Field Research is Vital for Industrial Marketers

In this interview, Joseph Lewin from CADENAS PARTsolutions speaks with Paul Hepperla. Paul is Vice President, Solutions Strategy, Cold Chain at Emerson. He has over 28 years of experience in everything from marketing, to sales, to strategy and business development.

Is field research important for developing an industrial marketing strategy?

The short answer is yes, but why is field research vital?

Failing to understand immediate customers’ needs and what is going on more broadly in the industry is a big mistake. It limits innovation, hinders problem-solving, and reduces the value of end products.

Customers typically talk about their specifications, but there is more to the picture than what a specifying engineer will disclose. Having a finger on the pulse of the industry is an excellent way to educate your audience on their customers’ needs.

Research can take several different forms. Traditional research has its place, but it doesn’t go far enough in uncovering deep industry insights. Missing are the kind of insights that drive customer-centric decision-making.

The bottom line is that the most effective form of research is getting in front of real-life customers and prospects. Talking with real customers is the best way to uncover hidden insights and find unique solutions that differentiate your products and brand.

This type of research aligns the value a component brings to customers rather than focusing solely on your commodity components’ mundane, copyable features and benefits. 

Everything gets easier when there is alignment between a component’s value and a customer’s desires and needs.

That being said, focusing only on immediate customers limits anything outside the typical marketing tool bag (price, availability, distribution, etc.). Remember to focus on the end user by asking questions like:

  • What problem is my product actually solving, and for whom? 
  • What other challenges can my product solve?
  • Is there another product that my product can integrate with?

Field research provides an opportunity to learn challenges the industry is facing and look for ways to provide solutions vs. provide commodity parts.


What role do customers’ customers play in the research process of industrial marketers?

Understanding the end user’s needs is an essential part of the research process for component manufacturers.

The real insights don’t come directly from customers. The best insights come from the customers’ customers.

Who are the end users of a product? What are the solutions they need?

The end user has needs that go beyond what a design engineer specifies. If industrial marketers don’t understand the end user’s needs, they are stuck marketing a commodity part. They’ll fight over price and availability, a losing battle.

But when industrial marketers understand more about the end user’s pain points, problems, and desires, they can offer insights to the OEMs and design engineers. When a component manufacturer can showcase a deeper understanding of the end user’s needs, it positions them as the go-to source for providing the best solutions.

When component manufacturers do field research with the end user and take the time to understand needs in the market, it gives them a strategic advantage. 

There’s also a competitive advantage when industrial marketers understand the underlying market and industry trends. It enables the component manufacturers to solve deeper problems than those dealing with surface-level features and benefits of the component itself. Solution selling vs. commodity pushing.

These could include innovations like:


How do you get in front of your customers’ customers to do research?

Getting directly in front of your customers’ customers can be tricky. It’s important to ask, “what value are we bringing to them?”

If there is no value for your customers or their customers, they will likely be hesitant to let you speak with them.

It’s important to tread lightly in this case. Maintain relationships for the long haul and find creative ways to talk with end users and learn about the industry. 

Here are a few ways to do deeper research:

  • Social media
  • Industry events (to learn, not to sell)
  • Message boards like Reddit
  • Online industry groups
  • In-person industry groups
  • Networking with companies adjacent to your business
  • Industry publications
  • Industry news

The lowest cost way to do research is online. Start with blogs, but move quickly to social listening on social media. Social listening means actively searching social media to LISTEN to what end users are saying.

What are the hot topics that they care about? What are the strains in their industry? What keeps them up at night?

Answers to most of these questions are readily available online for those who research and ask solid questions.

The same is true for online message boards and groups. If the goal is to listen and learn, you’ll receive a warm reception from online communities. Be a fly on the wall, not a fly in the face. If the researcher actively listens online instead of pushing an agenda or promoting a company, they will learn a lot!

Events are the same way. Leave the booth! Don’t stand idly waiting for people to take a stress ball and branded pen. Go out and talk with other vendors and end users. Get out to conferences focused on the industry.

Be humble.

Ask questions.

Make it clear you are not an expert.

Humility will attract real experts that will provide you with excellent insights.


How does research shape your product and marketing strategies?

Research helps you define a go-to-market and enables you to test ideas on a small scale. It helps determine a pricing structure and features and benefits you need, revealing the hidden ways to sell up the value chain and earn more market share.

Here are a few key takeaways from Paul Hepperla:

“Looking at that broader umbrella, I think it is really critical.”

“I would encourage the engineers to not be afraid to go have a conversation and find a way to have that conversation. If your customers are restaurants, go talk to your favorite restaurant and say, ‘Can I just understand what’s behind on the kitchen? I sell things to all the different manufacturers here and I just want to see what’s important.’”

“Go talk to the chef. You’ll be amazed. People will be happy to share that information, and if nothing else, you’ve got more insights there. So don’t be afraid to ask. Don’t be afraid to call up somebody that might not be one of your direct customers to understand.”

Above all, stay curious.

Curiosity is the biggest asset marketers have to get accurate and effective data for research.

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Joseph Lewin

Innovation moves the world forward. My goal is to enable engineers to spend more time innovating by reducing non-value-added tasks through effective reuse strategies.