The Kula Ring

Episode 88 What Can a B2B Manufacturer Achieve Through Sales and Marketing Automation?

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.

B2B manufacturers with limited addressable markets are expanding their reach by translating best practices from sales relationships into automated environments. Andrew Vocaire, Director of Digital Strategy at Ravago, a global plastic production and distribution company, shares insights into the company’s experimentation with digital tools and processes to acquire market share.

What Can a B2B Manufacturer Achieve Through Sales and Marketing Automation? 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 and joining me today is Carman Pirie. Carman, how are you doing sir? 

Carman Pirie: You know, I’m doing well, Jeff. It’s hard to complain, really. Isn’t it? 

Jeff White: Well, you could. You could. These are interesting times, of course, in which we are recording this episode. 

Carman Pirie: This is true, but it’s not going to do us much good to complain about it. 

Jeff White: No, that’s for sure. For those listening when we actually end up publishing this episode, we are just at the very beginning of the self-isolation side of the coronavirus pandemic, so everybody’s working from home. Us, our guest, everybody. 

Carman Pirie: Yes. I believe last night, I arrived at officially here in my household, the Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers stage of quarantine. That’s where we were at. So, it’s anybody’s guess how the next week will go. 

Jeff White: Yeah. Yeah. Indeed. Last night the Dropkick Murphys were doing a live stream St. Paddy’s Day show instead of a live show in Boston, so that was what we were doing during the evening. It’s certainly been an interesting time. 

So, joining us today on the show is Andy Vocaire. Andy is the Director of Digital Strategy at Ravago. Welcome to The Kula Ring, Andy. 

Andrew Vocaire: Well, thank you very much. Day three of quarantine here for I think all of the United States. It’s definitely interesting times. 

Carman Pirie: It’s good to be chatting with you, Andy. And I can’t help but think when… Jeff, when you just said Ravago, I got this whole kind of vision of the Trivago man in my mind, like there’s… I don’t know. Maybe it’s just the way you pronounced it or something, so hopefully, that’s the last time that happens in this episode. 

Jeff White: Indeed. Indeed. Andy, why don’t you tell us a little bit about your role there at Ravago, and what you’re doing, and what the company does? 

Andrew Vocaire: Absolutely. You know, I don’t know the Trivago reference, but Ravago is actually from Raf Van Gorp. That was our founder back in the sixties out of Belgium. Great guy who actually started a business around plastic recycling, and from there grew into plastic distribution, and chemicals distribution, and now it’s a global company centred around plastic and chemical distribution. Really, really interesting, very entrepreneurial company. I’ve been here for 10 years. Before that, I was at Dow Chemical, and I’ve been involved in sales and marketing for many years, and over the past couple of years transitioned a little bit more into… Well, I should say a lot more into business systems, and IT, and technology. Got involved with all of our global ERP systems and building roadmaps to onboard a lot of the companies that we’d acquired. 

So, I’m a bit of a hybrid person. I’m very passionate about the commercial side of our business. Sales, business development, marketing work, advertising, all those core components of what we do as a distribution company. But then I’ve got a really good understanding of how our systems actually work, how our processes work, how our shared services are set up and what they’re designed to do. And so, as we mature as a company, we’ve been really looking heavily in the mirror and deciding how are we going to streamline a lot of these back end operations, and what are we gonna do differently, and made a lot of really good decisions as far as how to grow up and still stay very automated. And now looking into a new chapter of building eCommerce tools and going really heavily into the digital side, which is geared to getting after the tail of our market. Getting out to smaller customers and multiplying our sales effort. 

So, I’ve got a sort of a new title and a newer role in the company, although it’s… I joke around that it’s something I’ve been working on for all the 10 years that I’ve been here. It’s just now a little bit more of an official title. 

Jeff White: Very, very cool. And I think it’s always really interesting to look at a more traditional company, with a classic distribution model, or where you’ve been used to doing things a certain way, and then now looking into how are we going to kind of bring this into the digital age? And what are the tools and processes that we need to put in place in order to do that and do it well? How are you making that transition, and what do you think the first steps are there? 

