Episode 17

Published on:

8th Mar 2021

White Collar, Blue Collar, NEW Collar: Designing Your Digital Marketing Strategy with Suzanne O'Connell

Connect with Suzanne O'Connell:

Email: soconnell@certifiedThomaspartner.com.  

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/suzannemoconnell/

Lisa Ryan: Hey, it's Lisa Ryan, and

welcome to the manufacturers' network podcast. I'm excited to introduce you to

our guest today. Suzanne O'Connell. Suzanne is a mechanical engineer and

certified Thomas partner. She has 28 years experience in manufacturing and 20

plus years in digital marketing, and nearly a decade serving Thomas industrials

B2B clients. Welcome to the show.

Suzanne O'Connell: Lisa, Thank you so much

for having me. Glad to be here.

Lisa Ryan: So as we get started. That

is a lot of engineering and manufacturing in your background; tell us a little

bit about your journey that made you decide to do that.

Suzanne O'Connell: Well, I always loved math

and science, so pursuing mechanical engineering was a natural path for me.

Ironically, I started in computer science. And then I fell in love with HVAC

and refrigeration -  thermodynamics

classes, if you will. So I changed to mechanical engineering. I started in

product development, and I was writing selection software for a manufacturer of

cooling towers, evaporative fluid coolers -product lines like that. I realized

that I like people as well. And when you're coding software, you're not getting

a lot of interaction with people. So I naturally progressed into an inside

Technical Sales role and then into outside sales roles, and finally into the

consultation role that I have at Thomas.

Lisa Ryan: And I know that you do a

lot with digital marketing and there's so much going on with this whole

internet of things. Please share with us a little bit about what that is in how

it's impacting that industrial space.

Suzanne O'Connell: Well, there's a lack of

skilled employees, which is further driving the adoption of automation. And

there's an accelerated trend to embrace and deploy the Industrial Internet of

Things. So businesses are now driving scale through technology, and they're

able to collect more data than they ever have been able to previously.

Lisa Ryan: So when you're talking

about automation. How exactly does industrial automation change the way these

traditional job roles are viewed?

Suzanne O'Connell: Well, the drive for

automation and technology on the shop floor is transforming the way that we

look at the future infrastructure and work opportunities and manufacturing;

historically, we've been divided between blue-collar and white-collar jobs, we

see the emergence of new collar jobs that combine complex technology and data

with traditional manufacturing capabilities.

Lisa Ryan: Why know that one of the

things we've seen in the last several years is this large influx of millennials

into the industrial space. So how have you seen this demographic creating those

new opportunities and challenges?

Suzanne O'Connell: Well, it's an exciting

time where we're about 50/50 between our millennial managers and our baby

boomer generation. So that's changing dynamics in the office. And this new

generation has very different requirements for doing business. They've grown up

with the internet their entire life. They're used to getting things in an

instant, and they don't tolerate slow any longer. So it's creating some

interesting dynamic tension between employees and business and their customer

base as they rise in positions of authority. We are also seeing our baby

boomers adapt to millennial behaviors. So we see a lot more engagement electronically

versus phone activity that we have seen historically.

Lisa Ryan: One of the questions that

I get a lot from my clients is attracting Millennials and Gen Z into this

industrial space. So we're looking at this IoT; we're looking at all of this digital

automation coming in. But what are companies using to attract these new


Suzanne O'Connell: I think they're naturally

attracted to technology and the reporting capabilities and things that come

with that. Whether they're taking roles in purchasing and doing online

sourcing, taking roles in marketing departments where they're able to do

digital initiatives, or working out on the shop floor, they're using the latest

and greatest technology on that equipment.

Lisa Ryan: We've talked for the past

year about how it has impacted how manufacturers are marketing their products.

So what do you see that's different this year regarding industrial marketing


Suzanne O'Connell: Well, there's an

acceleration. There's a need to have a digital presence more than ever. Some of

the other methods of reaching customers, like trade shows, fell by the wayside

because of the pandemic. Adjusting from word of mouth, “they'll call me if they

need me” mentality to develop basic strategies to lead and nurture prospective

customers, providing a buyer's journey through content and their own digital


Lisa Ryan: And so what would be when

you don't have access to historical things like trade shows? Share a little bit

more about what that agile strategy would be something that somebody listening

today might consider implementing.

Suzanne O'Connell: So you have to have kind

of a comprehensive and cohesive strategy. It's a long, complicated buying

process now, and multiple stages take place. And different types of content

support visibility throughout that buyer's journey. 

