EECO Asks Why Podcast

126. Idea - The Value of Subject Matter Experts

June 13, 2021 Electrical Equipment Company Season 4
EECO Asks Why Podcast
126. Idea - The Value of Subject Matter Experts
Show Notes Transcript

Stop selling and start solving problems! It is a simple philosophy that has great returns for those that make the connection.  For Jake Hall, the subject matter experts (SME) that support manufacturing are the ones best positioned to help industry grow in the future.  In this conversation Jake unpacks what a SME is and how that has evolved over time.  The days of knowing part numbers and catalogs are being replaced with experts that understand processes and what end users are trying to accomplish.  End users want to partner with those that understand the headwinds they face and can bring solutions to the table.

Jake also expands the concept of SME's to supporting businesses for manufacturing like distributors.  He advises those business models to focus on the problems they are best suited to address and go at those areas with full force.  Be the expert in your area everywhere your clients are and the rewards will follow.

Finally, Jake gives great advice to the next generation of SME's to begin their journey's on the right foot.  Developing skillsets that bring value to manufacturing can set someone up for a lucrative and fulfilling career.  Imagine no student loan debt, significant cash flow from a new employer because of the skills you developed and security knowing that the value you bring can transfer to many areas in the future.  Sound too good to be true?  That reality exists and Jake shares tons of inspiration and wisdom to start moving forward.

This is an action packed episode and has too many nuggets of gold to miss.  Hats off to the Manufacturing Millennial for knocking this out the park and painting such an impactful path for others to consider.

Guest: Jake Hall
The Manufacturing Millennial and Business Development Manager at Feyen Zylstra

Host: Chris Grainger
Executive Producer: Adam Sheets
Audio/Video Editor: Andi Thrower

Feyen Zylstra Website

Jake: 00:00 

It's the idea of stop trying to sell products, start solving problems in the industry. And I think if people can walk away with that at the end of this podcast, I think it's really going to change how you approach your business.

Chris: 00:15 

Welcome to EECO Asks Why a podcast that dives into industrial manufacturing topics, spotlights the heroes that keep America running. I'm your host, Chris Grainger. And on this podcast, we do not cover the latest features and benefits on products that come to market, instead, we focus on advice and insight from the top minds of industry because people and ideas will be how America remains number one in manufacturing in the world. 

Welcome to EECO Asks Why today we have an idea to episode. We're going to be talking about the value of subject matter experts. And to talk about that we have Mr. Jake Hall, you may know him as the Manufacturing Millennial by night and during the day he's a Business Development Manager, FZ. So welcome Jake. 

Jake: 01:02 

Chris! Thanks for having me on the show. 

Chris: 01:03 

Oh man, I'm excited to have you, my friend. I'm very excited to have you, so maybe get a start to explain to our listeners out there podcast land. You know what you're talking about when you when you're saying subject matter experts. 

Jake: 01:16 

Absolutely. So we look at subject matter experts, especially in the field of manufacturing.

It's kind of broken down a few ways. There's always the sales side out there where people go out and they try and sell their products on those, the engineering side, which is the people who are developing. What I view as a subject matter expert, it's a person that a company can leverage, if you're in manufacturing or selling a product or they are a distributor, where they can really focus on a person who's knowledgeable around a product line, rather it'd be PLCs drives vision systems, AGVs, robotics, the automation world, but it's someone who can communicate on a high level, but be able to bring it in a way that any user or end user can understand what the capabilities are. 

So when I look at the subject matter expert, it's not just someone who can retain and blurt out a bunch of knowledge. That's great, but it's someone who can really communicate it to any level of person who's been in the industry for 10 years or someone who's just starting out. 

Chris: 02:17 

Right. No doubt. No doubt for sure. Now how about things have been changing a lot from an SME standpoint? You know, how do you feel the importance of that SME has really shifted recently?

Jake: 02:28 

Oh, man. It's crazy. When we look at the world of we're going to call the post-pandemic. I think things have changed significantly where for a long time sales was done on a handshake face-to-face basis, and that's going to come back, things are opening up. The CDC just made some announcements yesterday, but what I see happening in the future is having a digital social, you know, an expert in the way that he could be a person that talks about their product or does short videos or product highlights. That is somebody a little bit more than just reading a data sheet. It's someone who has the ability to talk about real-world applications and how he's using the solutions that those products provide to solve problems.

Chris: 03:15 

Okay. Now, when you say from a digital standpoint, so you're talking about creating videos and content and things that speak specifically to the problems themselves, not necessarily the product, but how those, that product can solve those issues. 

