A conversation with Molly Bakewell Chamberlin: what's next for IIoT & electronics?

11th May 2023
Sheryl Miles

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 since the pandemic, Molly has dually served 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 being a fractional CMO and CBDO?

I was born and raised in Buffalo, New York, USA, and graduated from Canisius College with degrees in marketing and modern language. My experience in working first as a global marketing services manager for Enidine Incorporated (now a part of ITT Corporation) and later, six years spent at PCB Piezotronics as their global director of PR, advertising, and image, provided me with valuable skill sets and experience for my next venture.

In 2008, I started Embassy Global, providing all-virtual strategic technical marketing, PR, business development, and management consulting services to clients all over the world.

More recently, in 2021, my own unique global experience, well-known and established industry network, and product and application knowledge were in particularly high demand, leading to an increasing number of industry folks asking me to join their companies as a fractional CMO/CBDO. My long-established industry connections, coupled with my passion for mentoring and supporting fellow small business owners, have allowed me to seamlessly expand my firm’s offerings into fractional CMO/CBDO services, while continuing with my consulting firm.

How do fractional CMO/CBDO roles support manufacturers in the Sensors + Instrumentation, and Electronic Components Industries?

As a CMO/CBDO, I approach each engagement with a humble understanding that each manufacturer has its own unique products, goals, and needs. Therefore, I will speak solely to my own experiences.

Over the past 15 years, my unique skill sets and experience have been sought by prospective clients for various reasons. Some are startups seeking to establish higher level industry visibility. Others are family-owned manufacturers contemplating 5—7-year market exit strategies and who are therefore seeking rapid short-term growth for improved business valuations.

Still others are newly acquired industry manufacturers who are looking to stabilise and grow their business under new ownership. Interestingly enough, I have actually had more than one client who has sought my expertise under each of these three categories at various stages of their business. 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 24 years of acquired experience and know-how. I 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, recommend new product introduction roadmaps to address those trends, devise and implement global marketing campaigns to promote those new products, and support new business development activities arising from the campaign activity. I also help train and develop their in-house teams, and mentor, guide, and support owners and leadership teams.

This approach allows manufacturers to apply the CMO/CBDO resource flexibly and cost-effectively across multiple facets of their daily operations. I know that my clients already know how to make great products and take good care of their customers. They just need some extra help in better understanding how to get to the next level of growth, and then making that happen. That's where I come in.

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?

Over the years, I have seen significant technological advancements, increased globalization, changing customer preferences, and evolving regulatory landscapes. Also, depending upon the year, the vertical markets, or industries of focus also change. Digital transformation and the incorporation of AI are becoming increasingly major considerations. Yet, each year, one thing remains consistent, and that’s the absolute requirement for B2B manufacturers to consistently adapt their marketing and business development strategies, not only to stay competitive, but also to keep pace with the evolving needs of their customers and their target markets. 

What effect, in your opinion, has the semiconductor shortage had on the industry? And how have industries combatted this effect?

As a CMO/CBDO, I’d say that having a comprehensive understanding of the industrywide impact of the semiconductor shortage is vital when developing effective global marketing strategies and new product introduction roadmaps. It is imperative to consider the impact of these shortages on supply chain disruptions, costs, component and raw materials availability, and particularly when developing new business development plans and product pricing models.

Furthermore, by contemplating supply chain diversification strategies as a part of these plans, manufacturers can more proactively help to mitigate the impacts of these shortages on their in-house production capabilities and operations. The overall impact of these shortages may vary for individual manufacturers based on their product technology type, pre-existing supply chain diversification practices, pre-shortage semiconductor component in-house inventory counts, and overall in-house production methods.

The electronic components industry heavily relies on the availability of semiconductor materials and components. In sensors and instrumentation, the impact of these shortages may be less directly felt, in some cases, depending on whether their finished sensor product designs call for the incorporation of such components. Nonetheless, the ripple effect of these shortages in a general sense have given rise to overall supply chain disruptions, increased raw material costs, delivery delays, reduced margins and profitability, and growth delays and disruptions, and all of which must be considered, and their risks mitigated where possible.

Having worked with over 200 brands. What, in your opinion, do you see as the next trend to come to the electronics and IIoT markets?

Two major trends are shaping the future of electronics and IIoT: 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.

In addition, there will likely be continued innovation and growth in certain key market verticals such as renewable energy, autonomous vehicles, and smart cities, and all of which heavily rely on the incorporation of electronics and IIoT technologies. As these markets mature and expand, I believe that we can expect to see new products and services that will specifically leverage the latest advancements in these fields.

Why do industry manufacturers seek a fractional CMO/CBDO instead of a full-time employee?

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 it provides greater flexibility and cost-effectiveness, while still affording them access to an industry expert resource.

A fractional CMO/CBDO also requires minimal further training, given that they are typically already a demonstrated expert in the technology and industry. By engaging with a fractional CMO/CBDO, industry manufacturers can access the expertise of a recognized global industry veteran and seasoned marketing professional without the commitment of full-time salary and benefits.  This allows them to optimise their sales and marketing efforts while managing their internal budgets more effectively.

By having a fractional CMO/CBDO, a company can acquire an expert resource for a fraction of what it would cost for the same in-house hire. Overall, it is difficult to find experienced people in the industry these days. In bringing on the right CMO/CBDO, a company 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 an expert perform various marketing and PR-related tasks.

