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Danny got to nerd out quite a bit this week! As a newly-licensed pilot, he was more than ready to talk shop with Eric Rojek: Vice President of Thrush Aircraft, Inc.
We first encountered Eric when he spoke at last year’s Georgia Manufacturing Summit. In fact, the entire theme of the 2018 event was aerospace: “Flying High.”
Thrush is a Georgia-based manufacturer…and their entire process, from fabrication to how they scale offline sales tactics, is pretty fascinating.
1. A UNIQUE MANUFACTURING PROCESS
“Thrush Aircraft is one of the worldwide leaders of manufacturing agricultural aircraft,” Eric explained to us. “So one of the cool things that we do here is, not only do we build aircraft, but we’re part of a bigger purpose.
“Our aircraft help feed the world.”
ThrushAircraft’s very first factory was built over 60 years ago. As Eric pointed out, over half a century in manufacturing is nothing to sneeze at. “We must be doing something right!” he laughed.
“The big thing really unique about Thrush is we have full manufacturing capabilities in-house. We literally take raw material in one door, weld it, fabricate it, form it, and produce the Thrush line out the back.”
From machining to fiberglass to electrical wiring to painting to riveting, Thrush really does do it all. Every airplane they create is – indeed, it must be – hand-made, and high in quality.
To Eric, having control over every stage of production is vital. The two most important things that Thrush strives to get right are their people, and their product. Skilled manufacturers making something high-in-quality are vital to the sales process down the road.
2. SELLING THROUGH SUPPORT & TRAINING
“The best thing we have is our product,” Eric asserted proudly. “It stands alone. It speaks for itself.” In other words, once a buyer gets a chance to examine one of their handmade aircraft up close, the plane practically markets itself.
Thrush may use plenty of digital marketing tactics, but for them providing a hands-on experience is often what finalizes a buyer’s decision.
“We do a lot of training classes free of charge. Training’s one of the best sales tools you can have.”
Free education can often be an invaluable marketing tactic. Why? Well, it’s a simple matter of mathematics. If you offer a certain number of classes to a certain number of parties, how many classes do you have to give before you make a sale?
In Thrush’s case, the revenue from a single sale is definitely worth the expense of a few training sessions.
And one of their other major ‘marketing’ tactics…doesn’t really have a whole lot to do with marketing.
For Thrush, providing proper support to existing buyers is equally as important as creating new campaigns to promote whatever they’ve created. A happy customer is a loyal customer…and frankly, snazzy marketing isn’t usually what’s going to bring someone back for more.
“The sales guy sells the first airplane. The support guy sells the next three.”
Controlling the quality of every plane in-house means that Thrush never has to deal with any surprises, or send clients elsewhere for parts. They get to control what they put on the market, and how they can support the products of theirs that are already out there.
3.ESTABLISHING LOCAL INFRASTRUCTURE IN FOREIGN MARKETS
Thrush uses a hybrid approach of direct-to-user marketing and distributors to sell their product. It’s an especially important adaptation for their company, given that 70% of their current business is international.
Selling to foreign markets involves dozens and dozens of hurdles. Thrush has to be aware of customs, civil authorities, and differing federal or regional regulations.
And if your company’s best sales tactic requires an in-person demonstration, then it’s wise to have local representatives when expanding into a foreign country.
That’s why one of Thrush’s first priorities when expanding into a new area is to establish a presence on the ground wherever they’re selling.
“The big thing for us – once we’ve established a market and we understand the opportunities there – is really to have local infrastructure in-country, in-market. And that’s not just necessarily the product itself. That’s the people behind it for support, the people behind it for training that are on the same time zone that can speak the same language…people of that nationality. Someone those buyers can trust in that market is absolutely huge for us.
“Really, to have the local presence is one of the things that we really nail that has really spurred a lot of our growth and success.”
By using digital marketing techniques and tools to identify their buyer personas in each market, Thrush can identify where they should offer training sessions next. Over time, this means they can scale offline sales tactics more successfully.
South America is one of Thrush’s biggest current markets, but a lot of countries are growing their agriculture. More and more countries want to start feeding their own populations and import fewer American crops.
Eastern Europe is the next area that, according to Eric, will probably be their next big target.
4. VARIED LANGUAGE IN MESSAGING
Of course, even with local teams on the ground, creating multicultural marketing messages is a major challenge.
“When you come up with campaigns, you have to think, ‘How does that translate into multiple different languages and multiple different cultures?’ And each market’s different. Each customer’s different.”
As Danny discussed with Joanne Sanders of the Georgia World Trade Center on an earlier episode, accidental oversights in international marketing can have devastating consequences on corporate brands.
In fact, sometimes messages can get ‘lost in translation’ without changing languages at all!
“We basically have broken down our sales into two different buckets to keep things simple. We have mature markets– those are customers that have been using our product for ten, fifteen, twenty years. More replacement. And then we have emerging markets where basically this is their first time being exposed to our products. So we really try to have multiple campaigns.”
Thrush has to make sure that their campaigns use different dialects just based on whether someone is a new prospect or a previous buyer. Familiar clients may understand plenty of Thrush terminology and company jargon that just confuses newcomers.
“[If I use] the lingo we use with a mature customer, these emerging market individuals will say, ‘Eric, what are you talking about? Slow down for me a little bit!’ ”
In the end, Thrush Aircraft’s marketing success comes down to knowing their buyers well.
By having boots on the ground wherever they go, and knowing how to treat each potential client, they have the freedom to unplug from the usual digital tools if they deem it appropriate. Thrush knows how to scale offline sales tactics like training sessions because they’ve spent time getting to know their audience.
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