Andrew Vocaire: Well, I’ve always felt like this industry, or these industries, whether you’re talking about fuel and gas, energy services, raw materials, chemicals, commodities, I’ve always felt like there’s a lot of opportunity in these spaces, because there’s a lot of technology, and automation, and strategy that’s been developed for B2C retail businesses, software sales, all these things that are out there that we don’t really have to reinvent the wheel. We can apply a lot of this. Just a basic concept of advertising, not even getting into digital, but even really print advertising or how you build a strategy around advertising, there’s a lot of people in our industry that think, “Oh, well, that’s just a spend. That doesn’t really work.” 

But the reality is advertising has been around for decades and decades and it persists because it does work. We’ve been able to take the digital advertising side of that and show that for not a lot of cost, you can actually generate quite a lot of return. Whether that’s just people coming into your website, or it’s actually building leads, or to where we’re trying to build, to actually closing out sales through an eCommerce channel, you have the ability with these tools today to reach out directly to a specific consumer, build a message with them, build a rapport with them, and actually draw them in. And again, these tools are not new. They’ve been out there for many years. A lot of other industries are using them. 

So, I’ve always felt like there’s just a ton of opportunity in our industries to adapt these tools and bring them in and create a more fun environment, a more interactive and engaging environment. I go to dinner parties and talk about, “You know, I sell plastics.” And I guarantee that most people think, “Oh, you’re the devil.” But the reality is we use these things all over the place, and there’s a lack of education, there’s a lack of understanding. We do a tremendous amount of recycling. It’s a big part of our business. And when you can talk to people about how this whole industry works and what it does, if I can build an environment where we can translate that into an online experience, I think we can even multiply that effort. So, it’s pretty exciting to me. I’m a guy that gets excited about plastics and chemicals. What can I say? 

Carman Pirie: I do have to agree with you that the, “I sell plastics,” line is probably not the best pickup line to use at your next party. But I do think it’s interesting that basically what you’re saying is that there’s something, there’s some magic at the intersection of what is possible in today’s digital world and how that intersects with what is a very traditional relationship, sales-based B2B approach. And that’s what you’re I guess trying to really translate into this automated eComm environment that you’re in the process of building now. That’s my understanding, at least, Andy, is that you’re saying, “How do we bring the best practice of what we know to be true from a relationship sales perspective, and translate that into this automated environment?” 

Am I getting it? 

Andrew Vocaire: Yeah, I think that’s a big part of it. So, I’d say there’s two things that are really specifically happening in our industry, but probably in all business industries that are important to look at here. One is that you just have a lot of people retiring in their sixties, and maybe they’re in purchasing roles, or decision-making roles, and they’re being replaced by people probably in their forties because you’ve got that big generational gap and that 40-year-old is looking to have a different work-life balance. They’re probably not gonna go golfing as much, or go to lunch with you, or go to dinner, or spend as much time. They’re looking for more engagement via email, via text message, WhatsApp, through social media. They want to research. They want to know at the time that they pick up the phone and call you, or you have any kind of electronic communication, they’ve probably made 65% of their decision already. 

You know, do we want these products? Do we like the pricing? Do we feel like we can get better technology or information from another source? And if they feel like you’re the fit, then they’re gonna go ahead and engage with you. So, it’s a little bit less about relationship-building from the standpoint of, “Gee, I like spending time with you.” And more from the standpoint of, “I like what you’re offering. I like the information that I can get, and I like the speed of the information as it’s delivered.” 

And the other thing, the second thing that I think is happening is that the line between, “I’m a consumer and I make purchasing decisions this way,” and, “I’m a business and I make purchasing decisions this way,” that line is getting very blurred. We talk about, especially in small businesses, we talk about it all the time where I’m a small business owner, I’ve started a company because it’s something that I’m passionate about, right? I was making soap in my garage and I decided, “Hey, I’m gonna go to the flea market and start selling my soap products,” where I was just giving them out before. And I need to buy ingredients, I need to learn about better technology for making these things, better pots and pans or equipment that I need. Where do I go? I go to Google. I go to Bing. I go to whatever online resource. I go to YouTube. I ask around and get other resources electronically, and I research, and I find this information, and then I want to buy things. 