A CMO/CBDO is also a more flexible and scalable resource. A company can much more easily increase or decrease the CMO/CBDO’s time and costs on an as-needed basis, thereby “recession-proofing” the resource, while maximising the return on investment. The manufacturer can also add tasks that would otherwise fall outside of a typical marketing and PR agency’s scopes of services rather seamlessly and still have confidence in the results that it will bring.

As an industry expert and fractional CMO/CBDO, any advice for manufacturers still recovering from the pandemic?

As an industry expert, fractional CMO/CBDO, and small business owner myself, I can offer some advice for manufacturers still recovering from the pandemic. Having worked with over 200 industry brands, I understand and deeply empathise with the challenges that manufacturers are facing, even now, during the post-pandemic recovery process. To remain agile and adaptable in their marketing and business development strategies, companies must stay attuned to changing market dynamics and needs and pivot their go-to-market strategies accordingly. Placing the greatest emphasis on understanding and addressing customer needs is fundamental, and companies need to be willing to actively solicit and receive customer feedback, engage with them, and offer solutions that provide tangible value for their objectives.

It is critical for companies to embrace digital transformation to gain competitive advantage. It’s important to invest in digital marketing strategies, campaigns, tools, e-commerce, or customer relationship management (CRM) systems that can optimise lead generation efforts. Clear and transparent communication is vital, and companies should keep their customers, employees, suppliers, and stakeholders informed about their business operations, ongoing safety measures, supply chain delays impacting pricing and delivery, and any required changes in their offerings or business policies arising from these circumstances.

Manufacturers who are still struggling with their post-pandemic economic recovery may benefit from seeking the help of external experts, such as a fractional CMO/CBDO or business consultant, to help them navigate these challenges. It’s also essential to invest in your own people. The industry continues to face staffing shortages. It’s important for companies to prioritise employee retention and well-being. By offering flexibilities, resources, and even emotional support to struggling families to help them navigate these uncertain times, companies can also increase employee job satisfaction and ultimately their staff retention metrics. Companies with a reputation for truly caring about their employees will also find it less difficult over time to recruit, hire, and retain qualified industry talent.

It's important for companies to remain positive and resilient, and to keep in perspective the fact that true, full economic recovery is a gradual process, and dependent on many external factors that are totally outside of the business’s control. Celebrating each internal win, learning from your customers and challenges, adapting, and evolving market strategies, and cultivating an internal corporate culture of teamwork and respect for individuals can create more visible, measurable, incremental progress. In the end, manufacturers who remain authentic, honest, optimistic, resilient, and focused on long-term goals can emerge stronger and even better positioned for the future.

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?

My recent election to the Board of Trustees for the NSBA, is an honour. As one of the oldest and largest non-partisan grassroots small business advocacy organizations in the United States, with over 65,000 members, NSBA plays a vital role in promoting and advocating for the interests of small businesses. As a volunteer Trustee, my role involves providing insights and expertise to help shape the overall advocacy efforts of the NSBA.

Prior to my election, I had been actively serving since 2020 as an invited delegate to both their Leadership and Small Business Technology Councils. Additionally, I was named a finalist by NSBA last year for their Small Business Advocate of the Year Award.

On a day-to-day level, I am dedicated to promoting and protecting the interests of all small businesses globally. I frequently volunteer my time to help new entrepreneurs realise their dreams of owning their own businesses. I also advocate with US lawmakers on improved policies and legislation on a grassroots and non-partisan basis with the goal of ultimately helping to level the playing field for other small businesses and owners like me.

Any special success stories from the industry fractional CMO/CBDO model you’d like to share?

Sure! I’d love to share a success story.

In 2014, I was introduced to a fantastic woman-owned and family-owned small business in Racine, Wisconsin, called Reed Switch Developments Corp. They soon became an Embassy Global client. At that 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, my role with them evolved from an external marketing and PR agency owner and service provider into more of a fractional CMO/CBDO. By working closely with their owner, Debra Dahlin, and their leadership team, I developed a comprehensive marketing and promotional strategy that included targeted SEO, new content creation of blog posts and external customer news alerts, website redevelopment, reaching out to my network for new business development, e-marketing campaigns, the establishment of new and additional global distribution channels, and local and industry trade magazine promotion.

I also assisted the company in gaining improved local visibility as a manufacturer, by reaching out to local media outlets and their public officials. This included recognition of Reed Switch Developments Corp. for the fantastic ways in which they value their in-house employees. Staff there are truly supported, nurtured, and highly-trained. As a result, the company has retained a large percentage of their staff over the long-term.

Immediately post-pandemic, and from our ongoing campaign efforts, the company saw a significant month-on-month increase in their website traffic, lead generation, and customer engagement. 2022 was a record sales year for Reed Switch Developments Corp., with a 30% increase over the prior year, and resulting in over $1 million in directly attributable new business for them arising from our work together. By the start of 2023, another half million in booked sales from our collaboration was also already in the pipeline. It was a truly amazing result, and they’re such wonderful people, it was so great to be such an involved part of their growth.

As a result of their exceptional sales growth and employee development efforts, Reed Switch Developments Corp. recently received a #4 quality leadership ranking in the US publication Quality Magazine and was further honoured as their 2023 Plant of the Year.  In this coming week, they will also be honoured locally as Manufacturer of the Year by the Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce association, their regional chamber of commerce. This is both for their exceptional sales growth and the exceptional way that they develop and retain their in-house talent.

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