In the fourth episode of our CSIA Executive Conference series, Grace Clark sits down live at the 2023 Control System Integrators Association Executive Conference in New Orleans. Grace chats with Kimberly Shirk of Huffman Engineering and Sabrina Kilgore of Concept Systems Inc.
In this series, Grace Clark sits down live at the 2023 CSIA Executive Conference. Grace chats with Kimberly Shirk of Huffman Engineering and Sabrina Kilgore of Concept Systems Inc.
Kimberly Shirk – Huffman Engineering
To get us started, if you could just say your name, your title, and what company you’re with.
You bet. Kimberly Shirk, Marketing Manager at Huffman Engineering.
And what brings you to the CSIA Executive Conference?
Several of our cohorts came here to the CSIA conference. This is my second year. I’m really excited to be back here. I’ve been a part of the marketing team and committee this year and it’s been just a great adventure to here and learn more about CSIA, to reconnect with different partners and to continue making connections.
What’s been your favorite part of the conference so far?
There are so many different favorite parts of this conference. I think I love and get really energized by the speakers, hearing their new ideas, hearing their excitement and commitment to the future of industrial automation. That’s really fun.
Obviously the networking and meeting new people and hearing fresh ideas, hearing the state of the industry. I’m relatively new to the industry and so for me it’s exciting to continue to learn and to continue to grow in my knowledge base. And then I’m a future thinker. So to think and get excited about where we’re going as an industry and how I can help from a marketing perspective is just really energizing and exciting for me.
So speaking of the future of the industry, what have you heard or what have you learned that has you most excited?
I think we are poised as an industry, and by that I mean system integrators in general. Automation in general to just explode. And I know that’s contrary to what a lot of people are saying in terms of a recession and slowing things down and the economy and things like that. But in my mind, with infrastructure money, with concerns about people retiring and a knowledge base, retiring with it, with concerns about people not being able to fulfill jobs and needing automation, I believe that our industry is poised with the knowledge and experience to absolutely explode in terms of what we can offer people.
And from a marketing perspective, I think we have this great opportunity to talk about the amazing things engineers do every single day to help communities and individuals just really help our lives. I mean, it’s the systems that we use every single day. It is the water that we drink. It is the medicines that we put into our bodies to help cure a headache. It is, I mean, you could just go on and on with the different industries that we use and we are really engineering with impact, and to be able to tell those stories is really exciting.
So from my perspective, the future is so bright and to be in this industry is so exciting. I can’t wait to be a part of it and just explode with it.
You kind of touched on this already, and since we’re a marketing company, I like to ask why do you feel marketing is important to this industry?
Oh, that’s such a fun question. So my background is marketing, so of course I get excited about it personally. But what I have learned in my short time in engineering is that engineers are incredibly talented and gifted because they live in the weeds. They live really down close in electrical panels and design systems, and they live in the wires and they live in the systems. But marketing people live in 10,000 feet. They live in the sky and they tell the high level stories. And to be able to tell the average human being who does not maybe live in the electrical schematics of the systems that we use every day, the toilets that we flush and the sinks that we turn on and things like that to tell the average human being, the complicated systems that we have to use and maintain and continually update and upgrade in order to make those systems work for us all the time so that we can have the creature comforts that we have.
It’s just a fun opportunity to be able to tell those stories. And that’s what marketing does. Marketing is really all about just telling great stories. And when we can tell those stories and pull the engineers and grasp that talent and share that with other people, it’s a great opportunity. And just to showcase their talent. I mean, they’re brilliant. They’re really talented and brilliant. They should be able to puff their chest out and say, ‘look what I did’. We have engineers climbing on the top of the Eisenhower Tunnel to upgrade a tunnel in North America, that is the most traveled tunnel if you want to go from Nebraska to Colorado and go ski, that’s cool. That’s just cool stuff. And that’s just one example of one project here that system integrators are doing all the time. They do cool, cool stuff. And I’ve heard that from every single integrator that I’ve talked to. They do really cool stuff. We should be able to tell those stories
What has been maybe one of the most difficult parts for you of getting into marketing for the industry or where you’ve seen the most struggle?
That’s a great question too. They have a lot of acronyms in a lot of acronyms in this industry. I don’t think it took me a day to realize, oh my goodness, I got to go back to school. And so thank you Google for letting me Google a lot of different acronyms from SCADA to H M I, to who knows, IO, OT, all kinds of different acronyms. But that has been fun as well. Every different time you learn something new, it expands your mind and it allows you an opportunity to grow as an individual and things like that.
