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Building Inbound Marketing Pipelines, Hiring Technical Content Creators & Building Relationships in Industrial Automation

Some of my learnings as I navigate a marketing position, content creation in a highly technical space, and am having conversation with different leaders

If you’ve never been in a sales or marketing role, you tend to underappreciate what it takes to sell a highly technical product.

The Kerno founding team was heavily business leaning - 3 / 5 co-founders have a business background while 2 / 5 are technical (software engineering). Looking back and reflecting on what we had focused on, I believe that longer-term marketing strategies should have been prioritized.

Why do most companies favor sales over marketing?

There was an interesting thread on LinkedIn recently in which a head of marketing expressed her displeasure with companies that favor hiring SDRs over investing into marketing initiatives. Why is that the case?

Before we dive into those reasons, it’s important to understand the difference between marketing and sales functions. In general, sales is going to handle direct outreach - imagine call centers filled with people dialing their phones, reading pitches to prospective customers, and closing deals in real-time. Of course, sales isn’t just cold-calling - “new” technologies allow for email, social media, and other forms of outreach. However, the goal remains the same - an SDR (Sales Development Representative) will reach out to potential customers, an AE (Account Executive) will help close the sale and build up the account in the years to come.

In the world of sales, the “reward cycle” is typically predictable - based on the price of the product, the size of the target, and the complexity of the product, it’s possible to get a benchmark of what it would take to sell. Therefore, it’s typically easy to scale a sales organization in a predictable way - If we have 2 sales reps that generate $500,000 sales / year, if we hire 2 more, we should see around the same return from the new reps after they’ve ramped up.

When it comes to marketing, things are murky. The CMO, head of marketing, VP of marketing, etc will typically bring their past experience with them and run a playbook that worked for them in the past. Depending on the nature of the product, the industry, and the effort / amount invested, these initiatives may yield positive results in months, sometimes years. In other words, it’s difficult to say if the money you’ve invested today will produce results until a significant amount of time has passed.

This brings us back to the initial point - sales vs marketing!

A VC backed company aims to use all their cash within a finite timeframe. The co-founders and executives are expected to make investments that lead to disproportionate returns on investment. In other words, they need to show a high ROI before raising the next round. This typically means that it’s easier to prioritize scaling sales instead of experimenting and investing into marketing.

Installations at Kerno

We’ve been reaching out far and wide to a variety of people in the software industry to see if they’d be interested in trying and purchasing our solution. This endeavor hasn’t been easy and requires a tremendous amount of constant effort. At Kerno, we’ve split some of the sales and marketing responsibilities to reflect the strengths and interests of the business-oriented founders. At this time, I’m handling most of the content marketing initiatives.

Inbound marketing for highly technical software engineers is challenging. The goal is to educate those who could be potential users and to provide them with tangible value without selling them on the features of your product. If they’ve found something useful that you’ve put together, they’re likely to take a look at the product you offer since, in their eyes,  you’ve built some credibility.

There are many marketing playbooks you can get from various companies and MBA lectures - nothing prepares you for the real world. The game you’re playing as a co-founder on the marketing side is figuring out the persona, figuring out where they hang out, figuring out what they’re interested in, and figuring out how to find and scale the people that can create those materials.

The options for what’s well understood are limited - you start by choosing the type of content that is suitable for the audience: Ex: educational, entertaining, aggregation, etc. Next, you need to figure out the right medium. This is, in my experience, is not only heavily dependent on the audience but also on the team who’s executing. Not everyone’s good nor interested in creating videos. Not everyone’s skilled in running a podcast. Not everyone enjoys writing technical tutorials. So long story short, you should be choosing the medium that works for your team and is relevant for your audience.

The content helps drive excitement and trust, which allows the company to create a funnel and thus convert some of those leads into buyers!

