Matt Brown

The Online B2B Buyer's Journey and Reintroducing a 100-Year-Old Company

Episode 3

Matt Brown is Director of Sales and Marketing at Neville Chemical Company. Matt earned a B.S. in Chemistry from Alma College and worked for several years as a chemist before moving to the sales and management side of the industry in 2017.
In this episode, Matt joins Bill to discuss the importance of shifting marketing focuses to follow the growing online habits of B2B buyers and reintroducing a 100-year company to their clients and broader market. This week also covers the impact of an increasingly millennial workforce, sustainability practices in manufacturing, and the social media habits of B2B businesses.
Neville Chemical Company is a leading manufacturer of low molecular weight thermoplastic and liquid resins that serve a wide variety of applications in the coatings, adhesives, ink and rubber industries. Based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Neville has focused on providing customer satisfaction and pursuing innovation and extensive research for nearly 100 years.

Episode Transcript

Bill: On today's episode of the Missing Half podcast, we're here at Neville Chemical with Matt Brown, and we're going to talk about a number of topics. We just had a plant tour here for the whole day and did a number of other marketing meetings, but we're going to get into some of the topics we want to talk about for the Missing Half podcast. So, Matt, thank you for joining us today. 

Matt: Yeah, thanks for having me. 

Bill: Great. So Matt, tell us a little bit about yourself, your role here and you’re kind of new here at a 100-year-old company and, you know, maybe talk about that role and then we're going to get into how you got here, which is I believe is a really interesting story we talked about earlier. But just maybe to start there.

Matt: Yeah. So here at Neville I’m the Director of Sales and Marketing. I also run customer service and transportation. So I lead all of those groups. I'm part of the executive team or the leadership team. So coming into a 100 year old company and being here for four months. I often joke, sorry, four months, no, it’s closer to, so I’ve been here for close to eight, nine months now. I often joke that I have been alive for less time than many people on my team have been here at Neville. It's it's kind of a serious joke. It's the truth. So it's an interesting place to work, right? There's a ton of history. A ton of heritage. But the guy that I replaced has been here for 43 years. So those are some pretty big shoes to fill. As he's been a Neville employee, I think for his entire professional career, he's almost one of the most knowledgeable people I've ever met. But when it comes to his, you know, his role, so he knows resins, he knows the chemical industry within our space better than just about anybody I've ever met, you know?

Bill: So no pressure. 42 year veteran like you're replacing Tom Brady. Just win the Super Bowl this year.

Matt: Yeah, exactly. I'm coming. I've come straight out of high school and I've got to go replace Tom Brady.

Bill: Okay, good. At least. At least you know what you're up against. And everybody's got the proper expectations. I don't see any problems with this one.

Matt: Yeah, exactly. So but it is a unique time at Neville where, you know, we're we're kind of in the middle of of reintroducing Neville to a lot of our customers, to the market, to the industries that we service. So fresh faces, fresh perspective is kind of really important when it comes to being able to do that. So I have I think we've been able to bring some very fresh ideas to the table and they're being well received by, you know, the leadership and and then and then the board as well.

Bill: So we have a number of clients who are in that 80-plus year, 100-year kind of age in their lifecycle. And certainly for companies to have been able to reach that, they've had to have different times of having someone like yourself, new broom sweeps best or whatever you want to call it, to bring in those fresh new ideas because there's no company out there that can have one idea the last years. They've had to change over time. So that's that's interesting. And that sounds like you've got your work cut out for you as you go through that process.

Matt: Yeah, absolutely.

Bill: So, Matt, you started not in sales marketing and transportation. Your education is actually in chemistry. So maybe talk about your you know, what you studied in college a little bit. And then also your first couple of years of your career and then how that transitioned to where you are today.

Matt: Yeah, certainly. So a lot of it was just by chance where I was born and raised. So Dow Chemical was right down the road. A lot of the folks that, you know, that I looked up or looked up to growing up were scientists at Dow Chemical, right? That was like a level of status. 

Bill: Sure. Great company, career people, probably make decent money, successful. 

Matt: Sure sure. So you know some of our closest family friends that I that we respected, look up to the most came from from that space. So yeah so I have a chemistry degree went to Alma College so not too far away from Midland as well. And then yeah, I jumped right into the lab at Dow. Who would have thought, right?

