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Automation Unplugged

Automation Unplugged is a Facebook Live show recorded weekly with our host Ron Callis, Owner and CEO of the digital marketing agency, One Firefly. In each Automation Unplugged episode, Ron speaks with leading industry personalities and technology professionals to discuss all things business development, technology trends, and more. These interviews are designed to help our clients and members of the custom integration industry keep up-to-date with the latest news as well as learn from experts in the field.

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Home Automation Unplugged Episode #218: An Industry Q&A with Jeff Singer

In this weeks home automation show of Automation Unplugged, Jeff Singer, Independent Marketing Strategist shares more about how knowing your customers can help develop your market and grow your business.

Home Automation Unplugged Episode #218: An Industry Q&A with Jeff Singer

This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Jeff Singer. Recorded live on Wednesday, July 27th, 2022, at 12:30 pm. EST.

About Jeff Singer

Jeff has worked in the high-end technology industry for over 20 years as a specialist for marketing B2B and B2B2C in, AV, UC and Digital Workplace, enterprise management, and luxury home automation. He’s an expert in all aspects of product marketing, including positioning, strategy, planning, and execution. Jeff is skilled at developing content and telling compelling stories while making complex ideas understandable and relatable. In this way, he communicates value and earns loyal, long-term client relationships and brand affinity. Jeff received his BS from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, and an MBA in Marketing and Management from the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College. Jeff was most recently the Executive Director of Product Marketing at Crestron Electronics.

Interview Recap

  • Jeff’s journey from broadcasting to teaching and eventually landing as a marketing strategist in the AV industry
  • The importance of employee success and growth for a company
  • How knowing your customers can help develop your market and grow your business

SEE ALSO: Home Automation Podcast Episode #217 An Industry Q&A with Tom LeBlanc

Transcript

Ron:  Ron Callis here with another episode of Automation Unplugged. Today is Wednesday, July 27. It's a little bit after 12:30 p.m. Eastern time here in Florida. What I'm going to do, because we are doing some different stuff with our software, so as normal, I'm going to pause here and just make sure we're all connected and that we are streaming live. So I hope you all bear with me here as we verify that technology is behaving. I'm getting a message here from David that we are streaming live on both YouTube and LinkedIn. So that's excellent. All right, so what's been going on here in One Firefly land? Man, I just want to share with everyone out there. It's been a crazy couple of weeks, lots of travel, and I know many of you are traveling with your families on vacation and or you're taking a little bit of downtime. So that's good on you. Last week for me, I was out in Austin, Texas, and I was able to meet up with some of my Austin team. We have a growing army of marketers there in Austin that are doing all sorts of fun things. Web designers and copywriters and you name it. We have folks down there. But then we also were doing a new video shoot. Those of you that are aware; We do web design here at One Firefly. It's one of the many things we do. And as part of our web product, we shoot a beautiful lifestyle video, both commercial and residential video. That's a feature of our product called Mercury Pro. When we do a video shoot, it's a big production, it's a big deal. Talking about 20 person crew, kind of equivalent to like if you were to shoot a TV commercial, that's about the size and scope of the activity. It was a couple of days of action there in Austin. We were shooting at the Ketra facility, that's a lighting control manufacturer that was actually purchased a couple of years ago by Lutron. We also shot at a demo apartment that Luton made available to us. So just captured bunches and bunches of beautiful new content that's going to be added to our product library, to what we call our media gallery. So stay tuned for that. Watch all the channels here at One Firefly for that content. Then you know what, we buzzed over and I say I was with my family, my wife and my son, and we buzzed over to Orlando and then had a good meet up with some of our Florida team. So we at One firefly; We have members of our team living all across North America, and we have a couple of denser concentrations of people in Austin and Orlando, kind of the Orlando metro, a couple of those market. That was a lot of fun. Then I got home Sunday night and here we go. I got home Sunday night and then we're back in action here. I'm noticing this YouTube message just popped in. I think I have something set on where it automatically populates on the screen here for those that are watching. This is actually my team posting that comment. I'm going to hide it. We'll see what happens here. So I just hit that off the screen. All right, so who do we have here? Today is a good day; Number one, technology is behaving and we are here recording Show 218. I have a long time friend and industry expert on the show, the one and only Jeff Singer. Jeff is an independent marketing strategist, and I met Jeff, actually, when I was at Crestron. Jeff had a long story career as the executive director of product marketing, or most recently, I think he's had lots of titles over the couple of decades. But most recently, he was the executive director of Product Marketing at Crestron. And now he's moving on to bigger and better things. But Jeff is a marketing wizard, and he has tremendous industry knowledge both on the residential and the commercial side of things. So I thought it would be fun to have Jeff on. I actually ran into Jeff at InfoComm in Vegas. What was that? Maybe that was last month. I don't know. Everything goes by in a whirlwind. I've been doing so much traveling. But I think that was in June, and I asked him if he would come on the show, and he politely obliged. I have to give him credit, and I'll give him credit when I bring him in, but my goodness, man was prepared. He said, Ron, here are things I think we could talk about. I think this would be valuable to your audience. He was the consummate professional in his preparation, that matches the professional that I've known for many years. So it was no surprise, but it was pleasantly received. I love to see when someone has actually prepared. So without further ado, let me bring on Jeff and we'll see how he's doing. Jeff, how are you, sir?

Jeff: There it goes. All is well.

