Ep. 6: Inbound Channel Marketing Featuring Ed Marsh

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This week on The Inbound Success Podcast, my guest is Ed Marsh, the founder of Consilium Global Business Advisors, a company that specializes in helping B2B manufacturing companies achieve their growth goals.

Here’s what Ed and I discussed on this week’s show:

Kathleen Booth (Host): I am so excited to have you on the show this week Ed. Tell us a little bit about your company, the types of clients you work with, and what you do.

Ed Marsh (Interviewee): Sure Kathleen. So, although many might categorize us as a marketing agency, we're really very different than that. My background from my international business experience, my time in the army, my education, and the companies that I've run in the industrial space really makes me more interested in the strategy and executive management end of things, even the role of independent board directors. And so, unlike an agency model, which outsources entire functions, we really advise companies, typically middle market industrial manufacturing companies.

We work with companies that have in-house teams that have specific revenue goals and understand strategically where they need to take the company, but have struggled for whatever reason to actually achieve the sort of growth that they want to. So, we bring together a lot of different disciplines including inbound marketing and a lot of industrial and international experience, and put it together, mix it all up in this recipe, if you will, that's proven very successful to help industrial companies grow.

Kathleen: I love that you do this international work, and we're going to get to that in a bit because that's something pretty different than what I've talked about with some of my other guests.But first, you have a really interesting campaign that you've run. Tell us a little bit about that.

Ed: Because of the kinds of companies I work with, it's often complex sales, it's frequently capital equipment kind of things, and it's often sold through sales channels. And one of the really interesting things that's happening in the world of revenue growth today is this evolution of the role of the sales channel. It used to be that when geography and communications were a constraint, the sales channel was the voice, the presence, the personality, if you will, for a manufacturer in any given market. And aside from a bank of green books on the wall (the Industrial Register), that sales channel was really the manufacturer's presence in a market. But that's changed now.

Certainly sales channel remains important, but in many cases, what happens is the end users are doing their research online. They're finding the solutions, they're finding the suppliers, they're finding the thought leadership to help them understand the challenges they've got and even frame the problem to find the right solution. And the sales channel, in many cases, is just executing a transaction.

This creates an interesting challenge for companies, particularly where they've built their business model on a sales channel. They've probably got a fairly substantial piece of a gross margin that's committed to a distributor discount, and so it's creating this unease, which has always existed to a certain degree.

Manufacturers never thought channel did enough, and channel never thought manufacturers did enough. But now it's really distorted. And so, part of the role of a strategic revenue growth program is to begin to understand where sales channels are going, and how customer buying habits will influence it in the next five to ten years, but also how to evolve the channel, both in its composition (changing the criteria for an ideal channel partner) and in developing a much more fruitful relationship than the traditional transactional one.

This campaign is an example of that. One of the things I coach companies on doing is developing campaigns that use channel partners for co-marketing - not just in a “put the sticker on the spec sheet” sort of a way like these companies traditionally do, but to co-op the asset that many channel partners have in data and relationships that they may not even be fully engaging with themselves.

What we do is take a standard offer that a manufacturer created - a downloadable e-book or something like that - and co-brand it with the distributors’ logos and contact information (so very little work is involved in adapting the offer to the distributors’ brands). We build a parallel conversion path - literally as simple as cloning a campaign that already exists and doing a little bit of co-branding on the landing page and follow up emails, et cetera. Then, we give the text or HTML for the initial offer email to the channel partner for them to send to their contact list.

This approach saves a lot of hassle, ensures that everyone stays compliant with CAN-SPAM laws, and avoids concerns about sharing contacts. It works because the distributor isn't asked to do much. We're basically spoon feeding everything to them, and all they have to do is approve the document, the emails, the landing page, make sure that they're comfortable with the co-branding, and then send that initial campaign.

Kathleen: Those distributors are often resellers for a variety of different types of equipment, are they not?

Ed: Absolutely.

Kathleen: So I imagine that if you're a distributor and you're working with ten manufacturers and one of them is supplying you with all of this marketing material and collateral, you're going to take the path of least resistance and promote the one that makes your life easier.

Ed: Exactly right.

Kathleen: Before you do the work for the other ones that require you to build your campaigns from the ground up. Is that the case?

Ed: Precisely. And in many cases, the campaigns aren't even happening with the other manufacturers. In the industry, we use a term called "mind share." This approach helps to naturally increase the mind share with your distributor because you're now becoming really integral to helping them grow their business.

