript:

Announcer: You’re listening to The Kula Ring, a podcast made for manufacturing marketers. Here are Carman Pirie and Jeff White. 

Jeff White: Welcome to The Kula Ring, a podcast for manufacturing marketers brought to you by Kula Partners. My name is Jeff White. Joining me today is Carman Pirie. Carman, how are you? 

Carman Pirie: Fabulous. We’re recording this on a Friday. How could we complain, really? 

Jeff White: Hey, relax. It’s Friday. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. Yeah. And you know, I think today’s conversation is going to be… We know that in the B2B marketing world, there’s lots of chatter about the difference between B2B and B2C. But one thing I haven’t heard a lot of is a marketer give us a bit of their experience, and the tale of the tape, as it were, about their move from being a B2B marketer to a B2B2C marketer, and kind of what that really means. And today’s guest has I think just a really interesting and unique background and perspective on this that I’m excited to get into. 

Jeff White: Yeah. I am too, and of course, the products that they manufacture and that they sell to that business to consumer audience are kind of enthusiast type products, which is always kind of fun to talk about, too. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah, we can geek out on that, too, of course. We’ll try not to be too bad that way, but-

Jeff White: Yeah, if our Director of Business Development, Jesse, were on this, he’d be even more excited than us. He’s got a tricked out Tacoma he would love to have a bunch of your products on. Joining us today on The Kula Ring is Dirk Mortensen. Dirk is the Marketing Manager with ARB USA. Welcome to The Kula Ring. 

Dirk Mortensen: Thank you very much for having me. 

Carman Pirie: Dirk, it’s really good to be chatting with you today, and look, I know that the off-road enthusiasts that are listening to this, they’re going to know what ARB is, but a bunch of other people might be sitting out there saying, “AR what?” So, why don’t you tell us a little bit about ARB and your role there, and we’ll go from there. 

Dirk Mortensen: Absolutely. ARB 4×4 Accessories is actually an Australian-based company. Been manufacturing off-road accessories and overland accessories for the last 45-plus years, so everything that you could possibly imagine that you would need to get your vehicle to drive out to the middle of nowhere and camp, and overland, and base camp, and enjoy the outdoors, we provide. So, front bumpers, air lockers for differentials, lighting equipment, suspension systems, roof racks, tents, awnings, fridges, anything that you could need to enjoy the activities you love doing outside, we manufacture. It’s a Melbourne-based company, so everything is built and designed to survive the Outback, which gives a little bit of a fun twist on things. 

I’ve been with the company for about a year and a half now as their Marketing Manager for North America. 

Carman Pirie: Really cool, and Dirk, your previous life had nothing to do with the Outback and off-road, correct? 

Dirk Mortensen: That’s correct, that’s correct. I was with a company called PACCAR. They’re a Fortune 200 company that manufactures semi trucks, so Peterbilt, and Kenworth, and DAF globally, and I was in their parts division. So, selling aftermarket parts, but obviously for business use exclusively. The only off-road accessories I was selling at that point were heavy-duty mining equipment and gigantic loaders and things like that, so a very, very big shift from business equipment over to consumer goods. 

Jeff White: Really, from the kinds of trucks that little kids like to the kinds of trucks that big kids like. 

Dirk Mortensen: Precisely. Precisely. Although the big trucks are really cool, too. 

Jeff White: Yeah. Yeah. For sure. So, I think where we’d like to kick this off is just one of the things that we’ve been chatting about leading up to the show was this idea that the kind of marketing that you can do and the kind of relationships that you have with your end customer are very different than what you would have had with your end customer when you were with PACCAR. In this case, you’re really trying to… I believe the phrase you’ve used is discretionary spending. These are products that are generally purchased for people’s enjoyment, and as such, the people that you’re selling to are as much an enthusiast about the products as the people that they end up selling those to, so how does that change the dynamic of what you do? 

Dirk Mortensen: Absolutely. It certainly presents a challenge coming from a heavy metrics-driven B2B environment into one that is far more relational and experiential. Coming from PACCAR, where everything was boiled down to the penny, and for very, very good reasons, these are very efficient businesses that are essentially moving goods throughout the world, to an industry where most of the businesses that operate are operated by enthusiasts who love their hobby so much, they turned it into a full-time gig. When you’re going in and talking about new products, new ways to integrate into vehicles, and you’re talking about their customers and installations, they’re worried about their bottom line and they certainly want to build their business and watch it grow, but at the same time, it’s a passion of theirs, and so you really have to take that into account as you’re preparing new proposals.