There’s a lot of technical terms and I think that’s probably the biggest challenge is just the vocabulary that comes along with really technical industries, but it’s also really exciting. It’s a great opportunity. So that’s probably been my biggest personal challenges to kind of wrap my head around the complexity that comes with controls.
What has been your favorite part of working with Huffman?
Oh, that’s a great question. So Huffman Engineering is a family owned company, and so they really have embraced just that family culture and really believing in the people there. That’s something that’s really important to me, I think people are your most important asset always and caring for the people that are around you and professional development is a really important foundational factor for them.
Their core values are do the right thing, simplify the complex, make others successful. And those core values are things that – we’re not perfect humans, nobody’s a perfect human – but we strive for those things every day. And so by striving for those core values and helping one another and making others successful every day, that’s just what we strive to do. And so those core values are really important and it’s embraced in kind of a small company. But what I love is that we’re a small but mighty company.
The projects we do are really big, really significant, and I like being a part of that. And that core belief in professional development and continually learning is just really important to me. I see it in the engineers and the level of complex projects that they take on and are able to jump on and quickly learn and quickly grow. And that’s fun to see. Also as we bring in interns and we bring on new employees that quick learning style, that’s been really fun. It’s really fun to see somebody ramp up their knowledge super fast just because of how talented they are.
What’s one thing that you wish all engineers or all system integrators could understand about marketing? Or if you had a magic wand that could say, poof, you’re going to understand this now, what would that be?
Marketing is so much more than fun and fluff. That’s what I would call it. Marketing is real business value, and marketing brings major, major business value. I remember one of the questions I said I had for Huffman engineering when I came and I said, ‘is this a leadership position?’. And I meant that in the means that marketing should always have a seat at the table, because the ROI that comes from marketing – when it’s done right and it’s done well – is so significant that it breeds direct results to your bottom line, to the culture at your organization, to your people, to the projects that you get and to just the value of your organization, the brand that you perceive, everything from the people that you hire to your recruitment strategy, to just the significance of the projects that you can even bid on. They all go back to marketing and people don’t often understand that.
And I think especially in engineering – again, where they live in the highly technical, very close up in the weeds – and they do it with excellence and they do it with incredible talent and I think it’s awesome. But there is an opportunity for engineers to really find a whole other gear to maybe speak in their terms a little bit, a whole new gear of business if they will embrace marketing and see a whole new level of business that can really take them to a whole other level of competition on the world stage, I believe.
Sabrina Kilgore – Concept Systems Inc
If you could just say your name, title, and what company you’re with.
My name is Sabrina Kilgore. I’m the Marketing Manager at Concept Systems Inc. Based out of Oregon.
What are you here to get out of the conference?
I’m to network with other like-minded individuals, specifically in marketing. There’s not many opportunities where I can meet up with other marketers, marketing towards engineers, additionally, other system integrators. It’s such a niche environment that it’s nice to be around other people in the industry once a year.
What have you enjoyed most about the conference so far and what are you looking forward to?
I think the two keynote speakers today have been great, inspiring both of them about leadership. A real growth mindset, kind of work ethic. It means a lot to me, everybody’s a leader. That’s really what I try to weigh heavily on.
What do you think the future of the industry is looking like or what are you looking forward to?
I think we’re all talking about this looming recession or give it whatever title. And I think automation is where we’re seeing the future go towards.
And specific to you, because you’re a marketing person at your company and really the only marketing person at your company, why do you think marketing is important to system integrators?
You ask people what a system integrator is or what they do. It was said this morning even, that it’s difficult to define it. And so if we can market it with pictures and other content and all the bells and whistles, I think it can really humanize it, or normalize it, outside of the niche. People can begin to understand the value in system integration.
And because you are a marketing person at your company without an engineering background, what do you wish that more system integrators could understand or appreciate about marketing?
I think about the value of marketing and how it feeds the sales team. I don’t think historically that there’s been an effort to make that make sense. These are engineering firms led by engineers, founded by engineers, and marketing is sort of a arts and crafts scenario to them. And I think if they understood the value… I listened to a lot of things about how millennials and Gen Z individuals are coming up and how they’re marketed towards entirely different, in a different manner than those before them. I think it matters and they need to pay attention. It’s not just word of mouth. Now they’re online, they’re paying attention to reviews and what other people are saying, regardless of what neighborhoods you’re living in or what state you’re from, they’ll come to find the best person and not just the person down the street.
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