What's fascinating is not only does this develop a lot of great leads for the manufacturer, it's amazing how many conversations it stirs and renews with latent contacts that the distributor had forgotten about but who call up and say, "You know what? Thanks for sending that. I'm not interested in that. But now that I've got you on the phone, I keep meaning to call you about X, Y, and Z." And so, it creates a really interesting business dynamic for the distributor outside of the manufacturer's products as well.

Kathleen: That's really interesting. So, let's talk about your specific campaign. What were the objectives of this one?

Ed: The objectives of this campaign were simple - to generate leads. Many of these distributors actually don't even have email programs that they run. They have decent contact databases, although aging in some cases. So we wanted to foster collaboration, and tap the asset that the distributors already had in their contact databases.

Because they didn't have an email program, and we wanted to make sure that we were sending it from them as opposed to from the manufacturer who didn't directly have the relationships to send the mail, we set up a Constant Contact account on behalf of the distributor. They loaded their contacts, we took the HTML that had worked very well with this campaign directly in the past and got everything set up for them, and they approved it.

That was backed up, of course, by a typical conversion path with landing page, thank you page, the offer itself, and a series of emails including a lead notification email that went simultaneously to both the manufacturer and the distributor.

There were three nurturing emails, the first two of which were sent by the manufacturer's marketing automation program, but came from the email address and with branding of the distributor. The third came with the branding and email address of the manufacturer.

Kathleen: Interesting. So you're mixing kind of the manufacturer and the distributor in terms of the brand presence within the campaign.

Ed: Exactly.

Kathleen: I think it's fascinating that, in this case, the manufacturer didn't even have an email marketing platform and this was really their first foray into doing this kind of email marketing. Tell me about who the audience was for this.

Ed: The audience for this, as is common with many of the clients I work with, is the plant manager, plant engineer, process engineer, manufacturing engineer, or maintenance manager. In some cases, there's P&L responsibility at the plant management or division presidency level. In other cases, there's no P&L responsibility, but fairly substantial operational responsibility.

Kathleen: I've had this experience where you upload a client's email list for the first time into a system and you send an email out and many of the emails bounce. I imagine they probably had a good chunk of their emails bounce.

Ed: There was a good chunk, and that's another reason in many of these cases to make sure you send it as the distributor rather than as the manufacturer because you don't want any sort of negative impact on deliverability. In this particular case, I think the bounce rate was about 25%. So you're right, it is quite high.

Kathleen: What's great about that is (and I don't think that most companies see this initially) is that it becomes a really effective tool for updating your contact database. All of a sudden you have information about which contacts have gone stale, and it's a way of identifying those and maybe prompting you to reach out and update your contact information for people.

Ed: Great point.

Kathleen: You sent out about 4,500 emails and after the bounces, that's probably about 3,500 that got delivered. Tell me about the performance of the campaign.

Ed: What's interesting is the performance is very close to what we see when we run this campaign directly in terms of open rate and click through rate. The open rate in this specific case was about 14% and the click through rate about 17%. That's common for what we see in this kind of industrial space.

We've had the benefit of tweaking and AB testing this campaign with a number of distributors and improving it along the way. What's interesting is that, every once in awhile when we run one of these campaigns, the manufacturer will be hesitant in setting expectations with the distributor and the distributor will get a little bit crazy in how they decide they're going to craft the email.

In one case, I remember a distributor sent it out and the subject line was "Email blast from X, Y, Z company." You can imagine that when that happened, it negatively impacted the results. So there's some great side by side data that shows that if you use the right subject line and send the email properly - at a good time of day, on the right day, et cetera - you can get great results.

Kathleen: It sounds like your open and click through rates were pretty good. What did that drive in terms of conversions?

Ed: Of the folks that actually clicked through, we had 125 views of the landing page out of the 3,000 that were effectively delivered. And the landing page converted pretty well at a rate of 40%, so there was about 50 submissions. Of course, there's some overlap between the distributor's contacts and the manufacturer, so not every submission was a new contact. Of those 50, about maybe 80% were new contacts. For the manufacturer's products, that resulted in about three new customers.

We also understand anecdotally that it resulted in several sales and some project discussions for the distributor with contacts on other products that they sell as well.

Kathleen: And what was the dollar value of the sale in this case? How big was it?

Ed: In this case, I would say it typically is somewhere around $10,000 to $15,000, although it can vary anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000.

Kathleen: Wow. So while three customers doesn't sound like a ton, when you're talking about a larger sale or transaction value like that, the ROI of this type of campaign is pretty huge.

Ed: Absolutely.

