Sales and marketing are so important to the lifeblood of a company. Who sits at the center of these is their customer. As such, it is crucial for companies to think of how they are creating valuable content and experiences tailored to them. This is the principle of inbound, and in today’s episode, Domenic Rinaldi sits down to talk deeper about this topic with Todd Hockenberry, the founder of Top Line Results and an advisor and coach for B2B industrial and manufacturing companies. Through his book, Inbound Organization, Todd shares with us how you can build and strengthen your company’s future using inbound principles, especially during this time of uncertainty. He expands on the ways you can create that inbound culture through content that really touches your audience’s emotions and then move that marketing into sales. Ultimately, what organizations should think is how they can be of best help to their customers, putting themselves in their shoes and creating value from their perspective. Learn more about how you can transform into an inbound organization and more in this great conversation.

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Inbound Organization: Strengthening Your Company By Creating Value For Your Customers With Todd Hockenberry

If you’ve read some of the past episodes, you probably picked up on a theme related to sales and marketing. In my several decades of working with small and midsize businesses, this is an Achilles’ heel for far too many business owners. We are being joined by Todd Hockenberry who runs Top Line Results. He is a consultant, advisor and coach for B2B industrial and manufacturing companies and helping them grow by connecting with their ideal buyers. He is also the co-author of Inbound Organization and is the co-host of The Manufacturing Show. Todd, thank you for joining me.

It is my pleasure to be here, Domenic. Thanks for having me.

Creating content that stands out is about volume, quality, and acceleration. Click To Tweet

Todd, let’s start if you could give everybody in the M&A community a background on yourself and then we’re going to dive into inbound.

I went to school in Cleveland. I got a Chemistry degree and ended up working for an automotive supplier and cut my teeth for a bunch of years. I was in the automotive plants and suppliers around the country and the world. I fell in love with manufacturing and industrial work and companies. I was part owner of a manufacturing company for a while. I sold that and then I started my own company, Top Line Results, which we run now. We’ve been doing this for many years. What we do is help companies grow and our big area of focus is around the idea of inbound, which is helping companies get found when their audience is looking and the ideas of an inbound impact the entire organization, and that was the genesis of the book idea. What we do is we help companies position and create strategies for growth and it touches all aspects of the entire organization.

MAU 50 | Inbound Organization

Inbound Organization: How to Build and Strengthen Your Company’s Future Using Inbound Principles

Sales and marketing are two different things, but sales and marketing are important to the lifeblood of a company. Often, I go into small and mid-sized companies and find that they’re under-resourced or they don’t know how to manage those functions. The whole environment has changed dramatically. Give us a sense of what people are having to do and what inbound means to stay competitive in their markets.

In the last few months, things have changed quite a bit, but the principles are more important than more relevant than ever. The idea is that you as a manufacturing industrial company tend to be driven oftentimes by product or technology or engineering. The founders tend to be more product-focused. You don’t see a lot of salespeople or marketing people starting industrial or technology firms. Maybe if you’re a software you would, but rarely do you see that. You usually start with the technology. Right from the beginning, there’s a little bit of a bias towards the internal focus and not an external focus.

Inbound is about taking yourself out of your world and putting yourself in their shoes, looking at the world from their perspective, and then creating products and services. Ultimately, experiences are the ones that they want and the ones that they are looking for. That’s more important than ever because a lot of companies are looking to survive and get through this situation and the rest of the year and then the next year. You can’t push products or services. You’ve got to understand how to put yourself in their shoes and create value from their perspective, which means that you understand them. You’re human, approachable, empathetic and you’re creating marketing and sales experiences that they want to consume.

I’m sure your audience has heard lots of people talking about all the bad salespeople, the traditionally used car salesman, the spammers or the cold callers of the world, and many industrial companies still do those things. They still use to think those tactics are helpful. What I often say to business owners is, “Do you like those tactics? Do you like to be treated that way?” Universally they say, “No.” I say, “Why is that the way you go to market?” Oftentimes, that’s enough to get them to start thinking about hanging out with you to think about this a little differently. It’s not just about the product, it’s about all the things that go into the product, including my people, the mission of the company, the values of the company, how you package it. How do you deal with the financial and service aspects?

