A conversation with Molly Bakewell Chamberlin: what's next for IIoT & electronics?
Molly Bakewell Chamberlin, President and Founder, Embassy Global, LLC, is a global subject matter expert in sensors and electronic components for almost 25 years and is widely considered a pioneer for women in the industry.
Beyond her role at Embassy Global, and even more so since the pandemic, Molly dually serves as a fractional Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)/Chief Business Development Officer (CBDO) for multiple global industry manufacturers.
Here, she talks to Electronic Specifier about her role and experience in the industry.
Can you tell me a bit about your background and how this led to you becoming a fractional CMO and CBDO?
I was born and raised in a town called Buffalo, New York, USA, which is just 12 miles from the US/Canada border. I graduated from Canisius University, also in Buffalo, with degrees in marketing and modern language. My first real industry work experience was as the global marketing services manager for a company called Enidine Incorporated (now a part of ITT Corporation). After that, I spent six years at PCB Piezotronics as their global director of PR, advertising, and image. Both of those roles provided me with targeted skill sets and experience, including international experience, and all of which proved invaluable, in terms of preparing me well for my next venture.
In 2008, I started my own firm, Embassy Global, providing all-virtual strategic technical marketing, PR, business development, and management consulting services to manufacturers all over the world. Basically, Embassy Global provides a unique type of industry-specific outsourced growth marketing service. We have developed our own proven methods for generating more rapid, sustainable, and measurable sales growth for our Clients. We are highly focused within the niche technical markets that we serve. Since 2008, those methods have helped more than 200 industry brands. It’s been an incredible journey for us and the Clients.
More recently, and I’d say since around 2020, the 20+ years of product and applications experience that I’ve built over time, and especially having my own well-established industry network which helps clients in their new business development activities, led to an increasing number of industry manufacturers asking me to join their companies as a fractional CMO/CBDO, and to become sort of an ad hoc member of their senior leadership teams. I’ve been grateful for these added opportunities.
How do fractional CMO/CBDO’s support manufacturers in the Sensors + Instrumentation, and Electronic Components Industries? What does your typical CMO/CBDO client engagement actually entail?
I approach all of my fractional CMO/CBDO engagements with a humble understanding that no two clients will ever be alike. Each has its own unique products, growth and diversification goals, and needs. All of those are typically governed by strict mutual non-disclosure agreements, for obvious reasons.
Some clients are startups seeking to build new industry partnerships and establish higher level visibility. Others are small-to-medium sized, privately held, and family-owned manufacturers who are contemplating 5—7-year market exit strategies, and who are often seeking more rapid and short-term growth for improved business valuations.
Still other Clients can sometimes even be the new owners of the same industry manufacturers that I’d helped to grow prior to the company’s acquisition. Those owners might be, for example, looking to streamline product line offerings for greater profitability, and of course, to continue to grow the business. Some may be from outside of the industry and looking for guidance on navigating what can be a fairly steep learning curve. Interestingly enough, I have actually had more than one client evolve into each one of these three categories at various stages of their business, and I have remained a constant throughout each of their transitional phases.
Irrespective of their growth phase, my job is to help infuse industry thought leadership and expertise into their daily operations, drawing from my experience and know-how. I am asked to fill in any number of short-term skills gaps across their sales, marketing, PR, product management, and business development functions. I provide guidance on the latest industry market growth trends and recommend new product introduction roadmaps to address them. I devise and implement global marketing campaigns to promote their company brands and new products. I help to support the new business development activities arising from those efforts. I also help to train and develop in-house sales and marketing teams, as well as to mentor, guide, and support owners.
This approach helps a client to apply the fractional CMO/CBDO resource flexibly and cost-effectively across multiple facets of their daily operations. This way, they don’t have to keep searching for, and hiring in, different senior-level roles. It’s all quite efficient and seamless, really. I can also say this, without hesitation: I know that all of my clients already know how to make great products and take good care of their customers. They typically just need some extra help in better understanding how to get to that next level of growth. That’s where I come in. I help them to make that happen.
I understand you’ve worked in the Sensors + Instrumentation and Electronic Components industries for nearly 25 years. What changes have you seen within the industry over that time?
I have seen significant technological advancements, increased globalisation, changing customer preferences, and evolving regulatory landscapes. Also, depending upon the year, the growth potential within individual client industries of focus tends to change. Digital transformation and the incorporation of AI are also, of course, becoming growing concerns, as are data privacy and cybersecurity. In all of that change, however, a few things have remained consistent, and that’s the absolute requirement for B2B manufacturers to continuously adapt their marketing and business development strategies around these considerations.
What effect, in your opinion, has the semiconductor shortage had on the industry? And how have various industries combatted this effect?
I’d say, for almost any fractional CMO/CBDO, that having a comprehensive understanding of the industrywide impact of such global events is vital when developing effective global marketing strategies and new product introduction roadmaps. It is also vital, I believe, to factor in the potential impact of supply chain disruptions, as well as overall component and raw material shortages, when formulating new business development plans, product pricing models, and ultimately building promotional campaigns. It’s important, I feel, to try and understand the potential impact of such external factors on overall campaign effectiveness, as well as to proactively devise various risk mitigation strategies to address any anticipated ROI deficiencies.