Bill: Had to work somewhere.

Matt: Yeah, exactly. My parents said I couldn't stay home anymore. I had to go get a real job.

Bill: Happens to the best of us.

Matt: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. No fits on the head after pursuing football for a real career for a while. All right, I have to go make real money. So this $400 a game isn't quite cutting it.

Bill: Yeah, that doesn't pay rent.

Matt: No, no. I mean, at mom and dad's it did, but they didn't want me to pay rent anymore, so. So I jumped right to, to the Dow coding materials group at Dow. Had some good mentors. That was one of the best things that that I had access to there it was you know obviously like I mentioned ton of tons of super sharp people, great mentorship-type programs, good insight like into the industry and good career path building. So I was, you know, hands on doing applications development work mostly focused on industrial wood and metal. And then, you know, being at Dow was a great place to be. But I wanted to feel like I could make a little bit more of an impact. And obviously at a large company with, you know, with so many employees and me being by far one of the least experienced people there. I found an opportunity or a home at a startup company so and yeah, doing product development and synthesis applications development. So you know kind of running a team in the lab actually doing the, you know, the product development, that was a great experience and good starting place for me to have a good solid foundation for everything that I can then do in sales and marketing. So you know, that transition between the technical side of things and then into the commercial side of the business really started when I got my first interactions with customers. So being in the startup company, you know, we're spread pretty thin. Everybody wears multiple hats. You get opportunities that you might not elsewhere. So I had some account responsibility. And then and you know, from a product development side of things, everything we did was customer-specific. So, you know, if we were making modifications or, you know, basically all of our projects were coming directly from customer feedback. So that was that was something that really quickly I figured out that I liked a lot and that was the customer interaction, right?

Bill: Well if you had, with that experience with the startup, if you were getting market-driven feedback, yeah, that's a great place to learn sales and marketing because instead of, Oh, we're going to manufacture this or we're going to go figure this out and then go sell it, you're already in a situation where there's a demand pool. So you need to sort that riddle out. There’s immediately sales. Which is a nice place to be because I'm sure as. And we'll get to this later. As you got into further aspects of your career, you're probably asking more to sell what we make. As opposed to just, the customer needs to solve, we solve it. We have an immediate purchase order. So that's a whole different set of challenges. 

Matt: Oh yeah, absolutely.

Bill: So you're at the start up, you're starting to lead product teams and more from the technical side. But then you see maybe this shiny object out there that led you to where you are today. So maybe talk a little bit about that.

Matt: Yeah, absolutely. So a lot of the opportunity to get outside of the lab a little bit more to solve different problems on a daily basis. I definitely enjoyed that. I knew for me personally, I did want to go into technical management, right? I wasn't going to go get a Ph.D. So that trajectory probably wasn't for me.

Bill: Was that after the football stuff or that just wasn’t 

Matt: Yeah, in general, it wasn't for me for that, especially after the football stuff. So I think for for my, you know, if I did some internal reflection, my personal skill set, I think the sales and marketing side of things right. Personal relationships. I like to connect with people. I like to problem solve, you know so so yeah. And then it sounds silly, but the, the financial aspect of it as well you know we kind of touched on that. 

Bill: That’s not silly. That’s for real. So whenever I talked and I talked to a lot of different people and especially when we're dealing with technical companies, some of the best salespeople come from the technical side and they have that chemistry degree or that plastic science or materials science degree. And what I've heard from them consistently is, okay, I'm working really hard. I help the salesperson deliver this amazing presentation, meet their customer requirement, and we go and we close the sale and I walk away and go back to the lab and he walks away and goes and buys a new car or, you know, has these financial and other compensation benefits that far exceed what's available on that technical side of the business. So I don't think that's silly. I think that's just that's smart. Right. Let's do the best we can with our skill set and our education to better ourselves. And that's that's the American dream, right? So that's that's great. I'm sure some of those things were very attractive to you.

Matt: Yeah, for sure. So, yeah, you're right. It's not, it's not silly, but yeah, it's real. It's there.

