How the Pandemic has Disrupted B2B Marketing
We venture overseas once again in this episode and have a thought-provoking conversation with B2B marketing veteran Michael Meier (Managing Director, Schindler Parent), who is based in southern Germany. In this episode, Michael talks about the importance of paranoia in order to stay competitive, how the current disruption motivates him, and how B2B marketers must be agile, embrace change, make every step they take measurable, and inject creativity into their work in order to reboot for growth post-pandemic.
Topics discussed in this episode:
Christian Klepp, Michael Meier
Christian Klepp 00:08
Hi and welcome to the B2B Marketers on a Mission podcast. I’m your host Christian Klepp, and one of the founders of EINBLICK Consulting. Our goal is to share inspirational stories, tips and insights from B2B marketers, digital entrepreneurs, and industry experts that will help you to think differently, succeed and scale your business.
Christian Klepp 00:29
Hi, everybody, and welcome to this episode of the B2B marketers mission podcast. I’m your host Christian Klepp, and today I am thrilled to have Michael Meier, good friend of mine and a fellow colleague in the B2B marketing industry. Joining us from one of the most picturesque locations in Europe, Lake Constance in southern Germany. Michael, Gruß Gott am Bodensee, und herzlich willkommen! Welcome to the show.
Michael Meier 00:53
Thank you, Christian. It’s a great pleasure to be on your podcast and I’m looking out of my conference room window and see the lake in front of me. So I think your description is quite right and I’m happy to be here.
Christian Klepp 01:09
Thank you so much for joining us. So why don’t we just get started? Tell us some listeners a little bit about yourself and what you do.
Michael Meier 01:18
I’m Michael Meier, I’m managing director and owner of Schindler Parent – 41 years old B2B agency in the south of Germany. If I say in the south of Germany, we are really in the south of Germany. I can see Austria and Switzerland from where I’m sitting here at the moment. But we work nationally and basically globally as well for a lot of our customers. Then on the side, I’m president of the E3 Network have been that for nearly 10 years now and I’m Associate Professor, both of Germany and Switzerland teaching digital marketing. Apart from that I’m married three children, two of them still in university, one is just out. So it’s an interesting phase in my life.
Christian Klepp 02:11
That’s quite the list of credentials, Michael. It’s really interesting. Tell me what are you currently working on that you’re very passionate about. I’m basically referring to the projects because you are clearly a very passionate person, but what’s something that you’ve been working on lately, that’s been very motivating.
Michael Meier 02:30
We’ve just released a new website for our customer Vorwerk carpeting. They are one of the leading carpet manufacturers in Germany and they belong to the Vorwerk group. You might know Thermomix and some other products that they sell worldwide. And we’ve just built a new website for them, which is based on the principles of lead generation. We call it a lead generation engine and we have included a lot of interesting, little gimmicks for architects, interior designers and so on. So you can easily compare different carpet patterns. You have a configurator for carpet tiles, which are not the square ones that people used to know. But now you can get them in a lot of different shapes and you can build really, really interesting patterns out of these. So you can do all that online and you can put it into a sample room and you can check yourself what it will look like if you use that. This is a tool that is very popular with people renovating, or building new hotels or big open plan offices and things like that. So it’s very much into the commercial world of carpet here.
Christian Klepp 03:47
That’s an incredibly interesting project and I think you you mentioned on Thermomix earlier, in that case, we actually have one of those appliances in our kitchen.
Michael Meier 03:58
Very good. I am happy to tell my customer about that.
Christian Klepp 04:06
Okay, Michael, we’re gonna do a deep dive into B2B marketing today. So not just about what B2B marketing is like, during this pandemic, but also what like, the trends are looking like, for the future and moving forward, past the current crisis. But before that, let’s go back and talk about your company. So as you’ve said, a couple of minutes ago, your company’s been in business since its inception in 1979. It was a goal of yours back then, and it continues to be one now, moving forward. So it’s the goal of like, brand to people. Could you explain that a bit to us?