Every part of it goes into that experience, and with many options available to buyers, they are going to look at that entire experience. This all wraps up into whether they want to do business with you. Some people talk about that as the brand-customer experiences. Call it what you want. It’s what people want to see. They want to see and hear from people that understand their business, their issues and can bring value to the table upfront in the marketing process first and then through sales and then through the old relationship.

How does an owner of business go about creating an inbound marketing function so that people are calling them? Where do they start if they haven’t done this before?

That’s where inbound started was in the marketing world, companies like HubSpot and people like David Meerman Scott. There are lots of people that were around this idea that marketing was broken. That the idea of spam, cold calling and knocking on doors was becoming less and less important or effective because of the internet and the proliferation of information that people had at their fingertips. Just because people have information, it doesn’t mean they have context and know what to do or where to go.

The ultimate idea here is that when people look for help, you’re there. Inbound is about being there when they look. It started with a lot of online work, websites, and SEO. You create content, your blog, and promote content out there. You optimize it, promote it with paid ads or email campaigns, social media, or however you want to do it. People would know or would you be there when they were looking? It’s expanded into the idea that it’s beyond websites. This is the idea behind the inbound organization. If you don’t at least do your marketing in an inbound way, people aren’t going to pay attention.

The ultimate idea of inbound is about being there when people look for help. Click To Tweet

The first place I tell people to look is I say, “Look at your website and is your website about your customers, their issues, their problems from their perspective? Would they recognize themselves if they came on your website? Was it about you to show lots of pictures of your factory? Is it about your equipment, your machines, or your product listing? Is that all it is? If that’s all it is, it’s not helpful. Is your website there to help people understand how to solve problems or is it there to push your product?” That’s where your mindset comes in. Leaders have to change the way they think about their business and marketing has to think about putting themselves in the buyer’s shoes and work their way backward.

A website’s the canary in the coal mine for me to look at. That’s usually a great place to start and then you get into the marketing mix. Are you buying leads? Are you paying somebody to make phone calls for you? Do you go to the same old trade shows? Do you run the same ads in the same old magazines? You can look at that whole mix and you’re going to see if maybe, for example, Instagram is something that would be interesting. I would bet a lot of your audience would say, “Instagram, that’s what my college kids do or my teenagers use Instagram. That’s not something for business.” I interviewed somebody on my podcast that is in the welding business and they have tens of thousands of people that follow their Instagram about welding.

That’s a shocker. I would never have thought that.

Most people don’t. Welders are there. If you start to think about it, lots of welders are independent contractors. They’re creative. Think about the helmets and what they do with their mask and they’re helmets where they personalize them. Tens of thousands of people on Instagram looking at this company and they sell welding equipment, welding supplies, and welding classes. They’re everything welding and they are on Instagram. They’re reaching an audience in a way that their competitors don’t.

That doesn’t mean that everybody’s going to be on Instagram, but the point is, your audience is online somewhere. Go find them. That’s the point of inbound. Go find them where they are, create community content, and make it interesting. Share your story there and give them things that they want and then you have the opportunity, you earn the opportunity to have that conversation or at least earn their attention enough where they might come to your website or take a phone call to be able to talk to your potential buyers. That’s the flip of inbound. Inbound flips it and says, “You need to earn, not demand or interrupted to get that initial interest from your buyers.”

The ultimate thing in marketing is when you get your customers to talk about you. Click To Tweet

You mentioned something related to content. I attended a webinar and it was related to this topic. One of the things that came up was that you can’t write blog posts anymore and put content out there. You have to separate yourself and become a subject matter expert and create content that emotionally touches your audience. How does that play out in the manufacturing and industrial space? It doesn’t seem like a touchy-feely environment, but how do you create content that evokes emotion and creates that inbound culture?