Ron:  It had to catch up.

Jeff: Grateful that you have me on. I'm doing very well. I'm glad to see you and looking forward to our chat.

Ron:  Where are you coming to us from? What part of the planet are you in right now?

Jeff: I am at home in my apartment in New York City.

Ron:  New York City. So I was just in Austin, as I was telling the audience in the pre show, and it was 104 deg in Austin last week when I was there, which at least was cooler than when I was in Vegas for InfoComm, because I want to say that was 110 degrees. Let's date this podcast; What's the weather like right now in New York?

Jeff: I think we have a little bit of arrested from the heat wave. We're only in the upper eighty's today. But yeah, we experienced a lot of that high heat that everybody else is experiencing, and I think we actually hit a real temperature of 100 degrees here in Manhattan. But of course, it being just a bunch of asphalt and stone and brick, it's more like we were all brick oven pizza. The smart ones got out of town for the weekend. My kids got out of town. I was not so lucky. Well, I was lucky, actually. I had a friend of mine from back home. I grew up in Maryland, in the Washington, DC area where I grew up, and had a friend come up to visit, and we got to hang out in the city for the weekend, so that was nice.

Ron:  Is the city back to normal? Is it back to pre-covid standards or what's Manhattan these days?

Jeff: No, it's back more than it was, but there's no pre-pandemic normal. People are not coming back into the city to work full time. So Midtown and Lower Manhattan, that kind of really relies on a lot of the commuter business is hurting. I think it's going to hurt commercial real estate business because they're trying to get people to come back to work full-time. I'm up in the Upper West Side, more residential neighborhood, but a bunch of businesses have gone out. Certainly there's more homeless people that we see around. It's not quite what it used to be.

Ron:  Let's say Manhattan pre-covid was easily my family's favorite place to visit. Yeah, I'll say in the United States. I'm only saying that because I haven't traveled that much out of the United States, so it was always one of my favorite places to visit. You visit Manhattan and just the buzz and the sizzle of the town. It's just around every corner. There was something going on, something to watch, something to see.

Jeff: We call it street theater! You never know what you're going to get.

Ron:  Is some of that back or is it just...

Jeff: Oh, yeah, definitely it's good. It's much better than it was, but it's not exactly the way it used to be. But we're cautiously optimistic.

Ron:  So, Jeff, take us back in time. You've been in the AV space, the integration world, the integration universe, for a number of decades now, and you're also a lifelong, I believe, professional marketer. That's how I've always known you. I don't know if there was a life before marketing, but take us back in time. What did you study and how did you ultimately end up spending the last 30 years in this space?

Jeff: Yeah, so it has been a lifetime, but not my complete lifetime. I did not intend to go into marketing. I did not study marketing initially. So originally I was looking at in high school, I was interested in journalism and started out in print, and then I got an internship at a local TV station as a senior in high school and kind of got the broadcast bitten by the broadcast bug. So I went to college to study broadcast journalism and public policy. So when I graduated college, my first job out was at CNN. I actually worked at the TV station and the radio station in the local market up in Syracuse when I was at school, then went to work at CNN and NBC, actually the broadcast bug bit me again and I decided that the news was depressing and I like to laugh and make fun of things. So I transitioned over to entertainment and that's where I was at NBC and then decided that I loved broadcasting and I loved production and all that, but I did not like the lifestyle. And so then I had to figure out what the hell I was going to do next. And I thought maybe I would go into teaching. And I actually got accepted to George Washington University at a Master's in Education and be able to teach broadcasting. But in the summer, I got a summer job with a friend of the family who; it was a small mom and pop shop and they manufactured broadcast equipment, sync generators and blackbirds generators and distribution amplifiers and character generators, which most people would just call chirons. So I went to work for them over the summer and I was doing sales and marketing and selling equipment, selling hardware. That's how I really got into it because I was having a really good time. I enjoyed it. It was good people. starting to make good money, not like in broadcast production where you're making minimum wage. So I started making some real money and meeting some really cool people; I said, you know what, I'm going to put this whole master's degree on the back burner. I like this making money stuff and I was at that company for about nine years. We grew it until we sold it off, which is what the owner wanted to do. Then I went back to school and that's when I got my MBA in management and marketing, after I've been doing it for nine years. So I got my MBA in that, while I was getting my MBA, I actually worked for an independent rep firm and they did half AV and half of it was security. So that was an education. That was really an amazing experience. It gave me the flexibility to take my classes and earn my degree and it also got me out in the field. So rather than being in marketing, sitting in an office at a manufacturer, it really got me out in the field and I met the consultants, I met the dealers, I met the clients. So that gave me a really unique perspective on the industry. It got me out from behind my desk. So I did that for a couple of years while I was getting my MBA. Then after that I decided I would go back to the manufacturing side and that's when I joined Crestron.

Ron:  Did you know who Crestron was from that rep experience?

Jeff: From the rep experience and also when I was with the smaller, it was Knox Video Technologies. Knox was actually an integrated partner of Crestron. So the Knox equipment would be controlled by AMX and Crestron. So I was aware of that control space very well. I'll give a shout out to Chris Wildforester who is the guy at Crestron at the time who was leading the integrated partner program. He was the one that introduced me to then Gina Laure who was head of marketing at Crestron and I got my foot in the door.

Ron:  No way! It's Chris's? I just was hanging out with Chris at InfoComm.

