In the second episode of our leading B2B marketing professionals’ series, we interview Alex Price, Senior Marketing Manager at Vicor, a global power components manufacturer.

Alex explains why he thinks the barriers between marketing and sales teams are being broken down and the importance of aligning marketing’s priorities with the sales team. He also discusses the importance of leveraging subject matter experts when marketing complex products and shares his insights into how marketers can appeal to a more technical audience.

Listen to the podcast now via the links below:

Transcript: Interview with Alex Price – Vicor

Speakers: Mike Maynard, Alex Price

Mike: Thanks for listening to marketing b2b Tech, the podcast from Napier, where you can find out what really works in b2b marketing today.

Welcome to marketing b2b technology, the podcast from Napier. Today I’m interviewing Alex Price. Alex is a senior marketing manager at Vicor, a power components company and runs the marketing activities in Europe. Welcome to the podcast, Alex. Thanks, Mike.

Alex: Thanks for inviting me on the show. That’s great.

Mike: I’d really like to know just a little bit about your company, Vicor, obviously, quite a specialist area working. So if you can tell me a little bit about what Biko does, and maybe something about your current role as well.

Alex: Yeah, Vicor, a really interesting company to work for. It’s a global electronics manufacturer that specialises in modular power conversion technology. But we very much operate at the high end of the market. So we typically concentrate on the High Performance higher power applications. So we’re focusing on markets such as automotive, high performance computing, defence in aerospace, as well as the industrial broad market. So yeah, it’s a really interesting space to be in because they very much invest in research and development, they really concentrate on introducing the best technology they can to the market. So from a marketing perspective, that’s great fun. In terms of my role, as you say, I’m I’m a senior marketing manager, I look after marketing communications in Europe. I’ve been with the company nearly 15 years now. So you know, I’ve grown and changed and developed over that time. But more recently, I’ve also taken over responsibility for some global campaigns focusing on specific markets. So yeah, it’s nice having both the regional focus on Europe, but also leading some global campaigns. So yeah, it’s good.

Mike: That sounds great. So how did you get into marketing these modular power components? So kind of like, I guess the non-technical analogy would be something like Lego bricks, you can plug together to build a solution.

Alex: Yeah, exactly. The company was started probably 40 years ago. And I guess for anyone who’s not an engineer or involved in electronics, the best way to think about it is any piece of electrical equipment is going to need power. So I guess the traditional way would be to build a power system or power supply using various components. And what Vicor did was they developed a modular approach, and just made it much easier for the industry. But they also kind of optimise those modules for originally for harsh environments or have a power density. And they kind of introduced this idea of distributed power. So rather than having one centralised box, with your power supply in it Vicor has modules now where you can sort of distribute throughout the system. So it’s extremely innovative. And the company is led by a very clever CEO that continues to drive innovation. So it’s great.

Mike: It sounds awesome. Oh, it sounds really interesting. You know, I’m an engineer. So I love I love this technology. But I guess at school, you weren’t saying the thing I want to do is revolutionise the way engineers, systems. So tell us a bit about your career and how you ended up at Vicor. And particularly, from my point, I’m interested, why you end up in b2b technology marketing.

Alex:I wish I could tell you that I had a career master plan, but I really didn’t, I kind of knew that I wanted to get into marketing at school, just because I liked, you know, adverts on TV. And I liked brands and why people prefer certain companies over other companies. But I guess at that stage, I just thought advertising and marketing was the same thing. And I didn’t really understand it fully. So I did marketing at university. I didn’t know what I wanted to do after that. I mean, I would say that I wasn’t really equipped for a proper employment after university because I hadn’t had any real work experience. And I kind of foolishly thought that having a degree, an average degree from an average university entitle me to getting a job in marketing. And it really didn’t, in retrospect, I could have done with thinking about the type of industry that I wanted to go into and getting some work experience in that industry.

So yeah, I mean, I left university I was looking around, I didn’t really have an idea of where I wanted to go, I got a job with a business consultancy in the pharmaceutical industry. And I started out at the very bottom really, I was doing data entry, I was looking after the CRM and the company, which was good because it gave me this grounding in I guess, CRMs and the importance of data integrity. And then I transitioned into being a marketing executive. And after about five or six years in the pharmaceutical industry, I applied for the job of Ichor. And the rest is history.

Mike: So think one of the things that interested me about your career is you went straight into b2b and I was going to ask you, well, that was part of a grand career. Sounds like it was something you kind of fell into and found yourself doing well and being successful. Is that right?

