Full Transcript: Episode 7 'Into the Unknown'

Kenny Heidel (00:10):

Welcome, everyone, to the Operation Automation podcast by Omron, where we're talking all things factory automation. My name is Kenny Heidel, and I'm a channel development manager focusing on channel engagement. I've been with Omron for three years, and have 12 years of combined factory and industrial automation experience. Sitting here with me is Carrie Lee.

Carrie Lee (00:27):

Hi, everyone. I'm Carrie Lee. I'm the product manager for Sysmac Studio, NJ/NX controllers and NX-IO. I've been with Omron for about two and a half years, and have about 15 years of experience in automation.

Kenny Heidel (00:42):

Carrie and I are neighbors at our Omron office, and would often have conversations at the coffee machine or in the hallways where we would talk about products, new technologies and trends, and of course, the Chicago White Sox. We hope to recreate that time here on our podcast and share it with our listeners, so that you can learn along with us. Whether you're pouring your first or your fifth coffee of the day, driving to your first appointment or walking the dog, we hope to help you start your day right with a little bit of fun. Hopefully you'll learn something new as well.

Kenny Heidel (01:10):

Carrie, we got a pretty special show today. I know we've had a lot of guest shows before, but this one, everybody's just stuck with you and me. We are going to have a discussion. I'm trying to think. What was the other song, Carrie that you had thought of for Into the Unknown?

Carrie Lee (01:26):

Tom Petty, Great Wide Open.

Kenny Heidel (01:28):

Tom Petty, that's right. Into the great wide open.

Carrie Lee (01:32):

There it is.

Kenny Heidel (01:36):

We're going to talk a little bit about Into the Unknown. We've had a lot of conversations on this podcast about what work has been like during the pandemic. We want to start to focus on moving away from the pandemic topics and getting back to what we saw before as our normal world in industrial automation. I'd be remiss, because we haven't let our listeners know what our answers are to the three questions. Carrie, I'm going to start with you. What is your go-to food order?

Carrie Lee (02:05):

Well, Kenny, it depends. If I get to pick, I'm going to get some Thai food. There's a really good place two towns down from us. If I'm not choosing, we're going to have a lot of pizza in our house. We're from Chicago, and I don't know about you, but deep dish is only when you have visitors. I'm always going to get a nice tavern crust, square cut, get some sausage on there, maybe some mushrooms. How about you?

Kenny Heidel (02:30):

I'm with you. I'm with you. If people come from out of town and everybody says we've got to have deep dish, I'm like, "All right, fine, fine. We can have deep dish." I couldn't tell you the last time I ordered it just to eat with my family. Definitely thin crust all the way.

Carrie Lee (02:44):

Every once in a while, right? It's pretty good cold the next morning too.

Kenny Heidel (02:48):

Yep. Yep. That is true. That is true. My go-to food order would be more a burger place that's not too far north of here that makes fantastic fries, actually got voted one of the best fries in the Chicago suburbs. That's where I go for a nice burger and fries. It's our go-to order. We've probably gone there once a month.

Carrie Lee (03:08):

All right, let's go for some sponsorships here. What's the name of the place?

Kenny Heidel (03:11):

Burger Social, The Burger Social.

Carrie Lee (03:14):

Oh, nice.

Kenny Heidel (03:15):

Fantastic, fantastic burgers.

Carrie Lee (03:17):

Is that in Wheaton?

Kenny Heidel (03:19):

It is. It is.

Carrie Lee (03:19):

They have a sister restaurant out here by me called Burger Local, and it is excellent. Really good burgers there. It's a good choice.

Kenny Heidel (03:27):

All right. Social and Local, winners all around. All right, Carrie. Second hard-hitting question. If you have to get work done, what is your jam music choice?

Carrie Lee (03:46):

I like a lot of different music, but in honor of our executive producer Tad, who's from Washington, I'm going to go with Sleater-Kinney. I always can put one of their albums on to help me focus up and get some work done. How about you?