Michael Meier 04:48
Yeah. It used to be. Many years ago, I must say that B2B and B2C were two totally different worlds. You were using different channels. You were using, exhibitions more in the B2B area than in the B2C area. You were doing a lot more take commercials and things like that in B2C. And all of that, in my opinion has changed because whatever you sell these days, you have to consider that in most cases there will be at first a search. It will be with Google or Bing or one of the other big search engines here, China, Russia. You have different search engines there, but still everything starts these day with search and we search the same, if we are searching for something that we want to buy for ourselves. B2C, or if we want to buy something for a company. The interesting thing is these days, this is not just office supplies for a company, but a lot of investments for machinery for whatever you need computers, whatever cars for your company, and so on all starts with an internet search. The people doing that search are very often say the younger people in the team we found and even purchasers or even engineers working on maybe a new electronic system. Like with one of my customers, we interviewed their developers there and we found that all of them, use search to find suppliers. This is the most important step in finding your supplier these days.
Michael Meier 06:42
So we thought, what why should we call our business B2B? It’s actually brand to people because whatever we do these days, we have to get a brand across to somebody who’s doing a search, and to brand means emotions. It is trust. It is things like reliability, quality. It could have something to do with I know somebody who has used this company before. So they’re probably a good supplier, and even purchasers these days. They’re not just looking at price because they learned their lesson if they buy into cheaply, they will have problems later on, when the products or whatever they have bought, are actually being used. So they are very much into: Is this a good supplier? Is this a good brand that we are buying here? McKinsey in a study they did, I think was like three years ago, they actually found that even for purchasers, price is only 27% of the buying decision. And brand and quality of information, both together are 27% as well, so they’re equally important to them as price. And so we thought, Okay, this is exactly what we’ve always been thinking. That is true of B2B and B2C consumers or industrial buyers.
Christian Klepp 08:16
That’s incredibly interesting. So if I’m understanding you correctly, it’s also important for brands that are in the B2B sector to inject this human element into their storytelling. So it’s not just focusing solely on the product assortments or the solutions that they can provide to their customers.
Michael Meier 08:35
It always has to be an emotional experience. And if I say no emotional experience, people might be thinking all that there is, a person going there and you have a sunset behind it or whatever. It’s nothing like that. Because the most important emotion in humans is actually trust. It is something that we develop when we are very little children right after birth. We develop trust towards our mother and father. Actually psychologists have found if that is not happening because you are growing up under stress conditions or whatever, and it changes your personality. And trust, so for us is the most important emotion that we want to get across that this is a good company, this is a good product, it is reliable, it is worth its price. Considering what you’re paying for, you’re getting a lot of value out of it. We’re not so much focusing on features. But as you said, solutions is very important and solutions is not just something that my customers claim as a solution, but it is what their customer makes out of their product. That can be something totally different from what the company’s selling things. The reason of the sale to be. And so we put a lot of analysis in finding out what are the true reasons of purchasers, of product managers, of production managers in a company when they decide to buy a specific product from a specific company. And we do a lot of interviews for that, we very often find very surprising reasons why something is bought to something that, in many cases, not even the sales people in the company would know about, what are the true reasons why their products are being bought.
Christian Klepp 10:44
Right. That’s incredibly interesting. Michael, so like every agency and organization, you probably started off in 2020 with a plan on to expand and grow your business and now COVID has happened. So, talk to us a little bit about what has changed in terms of what your current focus and priorities are for the agency.
Michael Meier 11:10
Our first task was when coronavirus became really big here in Germany, it was naturally, how can we keep our business running and protecting our people, as well. For us, it was easy in a way because we all work digitally anyway. We have a good infrastructure here and the agency and people from our agency has always been traveling and as I said before, we are working not just here in the south of Germany, but all over Germany and internationally and even globally. So we used to travel a lot before in those times when people were still traveling.