We're finding that not only is it long and complicated, but it's

also primarily self-guided so the need to reach somebody at an earlier entry

point in the conversation has become a marketing necessity. We're seeing many

of our customers adopt the educational type of content in ebooks, white papers,

and case studies.

People are early on in new product development stages or a new

project; they have content to support visibility within the research stages. So

moving from there, you know, you have to have a good foundation in the website.

That's what all of your digital marketing efforts are intended to drive

visibility and opportunity to. You need to build quality traffic because it's

not just about reaching more people; it's about reaching the right people.

We're finding our clients are developing strategies for their niche focus: who

are their buyers? What are the capabilities that set them apart from the

competition? and trying to market specifically to those business objectives,

rather than just throwing things at the wall to see what sticks.

Lisa Ryan: And I know that Thomas has

done a lot of research in that area. So what would be one of the studies you

were talking about? What are the steps in the industrial sourcing process?

Suzanne O'Connell: Yeah, so we did the most

comprehensive study that's been done into the industrial buying process, and we

uncovered that there can be up to 139 touches that take place from someone

establishing a need to making a purchase decision. We found that holds true

regardless of Industry focus, job function within the organization, or product

and service being sourced. They're looking for ways to speed that process up.

They funnel down into six distinct stages. I think I mentioned

research as being one of those - design & evaluation are other steps that

we see. But the biggest frustration we hear from buyers and suppliers is the

time it takes to produce a quote. So our clients are looking for faster, more

responsive ways for their sales team to follow up on leads. They're looking for

more qualified leads to come through so that they have to do less to nurture

those. It's a combination of a lot of things.

Lisa Ryan: So 139 steps. Holy cow. At

what are you seeing as far as being able to, you know, speed up the process.

What are some of the sourcing trends that you're seeing within Thomas, and do

you expect that to continue into this year?

Suzanne O'Connell: Yeah, so it just speeds up

the process; Thomas has done some things on our platform to make it easier to

get the job done. We've introduced supplier validation filters. The ability to

filter on quality and diversity. All different things that matter to people

when they're buying products.

So we're trying to continue to make improvements to the platform

to make it easier for them to find the right supplier. For our clients, we're

making sure that they're accurately represented in the space. So making sure

that there's a lot of really robust content about what they do and who they do

it for so that when people are looking for their products or services they have

good accurate information, and it makes it easier for them to be found. 

So as far as sourcing trends and just in general, anything that's

packaging, bottling, private label - that's going through the roof. Obviously,

things that are related to PPE are through the roof. But we see an uptick in

sourcing across all products and services, which is fantastic. It shows the

strength of manufacturing, which we love to see, but there's a lot of reasons

for that. There's reshoring that's going on. There are hiccups in the supply

chain that are still taking place from shut down, you know, last spring. So

there's going to be a continuation of needs and then new products coming out

due to changes that are taking place in society.

Lisa Ryan: So let's back it up for a

couple of minutes here. If somebody is not familiar with Thomas and precisely

what it is that you do. Can you just share a little bit about what you do?

Suzanne O'Connell: Sure. So Thomas has four

centers of excellence, Thomas net.com is our supplier sourcing platform. At the

risk of dating myself, we had the Thomas register, which were big green books.

I sourced out of those in my first job out of college. In 2006, we took

everything online. We stopped printing the Thomas register. We now have over

70,000 categories that represent products and services, system Integration;

anything that's manufacturing related. We have 1.2 million active registered

users using the platform to find Suppliers for those products and services. So

that's one area of excellence for us. 

We have our product data solutions group, so very advanced web

solutions – everything you need from interactive product catalogs, eCommerce

solution, we're even doing 3D CAD and BIM on the fly for clients. And so a lot

of strength with our technology there. And then we're a full-blown digital

marketing agency. So anything that impacts our clients online: website

development, search engine optimization, even full comprehensive inbound

marketing strategies that we implement on their behalf. 

Our latest segment is our industry data. We used to talk about our

data within Thomas net.com, but there's been so much interest in it that we've

pulled it out into its own pillar. So Thomas is sharing sourcing trends and

index reports. There's a lot of power in first-party data, and we track

everything that's on the platform, so we're able to identify trends in

sourcing, and pockets in the US where there's more opportunity for those

products and services. We even had a roundtable at the White House. 

Lisa Ryan: I am one of the people who

used the Thomas register. So I'm very familiar with the big green books.

Suzanne O'Connell: See, you still see them on

the shelf in some clients' offices, which always makes me smile.

Lisa Ryan: So what are some of the

challenges with family-owned manufacturing businesses that they're facing

regarding such succession. And what does Thomas's data forecast as far as those

kinds of businesses?