Kenny Heidel (03:59):

Nice. I fall on two spectrums, I'd say. Part of me thinks if I have to do a lot of reading to get that work done, then I've actually been throwing on movie soundtracks. There's no words. There's music going on, but I always get very distracted in my head when I start to hear lyrics in songs. Throw some orchestral music on and crush through the work. If I don't have to put a lot of mental power ahead, Metallica is my favorite band. I'll usually go find one of their albums and put it on, and that'll pump me up to get through it.

Carrie Lee (04:34):

Did you see there's an album coming out of a bunch of different artists are covering Metallica for their anniversary? It looks pretty cool.

Kenny Heidel (04:43):

I did. I did. I actually listened to one of them yesterday, and it actually sounded pretty cool. I mean, I love their music, right? I've always enjoyed even when other bands cover other bands' music. It's always interesting to hear a different way that people play the same song.

Carrie Lee (04:59):

Are you a big karaoke guy too, then?

Kenny Heidel (05:04):

Back a long time ago, a long, long time ago. Back when I was much, much younger.

Carrie Lee (05:10):

What's your karaoke song?

Kenny Heidel (05:11):

Of Metallica?

Carrie Lee (05:13):

No, just anybody.

Kenny Heidel (05:14):

Oh, okay. I thought you were saying Metallica. Anybody, I'd probably throw a little Bon Jovi in there. I would karaoke Metallica too, but probably some Bon Jovi in there. What about you?

Carrie Lee (05:28):

I mean, you've got to go with Journey for the White Sox. 2005 gets everybody going.

Kenny Heidel (05:34):

Don't stop believing.

Carrie Lee (05:35):

There you go. All right, Kenny, what's your favorite hobby?

Kenny Heidel (05:40):

My favorite hobby is I would probably say playing golf. Recreational golf is always fun to me. Even if you play like junk, it's still enjoyable to be out. I've always played sports most of my life. It's always enjoyable for me to get out and compete, even though golf is usually just competing against yourself. I'd say my favorite hobby is definitely golf, other than playing with my two little boys.

Carrie Lee (06:05):


Kenny Heidel (06:06):

What about you?

Carrie Lee (06:09):

Probably a couple years ago, I would've said going to concerts. Between the pandemic and just getting older, I haven't done that as much as I used to, but I do collect a lot of vinyl. Music would definitely be a hobby for me, listening to music in different forms.

Kenny Heidel (06:24):

Your favorite jam choice could have been a bunch of different artists.

Carrie Lee (06:28):

It would've been too hard to pick. That's why I decided to go with Sleater-Kinney, because we were just talking about them.

Kenny Heidel (06:34):

Gotcha. Gotcha. All right. Well, hopefully we've given our listeners a little bit more of an insight into us, saying that we would actually answer those same three questions instead of just grilling our guests with them. All right, let's get down to business. As we start to look into the unknown and what things are going to be like as the pandemic winds down and things start to open up, what do you think the sales world's going to look like post-pandemic? What do you think that sales cycle's going to even look like?

Carrie Lee (07:03):

Sure. To me, there's a lot of interesting things happening, right? We have the emergence of new technologies, which gives us a different way to interact with our customers. Then going back to some conversations you and I have had in the past about the shifting workforce, right? There was a study by Merit in 2019 that said when we're talking business to business ... B2B, right, that's what we deal in ourselves ... 73% of B2B buyers are millennials, right? We've got the younger generation coming in and making these buying decisions, and their preference is to communicate with salespeople via email or phone by almost three to one. I don't know if you've seen much of that for you, because you are starting in a sales role now, right? Shifting from marketing to sales.

Kenny Heidel (07:51):

Yeah. You know, I'll say in shifting to sales, even though it has not been very long, I've definitely found myself transitioning a little bit more from email to phone call, just because you get a sense. Where a couple emails back and forth, someone's asking you a couple questions, eventually I'm like, "I'm just going to pick up the phone and call them," because I'm tired of the back-and-forth emails. I also understand that sometimes it's easier for people to process information via email. If I send you an email with a lot of different points, especially if I'm trying to sell you a different automation solution, there's a lot of different things that you can put in that email. It gives them a chance to really digest it, think about their application and things like that.