When you’re talking about new programs, they don’t want it to be lifeless. It definitely has to have some meaning for them, and they have to enjoy the process, because that’s why they started their business and why they want it to continue to grow, so they can continue enjoying what they do. Which is quite a bit different from what I’ve experienced previously. 

Carman Pirie: It must be a bit of a disconcerting in some way to go from being an incredibly data-driven marketer to now being thrown into the promotion of a brand where your success is in some way a lot more dependent on nuance and emotional connectivity. 

Dirk Mortensen: Absolutely. Absolutely. Styling is just as important as function in many cases in this industry, and it goes back to when they’re spending money, and this goes back to consumers and to our direct customers, which are our retailers and wholesalers. When they’re spending money, they want to feel good about what they’re spending. It’s not a SKU on a spreadsheet for them. It’s very much each buy is a passion project. Each installation for customers, kind of at the shop level, is an art form for them, and it certainly was a jarring experience going from one from the other, because you’ll walk into a conversation with a business customer and say, “Here’s the numbers. I’ve put this proposal together for you. Here’s how we’re gonna make you some money.” And they go, “Yeah, but I kind of want to do it this way. I know it’s not going to make as much money for us, but I think my team will enjoy it better, I’ll enjoy the process better, and I just like it more.” And that was a huge slap in the face to me. My jaw kept dropping every single day as I’d get off the phone or walk out of meetings with these folks. And it’s because they generally cared about what they were doing, and they wanted to enjoy what they’re doing while they’re making money and building their business. 

Carman Pirie: I suppose in some ways, you could probably draw a direct line between superior sales volume in a particular product and whether or not the owner of that location or what have you has that product installed on their own vehicle, or if their team also does. 

Dirk Mortensen: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. There’s certainly a strong correlation to be made from what they’re passionate about and what ends up in their promotional material, what ends up front and center on their website, and what they end up moving more of is directly related to what they believe in, what they enjoy using. It will determine what kind of things they build consumer videos about, and what kind of things end up on their Instagram accounts, and what kind of things that they have multiple reviews on their websites, because they can build out all this content, because it’s just flowing out of their marketing teams and their owners because it’s easy for them because they love it and they enjoy it. More so than you’d see selling business equipment. 

Jeff White: So, does that translate into where your marketing programs in one particular region or to one particular demographic are completely different from what you might be doing at the same time somewhere else in the country? 

Dirk Mortensen: Absolutely, and I would even make it more broad. When we have to develop products, we’re developing them keeping in mind multiple regions of the country and also globally, so when we bring a product to market in Australia, for example, we have to make considerable changes when we bring it to market in the United States. It absolutely makes a difference in how the product is used and what the complementary products are because there’s so much difference in how they’re used in the Outback versus in Moab, Utah. It’s considerable. 

Carman Pirie: Jeff, I feel you’re more equipped to talk about the differences in vehicle requirements in Moab than I am. 

Jeff White: I’ve only been there on two wheels, though. Not four. 

Carman Pirie: This is true. That’s two more than me. 

Jeff White: Yeah. Yeah. But I could not believe the number of modified trucks in the backcountry in Moab. I mean, there’s no question it’s a destination that everybody loves to go to, but the number of trucks that were back there and the age of some of them, with all these custom products on them, they look pretty cool. And for all the differences between mountain bikers and 4×4 enthusiasts, we all got along pretty well back there, too, which was pretty great. But it’s certainly an interesting group of people and group of enthusiasts. But I wonder, if you have that massive number of different things that are happening and trends that are exploding in one area, while something completely different is happening elsewhere, how do you manage that? How do you scale a marketing program and how do you measure your own effectiveness at marketing? 

Dirk Mortensen: That part, fortunately, is an area I get to lean back on a lot of the data-driven approaches. We’re going through and measuring what is going to have the greatest impact. We understand that localization is important and we would love to be able to drill in and build custom campaigns for every single local market, with every single nuanced trend, but we understand that budgets are limited, and bandwidth’s limited, and we have to adjust accordingly. So, we’re taking it usually at a regional approach, based on climate. Has a big impact on our business. We sell a lot more fridges in Southern California than we do in Maine, for example. 