Alex: I just didn’t know enough about marketing to make a decision. I knew I was I’m interested in business and marketing in general. Perhaps if you’d asked me at the time, straight out of university, I might have said I wanted to go and work for Manchester United, or Coca Cola or something. But I didn’t really know why I was just interested in promotion anyway. So I didn’t really make a big distinction between b2b and b2c. And even in my early part of my career, I don’t remember thinking I want to get out of b2b and I want to get into b2c. So once I was in b2b, it’s been a great experience. So I’ve continued down that path.

Mike: I think that’s great. I think something you said earlier is really insightful about getting experience working in different marketing situations when you’re at university when I was electric, and PR. I know that was a huge issue. And the students that got experience, not only were much clearer about what they wanted to do at the end of the course, but they also were much more likely to get the job they wanted. So I love that bit of advice, I thought that was really great insight,

Alex: The way you’ve done it as well, you started out as an engineer, so you understood in industry and sector, and then you moved into marketing. And I think the combination of two, the combination of understanding an industry and applying marketing to it is the ideal situation.

Mike: And presumably that was a challenge for you. Because obviously, you don’t come from a technical background, you’ve you’ve not been an engineer, but you’re in an incredibly technical field with, as you said, an incredibly technical company very focused on r&d. I mean, how hard is that to deal with those complex products and complex systems that you’re selling into?

Alex: It took a long time to get used to that. And it can put you on the backfoot. Because you can be in meetings where you really don’t know what people are talking about. But just as you get older, and with more experience, you just understand that there are subject matter experts. And you just need to extract the information from the people who understand the products, and you can still apply good marketing techniques, good marketing models, most engineers in our company, you wouldn’t want to take those engineers and then say, learn a whole bunch of marketing techniques. I think, as a marketing person, you should take pride in the fact that marketing is a strategic function and important function. So you should just be proud that you have a place in the company. And just because you don’t fully understand the products that shouldn’t hold you back.

Mike: I completely agree. And actually, as somebody who was an engineer and as had training in engineering in theoretically understands that technology, you don’t often say to people, my engineering background means that I know for certain I don’t understand exactly what’s going on, you know, you may not have an engineering background, you may not be quite sure how complicated is I know how difficult it is. And I know how far away I am from understanding it. So I think even when you’ve got a level of technical background, it’s still nowhere near the level that the real experts are out. I mean, Vicor, frankly, in their sector, have some of the world’s best experts on designing power systems. The average engineer doesn’t matter if you’ve worked in engineering for a year or 10 years, you’re not going to have that expertise. So there’s always going to be issues where however good your background is, you’re going to need to rely on those subject matter experts. As you said, I think that’s a great point. Yeah, for sure. Moving on from your background, how you got into Vicor. I’m really interested about your role today. And one of the biggest challenges in marketing, is it prioritising things, I mean, so many different channels, so many things you can do. And as you said, you’re basically dealing with all aspects of marketing your and also running global campaigns as well. At the same time, how do you manage to determine your priorities and work out? What’s important and what you’re going to focus on each day?

Alex: It’s a good question, because I think marketing can be really overwhelming. There’s so many, so many channels, so many types of content, so many objectives, so many metrics. So yeah, it’s it is a really important question. And it’s something that takes time and experience to get better at I mean, I’ve just got better and better at it year after year. One tip I would say is in terms of identifying priorities, I would say that you should start by looking at what the sales team is worried about, or how the sales team is structured. Because what they’re worried about is really what you should be worried about, because they’re the ones speaking to the customers. And they’re the ones with the financial goals often. So that’s one tip is don’t just think about marketing in isolation, think about what the company is trying to achieve and what the sales team are trying to achieve.

I guess my other tip would be be focused on the goals rather than the tactics at the beginning of the year. Just write down three goals for the year, even if it’s to increase revenue by X percent, or to drive more website visitors or to get more leads or whatever it is just write down those three goals. Because as everyone knows, in marketing, you go through the year and new stuff will pop up new, shiny things will pop up trade shows or whatever or people say, Well, why don’t we run this email campaign or do that LinkedIn campaign and it can easily distract you from what you’re trying to do. So every time you’re in a meeting and the question of should we do this comes up, at least you’ve got that framework that you wrote down at the beginning of the year, cast your mind back to those three goals that you wrote down and go Does that fit in? Does it support what I was trying to do at the beginning of the year? Those would be my tips on prioritising.