Suzanne O'Connell: Well, we're seeing many

businesses consolidating through private equity acquisition, specifically

custom manufacturing businesses. A lot of those were started after World War

Two and handed down to the second generation. They're attempting to make their

way to the third generation. But many of their family members aren't interested

in continuing that business. So there's not often a family member or a staff

person to step into that leadership role. 

Some of these businesses were run as more of a cult of

personality. At the end of the day, they don't have processes and systems to

help them survive a transition without outside funding and leadership. And I

think that's what we're seeing primarily with custom manufacturing.

Lisa Ryan: Interestingly, you say

that because that's what has happened with my husband's company. They were on

the second generation, and there wasn't a third generation to hand it down to

except for one son, the rest of the kids didn't really have an interest in the

business, and they were recently sold to private equity. 

Suzanne O'Connell: Yeah, and you know it's

interesting to see with these acquisitions what takes place, as some of them are

holding companies where they're beefing them up to be sold yet again. So I

think it's pretty fascinating.

Lisa Ryan: When it comes to a company

looking at upping their game with digital technology, what would be your best

tip to help them get started.

Suzanne O'Connell: I think starting with

understanding what their digital footprint looks like currently is first and

foremost, that foundation is solid. Some of the other initiatives that you can

take on are a lot like landscaping before the house is built right, so you have

to see where you are currently. Most companies have a pain point - what is the

hole in their current marketing that they're trying to fill? 

You can customize strategy around any marketing budget, right? And

there are differences. You can be more aggressive if they have the funding to

do that or be more conservative and tackle what needs to be done first. So,

often, I'm talking with clients and giving them different engagement levels,

helping them understand what they need to do now, but where they're likely to

be two, three years from now, they're planning with that bigger picture in


Lisa Ryan: And how are some of the

ways you help the clients you work with. And what's the best way for people to

get in touch with you if they want to learn more.

Suzanne O'Connell: I begin by listening to

their business objectives and aligning digital marketing initiatives with

those. Whether they partner with Thomas or not, I want them to have a better

understanding of what today's buying process looks like at the end of the day.

And what they need from a digital strategy to ensure their success long term. A

complimentary customized strategy we can look at together to know where I would

start with anybody that had an interest.

Lisa Ryan: And what's the best way

for people to get in touch with you.

Suzanne O'Connell: LinkedIn is great. My

Email address is soconnell@certifiedThomaspartner.com.  

Lisa Ryan: Thank you so much for

being on the show today. It's been great to have a conversation with you.

Listen for free

Show artwork for The Manufacturers' Network

About the Podcast

The Manufacturers' Network
Connecting Manufacturers with Manufacturers
The Manufacturers' Podcast is THE place for manufacturers to connect with and learn from other manufacturers. Not only will listeners get to learn from their manufacturing colleagues, but they will also discover HOW they can help each other as a resource or as a source of help and inspiration.

As a manufacturer, it's easy to get pigeon-holed into only focusing on your own industry, whether it be through your industry trade association or your industry colleagues. While trade associations are an excellent source of information for their members, sometimes it's gaining a perspective from someone else in a completely different industry that gives you the solution to your dilemma.

Stay tuned for new episodes every week on "Manufacturing Monday's." This drive-time length podcast will give you the information, tips and strategies you need to get your week off to a fantastic start.

About your host

Profile picture for Lisa Ryan

Lisa Ryan

As a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), an award-winning speaker and author of ten books, Lisa Ryan, CSP, works with her clients to develop employee and client engagement initiatives and strategies that keep their top talent and best clients from becoming someone else’s.
Lisa’s expertise includes: strengthening workplace culture, improving employee engagement, increasing customer retention, and initiating gratitude strategies (“Grategies”) for personal and professional benefit. Lisa’s participants enjoy her high energy, enthusiastic delivery and quick wit and they leave the session with ideas they are committed to acting on immediately to make positive workplace culture changes.
Lisa costars in two films with other experts including Jack Canfield of “Chicken Soup for the Soul.” She is the Past-President of the National Speakers Association, Ohio Chapter and holds an MBA from Cleveland State University.

Relevant Experience

• Keynote, breakout or workshop speaker at more than 100 national and international conferences
• Thirteen years of industrial marketing and sales experience, including seven years in the welding industry – and yes, she does weld
• Host of “Elevate Your Engagement Levels: What You Need to Know” on the Elite Expert Network and the C-Suite Network
• Creator of “The Seven Mistakes Managers Make to Crush Company Culture” video series
• Best-selling author of ten books, including “Manufacturing Engagement: 98 Proven Strategies to Attract and Retain Your Industry’s Top Talent”
• Award-winning speaker