Bill: I think the other thing though, that a lot of people, even when they come to the technical side and then they look at the sales they kind of think sales is easy. You just got to show up. And it happens and you eat a lot of lunches and you travel a lot. You've now been on the sales side for the past seven, eight years. That's not true, is it? Or have you found that to be true?

Matt: Certainly not. No, I find it to be a lot of fun, but at the beginning it was tough. It was not what I thought it was going to be, you know, and yeah, it's gonna be great, lunches, right? Yeah. I'm really good at relationships. I'll be able to go in there and build great relationships, and I could do that to an extent. But they're also business relationships and that's how everyone focuses on you and looks at you as well. There's also an interesting phenomenon that takes place when you walk in there with a sales title as opposed to a technical title. You're you're snake oil salesman right off the bat. Doesn’t matter if you have a Ph.D. or not and how well you can talk about their applications or chemistry. You’re a salesperson. So there was that that definitely took a little bit of time to overcome that. But, you know, now once you've kind of found your it's like anything, right? Once you find your own personality within that space and your method of doing things right, it's a lot of fun. So, yeah, I mean, now I'm super happy that I made the change, right?

Bill: But there's a steep learning curve.

Matt: There is, yeah. Certainly. 

Bill: You've come up through now and kind of seen a huge transition even in a short sales career, right? So seven or eight years in sales is that pretty close? Okay. But you've seen a lifetime of changes because and this might be a not completely accurate characterization, but the first several years were pre-COVID. Polishing doorknobs, trade shows. We're starting to see some of the digital impacts, some of the more online impact. But I imagine it was still more of that old school approach. Then we hit COVID. Everything's new. And now in post-COVID, can you maybe just talk about what you've seen in some of those transitions from a marketing and sales standpoint and kind of how you see, you know, maybe what's missing now or what was missing as we came out of COVID to kind of move forward?

Matt: Yeah, sure. You know, obviously, one of the easiest things to identify that has shifted pre and post-COVID is the access to our customers through video conferencing. And sure, I mean, that was I was just talking about this with someone recently. Pre-COVID I was actually not an advocate for Teams or Zoom. I did not like video conferencing. It was super uncomfortable for me. And then I'm training one of our new one of our new sales folks on just general meeting etiquette and how do you pursue a meeting with a customer and I find myself saying like I don't actually like to make cold calls to even some of our best customers. I'd rather be respectful of their time to set it up via video and then see them face to face, right, even through video. So that's been an interesting shift. I think that was a need, right? Platforms were there and obviously they developed extremely rapidly, you know, through.

Bill: But adoption was low. Now you can get 15 minutes a lot easier than you can get a lunch or a face-to-face, for someone to carve that much time out of their schedule. So I agree with you. I think we do that a lot at 50 Marketing with, you know, first time we call them, you know, meet and greets or good fit meetings. Are we a good fit for your organization? And that's saved us a ton of time because how much time could we have saved prospecting that turned into nothing, right? You book a whole day, you go somewhere, you get that 30 minutes, you're like, there's no chance for anything here at all. I just wasted the day, the flight, a hotel all of that. So yeah, that's that is an interesting observation, but such so much more efficient.

Matt: Yeah, I think that's so, you know, post-COVID, I think what's happened is it's identified areas for us to be much more efficient as a sales team and really honing in on what is advantageous for us to spend our time on. When our metrics are, Yeah, these are your sales numbers, right? Yeah, You've got to do all the call reports the, the samples, the new business opportunities, all those types of things. But really at the end of the day, did you hit your numbers or not? It's the tools that are there are there to help us to hit those numbers. So, you know, making sure that we are efficient every day. There's there's only a certain number of, you know, prime selling days in the year. You've got to make sure that you take as much advantage of those days as you possibly can. So I think it's changed the way that as a sales force, we look at what we do on a daily basis. So I will say, though, the the impact now of being on site and being in front of a customer does seem to carry a lot of weight. So right I'll talk about the other side of my mouth now, how important those actually are, because I think we've moved away from the outside business. And, you know, everybody thought, this would be the way of the future where nobody's going to come on-site or not even going to let people come in. Everything has to be done via video. We can do that. I do feel like that door has opened wide up there again, to to do the outside business. And I feel like the impact is has been pretty meaningful. Like when you go to see someone it's usually now it's really meaningful. It's not just showing up for a lunch and, you know, and that kind of stuff. So the efficiencies and the impacts I think of your actions have shifted as well.