We boil it down to really how effective is the next level of localization. But what really is an extra challenge is localizing it by the type of customer, like the type of business customer we have. Because I mentioned that a lot of these customers are only really promoting their products that they’re passionate about, and so we’re essentially building a marketing program to get our wholesale customers to adopt the product, and then another marketing program to layer on top of that once they’ve got buy-in, so that they’ll use it to market to the end consumer. And it’s far more I would say localized by business type than it is actually parts of the country. One example would be we have a number of different ecommerce-based business customers, and so we’re their distributor and then they take on inventory, and then they distribute it through their ecommerce channels. But we have some that are very focused on rock crawling Jeeps, and we have some that are very focused on overlanding vehicles in general. 

That could be a Tacoma with a rooftop tent, or a 4-Runner, or a Colorado with a mild lift kit, but with lots of protection and lots of camping equipment. And the localization that we end up having to do with each of these customers is far more of that type of segmentation than it is regional. But again, it is very much a challenge to say, “Okay. Well, what kind of program are we gonna put together just to get dealers to adopt these new products?” Because we have to approach them differently, and then we have to come up with another marketing program to layer on top of that, that we think will work with the end consumer. 

Carman Pirie: And of course, both programs have to pull a lot on emotion, and cannot just be predicated on blocking-and-tackling kind of ROI-type messaging that you could live on in your previous gig. 

Dirk Mortensen: Absolutely, and we’re fortunate enough to be in a position in the market where we’re considered a premium brand, so a lot of our products are kind of over-engineered, high quality products, that again can survive the Australian Outback. When it comes to bringing in a new product into a dealer, saying, “Hey, this is something you should really get excited about,” we don’t have to overcome the challenge of, “Oh, well, it’s poor quality. It won’t work.” It almost always does. What we have to come up with is can you get excited about it despite the fact that it’s a really over-engineered product and might be a challenge to sell, because it’ll be a pricey product. 

But back to your original question. For us, the margin details are less of a factor as it is adoption. Once we get adoption, people get really excited about it, and they know they’re going to sell it, because it’ll act like a halo product for them. But certainly, I wouldn’t say the return on investment is not a consideration. It’s obviously our first consideration when we’re talking about investing in marketing programs. It does take a much different route to get there, though. We have to figure out what the best return is when we’re talking to dealers and engaging dealers and getting dealer adoption. Then we have to get another level of return and then tie those together to say, “What did it actually cost us to get this to market, and what kind of benefit do we get?” All the way through the supply chain. 

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Carman Pirie: Dirk, I’d be curious, as you’ve taken this new role on and really met this challenge head-on of making this shift from being a purely B2B marketer to this B2B2C environment, are there any brands out there that kind of served as inspiration for you, or other companies that you looked to, to say, “I think these guys are doing it right. They seem to be able to get their B2B customers excited about selling their products.” Is there anybody out there that kind of stands out for you? 

Dirk Mortensen: In our industry, WARN is one that certainly jumps out at us. On a regular basis, we almost use them as a benchmark, frequently. They’re not a direct competitor. In fact, we’re one of their customers in Australia. We sell a lot of their products. But they do an excellent job of engaging their supply chain and then engaging the end consumer, as well. There’s a lot of players in our market that do a good job of understanding the industry and not just having this or having their products kind of tacked onto the bottom of a spreadsheet. The ones that really do an excellent job of engaging not just end consumers, but dealers. There are a lot of companies that we compete with that certainly have bigger marketing budgets, that do a lot of spray and pray, and work on brand awareness just in the market in general, but don’t engage customers really well. 

But WARN Winches certainly is a good example. 

Carman Pirie: Very cool. I would have to think that some of these other companies, even somebody like a Harley Davidson, or some of the bigger automotive brands, I’m assuming they must experience this similar dynamic. Basically, if the Harley dealers across the country are really excited about the new Harley Davidson model that they’re coming out with, the chances selling more of them would go up a lot, and probably every one of those owners of those Harley Davidson dealerships are also riders, who are passionate about the product, and they probably have Harley tattoos on them, for goodness’ sakes. 

Dirk Mortensen: I’d say the dealer model, especially in the automotive industry, is a little different, because that relationship is so close. Working with PACCAR, they distribute exclusively through their dealer network, so there’s a network of Peterbilt dealerships, and Kenworth dealerships, and DAF dealerships, similar to a Harley Davidson or a consumer automotive distribution network. 