Christian Klepp 11:51
We will travel again.
Michael Meier 11:53
But let’s see international travel will be up to the levels we had last year. I wonder if we’re taking a few years. So we have the infrastructure, we are using a couple of very nice collaboration tools in the agency. After half a day, after I sent everybody home, we were up and working again, we set up workgroups and regular video conferences, exchanging files and so on. Teams working on a task together and I must actually say, it is quite amazing because efficiency is up.
Christian Klepp 12:32
Michael Meier 12:33
Yeah. These days if I look at the figures that I get, we’re using things like resource guru for booking time with everybody, so you can see and at a quick glance who has still time which team is already overbooked and so on. I see that we’re actually working more efficient in the way that maybe there is less friction. A colleague, or somebody you could ask a question is only the push of a button away all the time, which makes it very easy find a solution for something and to test matter a little bit more Agile as work processes. I really wonder, at the moment, coronavirus is not as bad here in Germany anymore as it as it was in the beginning. So about one third of the people expect because some people they didn’t like home office, they wanted to get back and as the bureaucracy in Germany still need some paper forms to be filled out sometimes. My accountant had to be in as well most of the time, but we were only three or four people here, but now about a third of the people is back. And the others, they are still working from home maybe coming in one day or two days to just check or have a meeting with some colleagues, and then they go back to the home office. We’ve now decided that at the earliest, earliest in September, we will start on two days a week to have everybody back in the office unless the coronavirus situation changes, then we will be very flexible again. But the rest, it will be up to two people if they want to work from home or if they rather want to work in the agency or if they work in the agency today, and maybe at the home office, the next two days, or whatever. The same applies to a lot of people I know in other companies as well. Germany used to be very conservative when it came to, not just home office, meaning five days a week working from home, but this type of flexible working where you are in the office sometimes where you were out of the office sometimes and where you’re working from home sometime. And I don’t think that we will go back in the near future to five days a week at the agency.
Christian Klepp 15:15
Right. Probably not.
Michael Meier 15:19
And what else has changed? We see that sales and digital are up. We are building more websites than ever, and supporting a lot of our customers with digital sales tools. That trend will continue because their salespeople are in the home office as well. Or maybe they’re back in the company, but they can’t really go out and visit customers at the moment.
Christian Klepp 15:45
Yeah, that’s interesting that you mentioned that and it was almost inevitable that the shift to digitalization. So it doesn’t come as a big surprise that you and your team are probably very busy now with building websites and digital platforms. I’m happy because that’s an inevitable part of this evolution, which I think, the pandemic has helped accelerate the speed at which, companies are making that switch to digitalization. But that was more or less than the works, at least from the trends that we’ve seen last year.
Christian Klepp 16:20
Hey, it’s Christian Klepp here. We’ll get back to the episode in a second. But first, is your brand struggling to cut through the noise? Are you trying to find more effective ways to reach your target audience and boost sales? Are you trying to pivot your business? If so, book a call with EINBLICK Consulting. Our experienced consultants who will work with you to help your B2B business to succeed and scale. Go to www.einblick.co for more information.
Christian Klepp 16:48
Great. So your agency has clients across different B2B industries and you’ve talked about that, a little bit earlier on in the conversation and you’re actively collaborating with them to deliver solutions for complex business challenges. So, during this pandemic and also moving forward, can you talk to us about what type of advice you’ve been given clients, who have suddenly have their marketing budgets either reduced or taken away from them. And now that, they find themselves working with limited resources.