Bill: I think that's a great point and I think it's also changed the order of operations. So for instance, when is that on-site visit? So today, example, I've been here all day with you guys at Neville Chemical. We did a tour. I met the CEO I met, I probably 25 to 30 people. I don't know. I was shaking hands and hearing names all over the place and all types I was in building 80. I'm like, we saw where the Osprey nest is, I mean, like it was it was like a true from beginning to end tour. It was awesome. And we scoped the video and some photo shoots up a bunch of things. But this is a day that we've been doing business together now for probably about three months. So this in the order of operations, this is further down the road as opposed to coming in early and trying to make those inroads. So I think, yeah, the on-sites are so important and we still need to do that. We're targeting more of those for our our team in 2024, but maybe it's just a change in when we do them. So that's interesting when you look at so your sales team, you have these goals and you're trying to go out there in the market. Are you seeing post-COVID like a change in the way you see the buyer engage? So for instance, in marketing, we look at things like 86% of the buyer's journey happens online before they contact the sales rep. 95% of the market is passive, only 5% is actively buying. Do you see more engagement by your buyers online before they're willing to talk to your sales team? Or what are you observing in the market?

Matt: Yeah, absolutely. I think we definitely see a lot more activity in I just call it pre-research. So they're looking at our products, they're looking at the website, they're looking at our, our activity on social media. But they're looking at, they're looking they're trying to get a better picture of who Neville is. I think as buyers just in general or as consumers, we all do that a little bit because now, too. So the information is just present, it’s there. I mean, think about everything that we buy. I do that on everything, right? Every purchase that I personally make. I'll do a little bit of research on. If I'm if I'm going to go buy a set of skis or have, you know, skis or something like that. I'm going to do a lot of research prior to or watch videos. I'm going to look at the comparisons, right? I'm going to go to everybody's websites.

Bill: Look at influencers, see if they recommend it. Your favorite skier, whatever.

Matt: Exactly. So, you know, there's that. I do think that, you know, we're still very industrial type of market, but I sure think that happens. Those types of personal habits translate to our day-to-day business. So how do we capture that? It's very different, especially when we're we're going B2B straight, you know, we're selling to a large paint manufacturer or something that's yeah, I wouldn't call it super sexy. But we as consumers still have those same type of habits traits or, you know, research mentalities that we as a as a sales team need to tap into. So and I think that's a lot of what we are working on right now is trying to understand our buyer's journey specifically in the chemical space or, you know, in the adhesives, paints, coatings, tires and rubber in all of the markets that we serve. We're trying to better understand our buyers, but then how they act as buyers within this industry, but also who they are as people. I think is pretty important, right? 

Bill: Absolutely. I think when we look at B2B marketing, we are lagging the consumer market. But those behaviors, I mean, when you look at how many millennials are in the workforce and those millennials are people that senior leadership go to and say, Hey, go research this topic, go figure this out. They're going to a trade show. They're calling someone they know because they don't know anybody in the industry. There's no 30-year relationship. So they're going to YouTube, they're going to Siri, they're going to Google, and they're going to go and find that information, make sure there's authority. So you're absolutely right that the online buyer behavior of consumers is now transitioned over to B2B, manufacturing, industrial. I think one of the biggest problems we see or the missing half is that so many companies and one of the reasons why we're talking and working on things all day today is we have to provide that buyer's journey online for them, right? So they can fill in the gaps. If it's here's our company and here's who we are, here's a contact form. Of the 86% of that buyer's journey that happens online, okay, we're at five. Where are we going to call the other 80, 81% of that buyer’s journey? And so that's that's so critical. And you're exactly right. We have to meet them where they are from a product or a technical aspect, because this is a very technical business and a very specified and high quality assurance and consistency industry. But we also have to recognize that human beings will make the decision, research it as a human, and ingest that information to then make that action, hopefully to buy from us. So that's a great perspective. Whenever you look at Neville Chemical, it's a 100-year-old company and you guys decided you wanted to rebrand, you wanted to really focus on some of your marketing efforts. What did you guys really feel was missing that led you guys to that decision to really try and refocus, reposition and communicate in a better way to your target audiences?