And nowhere in that process have they talked to anybody. So, that barrier of I’m a consumer versus I’m a business is just really dropping and dropping fast, and so with those two things happening, I think in our industry, we have to adapt to that. And we have to provide those changes. It doesn’t mean that the knowledge that we’ve built as humans, as outside sellers, as technical people, that knowledge is still hugely valuable. We’ve just gotta translate it differently. We’ve gotta put it out there more openly for people to find it. And that’s a lot of what we’re focused on. 

Jeff White: How do you think that you do transition that kind of knowledge and that skill that experienced, quality salespeople, have into something that is more of a… slightly more hands-off and more kind of digital environment, where are your potential customers receiving these messages via digital channels, like email, and marketing automation, and potentially targeted advertising and things like that, how do we ensure that that kind of quality of relationship is maintained, while also understanding that maybe people don’t want to be talked to in the same way that they’ve been talked to for decades? 

Andrew Vocaire: Well, that’s a fantastic question, because I have tried to take our top sellers from our businesses and say, “Okay, you’re no longer going to be sellers. You’re just gonna help us set up our digital strategies.” And all of our business managers said, “No, you’re not gonna do that. They need to be out there selling.” 

Carman Pirie: That would have been a tough sell, I would think. Yeah. 

Andrew Vocaire: Exactly. So, it’s a bit of building the relationships internally and doing a lot of ride alongs with the sellers, and I have the benefit of having been in a lot of sales situations, so I have an understanding of the cadence that we usually have with customers, how we go through that sales cycle, how people think a little bit on the client-side, on the customer side. But it’s a lot of internal communication and learning internally, as to what works and doesn’t work. Why does it work? Why does it not work? And then marrying that together with the data. So, the data… I’m a data freak when it comes down to it, and data is everything to me, so what you can do on the digital side that you can’t do as easily on the human side is A/B test, right? 

So, everything that we send out via email, advertising, how we set up webpages to see the flow of traffic, everything can be tested and measured. And I think what you can do is just really optimize around that. So, you start with a strategy, you start it with a hypothesis of, as I had mentioned kind of before we started this recording, nobody likes getting a ton of emails from the same company, right? So, one of our strategies is, “Hey, let’s not email everybody every single day, multiple times a day with the same message.” Right? Let’s think about a journey that we want to set up for our customer. Okay, I want to send an email today, and if they haven’t responded to it or haven’t opened the email, maybe three or four days later, or a week later, I send them a slightly different email. 

Now, that can be one journey, and running along in parallel we have the B test to it, which is the same cadence of emails, but maybe with different messaging, different technology bullet points, different links to other resources, different images, and we see, “Okay, which one is responded to more?” And all that testing really helps you drive to the goal of obviously more leads and more opens. But building a message that has a higher response rate. 

So, it’s a marriage of these things. I mean, it will have to be cyclical. We’ll have to have a feedback loop and we’ll have to continuously reach out to our outside sellers and ask them, “What do you think of this strategy? Would you modify it in any way if you were gonna talk to a customer about a new product that you were launching? How would you do it? How would you get that message into not only that one person that you were really closely associated with but to the broader company?” And then can we take that and model that in a digital sense? 

So, a lot of different things that go into it, but you’ve gotta really be open to the ideas. You’ve gotta be looking at the data. You’ve gotta be creating the feedback loops. And you’ve gotta be willing to change. You’re going to put a lot of messaging out there that just doesn’t work, and you’ve gotta be willing to adapt to that and switch gears pretty quickly. 

Carman Pirie: I find it’s interesting to consider, I guess, the notion of A/B testing in that scenario that you just mentioned. Especially for a lot of B2B manufacturing marketers, they look at a total addressable market, and they may only have 3,000, 4,000 possible customers that they could do business with. So, it’s not always, or I think in some of the times in those situations, it’s not always easy to imagine how you get to a level of statistical significance in an A/B testing scenario around messaging when you’re dealing with a smaller total addressable market. Is that something that you’ve encountered as you’ve looked at applying data-driven decision-making processes to that type of situation? 