Carman Pirie: You don’t have to sell them on it as much, I suppose. They’re already kind of part of the team. 

Dirk Mortensen: And they’re very much involved usually in the development process, too. And when you’re developing either a new bike, or you’re developing a new Ford Bronco, for example, you’re involving your dealer networks, because you know that they need to have buy-in well in advance. And they know that you’re going to distribute it, and their bread is made on the backs of whatever you’re putting together and putting into the market. It’s certainly a relationship that’s far closer than most. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah, I can appreciate that the parallels aren’t quite the same. There’s also, not to hold on to the parallel too strongly, but I’m thinking of, and you could tell I’m a motorcyclist in the middle of all this, but just like motorcycle shops that sell two or three different brands, which is very common, especially those that represent more of the Japanese manufacturers or what have you. And there, what brand they choose to sell is oftentimes depending on what they’re excited about. Maybe that might be a bit more similar, but I’ll stop trying to make my case. 

Dirk Mortensen: I’m a Kawasaki guy, myself. 

Carman Pirie: Are you? Well, we won’t hold that against you. 

Dirk Mortensen: I am. 

Carman Pirie: Actually, I must say as a bit of an odd little tangent, I owned a GPZ750 Turbo, which is like one of the very few turbocharged motorcycles ever created and was one of the first to do the quarter mile in under 10 seconds, so there you have it. That’s my only contribution. Jeff, you gotta take over from here. 

Jeff White: We won’t talk about… Yeah. I’m not allowed to have a motorcycle. People have seen how I ride a bike and they just don’t want me to be on anything that fast. You know, you talked a little bit about bringing products to market and getting your dealers excited. What is a common strategy for you when you’re looking to launch a new product? How do you work with the dealers on that and get a better understanding of their customers? Because obviously by the time something is ready to launch, ARB has most likely been profiling and testing this with a number of different people. But how do you launch something new? 

Dirk Mortensen: Well, I will preface it with it depends on the product category. Certain types of products are very easy for our dealers to wrap their heads around. They say, “Okay, we understand the function, we understand here’s the image of it, that’s pretty much all we need to know.” There are other products that they really need to get their hands on, see in person, and we use consumer events and trade events pretty heavily in that respect. 

Eastern Jeep Safari in Moab was one example of an event platform that we consistently use to bring prototypes into the market as an initial showing and to get feedback from consumers, but mostly from dealers and people in the industry. We’ll get a new rear bumper for the new Gladiator, for example, and we’ll get it in front of people and get feedback saying, “Oh yeah, I like this styling,” or, “It’d be really great if this functionality was included.” And we’ll bring that to market as it’s pretty close to fruition and almost ready to go into production, but as a way of educating dealers and educating the entire supply chain on what it looks like, and that part gets them excited. 

When it comes to something less vehicle-specific, like the fridges we sell, for example, a lot of that just has to do with education well in advance. We’ll put together a program that says, “Four weeks before this product even arrives stateside, we will make sure that all of our dealers have had a chance to get on a webinar to view all the specs and all the features and benefits of this product.” We’ll distribute videos to all of the wholesale distributing sales reps and the in-store sales reps, so they understand what this product looks like, how it’s used in the field, and making sure they all have more than enough information before the product ever arrives, so as soon as they get their hands on it, they’ve kind of already had all of this hype and they’ve already had all of this information overload, and they say, “Oh, I understand. I saw that in the video. Oh, I saw that feature and I heard about that.” It leads them up to a productive product launch. 

I would imagine that’s pretty typical in any consumer goods product release, but it’s really important, especially in our industry, to get buy-in. Again, from the owners, and also the salespeople, before they ever have to start talking to their end consumers about the product. 

Jeff White: Very cool, and I have to imagine if you’re launching products and getting things out into existing dealers, that’s one side of things. How are you also engaging and looking for new dealers to work with? What’s that sales process look like? 