Michael Meier 17:26
In B2B, over the last couple of years, I could already see a trend that marketing has less resources and that sales had been becoming even more powerful in the companies and said bigger resources. Corporate has now sped up this process, digital transformation in sales now has to happen companies are forced to do that. B2B has always been a little bit more conservative in that respect. But now in my opinion, sales will never be the same again. Companies that are not adopting now and that just vary from advice, I’m giving to a lot of all of my clients basically. If you don’t adopt now, you will have a problem in a year or two, because other people will be faster and better at doing that. If you have less personal meetings, if you have less cold calls, if you have less of, trade fairs where you are meeting customer potential customers that you didn’t know about at all because then suddenly they suddenly drop in on your own exhibition there and so on. You need to do sales in a different way. We have been working with Sappi now for a while we are Sappi partner and that for example is a very exciting tool when you really want to transform your normal sales pitch into something that you can easily do online as well as at the customer, if that ever happen. So you would compare your presentation on Sappi. You could pull in resources in different formats from different people and so on, you can change. It’s not a presentation anymore, it’s a conversation. So that is really well suited to this new type of sales. What we are now doing is that we create different experiences more exciting experiences for our customers. We do that because we have some digital know how, but it’s mostly because we are very creative using what we have in digital tools. So we try not to just find the solution and the tool, but we try to find the solution with the tool. Now the tool itself is not the solution. So if you know, what you want to do if you know about the psychology of the sales process, if you know about the buying center at customers, if you know what type of person is involved, if you know that the financial person is looking for different information, there may be a technical person, and so on. Now with more digital coming into that, you can easily fine tune it towards these different people. And this is probably the biggest step forward, or it is something that I have been trying to convince my customers to start using. But over the last couple of years, Germany was in an export engine and sales were up in most industrial companies, and they have had been going up for no more than 10 years. This has been the longest time ever in the history since the Second World War that business had been going up here in Germany. And now suddenly the situation is different. There were early warnings, you know automotive, you know that the switch from the old type of car to maybe a new type of mobility, maybe with electric engines, maybe with hydrogen, whatever, maybe less individual mobility. These changes were all coming up anyway, climate change came up very big. And on top of that, all the machine tool industry they were already beginning to suffer because of the trade wars between China and the US and Europe and so on. So export was like it had been before and now on top of that, corona, and that has created a lot of pressure on companies and so quite a few of them are now looking for solutions how to transform their traditional sales process into something that is more suited to not just the corona situation but to conduct global business with a smaller budget.
Christian Klepp 22:11
Indeed. So it’s a question also of being agile. And I think you’ve brought up so many very insightful and interesting points. Some of them being of course, like embracing digitalization. The other one is, for customers and organizations to adapt to changing market conditions. And the third one, is that, to your point, now is not the time to procrastinate because what’s the famous German expression? Die Konkurrenz schläft nicht. The competition doesn’t sleep.
Michael Meier 22:44
Exactly. You always have to be a little bit paranoid about somebody thinking faster, working faster, coming up with something faster than you are. Successful people tend to have little of that paranoia in them.
Christian Klepp 22:59
Yes. I think it calls for a healthy and balanced paranoia.
Michael Meier 23:04
Yeah. You just need that you always have to think about the next step. What happens if somebody comes up with a solution for this?
Christian Klepp 23:14
Exactly. Michael, we’ve known each other for many years. Not only do I consider you a good friend, but I also see you as a successful B2B marketer and agency boss. So I thought that this next question would be a bit interesting because it’s most likely gonna bring out the strategist in you. All right. So here we go. We’re currently going through this is probably an understatement, but we’re experiencing an exceptionally, going through an exceptionally challenging period right now. These unprecedented times, and countries across the globe. They’ve either been praised or criticized for the way that they’ve handled the current pandemic. But Germany is one such country that has been somewhat of a role model for the rest of the world as we say, in German, Vorbildlich. So, with regards to the way that it proactively address the crisis, according to German government statistics, the curve in in your country has flattened and now Germany has slowly and cautiously reopened its economy. So, here’s the question. So based on what you’ve seen and observed in the past couple of months, what lessons do you think, the listeners can learn from the way that the German government has managed the crisis and how can this be applied to B2B marketing?
