Joe Breiter is the director of marketing and business development for Widseth, an architecture, engineering, land surveying and environmental services firm with offices in Minnesota and North Dakota. He’s worked in marketing for 30 years, starting in the Washington, D.C. area and eventually working his way back home to Mankato. He is now based in Brainerd.

This month, manufacturers around the state will be paying close attention to the release of Enterprise Minnesota’s latest State of Manufacturing® survey. From your perspective, what is the value of the State of Manufacturing survey and the value of the data it provides?

Joe Breiter: The survey helps us keep our finger on the pulse of manufacturing in Minnesota. We got involved with Enterprise Minnesota because we wanted to better understand how manufacturers think and function, and the best way to do that was to go where the manufacturers are.

The survey is a trove of information. One of the most interesting things to me every year when the results come out is how the responses differ between metro companies and the rest of the state, and between large and small operations. It underscores the point that you can’t approach everyone with the same solutions because everyone has different challenges.

Another thing we consistently learn from the survey is the level of optimism or pessimism among manufacturers. The range of questions it poses gives multiple angles from which to predict what the future might hold. I don’t see how you can get this kind of data anywhere else.

What have been the biggest changes in how you approach sales and marketing over the past decade or so, and how might that apply to manufacturers?

Joe Breiter: About eight years ago, we began gravitating toward account-based marketing, or ABM, which focuses resources on high-value prospects and sidesteps less valuable accounts by eliminating scattershot tactics that rake in anything that gets caught up in your net. You pinpoint prospects you’ve identified as would-be ideal customers, then marshal your resources to go get them.

One of the keys to this strategy is the ability to create relevant content about your business and consistently get it in front of your prospects. Nobody gets sold to anymore, not in the age of Google. Your prospective customers probably know a good deal about your company well before you ever meet them. The content you create must not merely be a sales pitch. It should both educate your customer and build trust that you’re the best choice to deliver what he or she needs.

We use video, photography, blog articles, email blasts and social media to get our message across. It may sound daunting, but there are ways to break it down into manageable bites.

Things in 2020 have gotten volatile; how have your sales and marketing tactics changed over the last nine months?

Joe Breiter: We used to do lunch-and-learns in person with prospective clients, where we would bounce around ideas and get acquainted. Obviously, that has become a less desirable approach in 2020.

We have managed to continue that tactic in an altered form over the past several months, and while a video conference doesn’t have the same dynamic as a face-to-face meeting, we’ve still found it can be effective. The key is that we’re not trying to sell anything in these meetings. We just want to get to know them, find out what gives them heartburn and help them think about possible solutions.

In the tradeshow world, many conferences were canceled, postponed or switched to virtual events. That changed how we present information to attendees. Now it all has to be digital and postable on their virtual tradeshow sites. Because we had a process in place to develop just this type of content, we were in good shape to forge ahead.

How does a smaller company manage marketing with all the other balls it has in the air?

Joe Breiter: With roughly 80% of manufacturers in Minnesota comprising 20 employees or fewer, an in-house marketing staff is unrealistic for most companies. You still must promote your company, but you don’t have to be a marketing whiz, and you don’t have to do everything yourself.

If someone in the company — at whatever level — has the skills, time and desire to take on some of these tasks, you can capitalize on that.

You can produce a perfectly good, high-quality two- or three-minute video on an iPhone. Show your customers your facility, walk them through your processes, introduce them to the people who make things. Website platforms such as WordPress allow you to keep your site fresh without having to learn HTML, and many provide convenient tools for blogging, which is perhaps the easiest way to keep your customers and prospects up to date on what’s new in your company.

If none of this seems feasible, there are a lot of small marketing agencies all around the state that know how to do this stuff and can take the load off your shoulders without breaking the bank.

Featured story in the Winter 2020 issue of Enterprise Minnesota magazine. 

Return to Winter 2020 magazine