Of course, even the best marketing and promotional campaigns in the world will be hampered if a manufacturer is unable to build, ship, and deliver the actual product or service within a reasonable lead time and at a competitive price point.
I also believe that, by incorporating actual supply chain diversification strategies as a part of a larger, fully integrated new product development roadmap and launch plan, with cross-functional department communication and planning, that manufacturers can more proactively help to mitigate any such anticipated shortages. The overall impact of the semiconductor component shortages, specifically, of course, will vary for individual manufacturers. That’s just based on, among other variables, their product technology type, pre-existing supply chain diversification practices, pre-shortage semiconductor component in-house inventory counts, and overall in-house production methods.
For example, in certain areas of sensors and instrumentation, the impact of these shortages might be less directly felt, depending upon whether a manufacturer’s finished sensor product designs call for the actual incorporation of any such components.
Having worked with over 200 industry brands. What, in your opinion, do you see as the next trend to come to the electronics and IIoT markets?
Two major trends that I believe we may see further shaping the future of electronics and IIoT are the increasing use of IoT and IIoT ecosystems to collect and analyse vast amounts of data, and the growing integrations of AI and ML technologies into electronic devices and IIoT systems. These trends are expected to drive market innovation and enable more intelligent decision-making and advanced applications over time.
In addition, there will likely be continued innovation and growth in renewable energy, autonomous vehicles, and smart cities/smart factories. All of those markets are anticipated to incorporate electronics and IIoT technologies in exciting new ways.
Why do industry manufacturers seek a fractional CMO/CBDO instead of a full-time employee?
Generally speaking, hiring a full-time in-house CMO/CBDO can be expensive, especially for startups or small-to-medium sized businesses. It is my experience that industry manufacturers seek a fractional CMO/CBDO instead of a full-time employee because the role provides greater flexibility and cost-effectiveness, while still affording them access to an industry expert resource.
A fractional CMO/CBDO typically requires minimal training, especially in cases where the resource is already a demonstrated expert within a given technology or industry. By engaging a fractional CMO/CBDO, industry manufacturers can access the expertise of a recognised global industry veteran and seasoned marketing professional without the commitment of full-time salary and benefits. This allows them to optimise sales and marketing efforts, grow the business more rapidly, and yet still manage budgets effectively.
A company can actually acquire a fractional CMO/CBDO for less than the cost of one new full-time entry-level in-house hire. Overall, it is difficult to find experienced people in the industry these days. By bringing on the right fractional CMO/CBDO, a company can not only gain difficult-to-find high-level industry expertise at a lower premium, they can also obtain significant value-added benefits, such as access to a more extensive industry network, more in-depth industry relationships, new business networking opportunities, enhanced reputational benefits, and the benefits of having a trusted expert perform various marketing and PR-related tasks.
In the latter case, and especially within the electronics and sensors industries, the fractional CMO/CBDO resource can be utilised to help reduce the traditional in-house resource burdens placed upon engineering for repeated reviews and revisions of marketing materials, as the technical experience of a CMO/CBDO means that such requirements are vastly reduced. This allows in-house engineering to maintain focus on R&D and customer technical support and to improve, where applicable, their sellout rates.
The role also provides a more versatile and scalable resource. A company can easily increase or decrease a fractional CMO/CBDO’s time and costs on an as-needed basis, thereby 'recession-proofing' that resource, yet still maximise their return on investment.
A manufacturer can also cost-effectively add tasks that otherwise might fall outside of a typical marketing and PR agency’s scopes of service, rather seamlessly, with total confidence in the results that the CMO/CBDO will bring. A good fractional CMO/CBDO alleviates any worries of costs associated with an industry learning curve, or guesswork.
As an industry expert and fractional CMO/CBDO, any advice for manufacturers still recovering from the pandemic?
As a small business owner, myself, I understand and empathise with the challenges that manufacturers are still facing, even now, during the post-pandemic recovery process. I’d say, in general terms, that companies must be willing to remain agile and adaptable with respect to their marketing and business development strategies. They must stay attuned to changing market dynamics, and customer needs, and be willing to pivot their go-to-market strategies accordingly. Among other recommendations, I’d say that placing greatest emphasis on understanding customer needs is fundamental. Companies need to be willing to both actively solicit and listen carefully to all customer feedback, to truly engage them, and to offer solutions that will provide tangible value for their objectives.
It is also fairly critical, I believe, for companies to embrace digital transformation, in order to gain, or restore, a competitive advantage. It’s important to invest in digital marketing strategies, campaigns and tools, as well as e-commerce and customer relationship management (CRM) systems, that can help to optimise leads generation and follow-up efforts.
Clear, honest, and transparent communications, both internal and external, are essential. Companies must be willing to keep their customers, employees, suppliers, and stakeholders informed about any and all new developments, whether actual or anticipated, impacting the daily business operations, and including but not limited to pricing, lead times, deliveries, product offerings, business policies, changes in hours of operation, or even staffing shortages. I honestly feel that it’s better these days to overcommunicate, at times, than not, if ever in doubt.