Jeff: Yeah.

Ron:  Just last month. That's funny. He's the one that introduced you to Gina?

Jeff: Well, yeah; To Gina and Randy, ultimately. Now what's really interesting is we laugh about it now, but I didn't know then. He told me he made the introduction and eventually, eventually I got the interview and the job. Of course, spoiler alert, but after the fact. Thank you so much. I really appreciate I'm grateful for because it's always who you know, it's networking and connections. So I was very appreciative. To be honest, I just told him that I knew you and I knew you as a sales guy. But I didn't know if you knew anything about marketing or if you were any good reference or referral. Wasn't exactly a strong I don't know. I said, oh well, in that case, I guess I don't owe you a beer.

Ron:  What do you remember about your interview with Randy?

Jeff: Oh my God. That is legend. Actually.

Ron:  Tell everyone listening that may not I mean, I don't know how anyone listening doesn't know Randy. But tell them who Randy is and then tell us how that interview went.

Jeff: So Randy Klein was the ultimately the CEO and president of Crestron and wound up being there for like 30 years a little more. But it's largely due to Randy that Creston became what Creston became when I joined Crestron. Yes, I knew Crestron; credit where credit is due. So when I joined Crestron, it was not the leader in control and automation. AMX really was and Crestron was 200 million dollar company at the time. The vast majority of business was control and automation. Randy really built it up to that point. Then by the way, from there of course we grew the company to whatever it is, 1.6 billion. And control and automation became only 10% of its overall revenue. So it changed quite a bit over the years. But Randy was really the driving force behind Crestron and making Crestron into what Crestron ultimately became. He's an icon in and of himself. He is a very blunt, very straightforward, no nonsense kind of guy, and cut to the chase. I'm being, I think, honest and fair and trying to be polite as well. He's a tough cookie.

Ron:  What was it like getting interviewed by him?

Jeff: Yeah, I was talking with Gina and then Randy comes in and he sits down, he looks at my resume and he's looking at this thing and he's looking at it, and then he looks at me and he says, how the hell old are you? And actually, I think he used the F word. I don't know if we're allowed to use that on your program.

Ron:  Yeah, go for it.

Jeff: Okay. He liked that word a lot. As a matter of fact, if you ever asked Randy, he's like, man, Randy, you say fuck a lot? And he goes, it's how I say hello. So he's like, how the fuck old are you? And I was like, now you know you're not allowed to ask that question. He goes, I do a lot of things I'm not supposed to do. So he keeps reading it and he goes, so I bet you think you're pretty smart, don't you? And I'm like, how do you answer that question? Which is exactly what I said. I said, smart enough not to answer that question. He's like, you know what this he told me you know what this means to me. And he takes it and he slams it on the desk; Absolutely nothing. Tell me, what is marketing anyway? What is marketing? Don't give me any of that bullshit marketing 101, college textbook crap. So whatever I answered it was about...

Ron:  It was apparently good enough, right?

Jeff: It was apparently good enough at the time, right? And then he was like, do you know what this job is? Do you know what this job is? Do you know what you're supposed to do? And I said, well, I read the job description. I had a very nice conversation with Gina. I think I have a pretty good idea of what it is, yes. And he goes, okay, so tell me what it is in five words or less. He goes, no, make it three words or less. So hold on, I'm going to have to adjust my chair because this is also partially visual here. So here we go. You ready? So I go, to write. He goes, I like you. I think you're the first person to get that right. That's right. Can you do that? And I said, yeah, I can do that. Alright, so one more question. Why do you want to work here? And I leaned in and said, I like your style. That was it and he and I had a very good, often complicated relationship from there on in. But yeah, that was it. Well, it's not up to me, it's up to Gina. As if everything wasn't up to him anyway, right? But yeah, I got the job.

Ron:  Tell us about; You were there 17, almost 18, years. What were some of the roles and transitions you had while you were there?

Jeff: Wow. Yeah, it was a great ride. A couple things that kept me there that long, because that is a long time. I recognize that. It was because, one, my role did change quite a bit, and I won't say often, but regularly enough, that it kept me new challenges. I was engaged and challenged and interested, and also, quite honestly, it was the people; I mean you were there. There's just really some awesome people, and we still stay in touch with them to this day. They're some of my best friends. So I think that's the most important thing. But in terms of my trajectory or my journey there, so when I started, I said it was about a 200 million dollar company. There were seven people in marketing, and that included the graphic designer, the technical writer. There was a trade show manager who's still there. You know her? Roseanne Lange. Now she's a director or senior director or vice president or whatever she is now. But Roseanne was there. There was a lit fulfillment person, so there weren't a lot of people actually doing the marketing.

Ron:  This is impressive, just to give it perspective. This is a 200 million dollar company.