Kenny Heidel (08:36):

I can appreciate both sides, but I feel like it's going to start to come back. Maybe not quite the same as what it was pre-pandemic, but I think it's going to get pretty close. I think people are going to start to wane a little bit on the digital side. Sure, you can always be connected with Zoom meetings and all of that stuff, but I feel like people are itching. Just being social creatures, right, I feel like people are itching for more in-person activity.

Carrie Lee (09:07):

Yeah. I think it's an interesting point, right? Maybe it's going to be more like you said. Here's an email with the information for you to digest, and then let's get together and talk about it. Because it also comes to that factor of everybody, it seems, is resource-strapped now, right? I can remember in a previous role I had, we would have vendors come in and they'd want to sit down and have a meeting and you're talking. I remember that was stressful for me, because I had so many other things to do than sit in an hour-, hour and a half-long meeting. Like you said, there's value of that conversation and getting a feel for where people are.

Carrie Lee (09:43):

Now, my manager at my previous role, he loved those meetings. He was older, and he loved to be able to sit and have that rapport with the salesperson. I think, like you said, there's definitely going to be a need to have that human interaction, get a gauge for how people are feeling, but I think we're going to continue to shift to be a little bit more efficient with our time than maybe the sales calls, of the donut runs and let's go out for lunch and all of that.

Kenny Heidel (10:11):

Hopefully what this has taught us too, to piggyback on that, is there were times before when it was primarily in-person visits, and certain activity was held up because of people's schedules to physically be together. I think we'll start to see less of that. I think people have identified there's things that they can do virtually, whether it be certain proof of concepts or video calls, something like that, that can take the place of, "All right. Well, I need to get back in to that customer, but I can't get back there. If today's Tuesday, I can't get back there until Friday." There might be ways that they can bridge that gap, so there's not as much of a sales cycle that's waiting on people's schedules.

Carrie Lee (10:50):

That's a really good point. I hadn't really thought about that. One of the things too that I was reading along the idea from sales was a lot of the changes, and we hear this in a lot of different areas, right? The technology has been in place for a while, whether it's Zoom, whether it's having chatbots on websites. The technology was in place to streamline and leverage technology to be able to have that touch with your customers without it being so labor-intensive. When everyone had to stay at home, it accelerated that shift.

Carrie Lee (11:22):

One of the things I was reading about is, especially in distribution where margins are pretty tight, there's been a shift to use inside sales more who can touch more customers in a day, and then allow the outside sales reps to really build up their knowledge of their customer and really start to focus on providing value and solutions, and really spending that time to understand their customers. It's an interesting shift in that, hey, let's really leverage technology, but at the same time we're actually probably going to have more intimacy with our customers. I'm interested to see how that shakes out. I suppose, what have you seen with your role, working with our distribution channel?

Kenny Heidel (12:00):

Sure, sure. Well, I've definitely seen, as things have started to loosen up on restrictions and everything, one key thing I've seen is when the pandemic started, right, everybody was getting webinared to death, especially on the distribution side. You've got multiple vendors, so everybody's like, "All right, let's take this time and take advantage of it. Let's give webinars on all these different technologies." From a channel perspective, right, if you're a distributor with multiple different vendors that you represent, now you're getting hit up by all of them for X amount of webinars. At the beginning it was good, because hey, I can sharpen my skills. I can learn a little bit more about these technologies.

Kenny Heidel (12:39):

I think as things have started to open up, I think even beyond just distributors, I think even moving into customers, people are webinared out at this point. If you're trying to schedule a webinar to go over a topic, it better be really, really interesting to that customer to be able to sit through it. I feel like now, everybody's just fading on that a little bit. I'm not sure if you've seen a similar thing from the product management side, giving webinars, if you're seeing similar attendance to what you were when the pandemic started.

Carrie Lee (13:10):

Yeah. I think it's a mix. I think that we've gotten better at doing them, and more flexible to do them more on demand. I think the virtual events will continue to be something we work with, but to your point, maybe we can be more targeted and really specific with them, and then tying into the live aspect. I just had a request from our ATC team to provide some content in preparation for a visit that the customer's going to have. This way, a customer can have an overview of our technologies and solutions as almost like a primer, right? Then when they come in, they've seen all that.