Mike: I love that kind of top down approach and taking a relatively long term timeframe as well. That’s great. You also mentioned working with sales, I’m interested to know, have you seen sales being more open to work with marketing since the start of the pandemic,

Alex: My view is that it’s a long term trend, actually, I think, deep down, they will never admit this. But I think deep down, they realise that they’ve somewhat lost control of the customer. The internet provides people with so much information now that people who are searching for technical solutions don’t necessarily have to go to the sales team every time to get their information, they go to the internet. So I think deep down, they know that they need to work with sales. And in fact, sales and marketing and alignment has been a thing for a number of years now. But it’s I often find it’s the sales team that are talking about it more than the marketing team. I guess, to your point about the pandemic, yes, it’s it’s probably accelerated that. And what’s interesting about the pandemic is the sales team weren’t able to go out and visit customers, but it didn’t necessarily have a detrimental effect on the company. In fact, we had one of our best years ever during the pandemic. So it’s interesting how things are evolving.

Mike: I think that’s really interesting. I think you’re probably right that, that this is a long term trend. And the kind of barriers that were were artificially built between sales and marketing are disappearing. I do agree, I think that’s really positive. Moving forward. Now. I mean, we’ve talked a little bit about your role in Europe. And obviously, you’re working for an American company and responsible for international marketing. Traditionally, that’s seen as quite a challenging role, because American companies obviously tend to focus on their larger market, which is almost always the states. Do you find it hard to get mindshare and get attention for activities outside of the US?

Alex: I think you’re right, I think they are focused on the US, perhaps it stems from the fact that they are the world’s biggest superpower, as you say, it’s a huge country, huge market. They’re so dominant in so many areas. But I would say that they’re probably no worse than the British, the French or the Germans in feeling like they’re the centre of the universe, you know, my experience that the Americans are perfectly prepared to listen, if you make the case for something. I don’t think they’re against that they’re not anti Europe in any way, I never feel that there’s any objection. It’s just that they don’t always think about it, which is understandable. I think human beings are often like that. I just think if you’re a European marketer, working for an American company yet just continue to make the case. I think if you take Europe as a whole, it’s obviously a big market and a big opportunity and a big population. So you just need to make the case for Europe. And I think they’ll listen.

Mike: And then within Europe, you’ve got a very specific audience you’re targeting. So you’re targeting a technical audience? Can you tell us a little bit about that audience and what they need, I mean, obviously, it’s very different to running, say, consumer marketing or something like that.

Alex: Traditionally, we’ve focused on engineers. And as you know, Mike, we’ve as a result, we’ve concentrated on very technical content. But as we look to enter new markets, where I think we’re conscious that we need to appeal to other areas of our buyers of senior management, purchasing, engineering, management, as well as the engineers. So my feeling here is that is, you can get caught up worrying about all the different types of audiences that you’ve got to go after. And it can quickly become complicated in terms of setting up different personas in various different countries. I think the starting point should always be to outline your story, and concentrate on making the story as interesting as possible. And then create that if you’re running a campaign, or if you’re just trying to build a brand for a company, start with that big piece of content that explains what you’re proposing to the market. And then break it down into smaller pieces of content, and put that content into different formats. And then try and allocate or adapt those pieces to the different parts of the customer journey. So just make sure that you’ve, you’ve got enough content covering the awareness end of the customer journey, as well as the decision end of the spectrum. You got to be careful about only targeting engineers, you do have to be conscious about these other these other groups of people that are part of the decision, the buying committee.

Mike: Yeah, I mean, I love that that concept of initially generating that overarching story, and then creating marketing around effectively the little, I guess, the chapters of that story. I think that’s a great approach. And presumably, that then lets you generate different sorts of content. So content that’s related to the technical decision makers, but also the non technical decision makers as well.

Alex: I mean, I was thinking, you know, when you watch all these YouTube videos, and they have these people do unboxing things and it’s very to begin with, it’s very simple. It’s like I’m opening the box and here is the charger and here is the phone, but then it quit. as the video goes on, it quickly progresses into, like the technical specifications of whatever they’re looking at, you know. So it’s the same process. And that’s how you should approach a campaign, I guess. And most people who are not that interested in what phone to buy, they might only watch the first one minute of the video and just see how it looks. And they just give up when it becomes too technical. You know,

Mike: if we talk about this, this engineering audience, which a lot of the people listening, the podcast are going to be focused on? What’s your advice for approaching an engineering audience? I think there’s always a perception that it’s, you know, feels sometimes impossible to get engineers excited. But how do you get engineers excited and enthusiastic about products?

Alex: You know, engineers are still human beings, I would say that, they still have the same drivers as everyone else. So they still want to learn, save time, save money and be recognised at work, they might want to get promoted, they don’t want to get fired, just be helpful to them is the first point, I guess, there are various surveys that have been done about the mind of the engineer and what makes them tick. You their job is to solve problems. And to find solutions. They’re curious people, they’re interested in how things work. So I guess play to that part of their personality, perhaps. So you know, a be helpful, but be be interesting, give them the information, you know, you’re not trying to sell them a dream, they’ve got to create something real. So live in that world provide something real.