Jeff: Yeah, when I joined Crestron, I came in mid fiscal year. So that fiscal year when they ended, and I was only there for half of it, when they ended it, my recollection was $200 million in revenue. Yeah, there were seven people in it. So it was mostly really Gina and me to do everything, because, like I said, everybody else was either a graphic designer, an admin, managing trade shows and events, lift, fulfillment, that kind of stuff. So I wore all the hats. I was residential, I was commercial, I was commercial lighting with Gina. I did the PR, I did all the sales enablement, the brochures, we did the website, we did all the messaging and graph for the trade shows. Back at that point, we really didn't have much. There was no social media, but we had email, but we had to do everything. As we grew, that changed. So I had to not only shed some of my hats and take on different roles, but working with Randy and I think it's no secret there was kind of a revolving door of leaders in the marketing department. I was the constant. Working with them had to really create and recreate a road map as the company was evolving and growing; How do we create a structure, an organization, to sustain that level of business and to market? When you have 200 million, that's different than when you have 500 million and 800 million and a billion, and you can't do it the same way. So you need different tools, you need different processes, you need a different organizational structure, you need different roles and responsibilities. You need people to manage that. So that's what I had to do over those years is to create and manage all of that with Randy and others. So my role changed. So it became where at times really just I was in charge of say, marketing communications or I had to focus on the creative in house, creative team. Then I moved over to really focusing on the product team and the strategy. From there we kind of then separated out and I focused just on commercial and somebody else did residential. Then eventually we flip flopped and I focused on residential and somebody else was doing commercial and then it flopped again. And then at a certain point there was a need for some focus on marketing operations. Just again getting back to that because we then grew again. So coming as we bring in different product lines, like we started bringing in digital media and we had to introduce that to the market. Nobody had ever done that before. Everybody was in analog and Andrew Edwards famously said just don't buy Blu-ray players, when George Feldstein at the time said, no, this is the future. So we had to educate the market, we had to create that market, we had to develop that whole product line. And of course that became what everybody knows it is today, so I don't have to worry with that. Then bringing in UC and everything else. So we had to then become more of a matrix marketing organization. So we had a team for product marketing for commercial and one for residential. We had in residential we had people or teams that were focused on, say, the design build community. We had people that were focused on hospitality. We had people focused on marine over on the commercial side, we had vertical marketing managers that were focused on say, education, government, military, I'm trying to think corporate and the like. So we were organized that way. So it's a highly matrix organization. So building out that structure, managing that structure. And then again, we have new tools, new processes. So I moved into a marketing operations role to sort of establish all of that and then I went back to product marketing. So I kind of moved around a bit. But it was always something new and exciting.

Ron:  Being in a company that's growing quickly and there's no doubt you could look at the last several decades and say Crestron was growing quickly, that is fun and exciting and terrifying and anxiety inducing all at the same time.

Jeff: Oh yeah. Whenever I would interview somebody, we'd spend a little bit of time talking about their background and their abilities. It's pretty easy if you've done this for a while. And Ron, you've been in the industry a million years too. You can size somebody up pretty quickly if they know what they're talking about and they know what they're doing. That doesn't take very long. You can kind of cut through the BS and figure that out quickly. And I'm like, okay, so we've established you could do the job, but could you do the job here? And do you want to do the job here? That cultural fit is super important. I think over the years, more hiring managers and more managers in general, I think, have come to realize that, really understand what is our corporate culture and what type of person will succeed there or here is super important. That's what I would spend more of my time because I would say, listen, I don't know you, and I know you're going to know all the right answers for this interview, but when you go home, you're going to have to look yourself in the mirror and be honest with yourself to see if this is somewhere you really want to work. Because to your point, you said if you're an adrenaline junkie, you're going to love it. If you're not, you're going to crap your pants. If you like drinking from the fire hydrant, not the hose, then you're going to love it. If you don't, you're going to be overwhelmed. If you like, very methodical, structured, nicely paced. This is what we're going to do. Then you're going to flounder here, you're going to freak out because we have an idea while you're driving into work in the morning, we're like, hey, I got an idea. Like, that's great, go. And it's just you got to have your head on a swivel. And that was that entrepreneurial culture. It started out with George Felstein in his basement, and it's a family business, and the culture never really changed through the time I was there. It was very entrepreneurial. We move mountains for a living. Which mountain do you want moved and where do you want it? There's roll up your sleeves and get stuff done. It's not kicking the can and we talk about it, and then somebody else goes and does it. It's like, no, you got to get stuff done. It was that entrepreneurial spirit that really drove Crestron and made it thrive. That was kind of the secret sauce, the people and that attitude. If you're into that, cool. If you're not, it ain't going to work. And we saw a lot of really smart, talented people go through there because it just wasn't the right fit. But yeah, it was a lot of fun. I enjoyed it. It was a lot of fun.

Ron:  Tell me about; It's a very abstract question, but I've always been curious, and as an agency here at One Firefly, we build websites, and they're generally smaller websites, projects that are totally turned out and called 60 to 90 days. Occasionally we'll do the big project that takes six to twelve months. What is it like as a manufacturer trying to manage a website that I'm assuming has thousands of pages and web standards are changing and client interface or UX experience. Expectations are changing just maybe to help our audience that might be on the dealer side or the consultant or the rep side, maybe empathize with the manufacturers and the Jeffs of the world that are inside there trying to hold on for dear life to keep that thing modern. What was that like from your recollection?

Jeff: It changed a lot over the years because when I first started there and that was December 2004. Okay, so if anybody here can remember back that far, you used to advertise that you had a website, if you remember. And by the way, it was www, right? So the pools that exist today did not exist then. And there were some very, very smart, talented people. I'm going to give a shout out to David Soldier. He was there back in the day and he's still there now. He actually built that thing organically from the ground up, from scratch. There were no tools. So whenever you would want to make a change, everything had to be done manually. And we all know as the website grew, anytime you would touch one thing of course that links to and connects to them or is pulling data from a million other places. So then you've got to go. And again, he had to do all that manually. It was like building the pyramids every day. I don't know how the heck he kept up with it. I don't know how he did it. It was pretty freaking amazing. Over the years, that's changed. I mean, there are a lot of automation tools and CRM and things like this. You can do it automatically now, you can do it remotely.