Jake: 03:28 

Absolutely. Everyone could talk about a product, but everyone can talk about a problem. And I think that's really what subject matter experts bring to the table is it's not just someone who's knowledgeable to drive and can tell you all of the statistics and features about it, but as someone who can really say, what advantages do I use this drive in a scenario versus a different brand or a different drive. That's where a subject matter expert adds value beyond just the product, but the problems that they're solving with that product in the industry. 

Chris: 04:00 

Yeah, sure. I mean, I even saw something the other day Jake, that I wanted to share with you. It was from a marketing firm and they were, talking to engineers and they polled, I think 1300 engineers and it seems to the data that's coming back is earlier and earlier in the buying cycle, engineers are looking for data from SMEs. And I just thought that was interesting that if you want to really help engineers these days, you need to have that social presence and be in front of them on the stuff they're searching about. And they're searching about how to solve problems. Like you said. 

Jake: 04:32 

Yeah, absolutely. The world's different now than it was 10 years ago. When you look at a sales engineer before you needed someone to go out, and this is just an example, you needed someone to go out there to explain how a retro-reflective photo eye works.

That's common knowledge now that's that stuff that. And at least in my experience has moved away from the control side. And that's just stuff that's having them on the mechanical side now for specking out sensors and drives and PLCs is no longer in the controls world. And I believe the reason that's the case is because of the value and the mass amount of information that's online that designers can just look up.

So that's how. We need to continue to separate and differentiate ourself in the subject matter expert world is that designer's not coming to you anymore to say, "Hey, these are the inputs that I have. Are these the outputs that I need, what do you recommend?" They can do those with calculations online. What they need to say is, "Hey, I'm in this environment, this is the situation I'm facing. Where do I start? What sections or categories should I look at?" That's what we're seeing differently. 

Chris: 05:38 

Yeah. I mean, it's really that shift. I love how you said that from that traditional, just to the parts and pieces expert to really understanding the process and what the end-user is trying to accomplish from the SME standpoint, that's where the value is coming in now.

Jake: 05:54 

Yeah, absolutely. Right before, you know, years ago, this was about eight years ago when I was first starting out in sales, my first job out of college was in distribution and they would say, Hey, you want the latest, you know, catalog book. And here you go. If you have any questions, ring me up, you know, but things have changed and evolved since then. We're no one wants a physical one and a half inch catalog anymore. You know, the story, Chris, you used to walk into mechanical designers desks, and they literally had a cabinet. And a wall shelf of every single product line that's out there that they would have to go in and reference.

Now you walk into a shelf and they have a bunch of Legos or mini-figures up there, right? Because they don't need those catalogs anymore because they could just do a Google search and all that information is readily available. 

Chris: 06:40 

That right. I always felt it was fascinating whenever I walk into ENI planner's office and they'd have the industrial control catalogs from like every year it came out. Like it's a massive collection of encyclopedias or something. And I'm like, look, you know, that stuff's, you know, it doesn't change that much. Well, yeah, but I may need something from the version two like, Hey man, just be you. You know, 

Jake: 07:03 

I remember I remember that. And that was just a routine. When you go up there, you get the new catalog for like Banner Engineering or something and you walk up to the shelf and say, well, pull this one off this one's old. Yup. You know, put your new one up and say, there you go. You know, and that's just, and that's just not the case anymore for when it comes to helping with, you know, engineers and design work.

Chris: 07:24 

No doubt, no doubt, man. Good stuff. Good stuff. Now, Jake, we hear it lot time talking about when we talked to industrials and manufacturers about the workforce attrition, things that are happening, it's, tough to find people and to get these jobs. So curious on what you're seeing to tie it all together. Do you have any examples where you see people embracing SMEs to cover some of these skills gaps that they're losing? 

Jake: 07:47 

Absolutely. Well, one thing I'm going to take it for a little bit different approach, Chris. One thing I see companies doing more is leveraging subject matter experts to attract new talent to the company.

Right? If someone can go out there and a person who is very knowledgeable about the industry that they're in and they could talk about what exciting things are happening out there and why there's, you know, new technology and ingenuity involved within their field. They're leveraging subject matter experts to attract the new generations to say, "Hey, this is what we're a part of," because that's something that expert really understands what's being involved with the industry.

So, I mean, that's one way I'm seeing leveraging, but the other way I'm seeing within the job shortage right now in the skill gaps is just. Subject matter experts can go online and be a social media presence to hundreds if not thousands of people by a 60-second clip, you can not have that reach doing door-to-door operations.

So you also need to be more strategically time aware with your own employees on saying, "Hey, how can I use a social media reach to get content out there rather than a door to door?" 