Back in the day when we first started doing this with content, you could create blog posts that were talking about the products and you could get ranking and interest in industrial niches because there wasn’t much there. You could be bad at it, have poor content, and still get some results. There are less and less niches like that available. Like I talked about this welding company, they’re creating massive amounts of content and they’re reaping the awards because they’re getting the attention from it. How you create content that stands out, it’s about volume, quality, and then acceleration. You have to create a certain volume of content. You can’t do one blog post a month and put it on your website and think that’s enough.

You mentioned a webinar. You could do a webinar. A webinar is 45 minutes. You could break it down into 10, 2-minute segments. You could then post those on YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook. You can put them on your LinkedIn. You could have your salespeople put each one of those out once a week for two months. You can create a blog post, emails or you could push it out to your social media. You’re taking content, there’s some volume quality and then acceleration. You’ve got to get it moving and get some velocity behind it. It’s not enough to park it on your blog and think that’s enough.

The topics are there. Your audiences are in business for a reason and the simplest way to figure out what to write about or where good content comes from is to think about your buyers, prospects, the things they ask you, the problems they have and the things you answer in emails and phone calls all day long. That’s content. If they’re asking you about it, you’re creating content. Whether you use it in your marketing or not, it’s up to you. Take those conversations, take the things that are interesting to your audience, and then create content around them. If somebody is asking you a question on the phone, I guarantee you somebody is typing it into Google in the search.

When they asked that question in Google, you want to be the one they find. There’s no expectation. A lot of this content is slick and produce like your product brochures, real, authentic, and real people. Let’s go back to my welder guys, it’s real welders with tattoos and beers and look like they got off a job site. It’s real people doing real things. That’s what you want to create content for, who you want to create it for, how you want to create it and where we’re going. Your audience will create the content for you. They’ll create ratings and reviews. They’ll tell your story. They’ll talk about how much they like you and they’ll talk to other platforms about how much they like your products or your services. The ultimate in marketing is when you get them talking about you. That’s where you want to go.

MAU 50 | Inbound Organization

Inbound Organization: Inbound is about taking yourself out of your world and into your customers’ shoes, looking from their perspective and then creating products and services from there.

M&A Unplugged community, Todd gave us a real nugget. Content can simply be about what your clients are asking you day-in and day-out. What are the questions that they ask you, your salespeople, your customer service people? These are the issues that are dealing with or the things that can’t figure out. Those are the things that you should be writing or doing videos about to create a sense of community and interest and achieve what Todd is talking about, which is people calling you versus you having to do outbound or going to chase them. Be where your clients are, answer the questions that they have and they’re going to call you. Where is the crossover then because what we’re focusing on here is marketing? How do you get the phone to ring? How do you get people to reach out to you? Where’s the crossover between marketing and sales as it relates to inbound organizations?

You mentioned one. You talk about the salespeople answering questions, the sales department, and the service team. Here are the issues in the field. That’s a great place to start in terms of integrating sales and marketing. Marketing needs to hear those conversations. Marketing should be in the field. They should be on those phone calls or hearing them. Salespeople can record them. Salespeople can forward emails where they’re answering questions. They can make sure that they come back from sales meetings and there’s debrief on everyone. What were the key questions and key issues that came up in this call or this meeting? They can feed that back to marketing. That’s one way that sales and marketing can interact together in a significant way.

Another area where you start to see overlap is targeting. Where you’re going, who you’re helping, and who you’re solving problems for the best. Marketing may be doing one thing and it’s one area and sales may be focused on another. I’m sure no one in this audience has ever had a heard a salesperson say, “We get those leads from marketing, but they’re garbage. We don’t pay attention to those. We do our thing over here.” Nobody’s ever heard that or some version of that. That’s what you want to eliminate. You want to align both departments so that marketing is attracting the people that sales want to attract and vice versa and you then build accountability between the two.

They’re parts of the same process, so there shouldn’t be any real divide. Everybody’s in the revenue generation business and customer satisfaction business. Everybody should be all incentivized for the same thing. Marketing should prime the pump, start the process, drive leads, awareness, brand recognition, educate the marketplace, and create this platform where people are going to be attracted to you. The salespeople, when the prospects put their hand up and say, “They’re interested.” Sales take it into depth and depending on how complex your sale is, sales handle the rest of the process. They need to be incentivized the same way.