Andrew Vocaire: Yeah. I think this is where the human element, I think, errs on the side of… How do I want to say this? This is very akin to how you set up a CRM model with outside sales versus inside sales, and then expanding that to digital. And what I mean by that is if you’re an outside seller, you think in terms of your bandwidth. And you might say, “Well, I can only call on 100 customers.” But even within those customers, you’re thinking about the contacts that you have. So, at each customer, I might have two contacts, and so that’s 200 individual people that me as an outside seller might feel comfortable building a relationship, building a dialogue and a rapport with. 

Inside sales might think the same way. Okay, well, I can email so many people, or contact so many people by phone. Maybe it’s more than outside sales, but it’s a number of contacts, and what happens on the digital side is that you can greatly expand that. So, where we’re limited is by this human-to-human interaction, this one-to-one relationship that we have, where I know this person, I’ve looked them in the eyes, I’ve talked to them, I’ve gotten to know their interests, and their hobbies, and their families, and things like that. But you’re very limited in the number than you can have on that contact one-to-one relationship. 

When we start getting into digital advertising and getting into broader markets and segments, we can go beyond the number of contacts even with one company. So, even if you say, “Okay, in my industry there’s only 3,000 potential customers,” you’re talking about accounts. At each customer, you could have 50 contacts that you could reach out to, and so even on the digital advertising and the digital strategy side, you can be getting to the research scientist who spends all of his time in the lab and never actually gets to talk to the supplier, and they might see an advertisement or see a technical paper, a whitepaper, or see a technical demonstration via video and go, “Oh, wow! This company really has something that we’re interested in.” And they go contact the purchasing people or the people that interface with that supplier and say, “Hey, have you had this discussion with them? Can we get more information?” 

And so, you can really get your hooks into a company much, much further, much more thoroughly, I think with these kinds of strategies than what people realize because that number of contacts can be greatly multiplied. 

Jeff White: I think that’s really interesting because even if your ideal customer profile limits you to a certain number of accounts like you’re saying, there really are a number of different personas that you’re going to have to address within each of those accounts to progress a sale and to finally reach the people who have the decision-making power and all of that. And that’s certainly a huge component of account-based marketing, is really understanding here are the accounts that we have, but then we know that there are people in purchasing, there are engineers that need to have a play in this, and people in the C-suite and all of that. So, there’s no question that you’re going to have a very different group of people that you’re going to need to market to, and you’re probably going to need to different messaging for each one of those people, as well. 

Carman Pirie: I agree with you, Jeff, and just at the same time, and I agree that the multiple contacts within an account does kind of give you a bit more to play with. But I do think at the same time it’s a very different kind of environment than say a pure eComm kind of conversion rate optimization play, where you’re driving thousands of visits in the run of a couple of hour span and can really drive A/B testing in a statistically significant way. I feel that it still kind of has a bit of art to it. I think there’s still a little bit of kind of nuance, or gut, or instinct that has to be part of this, as well. Wouldn’t you say, Andy? I mean, it’s not… As much as I know you love data and that’s gonna help inform us, sometimes that’s just helping to inform the gut I think a little bit. 

Does that make sense? 

Andrew Vocaire: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, look, some of our most successful sellers are just people that are incredibly creative in how they go about their sales process, and they might say, “I can’t build a process for you, because everybody that I approach, I approach differently. I read their body language. I read their comments. And I adapt to those.” And so, they think, “Well, you can’t do that with technology.” Well, the reality is you can’t do it the same way, but you can take pieces of that approach and you can start applying them. 

So, to that point of every… If I approach the buyer as a customer, I have a different message than if I approach the research scientist, or if I approach the C-suite, or if I approach the administrative assistant. You do have a different kind of communication, and you can craft those things in the digital world, as well. You can do that. But you can also get creative and you have to get creative, and you have to sit down with your commercial teams and say, “What do you do when you hit roadblocks? What do you do when you hit bottlenecks? How do we change the approach? How do we throw things out there that are just very unique?” Throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks, right? I mean, there’s a lot of that that has to happen, so it can’t be one note of I’m just gonna have these messages that go out with my technical literature and try to get people interested in my technical literature. Right? 