Dirk Mortensen: To be honest, we have the benefit of having a fairly strong brand in the industry, so we have a lot of pull. We get quite a few customers coming to us saying, “Hey, we’d love to sign up to become a distributor or dealer of ARB products.” The other side of that is actively searching for what we would consider our ideal customers and our ideal distributors. We’re looking for people that have experience installing very technical products, things like air lockers and drivetrain products, and people that understand the complexities of compressors, and air systems, and why they’re important. Mainly that’s mostly for our customer support, so we’re going to things like dealer tradeshows, and we go to SEMA every year, which is kind of the Mecca of the aftermarket automotive world. We’re actively looking for customers who really have the skillsets that we’re looking for to help support our end customers. 

It’s great if we have a lot of retailers that can get our product out there, but it doesn’t add as much value if when the customer comes back with a question, that dealer, or that distributor, or that retailer doesn’t know how to help them. We’re really looking for strong partners that understand from a technical perspective and a service perspective how to help customers in the field. 

Carman Pirie: Jeff, I just can’t help but imagine the target account list of prospective distributors, and we actually have identified the vehicles that the owners drive of these organizations as well as the sales. I mean, that’s the level of passionate engagement that Dirk’s talking about here, isn’t it? 

Dirk Mortensen: Oh, certainly a factor. Absolutely. 

Jeff White: I have one last question I think, and really, oftentimes we ask people what do you wish you knew 10 years ago that you know now, but I want to reverse that a little bit and say given that you’re in this B2B2C environment now that isn’t something that you were doing before, necessarily, when you were in a pure B2B environment, what would you take from what you know now that you think would be valuable in your former B2B life? 

Carman Pirie: I think that’s a really good question, if I can just say that. You know, because we think about it in a B2B context. Oh, well, then it’s just all very cut and dry as long as you tell them how much money they’re gonna save. But we all know that if we played to the emotional side there, as well, it would probably generate some more results. Not to put words in Dirk’s mouth, but really curious about your answer here. 

Dirk Mortensen: Yeah. For me, looking back to my B2B experience previously, I would certainly ask my older self or my younger self to slow down a little and be a bit more patient. One thing I ran into pretty quickly in this current role is understanding that while things may not make sense to me, because I’m pretty much looking at metrics, and paper, and whatever these numbers represent, there’s a lot of nuance that you can only really understand talking to the right people. I would have been more successful in my B2B2B experience had I better understood the motivations behind the buyers, and the installers, and the retailers, and the distributors outside of their metrics goals. What got them there, why they stay in that current job, things like that. 

One example I can think of is in the heavy duty trucking industry, it’s amazing how many people in that industry have a passion for a very specific brand of semi truck. That sounds a little odd, but they get really passionate…some of them are Peterbilt guys, and some of them are gals that will only drive Kenworths, or only work on Kenworths, and if they see the other brand there, they almost hiss at them and throw lovely insults at each other. But understanding why they remain in their position and what gets them into work every day. 

Yes, they have metrics to hit. Yes, they want to make sure that their margins are maintained, and they want to make sure that they’re getting optimal efficiency, that they can drive the business, and grow the business, and all these things that we communicate through marketing channels. But slowing down a bit and understanding what else drives them in addition to those things would have made me far more successful. It’s not just treating them as people, it’s understanding that these are people that had chose to work in this industry for a very specific reason. In my current role, a lot of them chose to work in this industry because they’re enthusiasts, and they love the outdoors, and they love off-roading and overlanding. 

In my previous role, it’s possible they… And I can recall a couple of the reasons. They absolutely love semi trucks. Or it’s a family affair and they love working with family, or they love taking up the mantle of what their mom did or what their dad did. That’s certainly something I would have taken more time to process and include in my decision making in previous roles. 

Carman Pirie: I think that’s fantastic advice. Even in B2B, the buyer’s still a person and there are some underlying motivations there that you can tap into. It’s obvious in your existing role those passions are sometimes a little bit more worn on the sleeve, but like you say, they’re there in the other industries, as well, aren’t they? 

Dirk Mortensen: Absolutely. Absolutely. And again, they may be less of a deciding factor, but certainly something you can build on long term. 

Jeff White: No kidding. Well, we could all do with a little more empathy, eh? Very cool. Well, thanks very much for joining us today, Dirk. It’s been a really fascinating discussion. 

Dirk Mortensen: Thank you very much for having me. 

Carman Pirie: All the best.?

Announcer: Thanks for listening to The Kula Ring, with Carman Pirie and Jeff White. Don’t miss a single manufacturing marketing insight. Subscribe now at www.rccompplan.com/thekularing. That’s K-U-L-Apartners.com/thekularing.?

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