Chris: 09:01 

Now have you, are you seeing that more on an individual basis or do you see like companies embracing that and where do you see that working the best?

Jake: 09:08 

You know, I see more individuals taking that initial leap. And companies afterward are seeing that value of saying, wow, there are conversations that come from this. I mean, Chris you and I could even go back to that point where you and I were having a completely unrelated discussion. We were talking about the podcast and I'm coming, recording this.

And then we talked about our companies and said, well, hey, wait a second FZ and EECO, there's some opportunity here within our Southern branches and where you guys are located. That is where companies are beginning to see value saying, wow, a relationship curated from something not directly related to selling the company product or the company solution. That's where that value seen. You see more and more companies between manufacturers, but also integrators and distributors leveraging that. 

Chris: 09:58 

And we know distributors listening to us too, when we're trying to help the industry as a whole. I mean, we've had some distributor some competitive distributor feedback as well, and it's been very positive. And I'm just curious on your take, for business models like us, you know, we're supporting industry, we're supporting integrators like yourself, as well as the manufacturers directly, what should we start doing? Or how should we change to be relevant as to where engineers and decision-makers are moving in the future. 

Jake: 10:26 

Yeah, I would say you need to strategize your employees on the idea that they need to stop selling and start solving problems. So stop selling, start solving. And solving is a path that leads to selling. But what you're doing is you're setting yourself up to understand that customer and the customer's needs a lot more.

And I think that's what it relates right back to a subject matter expert. You're talking about industry problems, not about a product and companies will reach out to you more to say, wow, this person's knowledgeable in the industry and not just. Something that's on his line card. 

Chris: 11:10 

What do you, think's the hurdle there? I mean, is that just a mental shift? Cause we just want to naturally sell? 

Jake: 11:17 

Yeah I think it's the idea of, for so long companies had this idea of this funnel feed, right? You need to get in front of your customers. You need to tell them you need a hand, you know, this many product sheets and flyers off and data sheets to this customer because they're going to buy it more often and I'm not disagreeing with the funnel thing.

The funnel feed is still something out there that works. And I believe it does, but at the same time, you need to take a different approach where it's not just a numbers game, but it's a relationship and it's a solution providing game. 

Chris: 11:49 

No doubt. No doubt, man. So I mean to speak to the SMEs out there that we're trying to groom and where do we find them and then how do we keep them in? Or how do we build them up? 

Jake: 11:59 

It's interesting right now there's always the discussion about employee you know, attraction, but there's never the discussion about employee retention I think nearly as often, and companies need to say where do I have internally areas that I can leverage my employees to be a larger social media presence.

And I'll do a plug, you know, with the whole manufacturer millennial thing, I think millennials and companies have a great opportunity to be subject matter experts and be a voice or image for that company to create content and conversation. Millennials, I would say are a lot more likely to get in front of a camera, to be posting on social media to understand the conversation, to almost understand the means and the relevant ideas out there and communicate to that. 

You look at the marketing campaigns that other companies are doing in the consumer space or the food space, you know, Wendy's and Arby's and all these other places have these Twitter accounts that go viral all the time, right? Because they have a person who's shouting memes and is relevant to the, you know, current online trends. But they're literally getting hundreds of thousands of likes of views every day, because a person's making a funny, relevant comment online. 

That's just the way the industry is now. And you look at, you know, with me on LinkedIn, pushing the subject matter expert from the manufacturing millennial side, I'm able to go out there and take the content from different manufacturers and be able to share that and say listen, "We can create a lot of awareness around the industry without trying to shove a product down a person's throat." And I think that's where people are a lot more receptive to change and looking at things when they don't feel like they're being sold something, it's just they're learning something.

Chris: 13:46 

Yeah. Well, I can tell you one thing just to keep on plugging the manufacturer millennial. I learn a lot. You put just so much good information out there to your videos. Just the way that you're creating awareness about manufacturing in general. It's amazing. So hats off to you. We love what you're doing.

Jake: 14:04 

Appreciate it. Thanks. It's just been a lot of fun. It's been a lot of fun doing it and the relationships and the friendships that are curated just by having conversations. It's incredible. 

Chris: 14:14 

It's gotta be. I mean, I can only imagine it's so much fun and created so many opportunities for you, you know? And I think it's just showing a new model for, from a BDM standpoint in particular. I mean, it's so much upside, but also for the people that are out there to think to, well, I'll just start a podcast or I'll just start something like the manufacturing millennial there's a lot of work. It takes a lot of intentionality to go behind making something like that successful. 