Sometimes you’ve gotta invite them to different user groups, or invite them to other conversations that are somewhat unrelated, but always be bringing them back in, right? A lot of it is just awareness, and a lot of sellers will tell you that some of the most successful sales that they’ve had took years and years to close because the person they were working with was just in the wrong position at the time, and when they changed positions, all the sudden now they were really interested and able to have the purchasing authority they were looking for. So, sometimes it’s about waiting it out, and in the meantime, just building some kind of dialogue and rapport with them. Keeping them interested in your company while you’re going through that. 

Yeah, you’re absolutely right. I mean, a lot of this is just trying different things, trying different methods. We have to have this marriage of what do our outside sellers do and do well, with what do we want to do through automation? And then approach different parts of the market. Now, for our company specifically, we are gonna go after a little bit more of the tail with our automation. And that allows us to make more mistakes, frankly. If we have some customers that say, “Well, we didn’t really… Your message did not resonate with us, and so, maybe we’re going to go to a different company.” Well, if we lose that one client, but we have thousands more that we can approach, that’s a lot easier than that outside seller who might be going after 50 accounts, and if they lose one account, they’re pretty upset about it because their exposure can’t be as great. 

We have the ability to make some of the mistakes in the tail of the market, but we always have to be trying new things. We always have to be listening to the sellers and talking to our outside sellers, and then blending these messages together and seeing what works for them. So, I don’t think that you want to separate them, at least from a distribution company like us, I don’t think that you want to say, “What we’re gonna do on the digital side is completely separate from what we do on outside sales.” We want to marry these things together. We want to marry these strategies together and recognize that we’re a sales company. We’re really good at the human-to-human interaction. Hopefully, we can improve and even take some of the digital side and give it back to the human side, too, right? 

I mean, can we, as we talked about getting into more contacts, and getting more penetration into accounts with different kinds of personas, we may be able to teach the sellers that there’s some different approaches they can take, as well. Oh, I got blocked by the initial contact that I tried to make, but here’s another route that I can get in and work with a company and build interest. So, hopefully, all these things will play out over time and will help both sides of the business. 

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Carman Pirie: Let’s kind of put our… Try to look into the future just a little bit here, because you’re really at the front end of the revolution that you’re trying to create at Ravago, and I know that you’ve kind of framed this before. It’s almost some way shaped up as a bit of an internal startup, as a way of driving this kind of innovation. Can you give us a snapshot of what you think the next several months hold, and where we’re driving to, and hopefully we can just kind of reconnect in a few months and see to what extent that’s true. 

Andrew Vocaire: Yeah, I’ll do my best to. 

Carman Pirie: This is us holding your feet to the fire, Andy. 

Andrew Vocaire: Yeah, absolutely. Well, hey, you’re not the first one, and it’s funny because we’re going into what’s going to be a very Agile project for us, and our organization is not fully Agile yet. Primarily because for many years, we have not thought of our company as being a software company, and that’s starting to change, and so along with that, people are starting to understand what are the differences between Waterfall and Agile approaches, and different ways that you can iterate on software, and just the idea of building software akin to building a machine, right? If we talk about bringing in a plastics compounder, which is a machine that we use to make compounded resins, people can understand that whole process and concept of, “I’m gonna bring this machine in, I’m gonna build the machine out, and then there’s gonna be a point where I can actually run resin through the machine and make something.” 

Now, that may not be the final state. I might add other mixers, and other components and other instruments to measure the output over time, but I’ve got this finite idea in my mind of this is day one. This is what day one looks like. I can actually run something through the machine and get an output, and get a sellable product. When we talk about software development, for our company it’s been… There’s been more of a mindset traditionally of, “Well, I just go buy that software, I install it, and then I run it.” And that’s not really what we’re into nowadays. There’s a lot more configuration work, implementation work, development in the tools to build out your processes and your automations that you’re looking for, and that takes time, and then there’s a continuous development approach. 