Matt: Yeah. So if you look at Neville in, you look at our product lines, you look at what we're known for in the industry, it's it's hydrocarbon resins, right? And that’s what we're known for. We've always done that. That's our specialty. That's what we are. We do it really, really well. We know it super well. But if you look at our the other portion of our product portfolio, it's not just hydrocarbon resins, it's hydrocarbon resins and. So, you know, as I came on board and I started to pick up those those nuances, so there's there's that part of it, right? It's we kind of pigeonholed ourselves, if you will, into that product type space when we actually have quite a bit more to offer. That I know, except for with the exception of a few customers who we've done custom work for or project specific work, no one else knows that. So how do we get that messaging out? I think that's a big part of what led to that or that drove that change in kind of repositioning or rebranding? Reintroducing is probably a better way to say it. And then, you know, if I look at how, you know, how do we differentiate ourselves in the market, I mentioned, we do custom work, right?

Bill: Specialty chemical manufacturing.

Matt: Yeah. So it's specific to our customer's application or their needs. Right. If existing product that we have doesn't give them the performance or the properties in their finished good that they're looking for, we're more than happy of course with the right business case in place we're more than happy to support those efforts. And then we've found ourselves with this whole section of our product portfolio where they're unique products, they're highly advantageous to, you know, to the end use or the end user. But we haven't told anyone about them. We need to tell people about it. We need to help them understand that these products also have benefits right out of the market space or in the application. And then the other thing that and this is probably me personally coming from coming from a startup world where no idea is a bad idea, every one is a good one. And you want your products in front of as many people as you possibly can, because I think I know how they're going to be used. And I'm pretty confident in in how you should use them, how you could use them. But I’m definitely not all-knowing. And even still with Neville and the history behind hydrocarbon resins or our specific products, I wouldn’t even say hydrocarbons, I'll just say our products. We know pretty well what they do, what they can be used in. But even still, after 100 years, we get applications where it surprises us. How in the world are you using that in our product, in that application? And I do think that there are opportunities out there for that. So that's, you know, another another way. How do we get out into the industry into the market and let our customers say, no, it doesn't work. I don't want to tell you, I don't want to be the one to tell you that it doesn’t work.

Bill: Yeah look at the possibilities, right? Glass half full. And I think when you look at we all face this, no matter whether you're a marketing agency, chemical manufacturer, we have clients who have been with us a long time. And unless we are proactive in telling them what we're doing every day or the new things we can do or the other capabilities that they haven't traditionally purchased from us, they don't know. And what's the rule? It's easier to sell something extra to your current clientele than it is to get a new customer. And certainly if you guys have these custom, specialty chemical manufacturing capacity, capabilities like I saw all the R&D labs and the team there I’m sure they can test things and come up with new strategies or new formulations and then I saw various lab-to-scale testing functionalities and then they showed me the big one that they like. Just amazing. And podcast will just understand I am not the technical supporter here at Neville Chemical they have people that do that. I describe it like a marketer, so that was really bad. But they kind of illustrated what we went through today. We have to remind our customers, our current clients, what we do and that we can do more for them because that that's a tremendous area of growth and opportunity and that that's very critical. So yeah, I think, you know, you guys hit the nail on the head. We've seen a lot of companies come out of COVID who are in that 80, 90, 100-year range who are looking to reposition because they're seeing this is a moment where they have to reinvent themselves again. And if you have a 100-year-old company, is it unrealistic to think that you haven't reinvent yourself ten, 15, 20 times? That's probably true. So you guys are well into that and it's exciting. There's some new team members here alongside you and it feels like there's a lot of energy here in the building. And I think what's really interesting to see is we're working towards a moment where there's new communication about who we are and what we do not new what we do, but just new communication. And if we can bring that moment together with momentum and have it meet our clients with that information, I think that can be that magic. You know, sales, double-digit sales growth we're looking for in that compounded sales growth for years to come. And it's working together on that. That's going to be the fun part and figuring that riddle out. Hopefully more fun and less stress. But we'll see how it goes. 

Matt: Yeah, I’m sure there will be plenty of it. 

Bill: Yeah. Of both, right?