Mike: I love the way you said that they want to be recognised successful at work, I think that’s really important. Understanding what gives an engineer credibility amongst his team or amongst his peers at work is really important. And a lot of that’s around finding, as you say, solutions. So finding a great solution elegant solution to a difficult problem. It really is important to engineers, because it definitely is something that that is recognised by other engineers. And I think one of the things Vicor. Does, obviously is they provide pretty unique, very complex products that solve very difficult problems. So you’re obviously in a great position to be able to do that with engineers at Vicor.

Alex: Yeah, yeah. It appeals to their ego, for sure.

Mike: Absolutely. I mean, I think the other thing about engineers is there’s always conversations about channels, and how engineers just aren’t into social media. They’re just not social people. You’re obviously affected, responsible for all channels in Europe, as well as running multi channel campaigns globally. So what’s your view on different channels and different formats of content? Do you think there’s one that works particularly well? Or do you think there’s any that engineers really don’t care about?

Alex: Yeah, I would say, obviously, make the campaign as as good as possible. And then, I guess, try out as many channels as possible, I think it’s dangerous to focus on channels. And to think that there’s some magical channel that will reach them, I think you want to obviously be consistent across all the channels. From what I’ve seen, I think it’s hard to make social media work. I think most b2b companies or technology companies are probably still using it as a one way broadcast tool. From what I’ve seen, it’s hard to drive genuine engagement, real discussion, people like a lot of posts and stuff, but to actually start conversations on social media. I don’t see that in our industry.

So far. exhibitions, I think, are still effective if they use selectively. And if they’re used as a platform for additional promotion around the year. I think public relations is still a really key part of the promotional mix. But I would say the traditional sort of trade press seem to be mean, you know, better than me seem to be under a lot of cost pressure.

So I don’t know, it may be time to look at, dare I say influences in the industry. I don’t I don’t know, I haven’t tried that. But that could be an interesting thing to look at. To me advertising. trade press seems expensive when you consider the volume that you get from it. But at least you can be confident that you’re you’re reaching the right people and the right audience. So that’s reassuring, I think programmatic advertising on the surface is very appealing, because you can drive huge volume to your website makes everyone feel great. But the quality of the traffic does seem quite dubious. Sometimes I think it’s open to to abuse there.

I think email is still really effective. It seems to be one of the best channels for driving response. But it’s obviously difficult to get reach from email unless you’ve got a huge database or you’re prepared to rent a lot of lists if you want to go out beyond your immediate sphere of influence is tricky.

I think virtual conferences are terrible. I think the idea of trying to take an exhibition and just put it online. I don’t think that works, I think yeah, doing webinars is a good idea, an hour here an hour there, but I think virtual conferences are difficult to make work. But yeah, there’s some of my thoughts on on the different channels.

Mike: It’s interesting because it’s always hard with an industry like the electronic component sector, because it’s very skewed towards a small number of very, very high value customers. So you can generate a lot of customers that are maybe worth a couple of 1000 pounds a year. And then you have other customers that are worth 10s of millions. And so it’s always so hard to really get that, that targeting right? And then make sure you’re reaching the right people, because a tiny percentage of your audience actually can really drive success or failure.

Alex: Yeah. That’s a good point, actually. And that’s often when you put forward the case for something, during a trade show, or, or advertising something, you’ll often get the sales team saying, Yeah, but we’re only targeting five different companies, we should just go and visit them.

Mike: I remember talking to a sales guy about that one, I used to be working in a sales environment. And somebody had said, Actually, we’ve got, I think it was four major companies in communications we’re targeting, so we’ll just go visit them, we don’t need marketing. And one of the global strategic account manager said, let’s just be clear, there’s 350,000. Engineers, business, I’m not going to go visit everyone. So I think the Account Based Marketing is really important. And it’s something I know you’ve done quite a bit of a Vicor. But getting that focus down to the biggest opportunities, because often those biggest opportunities are also huge companies so that they’re almost unmanageable for salespeople to go and visit. So really does need marketing. Yeah.

Alex: Yeah. And also, every time you release a new product, make a new announcement, the salesperson is not going to travel around those companies and deliver that information, you know, so you need to continue to market for sure. It’s a good point.

Mike: In terms of campaigns and things you’ve done, I mean, what do you think makes a really good campaign at the end of the campaign? How do you go? Yeah, that was awesome, or no, they didn’t work?

Alex: Yeah, you’re talking about metrics, like or just any element of a successful campaign?