If your marketing department is a cost and you look at it as to a line item, that’s an expense that you try to reduce every year but on the sales end, you’re going to keep throwing salespeople at the process because you think that’s the way you generate revenue, you got a little bit of a disconnect. You want to incentivize marketing the same way mark incentivize sales against revenue. If we’re not growing, marketing’s not doing their job right. They need to be incentivizing differently because they handle different parts of the process, but it’s the same outcome. Marketing can’t be compensated based on activity. We did these things, we place these ads, we prepared for these shows, and we did these brochures. They need to be incentivized to say, “We’re filling the frontend of the pipeline that turns into business with the sales team.” You need to build accountability on both ends so they’re both pulling against the same resources. They’re both pulling towards the same goals and they’re measured for the same thing, which is revenue.

It’s important that we talk about sales and marketing because you can’t have one without the other. You need both, and many people will try to throw salespeople at a problem and not understand how to market to their clients. You need to soften the ground and pave the runway a little bit, so when your salespeople are out there, people are going to be receptive to them calling or the conversations.

If I had $100,000 and if somebody asked me how would I spend it in the manufacturing company to grow it, I would put it in marketing first. I would put it in lead generation, awareness, and getting in front of an audience. People might be surprised to hear that, but in many industrial manufacturing sectors, web traffic is going through the roof. We had clients that saw a 20% to 30% increase in web traffic in April of 2020. It makes sense. If you think about it, people are at home. A lot of the sales process has to go online. There’s lots of activity and interest out there. If you don’t have the presence online, if you don’t have content out there, if you’re not being inbound and getting found, you’re not getting that traffic. The people that created their content before these are the ones that are getting the traffic.

I would invest there because that’s something they can return 24/7. It becomes an asset of the company when you create great content that drives eyeballs and traffic because it starts the process. Salespeople got to have him. I’m a sales guy at heart, so this is not anti-sales at all. The point is though that you can create investments for your business to become assets that produce for you 24/7, 365, and never worry about expenses. I’m a big fan of building marketing assets for companies that can yield results over time and things like search engine optimization and content that people find. Online platforms, good social media connections, and large opt-in email lists, these are all things that are marketing assets that companies in the industrial space should be thinking about building for the long-term.

If you are not growing, then marketing is not doing their job right. Click To Tweet

Let’s use an example here. Your typical manufacturing, small to mid-size manufacturing firm or industrial firm they know what they know, they do what they do well, but creating content is not what they do. Where could they turn to? How could they go about creating a machine, the volume, and consistency? How can a firm like that implement that into their company so it’s turnkey?

Let me start with an example and I’ll work back to that. One of the clients we’ve worked with is a fuel additives company. It’s not a big company. It’s under $20 million. It’s a nice-sized company, well-run family-owned for many years. When we started working with them, they didn’t have a blog. They didn’t have much web traffic at all. Nobody was finding them. Fuel additives are a competitive world. You get the STPs of the world. These companies sponsor NASCAR Teams and put their names on football stadiums. They were in some playing with some pretty big guys. We created a content strategy for them where they were doing what we talked about and were answering the questions that they were being asked. They created tons of content on their blog.

Multiple people in the company contributed, salespeople, marketing people, and the owners. A few years later, they have over 150,000 people per month read their blog posts about fuel. They compete online with the biggest names in that world. These are multibillion-dollar companies that my client competes with. They are a niche so they go after the niche, within that bigger audience. It can be done. It does take time and it needs to be consistent. Everybody thinks of content as well. I don’t like to write. There are few things scarier to people than a blank sheet of paper and then having to start, “What do I do? What do I write?” Don’t get those sales emails. Have your salespeople forward them to you.

Record sales conversations that you have or at least have a conversation with the salespeople about the conversation and record it. There are lots of recording software that are cheap. You can transcribe content quickly. You can do video. Videos are easy to do. Shoot 2 to 3-minute videos with your prospects, your customers in the field, or their environment talking about their issues. You can use your phone. You don’t need a company to do this for you. There are lots of resources out there to teach you how to do using a good cell phone camera. You can create content that’s more than good enough and start the process, but you need to have a decent website.