Ron:  Still requires human input.

Jeff: Still requires a ton of human input. There's a lot of planning and a lot of organization and a lot of coordination because there's a whole team now for the back end and another whole team for the front end. And of course they got to be alive. But the user experience all comes down to the user experience. But that still also ties very heavily back into whatever platforms or databases you're running in the background and making sure that the hand off of data is really smooth, especially in marketing when we're talking about web delete. It's being able to create these demand gen programs from a marketing perspective to find new inquiries. Nurture them into new leads. Pull them into say, Salesforce where we can collect their data. Then having an internal team be able to then be able to connect with either via email or through an email nurturing campaign again, which is a whole other platform or a BDR. Just phone calls to follow up nursing and then hand those off to Sales and then ultimately to a PO. But there's so many different interactions and connection points that have to be there and working perfectly to make that happen. It's a huge undertaking. And then; you have the front end, the UX, the user experience and how do you take things that we often, especially in technology, have a very complicated or nuanced story. But you've got to make the user experience inviting and simple, right? It has to be intuitive where you draw them in and they start engaging with your website and your story and they want to learn more. They want to go down that, they want to take that journey with you and ultimately you want them to so that you can capture their information and make a sale and how you do that and what people's expectations are and how they interact changes. We've all had experiences sometimes where I'm expecting this thing to slide and it doesn't, or I'm hitting that thing and it doesn't linking, why is it not linking? That kind of thing. It's a huge.

Ron:  So you've confirmed my feelings that it must be; I don't want to say too overwhelming, but it must be really hard.

Jeff: It takes some people that really know what they're doing and a lot of focus and dedication. So I'd say, hey, when you find that typo and you will, let's cut those guys some slack because they're working really hard. They're working really hard.

Ron:  No, that's funny. I'm going to go high level here as a marketer and for you having been operating on behalf of the manufacturer side and at the same time you mentioned even early in your career getting out into the trenches and interacting with the customer, the integrators of various shapes and sizes out there. I'm curious your take that a lot of manufacturers and a lot of businesses are good at telling the world what they do. They're good at saying I do these things. So my question to you is that the job of marketer as a marketing expert or a marketing department is to tell the world what a business does.

Jeff: That's a very good question. I'm glad you asked it and I'm going to give you a slightly nuanced answer and that is eventually that's part of the story. So when you think about, when you're telling a story, you think about who are you telling the story to? One is, does the person I'm talking to care about this story at all? I'll tell a story to a buddy of mine, he thinks it's hilarious. I've learned not to tell my wife because she thinks I'm an idiot. She does not think it's funny. First of all, know your audience, right? And depending on my audience, they may not know the name of my company, they may not know anything about our industry, they may not have any idea what we do for a living, they may not know anything about us. But if I'm talking to you, Ron, I can skip over all that part because I know you know, you know very well. There are parts, you probably know better than me. So I don't need to give you the background or the whys and where force, but it's meeting people where they are. Some people refer to it as a sales cycle. I think more accurately is talk about a customer journey. The idea is we all have the same goal; The end of the journey is we want a PO. I would even challenge that a little bit. You don't just want the order, you want their business. You don't want to make a sale, you want their business. They're ongoing.

Ron:  You want the lifetime relationship with that customer.

Jeff: Yeah, you want the relationship. But for the sake of the conversation, we'll say you want the order, you want to make a sale. . That's what we're all here to do.

Ron:  It's what pays the bills. That's what puts the roof over everyone's head.

Jeff: Yeah. Going back to what Randy said, he said, you know what everybody's job here is? Everybody here is in sales. Your job is to sell. But there is a customer journey. If you start by talking about the product and the specs and the speeds and feeds and the inputs and outputs, if you're talking to somebody who actually needs to do the system design, who has to put together the purchase order, that needs to do the installation, that needs to do the troubleshooting that goes along with that, they need all that information. So, yes, Ron, at some point, we do need to tell them what we do. At some point, we even need to tell them how we do it. But when you're talking about what you do and how you do it, you're talking to somebody in the customer journey who has already decided to purchase. Now it's just a matter of, do I need the thing with eight inputs or 16 inputs? Do I need this signal to go 30ft or 300ft? At that point, you've already kind of made the sale. Right, okay. Yeah. I understand what you're doing. I like it. I need it. Now let's talk turkey. Which skew do I need, and what else do I need with it to make it work? What you're ignoring, though, is the 99% of the rest of the world who has not decided to purchase yet, and they need to know why, and we need to meet them where they are. So the idea is understanding your customer and make the connection with your customer by understanding what is it, what is their passion point, which is more about residential. I always think about passion points when it comes to residential and that could be their audio files, or they're into video gaming, or they're into wine.

Ron:  Safety and security of their home.