Content at Kerno

I’ve had the opportunity to build out a lot of content in my years. As I had described in my introductions newsletter, I started out building tutorials on electronics, engineering, and Arduino during my college years. Although I’m not a professional content writer, over the years I’ve learned what it takes to create excellent technical tutorials that rank and are interesting for engineers.

When it comes to Kerno, my goal has always been to educate those in our space on the technologies commonly used in the industry. The idea is that we can help you solve issues before you install Kerno - we teach you how to work with Kubernetes, various AWS services, tools for microservice architectures, etc. If we’re able to help you solve a challenge, you’re likely to speak with us and potentially install Kerno to solve further challenges you’re likely to face as a software engineer.

What we’ve published this week:

This week at SolisPLC

SolisPLC is a stable company that has been releasing various tutorials on industrial automation topics over the years. We’re continuously looking at bringing the best automation training materials to all of our students - individuals and enterprises. This week, we’ve made progress across different initiatives. We’re working with an industry known educator on a Connected Components Workbench (CCW) course covering basic and intermediate features of the hardware and software. We’ve also discussed an excellent partnership on the sales side. We’re putting together a contract, but we’re looking forward to working with a known industry consultant on helping us scale enterprise sales.

What we’ve published this week:

The current challenges at SolisPLC

At this time, the biggest challenge on SolisPLC lies in finding instructors that can teach industrial automation. We’ve built up an adience that is interested in continuing to learn topics around PLCs, HMIs, SCADA, MES, data, and other topics closely related to industrial automation, manufacturing, and control systems. The challenge is that we’ve set a high standard for teaching individuals in a way that conveys expertise. In other words, we’re looking for rare engineers that know their craft, are good educators, and are able to captivate audiences through their lessons. We’ve allowed educators to create written and video content - some create tutorials in written form, while others create courses in video form for us.

The second challenge I’m trying to figure out is how to better monetize a newsletter / subscribership. We have over 25,000 subscribers on ConvertKit which has excellent reach, open rates, etc. However, we’re extremely selective about the companies we want to work with - our goal is to maintain the quality of the newsletter by putting out only relevant information for the reader. This ultimately means that we want to avoid ads that will cause users to question our integrity, unsubscribe, and perceive SolisPLC in a negative light.

This week at Manufacturing Hub

Dave & I run a regular podcast called Manufacturing Hub. Every wednesday, we connect with an industry leader on a variety of topics - IIoT, Industry 4.0, Data, Reshoring, Vision Systems, Robotics, etc.

This week, we had two conversations as we had missed the one the week prior. On Monday, we spoke to Francois Giguere, the CTO at Vention. Francois told us the story of how he became the leader of such a great organization, how he managed to learn multiple engineering disciplines, how he chooses the path for the company today, and some of his hiring and retention practices.

On Wednesday we spoke with Jane Albert, who told us the story of how she grew through the ranks of industrial automation from an operator to an executive. Jane is an incredible leader with multiple notches on her belt - she led various sites through the adoption of industrial data. At this time, she has joined a startup as the Head of Customer Success. Her role is ensuring that those that use the product are getting the most out of it, are better positioned to leverage industrial data, and are trained to make the decisions they need to impact the business positively.

In Life

This week was somewhat rough for me. As I had mentioned in the last newsletter, I had become sick after my travels to Dublin. I’ve been diagnosed with strep throat and was prescribed two types of antibiotics. Being sick is terrible - I’m able to attend meetings, run podcasts, but it’s extremely draining at the end of the day. I’ve been doing my best to rest outside of my work to make sure I’m good to go for next week.

On Saturday (June 15th) we’re also demolishing our deck and rebuilding a larger stone patio. It’s a project I’m getting help with from some of my friends and family. I’ll post some updates once we’re further along. At this time, we’ve only demolished the deck and laid out the foundation.


I appreciate those who reach out to me; it’s always a pleasure to speak with engineers, enthusiasts, and professionals in a variety of fields. The next week is almost here, and I intend to make the most of it.