Kathleen: Especially for the distributor because you're really saying, "Here's some HTML, send an email, and you don't have to do much else," other than obviously work the sale once the lead comes to you.

Ed: That's exactly right.

Kathleen: That's great. So I imagine that manufacturer's now the distributors favorite as a result of that campaign.

Ed: It does really foster that closeness in the relationship. It's kind of like if you go and visit with people and make the in-person sales calls, you always have a more substantive discussion. This kind of collaboration has a similar sort of a nurturing effect on the relationship. People feel good and they enjoy working with each other, and there's a sense of direction toward mutual success. There are challenges with manufacturers and distributors, and so the other thing it does is it takes the edge off some of the frustrations as well. So it's really a cool dynamic that comes out of it, in addition to the leads and the sales.

Kathleen: The original offer that you sent out in the email ... tell me a little bit more about that. Was that a top, middle, or bottom of the funnel offer?

Ed: That particular one was a bottom of the funnel offer. Depending on the manufacturer, the distributor, how expensive their line card is, the range of product they have and the number and diversity of contacts, you may approach this differently. In this case, this distributor was really focused pretty exclusively on a fairly tight range of products that exist around the bottom of the funnel for this manufacturer so that's the offer that we used. In other cases, where the distributor has a much broader contact base and a wider variety of products, a top of the funnel offer may be more appropriate.

Kathleen: So, if you lead with a bottom of the funnel offer and somebody converts, how do you nurture that?

Ed: It's really nurturing toward a conversation and a proposal. It's not so much nurturing toward further investigation. We're saying, "Look, we know that you have these problems because you and every other company in the world have these problems. And we know it costs you these things and we know that you have urgently to fix it because you've got regulatory requirements that you have to comply with." In this case, it was related to EPA requirements. So the goal of the nurturing was simply to have a conversation, get somebody in the plant across the desk from them and basically have the opportunity to do a quote.

Kathleen: So more kind of classic sales nurturing as opposed to marketing nurturing?

Ed: Right. And that tends to be the way much of it works in the industrial world.

Kathleen: Got it. So, one of the things I find really interesting about the work you do is that so much of it has to do with companies operating at a global level. Talk to me a little bit more about that and how that plays into the way the campaigns are designed and some of the other ways that you use marketing, and the information you get from your campaigns for these companies.

Ed: This is fascinating to me because it's almost a chicken and the egg kind of a thing. I've done a lot of international business. I was partners with a German company in the US. I owned a company in India. I've done a lot of work in Brazil and in Nigeria and a number of other markets in most of the regions of the world.

In most cases, the decision by a company to export has been a high level, strategic decision - one that was fraught with a lot of concerns and a lot of risk. It's one that the board may be involved with, and the CEO is probably involved with. Companies decide, "Okay, we need to go into a market. We're going to do research to try to determine, based on demographics and total addressable market, where we ought to go. Maybe we'll consider some barriers and then we'll go and open an office there to start to throw money into it." Thy’ll fly executives back and forth for some period of time, and they hope that they're guessing right.

It's a very speculative decision based on a hypothetical “best guess” with a lot of resources committed behind it. In many cases, that fails, and as a result, many companies sadly decide, "Well, geez. Exporting isn't appropriate for us." So they pack up, put their tail between their legs and go home.

What's fascinating about the opportunity with digital marketing is that when companies begin doing their digital marketing really well - which they want to do because they want to succeed in their domestic market - an ancillary impact of that, which they may not even necessarily recognize immediately as a benefit, is they'll often start to harvest more international leads. When that happens, they've got a choice. They can throw them away, which many do, or they can begin to work on them. As they begin to work on them, what they'll find is that, in many cases, they get a bunch of leads from some country, for instance, that just isn't particularly fruitful. They follow up with them, nothing happens with them.

On the other hand, they may get a certain flow of traffic and leads, and then pipeline projects, and ultimately sales coming from a different market - let's say Turkey or Columbia or some sort of a mid-sized, interesting international market. At that point, not only are they beginning to diversify by getting those international sales, they’re doing it in a way that costs them very little. There is no speculative investment in the market yet, and they simply have to overcome the transactional hurdles of currency and payment and logistics. So not only are they getting that business and diversifying, but further, they're collecting data. So now, rather than going to the library and having the interns search years or customs data to try to see where they ought to go, they can look at their own data and they can see where they're getting traffic from, where they're getting inquiries from, where are they getting leads from, and most importantly where they're getting deals from, and then where they're closing those deals.