Michael Meier 24:43
As you, as you know, Christian, Angela Merkel, she has a science background and she has a PhD in physics. So she obviously understood immediately what viral meant and I must say our politicians. The parties that pushed aside the usual quarrels, and to actually work together, because they understood that there was something looming there, which just day by day, would be growing at an incredible scale of logarithmic scale. And that if we don’t act quickly, then we won’t be able to correct that later on. And I must say, unfortunately, we see a couple of countries out there, which didn’t really come to grips with that because they they never turned away from their political instinct and turn to what reasoning actually was telling them what the scientists were telling them what people who knew or who know a lot about that. We’re telling them now, and some people, unfortunately, don’t seem to have understood that yet, and they have created enormous suffering out there, and I’m very worried about what will happen because corona doesn’t seem to be under control and many countries close to you. There’s one in Asia there are a couple of countries and even here in Europe or even a country like Israel now we probably have to have a second lockdown, because they open up too early. And we have had some incidents here in Germany, some hotspots, we had some German tourists, unfortunately, living the easy life in Majorca partying there and so on. But everybody’s acting very swiftly now, to stop this immediately and to follow up on it and it’s the only way out and how can this be applied to B2B marketing you said. And in this situation, or for quite a few years, I’ve been seeing that marketing and sales in some countries in some companies and in some countries. They were not really working together. And I think in this situation in the crisis that we find in many industrial segments, these days, they should work together. And to my opinion, they have to work together because digital transformation will make them even closer in what they’re doing. And if they unite the forces, and if they actually manage to become more agile, like we have to do here in our company, and if they are starting to use more different channels than they used before, and if they concentrate rather on poll, then push search come first. And if you look at search at the core of every activity that you’re doing, then you have learned your lesson, because this is the same as in politics or in science. These days, you have to be very quick, you have to test you have to try, you have to do A/B and then you decide to do B, you have to be maybe a little bit more experimental in what you’re doing. And you have to move away from your own long term planning. And you have to drive with a little bit of fog around. So maybe you have to lower your speed a little bit in the driving process, but you have to speed up your thinking at the same time.
Christian Klepp 28:30
Excellent analogy. Excellent.
Michael Meier 28:34
Trying my very best here.
Christian Klepp 28:39
No, but you brought up some extremely important points. And I think, to your point about the sales and marketing people working together, that’s something that’s so true and so relevant, especially within large organizations where, there’s been a move to try to like break the silos and that’s definitely something that they need to work on and improve moving forward.
Christian Klepp 29:10
So how do you think, we’ve talked about we’ve touched on this topic a little bit in the past couple of minutes. But how do you think the pandemic will urge B2B marketers to prepare for the future and reboot for growth? If I may use that term for, what everybody’s calling the new normal of of the next normal.
Michael Meier 29:31
The new normal will mean, the new sales process. Google is an interesting company and I see that they do a lot of very deep research into deep data analysis and so on. And I think with Google is a brilliant resource. If you want to tap into what they have been looking at. There’s almost a certain bias towards using Google in that respect. But some things they have come up with in the last two years have shown me the path to where my customers should go to. They’ve come up with an analysis saying that in B2B, customers tend to have completed about 60 to 70% of the customer journey before a potential supplier becomes aware of them, that means that during that research phase during that analysis phase, these potential customers that have been building up a shortlist of suppliers. And if you are not on that shortlist, you will never know because you won’t be contacted by them. If you still have a website, if you still don’t see what is happening on your website on a day to day basis, if you don’t see increases in search and if you see decreases in search, and if you’re not reacting to that, then you are not doing a good job as a marketeer these days now. So the frightening thing is if you don’t see this, if you just continue, it will get less and less and less what ends up on your website in terms of informational requests.