So, for all the Agile geeks out there, I’m sure I will murder the Agile approach for them and they’ll all be calling me and saying, “Hey, there’s a better way to do it,” and I agree, just so everybody knows. But the point that I’m making is that we’re learning how to develop in a software environment, just like we’re learning a lot about what we want to do from a digital marketing strategy standpoint. So, for us, the journey over the next couple months, we’ve tried to put a stake in the ground and say, “Hey, we want to start selling product in three to four months.” Knowing that’s an aggressive goal, knowing that we may not hit it, but I’ve always believed in having a little bit of a goal, and almost building some tension around we know we want to hit something, we know that might be tough, but if we don’t hit it, that’s okay, too. We just need to keep the ball rolling. We need to keep the momentum going and know that we’ve got a goal in sight. 

So, the way that we’ve basically approached this, being a very entrepreneurial company, is we said, “Look, we have some back-end systems that we want to use in our ERP tooling. We don’t have anything on the front end from a storefront yet. So, let’s go buy those tools. Let’s go develop them out the way that we need. And then let’s plug everything together. But for everything on the front end, let’s treat it like a greenfield operation. Let’s purchase new software. Let’s bring in new partners to help us set it up. Let’s hire a few new people for specialties that we don’t have today for that kind of software and for those kinds of processes. And let’s see if we can move fast, because there’s an opportunity cost, as well.” Right? The quicker that we can get set up and sell into the tail of a market that we don’t sell to today, the better. 

We can generate revenue pretty quickly and we can learn and adapt the systems as we go. Once we have those tools set up, we can also start using those in existing businesses. So, there are many different approaches that we’re taking, but we’ve kind of set a three-year strategy for what we want to do. 

Carman Pirie: Andy, I’d be curious. At this stage, we’ve talked about people holding your feet to the fire. Has anybody suggested how much time to positive ROI you have? Or kind of have they put a line in the sand there? Say, “Look, we need to do that within year one.” Or by year three? Just kind of curious where your thoughts are at this stage? 

Andrew Vocaire: So, we’ve got about a three-year strategy that we’ve laid out. There will be a lot of changes within those three years, but ideally, we’ll get some of our platforms stood up pretty quickly, have the ability to sell product in the early stages, build out our automations, build out a lot of our back-end processes, and get into the tail of that market. Get some of those small orders started, where we can’t really get to today. 

And then over time, take those tools and leverage those for medium and larger customers, as well, and into some of our traditional businesses. So, being that we’re a very entrepreneurial company, it’s greenfield in a way that we can get going fast, but we’ve put a good vision together on bringing these things all together, making sure that we don’t make too many mistakes in terms of integrations and the long-term vision because we still want to work in one ecosystem for our company, long term. We don’t want to miss that element. 

But we do want to go fast, and that’s a key part of why we said, “Let’s just treat this as a startup inside of our company in a way so that we can move quickly.” And I think that’s… It’s fun, and it’s engaging, and I think it’s what you’re seeing a lot of other companies do. The more I read, you hear a lot about this, “Let’s try these things. Let’s get AI in the hands of more users. Let’s get more software in the hands of smaller groups and users,” so that they can go quickly, too, and just kind of try things. Because in the world we live in today, you need to innovate quickly. You need to innovate in small groups. And then have these prototypes, and then be able to scale up from there. So, it’s no different for what we’re doing here, and I think it’ll kind of set a benchmark for some of our other strategies going forward. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah, I appreciate you sharing that. I think it’s just helpful guidance to other marketers listening, trying, that may be staring down the barrel of in some ways a similar initiative, and in some… It’s a question we get a lot. It’s just like people, “What should I be thinking? What should I be… What expectations ought I be setting?” And I do find it interesting, too, that for instance, for most marketers, they’re somewhat like you, actually. They’re their own worst enemy. They’re the ones that will move that positive ROI timeline up in the calendar and tend to be more aggressive. But I think that’s maybe just marketers. We tend to be an optimistic lot, anyway. You know? 

Andrew Vocaire: Yeah. I’m probably my own worst enemy on this because I’m the one holding my feet to the fire and saying that I want to have a positive ROI in 18 months or less. And the clock’s already ticking on that. That was kind of from the point that we spent the first dollar. We actually built up a full P&L for three years and looked at what we could do within that business. So, it helped us get guidelines together around how we want to budget for software, how we want to budget for our developmental costs, and this is where you have this Waterfall versus Agile, and kind of the natural tensions that you build in, it’s not like we’re gonna say, “Okay, build the whole thing and then go.” We’re gonna build in an Agile methodology, but if you don’t have that budgetary concern or that budgetary mindset that you have within the P&L, you can get out of control very quickly. 