Matt: Yeah. You know we also we have and I'm sure you know, a lot of manufacturing especially in the in the chemical space will say the same thing but we have a really solid a very solid knowledgeable technology team. So our technical director comes from industry, he's got really good experience, super sharp and then the team that supports him as well. They're hungry, right? And, you know, we've got we've got a team. We have a good mix right now of really sound foundational tribal-type information and knowledge. I think Paul, you saw him walk by us earlier, 40 plus years of experience. 

Bill: Yeah it was crazy. We were in the one room and there were three guys who were 40 plus years. Each one of them. And I’m not going to say how old I am. But like, let's say I was only six whenever they started. That's insane. In one room. In one room.

Matt: Yeah, I won't say either, but I didn't exist.

Bill: Yeah, makes me feel good. Yeah, but yeah, that’s right. So you have that tribal knowledge, right, and that's a great foundation. But then what else do you guys have here? Which I think is super exciting.

Matt: Yeah, right. So now we, you know, as, as those guys start to retire and, you know, we've got to backfill, right, and try to bring in young new talent that that's hungry and we have. The team has done a nice job of that and so we want to put them to use. Let them talk with our customers, let them hear about what the industry is doing. We do need to meet some of those new challenges. Obviously, sustainability is a huge push in the industry right now. You know, how can we, you know, not saying that we have a lot to talk about there. But in the future that will be an area where we'll have to have some real discussions and start talking about some some solutions that we can provide to our customers as well.

Bill: Yeah, I think sustainability, one of the things that's happened that's been good about is there's a lot of conversations and everybody, one of the things we did a project on sustainability, helping a client communicate about what they were doing. And I think the good news in every manufacturer that we've run into is that it's not that manufacturers are doing poorly. They aren't taking credit for the good work they're doing. So it's not that you or any other company is doing wrong and all of a sudden we're going to do right. It's like, wow, 80% of what we're doing already is like sustainable. We're not telling anybody about it because in the past it was just what we did as good stewards, right? And now maybe there's some things that we can clean up or as new information and technology and targets are established, we can stretch and try more. But and as we walked around, we heard about the clean waterways experience that your team participates in and how we clean up the Ohio River and just some of the other just things that the team was doing. I mean, I feel like Neville is well on their way to participating in the sustainability conversation. Once again, you guys just haven't said it. So that's exciting for you. I think that'll be a quick transition and move forward for you guys in that space.

Matt: Yeah, certainly as I started to dig into that, right, we get plenty of requests from our customers and I've come from, you know, past organizations that have had that as a, you know, the highest priority. So I wouldn't say I'm well versed in it, but I know enough to be dangerous. Pick up on the hot topics, the buzzwords. But I do see that where we definitely we do a lot of the right stuff already. We just don't talk about it. So and as those metrics are starting to be put in place in the industry, you know, we’ll actually need to talk about it. So, you know, we're starting to go down that path.

Bill: And I think the thing that's exciting about sustainability, and some of these other topics is that it's an open conversation and they're moving the targets. Because the science is going to show us. So some I believe that a lot or some of the targets we're setting are not necessarily based on pure knowledge and accurate science. And that science is going to help us refine those targets. So it really has an impact and what really works right, because we can't say all electric vehicles, all vehicles need to be electric tomorrow because we don't have enough electricity. So one plus one has to equal two, one plus one can’t equal zero. So those are things we have to look at. So, well Matt, I just want to thank you for coming today, too, for sharing with us. We've had a long day. It's well into the evening here, I think it’s about 5, 6:00 we started here about 9:30 this morning. We've done a plant tour. We met with a pile of different people. A number of meetings, just a great, great day. And then thank you for staying and being part of the podcast and just having this conversation by yourself, about Neville Chemical, and just some marketing topics as well.

Matt:  Yeah, of course. Yeah. Thanks for thanks for coming to visit. Like you said, it's been a really good day. We got a lot accomplished. I'm excited for you, putting the podcast together. It's a cool opportunity, right? Yeah, it's a good, good experience to talk about what's going right, what's going, you know, what's going wrong, what's missing? And yeah, I'm happy, to be working with you guys. We're going in the right direction, that's for sure. 

Bill: Well, thank you, Matt, and we appreciate it. 

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