Jeff: Security of their home, or whatever it is they're into. They got horses or whatever, cars, and they collect that or whatever it is they're passionate about that they're really into and want to be able to enjoy more. Make it easier for them to actually enjoy it, because at a certain point, those hobbies become work. It's easy to turn five bottles of wine, but when you have 5000 bottles of wine, nobody wants to sit there and do the quarter turn every so often. Now my joy and my passion has become my job, and that's no fun. On the commercial side, we think about pain points and it's really understanding what is motivating the commercial customer, what is their pain point, what problem are they trying to solve? And it's empathizing in either case, it's really connecting with the customer and empathizing. I understand your pain. So I think back to the early days of digital media. We would talk to customers and we say in a classroom, so you ever start a class? And about ten minutes into it, the projector just turns off on you, and you can't figure out why. They're like, oh, my God. Yes. You mean I'm not the only one? It's not broken. It's something called CEC, and it's designed to turn off and then explain why. Oh my God, yes. You understand my problem. I understand your problem, and I know why it's happening, and I can fix it. You can?? Now, I've made that connection. Now I can explain to you.

Ron:  Now they're listening.

Jeff: Now they're listening. Now I need to make them believe I understand their perceived problem. That may not even be their biggest problem, and they may have lots of other problems that I would want to solve. I would want to sell them all these other things. But they've come to me for a very specific problem. The projector keeps turning, solve that problem. Solve their perceived problem because they're talking to you for a reason. If you can't answer yes for that, you're never going to get their heads, their mind share, or their attention for anything else. You have to be able to solve the problem that they have come to you with. Then here's why; Here's how I solve the problem. Now you can start talking about your products and how it might, in this particular case, how it manages CEC or HTCP and what HDMI. Now you can explain a little bit, just a little bit. You're probably not talking to the engineer or the programmer at that point. So you don't need to make them be engineers or experts, but enough to say, give them a reason to believe. Because the difference between good marketing and fluff marketing is it's grounded in truth, it's grounded in reality. I make these grand statements and we read them all the time. Oh, we can do anything. We can control anything. We can do anything you want. We can take any source, anywhere you want. These big grandiose claims. And most people are like, yeah, sure, but that's where you get into the how and the what. If you give them enough say, okay, this isn't just marketing fluff. This isn't just BS. This company knows what they're talking about and they can help me. Now you get to think, okay, so now tell me what I need. As soon as they say that, okay, what do I need to buy? Now you can break out your catalog and you can go to town.

Ron:  So translate this for me to the Integrator. Some of the folks listening are owner operators or they're at various levels within their organization. And let's say on their website, they say they do boardroom systems or they do lighting control solutions or Shading solutions. That's what maybe their messaging is to the world. Maybe it's more of a online brochure type of messaging. Is there anything that jumps out at you as to how they could potentially think about and maybe frame into their messaging, the why kind of going from the what they do to the why they exist and how they could better serve their clients?

Jeff: Well, a couple of things. First of all, you're right. We're the leader in speakers or amplifiers or lighting control or whatever it is, right. And there are a million of those out there. You're right. That's what you do. My question basically back to them is, so what, what's in it for me? Why do I need that? I don't even know why I need that. Often, if you do the Google Analytics and I know you do this all the time, Ron, you and your team, if you do the Google Analytics on keywords or searches on commercial lighting, it's very small.

Ron:  Circadian Rhythm lighting, Tunable lighting, no one in the world is searching for that.

Jeff: Because that's not the problem they're trying to solve. So right off the bat, the first thing is you have to really understand it's different for every company, right? So for example, car manufacturers, KIA does not have the same messaging as Porsche. They both make cars, they both have steering wheels, and they're going to get you from point A to point B. Their audience and what their audience is expecting or what their audience is wanting is very different. So first of all, I don't want to paint this with a broad, with a broad brush. It's going to be different for each company. What you have to really do the hard work and understand what it is that you offer, what is your value and who is your audience. Don't just say the end user. There are a million different kinds of end users. Even if you say, oh corporate, is it HR, is it facilities, is it AV, is it, is it a combination? You really have to know who are you talking to? That's the first thing. Then understand what the motivation or what the fear? And a lot of times it's fear. What are they scared of? What are they afraid of? What are they worried about? What keeps them up at night? Understand that, then lead with that. Because whatever it is that's keeping that person up at night, that's what they're googling. And it could be something as simple as I'm trying to think of a really good one that we were talking about touch screens, for example, right? At one point we did a search because we used to call them touch pads, and it was all one word. So we would put touch pads in Google and of course, nothing would come up because nobody is searching for touch pads. But when we did touch screens, we did two words touch screens. We got millions of hits. So it's just a really small example about messaging, where you may have what people are looking for, but they don't find you because the way you're messaging or your positioning, you're not making that connection.

Ron:  All right, high level question. Manufacturers or service companies, installation companies, Crestron Resellers or AMX Resellers, whoever they are out there listening, what's your pitch as to why they should care about their website, whether they email their customers, what's on social media? I'm going to call it their digital footprint. Why should they care about that, knowing everyone is going to tell you and me, I get my work through referral or I get it through this channel that I've known about, this consultant refers me work, or I know that this architect refers me into projects. Why should they care about having up to date on target messaging across their digital footprint on the Internet?