Carrie Lee (13:48):

Going back to your point about sending that email and digesting a lot of information, hopefully they'll have digested that, maybe have some questions. Then when they come in person, they've already got that background knowledge. I'm pretty excited for that, and interested to see how it shakes out and how the reaction is with the customer.

Kenny Heidel (14:06):

I feel like that's something that maybe in the past we for sure would've taken for granted, right? I'm sure you, just like me, have been on customer calls where you get in and it's like, try to figure out what this customer's pain points are and how you can address them with an automation solution. Now I feel like, with how reliant we had to become on technology in the virtual world, that it's kind of like we have this other trick up our sleeve that we've been able to practice now for a year. It would be a shame, right, if you didn't utilize those skills that you've had to use over that time, and just went back into your old ways.

Carrie Lee (14:43):

A hundred percent. Using that example of the customer visit, you've been there. Usually it's, "Hey, we've got a customer coming. Can you talk for half an hour?" Then the next person's talking for half an hour, and then they're going to go tour. Depending on where you're at in the schedule, you can tell how glazed over and how much death-by-PowerPoint that customer's been through. Where now, if we give that video ahead of time and they can watch it at their leisure, or watch it and hopefully take notes and be ready to really dive in, hopefully we will have better questions and better intimacy this way.

Kenny Heidel (15:14):

Absolutely, and ultimately better for the customer, right?

Carrie Lee (15:16):

Oh, yeah. For sure.

Kenny Heidel (15:16):

They're going to get more out of that. It's going to be more targeted, more towards what they're looking for.

Carrie Lee (15:23):

We're coming out of this pandemic and things are opening up, and we're definitely able to get more in-person meetings. We're spending more time at our customers and internal meetings. What have you noticed that has changed maybe in the way that we're interacting, and what did you realize like, "Oh, man, I really missed this part of it. I didn't realize how critical that was in the last year that we weren't getting that"?

Kenny Heidel (15:47):

I think from a missing out standpoint, I think it's those spontaneous conversations. I feel like, when we're in the Zoom world or having lots of Teams calls and things like that, sometimes you can get very robotic. Like I'm going to call Carrie, I'm going to talk to her about A, B and C, and then I'm going to get off the phone and I'm going to go continue on working, based on A, B and C. Then if have to call somebody else, I'm going to call them, but I'm only going to talk about A, B and C. Whereas I feel like the in-person stuff, you have that ability to build a relationship with that person.

Kenny Heidel (16:22):

Ultimately we're all human, right? It's that connection, the little spontaneous conversations, I think I miss the most. Like you're sitting in the lobby with an account manager or somebody from a distributor or even a customer. You're just spitballing and talking about different things that are going on in your life, as opposed to it seems like everything in the pandemic side, on the virtual side, went very straight to, "I've got to get in, I've got to find out my information, and I've got to get out."

Carrie Lee (16:53):

Yeah. I mean, I know for me personally, when I'm on the Zoom call, I forget to ask people how they're doing. You forget that it's an actual person. It's not just a floating head. I mean, even you and I. I always knew how your kids were doing and the latest silly thing that they got up to. Now it's been a year and a half, and I forget. We don't have that downtime to talk about the kids anymore.

Kenny Heidel (17:14):

I know. Do you feel like, as we start to move back, there's going to be ... it goes back a little bit, I think, to what Mark said too. You're going to be a lot more intentional about your interactions. You're going to spend more time and really try to be in the moment a little bit more when you're talking to different people, whether it be coworkers or whether it be distributors or customers.

Carrie Lee (17:34):

Yeah. I mean, I've noticed, even when I go to the grocery store, I try to just say, "Hey, how are you doing? How's your day?" Like you said, you take it for granted, and you forget that there's people there. You know, we're working from home a lot more. We will be working at home at least part-time for the foreseeable future, here at Omron. What are some things that you've done to accommodate working from home?