Mike: I think that’s interesting. Because I mean, if we look back to the days of madmen in the 50s, there was no metrics. Really, it was all did we feel the campaign was good. And now you can look at campaigns with so many different ways of measuring. So be different metrics, like I’m interested to know, is there a particular metric or a particular result you’re looking for that you really feel is a measure of a great campaign,

Alex: you can quickly drown in data, you can go into Google Analytics and just get lost in all the different metrics. If I’m thinking about measuring a campaign, I do tend to keep it pretty simple in my head, tried to boil it down to one overriding goal that you try and work out whether it’s more about lead generation, or it’s more about brand awareness, although the two often overlap, but you try and have a primary single goal. Is it 10 meetings for the sales team? Is it 100 registrations for a piece of content, or whatever it is, just boil it down to that one goal. And then I would just have a simple set of KPIs to measure your progress towards that goal. So did the campaign drive traffic to your website? Did those people engage with content on the website? And then did people convert? So just keep three things in mind? Did you drive traffic? Did people engage? And then did people convert and you’d work out whatever that conversion is, but just keep it as simple as that? Because you can quickly get lost in all the other stuff.

Mike: I love that I love the really very clear headed approach to like the these are the things we’re trying to achieve rather than drowning in all the numbers, I often see people with tables and tables of numbers. And it’s like, well, which number really matters. And I think you’re getting it down to you know, let’s, let’s pick a couple of things that we really, really care about. And that’s what we’re going to optimise it. And certainly the way you’ve done it, they’re they’re quite business focused rather than necessarily marketing metric focused. So things like sales meetings, I think you said, how many sales meetings we drive for the sales team. I mean, that’s very much business focused. It’s it’s it’s very measurable. But it’s quite a long way down the funnel. So you’re really looking across, you know, a big chunk of that customer journey, which I think is really interesting. Yeah. I mean, just talking about campaigns, do you have any campaigns you’ve run that you think have worked particularly well, or anything you can tell us about you think we might get to learn from?

Alex: I think with those campaign we ran last year, targeting the automotive sector. I think that was a really good campaign, because we had the opportunity to really start from scratch. It was a new market that we were going into. So yeah, we were able to build it up. We only had I think we had one web page on the website, talking about automated solutions. So we were able to start from the very beginning. And it went well, because we engaged with the sales team early on. We understood what they were talking to the market about. So we’re able to develop that messaging. We’re able to develop the content to support the campaign, then we concentrated on how to distribute that content. And then we had solid measurement metrics. It just went really well. And I guess the campaign, we don’t actually have products to sell off the shelf in the automotive market. So it was a slightly unusual campaign in that we were trying to build awareness, get engagement on the website, but we’re really trying to initiate conversations for the sales team. You know, we couldn’t we couldn’t tie the campaign. impact revenue because revenue is it’s still a number of years away. The sales team were really happy with it. There was some anecdotal stories about them being in customer meetings where the customer actually said, oh, you know, we’ve seen you all over, all over the internet, or you guys are everywhere, you know, so we would definitely achieving what we wanted to achieve. So that yeah, that was a really good campaign, I would say,

Mike: I love that I obviously know a little bit about this campaign. And I know, you went from literally one webpage to driving meetings with some of the biggest names in in automotive. And I think that was just fantastic. How far Vicor progressed into a market that, as you say, was effectively completely new to so. Yeah, I mean, I’m certainly familiar with the campaign. And I thought that was awesome, too. Yeah, it was great. I really appreciate your time, Alex, on the podcast, I’m sure people you know, might be interested in contacting you and finding out a little bit more about what you’ve done, and maybe some more about some of your activities and how you’ve been successful in a very technical market. I mean, what would be the best way for listeners to get in contact with you?

Alex: Well, actually, I’m on pretty much all the social media channels, Twitter, Twitter, Facebook, tik, Tok, Instagram, LinkedIn, all of them, but I don’t post very much. I’m just kind of observing stuff. So I think LinkedIn is probably the best one. If you just look up Alex Price Vicor on LinkedIn, you’ll find me and yeah, it’d be great to hear from anyone who wants to connect or chat about anything. So yeah, that’d be great.

Mike: Amazing. Thank you very much, Alex. I really enjoyed the conversation. Thanks for being on the podcast.

Alex: Thanks, Mike. Thanks for the opportunity.

Mike: Thanks so much for listening to marketing b2b Tech. We hope you enjoyed the episode. And if you did, please make sure you subscribe on iTunes, or on your favourite podcast application. If you’d like to know more, please visit our website at Napier b2b dot com or contact me directly on LinkedIn.