And one of the principles that I do try to follow on Agile is that you have the capacity. You need to work within a capacity, just like you’re running a machine, and that’s very important to us. So, yeah, so we’re shooting for 18 months. I hope that we hit it. I actually hope we hit it faster than that. But we’ve got guidelines that really help us make a lot of decisions around can we expose ourselves, or overexpose ourselves in some areas related to software? Because you can go spend all day long, you can spend money on new software and get really excited about what you have, but if you can’t utilize it right away, you may be better off to wait a little bit longer before you implement that. 

Jeff White: Well, and I think we don’t often understand as marketers exactly what it takes to integrate all of these disparate pieces of software, to make them talk to each other, and sometimes that’s the hardest part. Yes, you can have a great eComm platform, you can have a great ERP, you can have great marketing automation and CRM, but how do you ensure that those things all work together, and are working for you so that everyone in the business fully understands exactly where every customer is in that process, as well? 

Andrew Vocaire: Yeah, and I’m glad you brought that up, Jeff, because we’ve thought about that a tremendous amount and one of the things that we’re working really hard to do inside of our company is knock down some of the barriers of us versus them when it comes to commercial versus IT. You know, there’s… You have people that grow up in the systems world and the software world, and they know what it takes to do integrations, what it takes to set up software, but they also know that you can just sort of start some of the sales processes or things like that very quickly, because you can fail fast, and you can adapt, and you can make changes based on your mistakes. 

On the commercial side of it, you have people that oftentimes think it’s very easy to do integrations, and it shouldn’t take much work. They don’t know that when your data quality is not very high, it really takes a big effort to clean that up and get those things going, and then the more systems you try to button together, the longer it’s gonna take. We have a lot of warehouses in our network, for instance, and if we try to bring every single warehouse into the platform, we’ll spend three years just working on that project. So, we’re gonna approach it a little differently, but we’re working really hard to knock these barriers down and get people to see eye to eye and say, “Look, this is an approach of commercial and IT working hand in hand.” Ideally, if we can get people that have mixed backgrounds, that’s even better for us, because they’ve seen both of those worlds, and they get it, and they say, “Okay, well, let’s just prioritize the work as we go. Let’s get to our MVP state.” Or what we like to call MMP, our minimum marketable product, because we think that’s a little bit more key. 

And let’s then add features that make sense, again, based on the data, the feedback on the data that we’re getting, what our customers are asking us for, what our sellers are telling us you should try. Let’s add those features. And then let’s build it as we go. But if we try to integrate everything from day one, that’s now a three to five-year project that we’ve not sold anything in that time. So, we’re trying to be very careful about that. 

Carman Pirie: And I think if folks listening in take anything away from this conversation, that would be a good foundational element, really, is that just as a marketer, I think you ought to be striving to be the marketer that understands the level of complexity associated with that type of work, so that you can make wise decisions like you just made, that said, “Look, we’re not gonna go down the barrel of this three-year integration project to bring all of these different warehouses online. We need to do this in a different way.” I mean, you just saved… I guess a marketer without that background, without that kind of grounding, would maybe start down the path of 18 months of very tiresome work that ends up having to be redone. So, I think that was just really great advice, frankly. 

Andrew Vocaire: That’s the hook, Carman, right? That’s how you keep people to listen to the whole episode. You gotta tell them from the beginning, “Stick around and there’s a great message for you.” 

Jeff White: I for one am really excited to kind of see where you go with this, and I’m looking forward to reconnecting ahead of 18 months. Maybe we’ll talk again in four or five and see where you are, and maybe record another one after it’s been live for a while. But thanks very much for joining us today, Andy. It’s been fantastic. 

Andrew Vocaire: Yeah. Thank you guys both, as well, and hope everybody’s safe out there with everything going on. But this is a good time to be in software. That’s all I can say. 

Carman Pirie: Exactly right. Look, yeah, stay safe, and great to be chatting with you today. 

Andrew Vocaire: Thank you. 

Jeff White: Cheers. 

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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