Kathleen: I think there are so many companies that are sitting on mountains of really good data and they never tap into it. It's such a shame.

Ed: You're absolutely right. The beauty of it is they can just extend incrementally. Maybe they do a few local language keyword targeted campaigns. Maybe they do a landing page. Maybe they set up a micro site. Maybe they do a little bit of local language SEO. Maybe they do a local language offer. Eventually, if they get really sophisticated, they could have a full site and have it hosted within the IP range of the target market to match the TLD and all kinds of sophisticated things beyond that. But even if they only have a .com website hosted in the US with a little bit of a hat tip to some international content, they can be very, very, very successful. And there are some amazing stories about doing this.

I'm actually an export advisor for American Express. Recently, we ran an event in Miami, the American Express Grow Global event, and the theme was how small businesses can begin to export, and reducing the barriers to doing it.

We had a great keynote from Andrew Davis, who's a well-respected thought leader in inbound digital marketing. He told a number of really phenomenal stories, including one about a lady - I think her name is Jenny Doan - from Missouri Star Quilting Company. She had a hobby of doing quilts and one day she got this crazy idea she'd do a YouTube video. The first video was rather awkward, and it wasn't very well produced. She decided she would do another, and then another, and suddenly, she began to get a following on YouTube. And then the videos began to get a little bit better produced. Before you know it, within five or ten years, she has built an international juggernaut. It's a $100 million conglomeration of, I think, five different businesses that began as her hobby with a single YouTube video. It is so successful that one of a her businesses is a hotel that's been built in her hometown in Missouri to accommodate the international buyers that come from around the world to take quilting classes and buy the product there (in addition, of course, to all the products they buy online).

So the point is that it's no longer the width of your wallet, it's the size of your brain. If you are willing to think creatively about how to use the digital tools available to you, you can take a small business- literally a hobby on the dining room table - and get the global reach of a multinational. It's amazing.

Kathleen: I love that. And it's funny because the story you just told about Missouri Quilt Company is not that dissimilar from the story of Gary Vaynerchuk, who started working in his family's liquor store and began publishing YouTube videos on what he called Wine Library TV. What the two have in common is that they both started without focusing and worrying about high production value. They didn’t let that get in the way of putting out good content. And the good content is really just what you have in your brain and what you're willing to share with your audience. It doesn't have to be slickly produced. In fact, sometimes, in my experience, the less professionally produced stuff does better because people connect with it more on a personal level. There's a relatability to it.

Ed: If you look at it, it's precisely the model that Hubspot itself followed. They created this amazing movement around inbound marketing, and they did it with the intent of selling to American SMBs and, lo and behold, they started to attract international leads. So then they had a few people start coming into the office in Cambridge at 4:00 in the morning to be calling leads in Europe. They got a few European VARs. Then they got more European customers. Then they opened up a Europe office. And then they started a German blog. And they've incrementally done that same sort of thing around the world now. And I think they've got seven international offices. So that's precisely the way that they built their business internationally.

Kathleen: That's a great point. I hadn't really thought of it that way, but that's very true. I remember the days before they had any international offices. That might date me a little bit, but it has evolved quite a bit. It's a very different company today than it was five, six years ago.

Let's go back for a second to the types of campaigns you run. What specifically do you think makes those co-marketing campaigns so successful?

Ed: In many cases, it's the fact that the people that we're marketing to aren't normally marketed to. I don't know how many emails end up in your inbox everyday, but it's absolutely overwhelming. Many of these industrial buyers may only get around 50 emails a day, so you've got a much better opportunity to get their attention and have them read something, particularly if the email is well crafted.

You're reaching out to people that aren't accustomed to being reached out to, and if you do it in that classic inbound way with helpful information that's going to help them do their job, as opposed to just hammering them with how they've got to buy something, generally it's a pretty receptive audience.

Kathleen: I feel like it's almost counter intuitive. I get a lot of companies that come to me about marketing and they seem to know what they need - and usually what they feel they need mirrors what they see everybody else in their industry doing. So it's, "Here's what my competitors are doing, and I need to do that too so that I can compete."

What works better is to ask yourself "What is it that my competitors are not doing? I want to do that." Because you've got the blue ocean then, and I think it sounds like that has worked really well in the industries that you tend to work with.

Ed: Yeah, I think that's a good analysis.

Kathleen: So what do you think someone who is listening to this podcast and wants to improve their own inbound marketing campaigns can really take away from your experience and apply in their own case to get better results?