I’m not talking about spending tens of thousands of dollars on a design. A good solid template that you can buy it for sometimes hundreds of dollars will do fine. Make it clean, put it on a fast platform that’s going to load quickly. That’s going to be mobile optimized. Thirty percent to forty percent if not more searches are with mobile phones, even for industrial topics. You need to be mobile optimized and then start. Pick somewhere to start. I like the blog because it’s a good place to create content there. A blog post is a webpage. It helps build the authority or your website. It can get found on Google searches. You can promote blog posts through all your social media. Salespeople can share them on LinkedIn and you can link to them in email campaigns.

You can even run paid ads if you want at a trade journal or trade publication to drive people to your blog or a particular article. Blog posts can be short. They can be long. There are people that write blog posts that are one sentence. Those have to be interesting and other people write to them that are 3,000 or 4,000 words. There are lots of different types of blog posts out there. That’s where I like to see companies start because they can start with content, they either have or they know that they can create fairly soon quickly but it needs to be a strategic initiative where there are some time and resources. There are a couple of other resources people can look to.

There are lots of agencies out there that are helping you with this. They tend to be expensive though. They have to know what they’re doing. They have to be careful. There are also tons of contractors out there that are writers or understand how to create content. I’ve built a network of contractors for my business that I use and they’re reasonably priced and they’re good. There are lots of ways to do it without spending a lot of money. The key is to have the vision and then start taking those steps to get going and stay with it. You got to stick with it. It takes some time but if you’re doing it right, you’ll start to see results within a reasonable amount of time.

MAU 50 | Inbound Organization

Inbound Organization: Leaders have to change the way they think about their business, and marketing has to think about putting themselves in the buyer’s shoes and work their way backward.


Consistency is important when it comes to that. Any last thoughts on the inbound organization?

I had a conversation about this, so this is fresh in my mind. What you do and what you are good at and what people want to talk about may not be the same thing. I was talking to a client that was in the manufacturing area. They were in metal fabrication and they wanted to talk about metal fabrications. They wanted people that needed metal fabrication services or contract manufacturing. In the conversation, I realized that what their audience wanted to be expertise in the reshore supply chain. They were going after people who were buying from overseas that wanted to bring their business back to the US but they weren’t talking about that. They were talking about metal fabrication.

Once they realized that what they’re doing and what they’re bringing to the table, and the problem they’re solving is, “How do I help somebody reshore a metal fabrication supply chain?” That’s not the same as selling metal fabrication services. The client I’m talking to knew that and knew it well, but they weren’t talking about it selling it or marketing it. To me, that’s a fundamentally inbound organization thing is to put yourself in the shoes of the people you’re talking to and don’t assume you understand or know what it is they want. If you don’t do anything else, take that away from this conversation.

If you’re selling products, you’re going to bang your head against the wall against everybody else that’s selling products. Inbound is about positioning so that people are attracted to your expertise and your marketing, your content, or whatever you want to call it. That you put yourself in a position where you’re no longer in a competitive space with everybody else. You now become in this case, on the reshoring of metal fabrication supply chain specialists. That’s a different positioning. It’s a different conversation than it is or do you want my contract manufacturing services? That’s a different conversation.

You talk to a lot of manufacturing companies, a lot of owners of industrial businesses. We’re in the middle of this COVID crisis. What do you see happening and what is your advice outside of the inbound organization, in general to manufacturing businesses and industrial businesses that may be reading this blog?

Stay optimistic and excited about what you do. There are going to be huge opportunities for the companies that can do exactly what I said. Understand how to provide value and not just a product or a service and think about their markets a little differently. Maybe you’re a big industrial distributor that does service for somebody on different components. Have you ever thought about setting up an eCommerce site to sell your stuff to make it easy for people to buy from you? Think about things a little differently and I believe there are huge opportunities. There certain sectors of the economy that are going to be struggling. I live in Orlando, the tourism and travel industry is going to be hurting for a while, but there are other sectors that are going to be strong. Find those and position yourself as you’re going to help those companies survive. The ones that are agile, the companies that stay optimistic and focused on customer outcomes and deliver that, not just products and services are going to be the ones that win.