Kenny Heidel (17:59):

When the pandemic started, I didn't really have an office at home, or at least it was shared amongst myself and my wife. As things started to seem like we were going to be remote a lot longer, I've invested in a desk and an office chair and things like that. I've also tried to, from a tool perspective on what I try to provide, either on the product marketing side to customers or even to channel partners, is really trying to think about ... it gives you a chance to step back and say what am I providing, and is it valuable.

Kenny Heidel (18:32):

I think from a mindset standpoint, that's the biggest thing I've shifted from. Sometimes I feel like before, you'd be so focused on, "I gotta get this done, I gotta get this done," as opposed to having that opportunity when you're working remote to be able to step back and say like, "All right, I put this together. It's good information, but is it truly valuable and is it going to help the customer understand the situation and the solution, or is it going to help the channel partner understand the interaction and the process involved?" What do you think? What have you done to cozy yourself up, I would say, to working remote?

Carrie Lee (19:08):

Sure. When you're talking about content and collateral, one of the things like you mentioned, making sure that the thing is actually valuable and then usable. I worked on a demo with member of our ATC team, and we were really focused on how can we make this accessible remotely so that anyone can use it. Which if we're being honest, we probably should have been thinking about that a couple years ago, again, going back to that concept of the technologies there, but it brought it to the front of mind that, hey, someone needs to be able to get this information, and they may be in their bedroom or in a closet somewhere hiding from the noisy dogs and kids, so keeping that in mind.

Carrie Lee (19:47):

As far as from a personal space and sanity standpoint, one of the things I had to get used to, one was it was pretty lonely, right? You're just in a room all day and then you get used to that, and then you're doing other things and you're staring at screens. I really pushed myself to get into a routine of just, at a certain time, just get up and walk away, even if there's still work to do, and come back. I don't know about you, but I really missed having a commute, which I will never say again because I'm so thankful to have more time, but that commute of that downtime to turn off from work, or you're driving in and you could start to think about what are you going to do for the day.

Carrie Lee (20:34):

One of the things I've done, coincidentally, is we have a puppy at my house. Now I make sure the first thing we do in the morning is we go for a really long walk. I use that as my commute time. I'll listen to a podcast, usually just ours but sometimes other people's, and then sit there and think. Okay, what are my three things I want to get done today from a work standpoint? What are the three things from a personal standpoint, but just using that time to kind of shift. Then at the end of the day, I take the dog for a walk again. I try to do a more lighthearted podcast, but yeah.

Carrie Lee (21:10):

I guess I'm really thankful to have the opportunity to be able to ... I don't know about you, but it's a lot easier to work out when you're not trying to fit it around an hour and a half worth of driving every day, right? That's been a nice, very nice bonus for me.

Kenny Heidel (21:25):

I think I could definitely agree with you on the commute thing. There's been a couple times that I've had to drive to the office, and I'm always just a little bit amazed. I'm like, "Wow, I used to do this every day." Now it's like I do it maybe once a month, and it's a big, big shift in mentality. Having a five-second commute is always really enjoyable too, right?

Carrie Lee (21:51):

Yeah. Yeah. It's just making some other time, to even just put some headphones on and blast some Sleater-Kinney or Metallica, that time to yourself in a bubble.

Kenny Heidel (22:04):

One more main question for you, Carrie. What was your fondest memory of working remote? As you think back maybe five years from now, you're going to think back on this time. What's been your fondest memory? It can be personal, it can be work-related, but what is something you'll look upon and think, "That was kind of cool"?

Carrie Lee (22:23):

From a personal standpoint, the ability to fit, have a better work/life balance. I definitely see the sun more than I have in several years, because I'll take the opportunity just to check emails, sit outside in the backyard, go for a run over lunch, those type of things. From an Omron standpoint, the videos that we did right at the beginning of the pandemic, I thought that was such a cool idea that they had. It was so fun to see people's personalities. It really felt like it was bringing people together. It made me appreciative of working at a company like Omron, that really tried to take a tough time and make sure we all were connected during it.

Kenny Heidel (23:08):

Sure, sure.

Carrie Lee (23:08):

How about you?