Jake: 14:41 

Yeah. And I think the biggest thing is I encourage people to go out there and start your own personal brand, create conversation, but one thing I think that people need to realize is there's more engagement that needs to happen on your end upfront before people are just going to start coming to your page because people are like, hey Jake, I post videos every, you know, twice a week for a month and really nothing ever happened. I said, that's great though, but how else are you engaging with the people who comment on your videos, how often are you going out to other people's content and engaging with that? So people follow you back to your page. It's a continued investment and it's just the matter of sales in that case, you got to do your reach. 

Chris: 15:23 

How about advice, Jake? I can't wait to hear what you would offer up here. So for people out there that are listening, you know, the next generation we're trying to build SMEs, maybe they're trying to figure out where to specialize or how to get started. What would you offer up? 

Jake: 15:39 

Oh man. So someone was brand new to the industry. Or are you talking about like high school going in? Where are you thinking within that range? 

Chris: 15:48 

I'd like to maybe hear both ends, so like to a high school going in, but also, so maybe someone who is just new to industry in general, but talk, talk to both ends of it because there may be different points of advice that you would offer for both.

Jake: 16:02 

Yeah. I mean, so the one thing that I would push right away is, you know, I guess I'll speak to the adults or the kids who are, who are listen to these podcasts as well is you do not need a four year degree anymore to be successful. And I'm going to leverage that in a way where I am truly passionate about the two year associate's degrees in skilled trades that are available now for young, you know, upcoming professionals and people in the industry, you can go out and you can get a welding degree, a plumbing degree and electrician degree, you know, learn how to program a CNC or a robotic, you know, mechatronics degree graduated pretty much debt free from that college.

And you are an already super high demand for the industry, I think for so long society pushed that you need to go get a four year degree to be successful or to be competitive in the industry. And I think over the past 10, 15 years, we found that was flawed, especially if the trillions of dollars that student debt that's out there. And the fact that now they have so much student debt, they can't go out and buy a house. They can't come out and continue to contribute to the economy because now they're just paying off that bank for so long. So I look at, you know, young kids. Four year degrees are not the only option that's out there. 

And parents that are listening to this. Talk to your kid. There's nothing wrong with not going to get a four-year degree. Skilled trades are very respected right now in the industry, and they're going to continue to be respected in the industry, and then, so, so that's what I was saying that people were entering the workforce. The people who are currently in the workforce, you know, I would say every person has something they can teach someone else.

And I think people say they need to have years and years and years of experience before they viewed themselves as an expert, but going out and asking questions to experts is a great value as well. And that's the whole entire thing for me, as well as I share a lot of content on LinkedIn around manufacturing processes.

Does that mean, I know every single thing about them? Absolutely not. But what it's allowing me to do is allow me to curate conversation with other people. So when those questions come up or those questions around those industries, I have that network and that reach to make that happen. 

Chris: 18:16 

You can connect those dots for people and really and bring them together.

Jake: 18:19 

Yeah, absolutely. You know, so people who are in the industry, don't let the quote unquote idea of a subject matter expert, be a limitation. If you say I haven't been in this industry for 15 years, you can be an expert on connections. You're right. You can be an expert of someone who just simply knows a lot of people because you've been curating content and asking questions and going to events and listening to webinars.

And you know, you listen to the EECO podcasts or you're listening to, the Manufacturing Happy Hour with Chris Luecke, one of my good friends, you know, those are the type of things where you can gain a lot of knowledge just by being active in the industry. 

Chris: 18:58 

Yeah, don't give away my secret sauce there Jake. That's my sauce, man. This is good stuff, man. Good stuff. Love this conversation, Jake. And we always wrap it up. with the why. You know, so if, you had to put the why around, why you feel so strongly about the SMEs moving forward in the future, what would that, why be? 

Jake: 19:21 

I think it goes back to my earlier comment I said, it's the idea of stop trying to sell products, start solving problems in the industry. And I think if people can walk away with that at the end of this podcast, I think it's really going to change how you approach your business. Stop selling the product or the solution you have, and start trying to communicate the problems in the industry. And you'll find value in the return then. 

Chris: 19:49 

No doubt, no doubt. Jake, this has been wonderful for our listeners. Check out the show notes. You'll have an easy way. If you're not already connected with Jake shame on you. Get connected with him. He's dropping just wonderful information all the time. So that'd be great ways for them to connect directly with you, Jake, and I'm sure he can help inspire even more.

So thank you so much for walking into this topic out with us today. 

Jake: 20:12 

Absolutely. Thanks for having me on press. 

Chris: 20:14 

Yes, sir. 

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