Jeff: Well, I think an overused cliche that I think is as true a days, it has been for decades. First of all, if you're standing still, you're falling behind. So your website, I hope, and your email or social media does not look like it did ten years ago. I really hope it doesn't, because that's your billboard. That's your welcome back; The first thing people see and people are going to... It's just human nature. First of all, they're going to make judgments about you and your company on your appearance. We just do and how easy is it to navigate your website and does your email or it's that initial hello, right? Are we empathizing with now go back to not what you do, but why you do it. If I'm meeting you at a party and a backyard barbecue at Summer, I'm going over to your house, Ron. So I come on over, grab a beer and say, hey, let me introduce you to somebody. And the first thing I do is launch into telling you all about my products and how great they are and how much better they are than the competition and how much they cost. You're going to be like, what's with this guy? You're going to avoid me, but if I bring it, hey, my name's Jeff. What's your name? Oh. What do you do? And you start to engage and I can empathize. Oh, wow. Yeah, that's it. It's a relationship. Marketing is a relationship. So if I'm pulling you in, if I'm drawing you in and say, hey, I care about you, now all of a sudden I'm a guy you want to talk to. And that's really what marketing is. So especially in your email, especially in your social media, don't hit me over the head immediately with your black box, so to speak, that's the person you don't want to talk to. Talk to me. Now, if you're empathic and you're engaging now, you're somebody or a company that I want to talk to. So that's the first thing. Secondly, it's got to be inviting. It's got to be simple. It's got to be relevant. Again, if I go to your website or I have any of your communication and it's dated, and you're supposed to be an innovative technology company, you're showing me an Atari 2600 and telling me that you're cutting edge. I don't think so. Having that fresh design, that fresh user experience, having the experience through your communications that I expect to have, tells me that it's easy to do business with you, that you understand me, that when I work with you and whatever you deliver to me is going to work how I expect it to work, and I'm going to have a good experience. I have a good experience doing business with you. I'm gonna have a good experience with your product or service. It is incredibly important. It's a very nuanced dance that we do, very critically important that you get it right. Because we all know from if we can remember back, if you're my age, to dating, it's really hard to make that good impression. It's really easy to flub it up. And marketing is kind of like dating.

Ron:  That's why I hated dating.

Jeff: At the very end, you want the lifelong relationship.

Ron:  I'm going to make a quick; mindful of time, but I want to try to pull in one more topic here. I'm just curious to get your input, and I just want to connect some dots here. I'm not sure if I'll successfully do it, but bear with me. A lot of the conversations I have out there with business owners are that it has been for some time, maybe it will be for some time into the future, but the hiring market and just the job market is tight and it's often a bottleneck. I know there's also separately supply chain issues for a lot of businesses today. Maybe everybody that's also a bottleneck, but the supply of people is a bottleneck. I'm wondering what your take on the idea that a lot of businesses tell candidates what they do, but I'm curious if they tell the candidates why they do what they do and if they did, what difference that might make on their ability to get the best talent.

Jeff: Yeah, so I'm glad you brought that up. So again, if I had to put a bow on all of this. I think the one thread that kind of pulls through everything we're talking about are making connections, and it's the connections to human beings, to people. We love to talk about connecting audio and video and connecting black boxes, but we don't really talk about making connections with people, our own employees and our customers. And the key to that is why? To your point, right? So that's the other theme for today. Always be asking Why? Like my kids? Why Daddy? Why?

Ron:  My son is 13. I get that at least 100 times a day.

Jeff: And we have to be able to answer that question quite honestly. The other thing I'm going to challenge you, and I don't mean to put words in your mouth, but the job market is not that there's a shortage of I'm going to say there's a shortage of talent. Companies have, say that there's a dearth or there's a shortage of good talent, and it's hard to hold on to that talent, that churn. Because, let's face it, any organization, any company, any organization, it's not monolithic. It's just made up of people. That's what it is. It's a collection of people. Any team, if you're into sports, it's a collection of people. Having the right mix of people and having that stability is key to success. A lot of companies right now because of churn are doing a lot of work. They're working really hard, they're working long hours, but they're not getting anywhere. Part of that is because of that churn. So the real question is how do you attract and retain good talent? And I think there's a knee jerk reaction or reflective reaction. What I've heard a lot and read a lot about is older folks like you and me, Ron, wanting to point the finger at those darn millennials or those darn gen Z, you know, and again, that's like blaming the customer. You just said you want to attract them. You said you need young talent, you need to attract them. They're just a different end user. They're just a different customer that you need to connect with, that you need to attract and retain. So stop pointing the finger at them like the customer is stupid. The customer doesn't get it. The customer is wrong. It's no, we have to change how we're talking to them and how we reach out and connect with them. The bottom line is that nobody ever wants to feel like they're a dispensable commodity. They're a cog in the machinery that you just wear out and throw away and replace. So they want to be valued. People want to be valued. One of the big differences is, yeah, some of the younger generators, we would put up with it for whatever reason. We were taught to stiff upper lip, and that's how you start, and everybody goes through that, and you get hazed. But they're asking the very simple question that we keep asking today. Why do I have to get hazed? Why do you have to treat me like that? And they're like, I don't want to be and I'm not going to be. I want to be treated with respect. I want to be valued and how we are able to do that is by teaching them, mentoring them, investing in them. They want to learn. They want to learn. The trend now is that college enrollment overall is down and it's continuing to go down. These young people think that college is not a good investment, not a good investment in time or money. What they need to learn and what they want to know is out in the quote, unquote, real world on the job. So that means it's up to us as managers and leaders to teach them; It's not to just do what I tell you to do. We got that from our parents. I got it from mine, because I said so. Now they want to say, well, this seems like a meaningless task. And because it seems like a meaningless task, I'm not engaged. I'm not connected to my work. I don't feel like what I'm doing has any meaning or purpose. I don't like it here. I'm going somewhere else. Because I want to feel like what I'm doing matters. So why are we doing what we're doing? Why am I asking you to do what I'm asking you to do? Why am I doing what I'm doing? Take the time and really invest in them and see them as a capital investment rather than a capital expenditure. Right? It's like the minor leagues of sports or whatever. Invest in them. They are your future. Spend the time with them. So that traditional or transactional business approach or management approach isn't going to work anymore. We need to change. We need to change. And then there's just like there's this trend for and again, I'm going to draw that link between customers and employees. More recently, there's this focus on customer success, right? We don't stop after we get the purchase order or after we ship the product or they download that software. A lot of times we're like, okay, we'll assign you a customer. We have a customer success team. We're going to check in on you and make sure that you got the product. It's working. You're happy, right? We want to keep them. That's the retention part. So same thing. Maybe there should be some sort of an employee success or retention program. I would call it a mentor program. People stay at companies based on the relationship with their boss or their connection to people. If they feel that their boss or their mentor genuinely cares about them, cares about their success, has taken the time to understand what are their aspirations, what are their values, what do they care about. We create product roadmap. Let's create an employee roadmap. You're coming in at this level, but we're going to get you to where you want to be. These are the steps that we're going to take. This is how long it's going to take to get there. These are the things that we need to do to get you there. You're going to have to do all the hard work, but I'm going to guide you. I'm going to check in on you. And again, at the end of the day, they have to do the hard work and either they do or they don't. But a lot of them just throw them into the deep end and just say, hey, go make these copies and leave them alone. And then we're surprised when a few months later, like, you know what, I'm out of here.

