Q & A with Marketing and Growth Project Manager, CJ Osborn

CJ Osborn, Growth & Marketing Project Manager

Q. Tell me about your role at CIRAS and the type of clients you work with?  
A. I lead the CIRAS Business Team, which offers services in the areas of marketing, supply chain, and other non-technical business functions.  As part of that team, I serve as a project manager focused on marketing strategy, and I help growing manufacturers gain insights on their served markets in support of growth.  That can take the form of qualitative or quantitative market research, business modeling, selling, or strategic analysis.

Q. What is the best part of your job?
A. It is fulfilling to me when I am able to complement the knowledge of the companies I’m supporting, and often this means discovering information required to make a change with a new product, marketing program, or distribution strategy.

Q. You work with a lot of Iowa Manufacturers – what does everybody in the industry seem to be talking about right now in regards to marketing?
A. Artificial Intelligence (AI, e.g., Chat GPT) is top of mind for everyone.  It is impressive.  But we need to use it with a specific objective and consider it as one good input (of many) for finding ways to gain customer trust, appreciation and future business.  But expecting AI to tell us what to do with marketing is unrealistic and possibly foolish.

Q. What do you see as the greatest opportunity for manufacturers in Iowa right now? 
A. We have an increasing number of tools for getting good information from customers about how we can make their jobs easier, help them reduce their pains, and help them realize their gains.  Manufacturers must ensure they are challenging themselves in collecting and using this information.  If a given competitor is more adept in that process, there is a real likelihood they will use it to gain share and scale in a way that makes future growth dramatically more difficult for a given manufacturer.

Q. What do you think is the greatest barrier preventing companies from taking the first step in improving marketing and sales?
A. Probably comfort with the status quo.  Short of the disruption caused during COVID, the business environment has been favorable to most businesses.   They say a “rising tide floats all boats,” but “tough seas make good captains.”  To ensure companies remain focused and in touch, I often help them understand how their revenue growth compares to the overall growth of the markets they serve.  In addition, we sometimes look at the growth rate of some key competitors.  Practices like that, done periodically, can complement feedback from customers in regards to a company’s standing in the market and the value of what a company is offering.  Even if a company is satisfied with their performance (without comparison to benchmarks), they should seek this feedback to avoid becoming complacent.

Q. What advice do you have for manufacturers who are considering improvements to their sales and marketing work?
A. We see that understanding the performance related to their “Sales Funnel” is a great place to start once they are grounded in the size and growth of their served markets.   In simple terms, this means understanding how a company is doing in generating sales leads, converting leads to quotes, converting quotes to orders, and understanding the number of orders that lead to repeat orders.  It is good to ask which of those conversion points need more attention in order to increase sales.  In addition, it is a great framework for clarifying the intention of a given sales or marketing program.  Any sales and marketing program or campaign should play a very intentional part in making the sales funnel more productive.

Q. Do you have any closing thoughts?
A. Most of my career has been with larger companies that are either headquartered or heavily invested in Iowa.  While I am thankful for that experience, I absolutely love the role and mission of CIRAS in helping growing manufacturers.  The work of CIRAS is evaluated based on how it impacts a given company’s sales, employment, cost saving or investments.  This orientation translates into CIRAS being extremely objective in completing projects that will benefit our customers.  A project manager’s capabilities, overall CIRAS capabilities, ISU talent and resources, and sometimes the specialized talents of third parties, allow us to complete a lot of good work on behalf of Iowa State and our other funders.  I’m thankful to be a part of this organization.  Go State!

For more information, contact CJ Osborn at cjosborn@iastate.edu or 641-840-0505.