Michael Meier 31:31
The new normal for me, it will be that we have to make every step, trackable and measurable not in the way that that we try to get our potential customers to give us all their secret data or whatever. But we want to see what is relevant content for them. We want to measure that. We want to work with lead generation tools we want to work with marketing automation, but this is only tools again, and you need creativity as well as you have to have a psychological profile of the potential buyer you have to see and feel, how do they react to certain things? Is this relevant content to them? Or is something else relevant content to them? Why are they leaving here? Why are they reacting to this? Why do they react to this call to action? Why are they not reacting to that call to action, so it takes a lot of thinking, and all these tools that are being praised as being solutions, and a lot of people fall for that. I can only say a tool is only good in the hands of a craftsman or even an artist, because then they will show their full potential. Very often, it is better to think first, and then maybe to use a specific tool, then trying to tinker about with the tool, and trying to find a solution for why our sales not working the way they used to by the tool, it will not work. You will not maybe you will get some efficiency increase, maybe you will get a few more sales and so on. But you will not release the full potential of that. I find that extremely interesting process, I must say, it takes a lot of interviews, analysis, data analysis, it takes a lot of comparisons, and so on. And even trial and error, in some cases experimentation actually, but digital marketing is developing so fast that there are no trodden paths that you can just follow and everything will get better again. And a couple of years ago, Google Ads was the big craze. But now everybody found that Google Ads is rather like heroin. Once you’re fixed on that it’s very difficult to get away from it because it’s not helping you are in the long term, it’s only a short term solution.
Christian Klepp 34:06
Right. Yeah, absolutely. These are incredible insights. So Michael, any other thoughts or advice that you’d like to leave our listeners with?
Michael Meier 34:16
Yeah, basically it’s a summary of what I’ve been saying: be quick. Be clicking and adapting and changing. As always, a crisis can be a push for innovation and for change as well and change is nothing bad, change is good. Change has to happen. Digital transformation, which is happening now and here. And B2B has been slow to recognize this. Especially, in the typical, let’s say a medium sized industrial company. I know that a lot of marketers out there, they are overwhelmed by all these offers, they get all the different channels, they see all the different people that are talking about what to use and what not to use, and why should we have a Facebook page for our company? Does it really help us? Or why should we go on Instagram even or things like that. This has to be analyzed, and this has to be taken apart. This is something where we work very closely together with our customers. And nobody has an instant solution for that. Because every time which is something very individual, that you have to build, because every business every company is different. Now it cannot be an out of the box solution for that. Now is the time to rethink, to restructure and to reshape what you have and to create your individual new marketing and sales approach, something that will work for you. Because the time for me-too marketing, we are good at this, we are good at that, is over today you have to tell very quickly why you are different, what you’re doing different and why this is good for a potential customer. Why should I buy this instead of that? And not okay, we can do these 99 other things as well. No, not interested. Give me one two three reasons why. And then I think you’re already ahead of some of your competitors.
Christian Klepp 36:36
Yeah, indeed. Michael, thank you so much for coming on and sharing. This has been a great session. So what’s the best way for people out there to connect with you.
Michael Meier 36:48
Just check out my company schindlerparent.de, or just sent an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’d be happy to start discussing sharing a few thoughts or continuing with what we have been talking about today, Christian.
Christian Klepp 37:11
Amazing, Michael, this has been such an excellent and dare I say intellectually stimulating conversation. So thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show.
Michael Meier 37:22
It has been a great pleasure Christian. In the past, we have been doing quite a few things together and we will continue to do this together. If anybody is in doubt how to spell in the parent, they can come back to you, you know how to get in contact with me as well.
Christian Klepp 37:40
Thank you so much for your time. Take care, be safe and talk to you soon.
Michael Meier 37:46
And take care and stay healthy as well and the same to everybody has been listening. And I hope you will all have a great summer.
Christian Klepp 37:58
Thank you for joining us on this episode of B2B Marketers on a Mission podcast. To learn more about what we do here EINBLICK. Please visit our website www.einblick.co and be sure to subscribe to the show on iTunes or your favorite podcast player.
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