Ed: That's a good question. I think there's kind of a parallel opportunity. One is to apply the “Money Ball” approach to baseball to inbound marketing. You think about it always as a game of singles, then increase the efficiency or optimize each step by say half a percent or a percent each time you do it. So a slightly higher open rate, a slightly higher click through rate, a slightly higher submission rate, a slightly higher conversion rate on the nurturing emails, et cetera, through each step of the process. It's about being very analytical, very linear, and engineering the process. That's easy with many of the clients that I work with because they tend to be manufacturing and engineering folks who think in that very linear way.

The other piece is to look for those opportunities ... I'd hate to say where it's disruptive, because that's so overused. But there's opportunity to use your distributor's contact list in a way that nobody else is doing it. Use these distributor connections to reach an audience that you would have to pay a ton of money to reach if you were to advertise in a traditional trade journal. With email and inbound marketing, you're not only getting your message in their inbox, but you’re doing it with the imprimatur of relationship and authority of that channel partner. So, not everybody sells through distributors, but there's probably analogous opportunities through relationships or partnerships to try to co-market into some of those other groups.

Kathleen: That's a great point, because it really is all about thinking about who already has the audience that I'm trying to reach. And if you're selling through a distributor, that's a very easy question to answer. If you're not selling through a distributor, it's just a matter of framing that question differently. Sometimes it's working with an influencer or maybe it's a vendor in your industry, et cetera. Either way, co-opting another person's audience or another company's audience is a really quick way to get results. And it worked really well in your case.

So you've got a really different way of looking at a lot of this than some of the other guests I've spoken to, which is refreshing. Where do you look to for inspiration about inbound marketing?

Ed: So, you mentioned Gary Vaynerchuk being irreverent, although I try to monitor my language a little better than he does. I tend to be a little bit irreverent in how I look at the industry as well, and although there are some very fine people in the industry and some terrific resources, I tend not to read inbound marketing related stuff because it feels like just sitting in an echo chamber, or breathing each other's exhaust.

I look at a lot of financial stuff. I look at a lot of global news stuff. I look at a lot of trends around demographics such as what will an aging population mean in terms of workforce? What does the internet of things mean to my clients? Are they thinking ahead about how they got to be managing their product roadmap so that we have something to market? Even 3D printing. I work with a lot of companies in manufacturing logistics and the question becomes, in 20 years, will we have factories? Will we have roads? Will we have ports? Or will we be transmitting digital files around the world to a Walmart that has basically a bank of Redbox video machines on the wall where you put your credit card in, punch in the code for what you want printed, and your product is printed and delivered to you right there?

So I tend to read stuff around these trends that then help me in some cases find adjacencies or interesting confluences of factors that we can then pull into the marketing. So it's really not marketing-specific stuff, it's ideas to make the marketing more creative and effective.

Kathleen: Who do you think does inbound content marketing really well? Companies, individuals. Who out there is really crushing it?

Ed: Because of my biases and preferences, I tend to believe very strongly that people that have actual operational experience, that have carried P&Ls, that have sold products similar to what they're marketing and even bought them, gives a really good base. So a lot of times, I hear from marketers who have never bought anything besides Mac computers and Adobe software talking about their expertise in reaching industrial buyers and factories. And I know if you've been on a factory floor at the beginning of third shift, understanding the tension of a cancellation date or a shift date or a penalty date for a major mass retailer and how the stuff has to get done, you look at the world differently. And if you've spent your own money, you look at the world differently.

So I tend to look for people in the marketing world that have that background. I love having conversations with John McTigue from Kuno Creative for instance. He's got a very similar kind of an outlook.

Kathleen: Well, thank you for sharing all of that with us. It's so interesting and I love that we covered channel marketing or co-marketing, and global marketing - all topics we haven't touched on too much in the past. It's nice to have a different viewpoint than what we typically hear about on this show.

Tell our guests where they can find you online. I have a feeling a lot of people are going to have some questions about the things you've talked about.

Ed: I'd love to have conversations with people that have questions about this. They can find me depending on what channels they like to use. I'm on Twitter and Instagram @edbmarsh. You’ll find me on LinkedIn as Edward B. Marsh and the URL for my website is www.consiliumglobalbusinessadvisors.com.

Kathleen: Go check out Ed's website and find him online. He has some interesting articles he posts on LinkedIn. I know I was looking at your LinkedIn profile and you've got some really different experiences, especially in the work you do with export advisory from some of our other guests, so very worth taking a look into.

Thanks for joining me this week!

13 episodes available. A new episode about every 6 days averaging 39 mins duration .