Kenny Heidel (23:09):

For me on a personal level, after obviously going to the office all the time, it was something. I have two young kids. I got to have lunch with them. That's something that I would not have been able to do, had the pandemic not happened. It was something really enjoyable to me because it's something that they would look forward to, something I would look forward to, that you take a little bit of time out of your day and go spend time with your kids, when this wouldn't normally have been the situation that would happen.

Carrie Lee (23:39):

That's really nice.

Kenny Heidel (23:40):

From the work side, I think the fondest memory I'll think of is previously on the product marketing side, you'd have customer visit trips planned out every few months and everything like that. It's being able to help a customer through a really challenging time but doing it a lot quicker in the virtual world, because you could say, "Hey, let's jump on a Zoom call tomorrow and we can walk through it," as opposed to being like, "Well, maybe I can get out there and answer that question, but it's going to take me a little bit longer to get to you." Whereas in the virtual world, it seemed like it really sped that up. It really started to give you a lot more of a rewarding success to say like, "Hey, I've helped this customer with this solution, and I've done it much, much quicker because we've utilized the technology tools we have."

Carrie Lee (24:28):

That's a great point. Much better than my video comment, but I still like the videos.

Kenny Heidel (24:33):

Oh, for sure. For sure.

Carrie Lee (24:35):

Well, we're winding down to the end of our time here, Kenny. I don't know about you, but I am excited at this new normal. I think we're, not just as Omron, not just as two people but I think in general, people are taking advantage of what they learned from the pandemic, whether it's like you mentioned, not taking things for granted or leveraging technology a little bit more. I hope that, like you said, we can make sure to take advantage that we're still making those human connections now that we have them, and are appreciating that time a little bit more.

Kenny Heidel (25:05):

Yeah. It's like hitting the reset button, right? Everybody was go, go, go. Everything had be done very similar ways. Then the world gave us a big reset button to rethink how we do things. I'm excited to see how things move into the future, with the combination of how we used to do things and how we had to do things in the pandemic. I think it's going to drive a lot of innovation and a lot of interesting solutions for sure.

Carrie Lee (25:35):

Yeah. I think we really hit the gas on adopting technology, which I think will be great.

Kenny Heidel (25:39):

Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, Carrie, since we don't have a guest, that means I get to ask you a question.

Carrie Lee (25:46):

All right. Is it on the topic, or is this going to just be a potpourri?

Kenny Heidel (25:52):

Oh, I wish I could say it was potpourri, but it is on the topic. From a Gallup poll that was taken in January 2021, what percentage of Americans were always or sometimes working remote as of January of this year?

Carrie Lee (26:08):

Okay. Well, you've got to remember there's front-line workers. Let's say 67%, two-thirds. How close am I?

Kenny Heidel (26:20):

It was a good guess. You're pretty close. It's actually 56. I'll follow it up with this interesting question. I'll be curious. Of those people that responded that were working remote, what percentage do you think said they would stay remote if given the option?

Carrie Lee (26:39):

70% of those people, most people, but you've got the guys who like to chitchat and come into the office and that routine. That's what I'm going to say, 70%.

Kenny Heidel (26:49):

70? On the contrary, 23%.

Carrie Lee (26:53):


Kenny Heidel (26:53):


Carrie Lee (26:54):


Kenny Heidel (26:54):

Even though people are working remote, it seems like those that are working remote, the majority of them want to get back to going in to the office or in to their facility, wherever they were working.

Carrie Lee (27:06):

Interesting. I wonder what that will shake out to be, where that 56% number will be a year from now.

Kenny Heidel (27:11):

Yeah, it'll be interesting. We should look at that in our follow-up to Into the Unknown. The We Made It to the Unknown podcast.

Carrie Lee (27:17):

Out of the Unknown.

Kenny Heidel (27:26):

There you go. That's what I was looking for.

Carrie Lee (27:26):

Thank you, everyone, for joining Kenny and me for the Operation Automation podcast. If you have topics you would like to hear discussed on future episodes, please send them to our email address, omronnow@omron.com, with Podcast Idea in the subject line. Also, if you would like to submit a song to us, we are looking for intro and outro music options. This can be submitted to the same email. Finally, all of the cool things you learn on this podcast can be found on automation.omron.com. Until next time, we put the fun in factory automation.