Ron:  I can't imagine an employee anywhere hearing a manager talk about the manager's role as guiding that individual's career advancement. I can't imagine anybody receiving that in anything but a super positive way. And the marketer in me goes, that's probably very different than a lot of managers or a lot of employers talk about their team or their staff and that's likely going to help people want to be with your company and stay with your company. I think that's very sound advice. I've actually written a whole page of notes down here, Jeff, as you've been talking, there's a lot of gold here.

Jeff: Well, the nugget is, and again, I did not make this up. I cannot take credit for it. I forget where I read it. But it's the adage doing well by doing good. Yeah. And I'm not polyynic. I'm not naïve. Again, I get it. The idea is to sell. The end result is we need to make money. We got to be able to keep the lights on. And you want to put a few Shekels in your pocket, send your kids to school, pay the mortgage, go on vacation. I get it. I am not naïve. The way to do that is to get the most out of your people and to create disability. As you invest in people, if they're there, if you invest time and effort in them and then they take that experience and go somewhere else and your competitor or another company is now reaping the benefits of their experience, then you screwed up. You did something wrong. So there's a couple of you're doing well. Your company is doing well and you're building high performance teams and you're becoming more efficient and more effective by a certain way. The other thing is, and what you'll find is aligning, I'm going to say having a really strong brand so that you as a company understand what you value. What do you value as a company, and then not just saying it, but really putting that into action. One culture, your internal culture and how you interact and treat people within your organization, but also finding a cause. Find some sort of charity or altruistic purpose, find a cause that aligns with your brand. So, again, you're still strengthening your brand. You're not doing it. Yes, you're doing something good for the world, but it reinforces and strengthens your brand, which means that your customers want to, your employees work for you so well by doing good. I feel pretty strongly about that.

Ron:  Jeff, you are a wealth of knowledge and experience, my friend, and it has been a pleasure having you here on show 218 of Automation Unplugged. And for those that are watching or listening and they want to follow you or they want to get in touch, what are the handles? How can they do that?

Jeff: I'm on LinkedIn. And then the best way, email Jeffsinger27@gmail. It's real simple. My name Jeffsinger, 27 at Gmail. And always looking to make new friends and connect. And like I said, I'm looking for my next opportunity, the next challenge. I've done a couple of times before. Take that company that wants to go to the next level.

Ron:  That is awesome. I think anyone listening or knows of someone that is trying to get a marketing rock star to grow their organization, then they certainly should be reaching out to the one and only Mr. Jeff Singer. Jeff, thank you again for joining me on the show.

Jeff: Appreciate it. Thank you, Ron.

SHOW NOTES:

Jeff has worked in the high-end technology industry for over 20 years as a specialist for marketing B2B and B2B2C in, AV, UC and Digital Workplace, enterprise management, and luxury home automation. He’s an expert in all aspects of product marketing, including positioning, strategy, planning, and execution. Jeff is skilled at developing content and telling compelling stories while making complex ideas understandable and relatable. In this way, he communicates value and earns loyal, long-term client relationships and brand affinity. Jeff received his BS from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, and an MBA in Marketing and Management from the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College. Jeff was most recently the Executive Director of Product Marketing at Crestron Electronics.

Ron Callis is the CEO of One Firefly, LLC, a digital marketing agency based out of South Florida and creator of Automation Unplugged. Founded in 2007, One Firefly has quickly became the leading marketing firm specializing in the integrated technology and security space. The One Firefly team work hard to create innovative solutions to help Integrators boost their online presence, such as the elite website solution, Mercury Pro.

Resources and links from the interview:

Tom can be reached directly by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

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