Companies who are still facing an extended post-pandemic economic recovery period may also benefit from the temporary help of external experts, such as a fractional CMO/CBDO or business consultant, in navigating these challenges. It’s also essential for companies to invest in their own people. The industry continues to face staffing shortages. It’s important for companies to prioritise employee retention and well-being. By offering flexibility, resources, and even emotional support for struggling families in these times, companies can increase employee job satisfaction and ultimately their staff retention metrics. Of course, the companies who are known for genuinely caring about their employees find it least difficult to recruit, hire, and retain qualified new industry talent.
It's important for companies to remain positive and resilient, as best as possible. Full, true economic recovery is a gradual process. Each company’s journey in this respect is going to be non-linear, unique, and cyclic. With my own Clients, I like to advocate for them, among other guidance, to make it a point to celebrate each new incremental win; to listen to and learn from their customers; to adapt and evolve go-to market strategies; to focus on what products can still be built, shipped, and delivered within a reasonable lead time and at a competitive price point; and to cultivate a positive internal corporate culture of teamwork and respect for all individuals. With these and other strategies employed, I believe that companies can create more visible, measurable, incremental progress, stronger cross-functional teams, and improved employee satisfaction and retention metrics. This will help to strengthen the business from the inside out, so to speak, and to better position them for future growth.
You were recently elected in the United States to serve on the Board of Trustees for the Washington, DC-based National Small Business Association (NSBA). What does this added role involve, and how did you come to be invited?
As one of the oldest and largest non-partisan grassroots small business advocacy organisations in the United States, representing over 65,000 members, NSBA plays a vital role in promoting and advocating for the interests of small businesses, on a strictly non-partisan basis. As a volunteer Trustee, my role involves contributing my own insights and expertise to help shape the overall advocacy efforts of NSBA.
I also advocate with US lawmakers on a grassroots level for improved policies and legislation, with the goal of ultimately helping to level the playing field for other small businesses and owners like me. Prior to my election to the Board of Trustees, I had been actively serving for several years as an invited delegate to both the NSBA Leadership and Small Business Technology Councils. I was also chosen as a finalist last year for NSBA Small Business Advocate of the Year.
On a day-to-day level, I am dedicated to promoting and protecting the interests of all small businesses and fellow owners globally. I also frequently serve as a volunteer mentor and coach for new startups and entrepreneurs who are seeking to realise their own dreams of owning their own businesses. For me, it’s always going to be a priority to support other small business owners, and to be the type of trusted sounding board, mentor, and colleague for them that I didn’t always have myself when I was starting out.
Any special success stories from the industry fractional CMO/CBDO model you’d like to share?
Sure! In 2014, I was introduced to this fantastic woman- and family-owned small business in Racine, Wisconsin, USA., Reed Switch Developments Corp. They soon became an Embassy Global client. At the time, they were struggling to increase their market share and to modernise their overall marketing and promotional efforts.
As I gained a deeper understanding of their business goals, my role with them evolved into more of a fractional CMO/CBDO role. By working closely with their owner, Debra Dahlin, and their leadership team, I developed for them a comprehensive global marketing and business development strategy that included targeted SEO, new content creation, website redevelopment, targeted new business development, e-marketing campaigns, the establishment of new global distribution channels, along with some wider local and industry trade magazine promotion of their brand and product offerings.
I then assisted them in gaining improved local visibility as a manufacturer, including by reaching out to their local media outlets and public officials. The goal was to raise greater awareness of Reed Switch Developments, not only for their great products and customer service, but also for the absolutely fantastic ways in which they value their in-house employees. Staff there are just truly supported, nurtured, and highly trained. As a result, the company has retained a large percentage of the staff over the longer term.
Immediately post-pandemic, and supported by our ongoing campaign efforts, the company saw a significant month-on-month increase in website visitor traffic, qualified leads generation, new sales conversions, and overall positive customer engagement.
When paired with the full commitment and dedication of their in-house team to excellence in customer service, technical support, quality management, and improved operational efficiencies, 2022 was a record sales year for Reed Switch Developments Corp. Among other highlights, the company saw a 30% measurable increase in overall sales, and as compared to pre-pandemic levels. That metric, most notably, included $1 million in measurable new booked customer business. At the very start of 2023, the company also found that it had already booked 50% of the prior year’s total new business metric, and with many more qualified new leads waiting in the pipeline. It is an amazing result which has only continued to build during this current fiscal year.
Also, due our successful editorial pitches, and as a result of their exceptional growth and employee development efforts and ongoing commitment to quality, Reed Switch Developments Corp. recently received a #4 quality leadership ranking in the US publication Quality Magazine. They were again honoured by the publication as their 2023 Plant of the Year.
In addition, Reed Switch Developments Corp. was honoured locally as the Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce Association’s (RAMAC) 2023 Manufacturer of the Year, a highly prestigious award, and with RAMAC being their local regional chamber of commerce. As a fractional CMO/CBDO, fellow 100% woman owned small business owner, small business advocate, and on a personal level, this is one of most wonderful success stories of which I’ve been fortunate to play a part in the last 15 years.