Tl;dr - Real knowledge, built on experience, is underrated. Anyone can follow a recipe. Few can create excellent outcomes. That applies to manufacturing, and to the revenue growth efforts of manufacturers.
Efforts Without Know How Lead Nowhere
I've seen two recent articles that explore the importance of experience in manufacturing. Dan Wang refers to "process knowledge" and Kristopher Howard refers to "tacit knowledge." Both argue the same point - that manufacturing requires more than simply following a checklist or recipe. There is an important element of knowledge that's accumulated slowly through intimate involvement in an effort, and which, in aggregate, is often the key factor in the excellence that distinguishes success and failure.
I agree. It's why we're willing to pay more for uniquely qualified expertise, from physicians to professional advisors, who are able to synthesize large volumes of experiences into a corpus of nuanced expertise that incorporates explicit and implicit lessons learned.
And it holds the key to overcoming the revenue growth challenges of many middle-market industrial manufacturing firms.
This is part of what I so enjoy about working with capital equipment companies. Nearly anyone can bend and weld steel, affix a motor, slap a controller on it, and produce a "machine." And it will be one that might cycle on a trade show floor but will likely disappoint in countless ways in a demanding production environment.
Skilled inventors, designers, engineers, and technicians instinctively understand factors that the rest of us simply can't appreciate. They feel the direction of the grain of the paper, even through heavily calloused fingertips. They can roughly gauge thin films by touch, observe a hitch in machine motion at high speed that our eyes miss, troubleshoot by sound, and even fabricate crude appearing but problem-solving fixes MacGyver style.
Those expert instincts are the difference between machines that pass a FAT vs. run reliably in production, and it's reflected in successful integration of individual machines into functioning and efficient manufacturing lines.
Companies understand and value this. No doubt a freshly minted mechanical engineer can calculate vectors and forces just as accurately, and perhaps faster, than their experienced colleagues. They can't possibly bring the "tacit", or "process" knowledge to bear though.
Few in the industrial manufacturing and machinery industries would dispute this. Nevertheless, they fail to apply these critical lessons to revenue growth; to the pursuit of manufacturing marketing and capital equipment sales. And the impact on top line growth is significant.
We can see this specifically in two areas.
- First, the pervasive misperception that "sales is different."
- Second, the state of industrial digital marketing.
Sales is NOT Different
There's a myth that sales is vastly more complex and unpredictable than mechanical operations.
Certainly, there are large buying teams, personas with hidden agendas and competing priorities, competitors, budgets, and other vagaries.
But none of those should surprise us. Strong B2B sales teams recognize these factors. Marketing and sales alignment create sales enablement tools that support efforts. And disciplined salespeople, and attentive management, ask the questions and do the work that's necessary to implement revenue growth playbooks and even update them consistently to adapt to market conditions.
Some falsely contrast sales with machinery. The grain of the paper, fluctuations in power supply, shipping doors opened during winter allowing a blast of cold, dry air to change the machine environment - even the savvy of the 3rd shift operator - all of these factors are analogous to the complexities of sales.
The only difference is our perception - a false perception that lets our salespeople and sales management off the hook.
That's a mistake.
HubSpot's Success and The Process Placebo
HubSpot is a fascinating business case study. They grew their business using exactly the same approach that they coached and enabled other companies to pursue.
They created the "inbound marketing" movement as their branded version of content marketing - the process of growing SEO strength to attract visitors at all stages in the buying journey by providing answers to questions they were asking.
Their discovery of the power of content, and their creation of a toolset to facilitate content-based marketing efforts, came at a propitious time. And precisely because they achieved their growth using the same approach they proposed to others, it was a compelling story.
They created volumes of "how-to" content and checklists to guide companies' efforts.
And many companies have been inspired to invest in HubSpot's software (as well as Marketo, Pardot, Act-On, and others) and commit resources to the efforts. There's even a huge ecosystem of inbound marketing agencies that has developed, many of which claim particular expertise with manufacturing marketing.
There's a disconnect though.
HubSpot was built by a group of marketers, selling marketing ideas, to marketers. They had "tacit" and "process" knowledge, and some new and creative insights. So that tacit knowledge naturally imbued everything they undertook - as marketers, marketing to marketers.
The content was authentic.
That's frequently missing when marketers undertake to apply checklist and "how-to" knowledge to a process in an area where they don't have tacit knowledge. And that knowledge gap is often twofold.
They may lack the tacit knowledge of the rapidly evolving manufacturing marketing best practices, AND they may lack the tacit knowledge of the buyers of their machinery (and in turn their buyers' buyers.)
As a result, the outcome is often precise according to formulaic guidelines, but wooden and ineffective.
In short, it's not as simple as HubSpot makes it look. But ineffective practitioners rarely consider their role, instead attributing the outcome to the methodology being somehow inappropriate for their "different market and buyers."
The Top Line Growth Intersection
There's a second dimension at play.
Neither industrial sales nor manufacturing marketing work in isolation. Buyers have a single, continuous experience with a vendor - and experience that bridges both revenue growth functions.
But many companies fail to fully integrate revenue growth functions to match buyer expectations. Common symptoms include marketing generating "leads" that are ignored by sales; sales ignoring enablement content that marketing has created to help them sell; and organizational models that reflect vestigial approaches heavy on field sales that fail to blend in and outbound, and passive and active approaches.
As companies bounce from tactic to tactic (SEO, paid ads, social media, MEDDICC sales process, or whatever) without fundamentally engineering an integrated process built on customer expectations, they may see flashes of results but continue to experience frustrations. These frustrations include deals lost to "no decision", investments in tactics for which they are unable to document return, unreliable forecasting, messy pipelines, and more.
The Importance of a Knowledge Framework
The solution is to create a strategic framework, based on buyers and technology, on which all tools, tactics and decisions can be structured. And on that structure, the necessary accountability KPIs and tacit knowledge can also be hung.
That's what we'll create together during the Manufacturing Growth Summit 8-10 December, 2021 in Nashville. Applications are open for only 15 slots.