Do you see the supply chain coming back to the US in some way?

Anecdotally, it’s a flood. I hear many conversations daily about this topic. I’ve got clients that are specifically asking how to do it. I’ve got clients that are asking how to market to other people on how they can do it. I do believe it’s going to happen. I know it’s happening. It has to happen. The risks are too high moving forward.

Do you think we can do that given that there’s probably going to be more pricing pressure than ever given the recession, if not worse than we’re about to go through? Do you think we, as a country, can bring back the supply chain and have it be cost-effective for the end-users?

Yes, I do. Is that a blanket statement for every possible product? No, it’s not. There are certain things where they’re always going to change the low wage because they’re wage-sensitive and worker-sensitive. I do think automation, AI and augmented reality and a lot of these other technologies are going to accelerate the move back because you’ll start to see more automated supply chains and manufacturing. There are different jobs. I’m not sure assembly jobs are all coming back, but the quantity of manufactured products overall, we’ll come back. It will increase that is coming back to the US but that certainly will be sector-dependent and you got to know your market.

I do see significant opportunities there. Are you going to see cars being built the way they were many years ago with 10,000 people in a car plant? Probably not. It’s going to be a lot more robots, automation, and other advanced manufacturing techniques that maybe reduce those costs. There are a lot of variables too. Energy costs are one. Do I think our market will absorb some more cost increases to keep things onshore? Yes, I do. That’s a broad statement, a general one, not specific to every circumstance.

We’ve seen the collapse of some of these supply chains in this crisis and people have got to be rethinking how they can hedge for something else. It’s another disaster whether it be natural or not so that they’re not caught off-guard.

Maybe that’s the key point is that if these are mission-critical components or parts, will companies absorb that risk of having a supply chain extended around the world? The answer to that is there’s less and less tolerance for that type of risk.

Fundamentally, an inbound organization is about putting yourself in the shoes of the people you're talking to. Click To Tweet

It’s been such a pleasure having you on. I appreciate your time and your thoughts and this topic is important given the changing world. Having clients inbound to you is a game-changer and something that people need to be focused on. If people in the M&A Unplugged community wanted to get in touch with you, how could they reach you, Todd?

I’m pretty easy to find but the easiest place is our website, Search my name on LinkedIn and reach out. I love to connect with people in the industrial world anytime.

Todd, thank you very much. 

It’s my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Creating an inbound culture where clients are reaching out to you because you’ve delivered meaningful content that addresses the issues that they deal with day-in, day-out can separate you from the pack. The other thing that Todd mentioned is you should never be assuming your client has an issue in trying to build products and services around that. You need to talk to them and then everything else that follows your product development, your communication, and your content should be all-around client’s pain points and what they’re asking you and what they’re saying, and everybody in the organization should be involved in that. If you would like to learn more about the process of acquiring or selling a business, please visit our website at Feel free to reach out to me at [email protected]. I look forward to seeing you again on the next episode of the show. Until then, please remember that scaling, acquiring, or selling a business takes time, preparation, and proper knowledge.

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About Todd Hockenberry

MAU 50 | Inbound Organization

Todd Hockenberry runs Top Line Results specializing in leading top-line revenue growth at small and medium-sized companies with a focus on B2B, manufacturing, technology, and capital equipment. For over 11 years Top Line Results has been a leader in educating and helping B2B companies adapt to the new realities of Internet-driven changes in buying behavior. Todd has over 30 years of experience in direct selling and leading organizations selling technology, capital equipment, and services in global industrial markets. He has developed and cultivated direct sales teams as well as managed sales representative and distribution networks – all to significant sales improvements. Todd is the co-author of “Inbound Organization: How to Build and Strengthen Your Company’s Future Using Inbound Principles”.

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