Alliance Day Highlights – Beyond Traditional Marketing – Part 2

August 25, 2009

In this post, we continue to share discussion topics from the Alliance Day presentation, Beyond Traditional Marketing, by Joe Quinn, NI Regional Marketing Communications Manager for the United States and Canada. Lately, his team been using to micro-target techniques.   They tailor the programs to suit the needs of specific individuals and locations with the end goal of getting a visit for one of our field engineers. Note that the regional marketing programs require unique approaches and take direction from our regional sales business plans, so your relationship with field sales organization is essential.

Twitter Anyone?

Social Networking is changing the way engineers work.  Engineers are networking across geographies to gain knowledge, using such tools as Twitter for technical support.  Other sites allow for engineers to provide product development input, collaborate on solutions or just offer their opinions and expertise. These “relationship” marketing tactics are becoming an effective way to accomplish many of the same goals as face-to-face events. With Linkedin and Meetup.org, you can search for groups to join and introduce yourself to engineers.  For instance, there are several renewable energy engineering groups on Linkedin for example and 100’s of Research and Development Engineering Groups on Meetup.org.

Do You Youtube?

While you may only consider YouTube as a way that your kids watch funny videos, it has become an effective tool for reaching larger audiences with demonstrations.  You can use several methods.  For example, Cyth Systems, video-taped their Guitar Hero tradeshow demonstration has been viewed nearly 180,000 times. Other companies have simply set up a webcam to record a whiteboard technical chat. If you do decide to post a video of NI technology, let us know so we can help promote it.

Marketing by Association

Are you and your team active in Engineering Associations?  When the stimulus package was announced, the Regional Marcom Team began to research where the engineers who may be involved with stimulus projects go to get their information.  We contacted over a dozen associations and emailed more than 200 local chapters offering technical education presentations by our Field Engineers.  Many of these associations were run by manager-level contacts at some of our largest accounts. We have scheduled over 60 of these educational presentations.  If you are interested, talk to your field engineer who might already have a relationship with the local association or may have content you can leverage. In addition many of the smaller regional shows instead of having a booth we are spending more time writing abstracts for consideration for the keynote and session slots.

Industry and Application Marketing

NI is also making more investments in regional targeted industry and application marketing. Typically this involves priming the market 3 months.  This may involve local Google AdWords, list acquisition, exhibiting at a regional tradeshow to get names, and then target these names using a web cast with direct marketing. Using these techniques, we can build up the database leading up to a half day or full day seminar.

Market Research to Micro-Target

We are now piloting with non-traditional means to find contacts through research — looking for contacts outside the NI database using search, both paid and free.  Sometimes just typing in a search of @companyname.com and the word engineer or engineering manager to find contacts. For instance, you can identify contacts in a company who have been funded or who have opened new facilities.

Account Marketing

Regional marketing also creates specific programs to introduce the field engineers into major accounts. By mapping out the organizational charts and targeting departments, we can generate on-site visit and seminar opportunities.  For instance, we will be working more with the National Laboratories as they are receiving funding from the stimulus package.

Grant Programs

When working to get visits with Medical Device start-ups, you can leverage the Medical Device Grant program.  The recipient can get free software and training if they agree to a hardware purchase and publish a customer solution.  For more information, go to ni.com/medical or email medicalgrant@ni.com.


Alliance Day Highlights – Beyond Traditional Marketing – Part 1

August 18, 2009

For those of you who didn’t make it to the Alliance Day of NIWeek, you missed a great presentation, Beyond Traditional Marketing, by Joe Quinn, NI Regional Marketing Communications Manager for the United States and Canada. He discussed how, in today’s economic environment, marketers are going beyond the traditional means to reach new contacts and drive new opportunities. Attendees heard about new NI marketing communication programs that engage decision makers outside the NI database including those targeting stimulus-funded projects. He highlighted what Alliance Partners are doing and explored ideas that you can incorporate into your marketing programs.

Mass vs. Micro Marketing

The majority of NI’s marketing is related to our major campaigns, for instance Automated Test or Industrial/Embedded Control. Our advertising, PR, tradeshows and direct market programs build the awareness and create the general demand for NI products.  This fuels the NI Lead Generation machine and pipelines.  Many of these programs build the NI database, nurture these contacts to drive sales interactions. Let’s first consider how you can take advantage of these traditional mass marketing.

Making Your Presence Known

NI’s greatest marketing tool is ni.com. It’s our most cost effective and farthest reaching tool we have.   ni.com receives over 1 million visitors a month.  Our web group have invested heavily in not only driving traffic to the web through search sites, but has made the investment in improving search capabilities on the site. 

So, the more you increase your content, the more you can increase your search results.  For example, Cyth Systems increased their content from 51 to 220 locations of over the past two years ago.  Examples include entries in the solution section of your Alliance profile but also responses on the NI Developers Zone. Cross-linking back to ni.com from your website can also improve your natural relevancy.

Case Studies

Sharing your successful solution benefits not only you but also the industry. We distribute these case studies on our Web site – ni.com – and we print and distribute many of them to prospects and editors. We also use some in our newsletters, solutions brochures, and annual report. If your article has broad appeal, our PR staff may work with you to also place it in trade publications.

The priorities for 2009 can also be opportunities to work with our PR department. And, many times when can start a dialogue with someone outside the database by promoting a case-study to build credibility. 

Getting in the News

Another way to increase your visibility is through PR and press releases. When posting press releases to your website or posting them on the wire – engage NI’s PR team. They will check for accuracy and post on ni.com/news in the NI Network News. Over 4,000 people per quarter view this page and it includes an RSS feed. Contact our PR department for more information.

Join the NI Community

A new means of building awareness is through our ni.com/community. We are already seeing over 130,000 visitors per month and over 30,000 downloads. You can take advantage of this major investment by NI to create your own community web presence.  For instance, you can create a page based on your User Group that you host, on an application area of expertise, industry, geographical area.  Blog, post polling questions, invite others, collaborate online, post presentations.  You might even consider posting some of your code and see who collaborates or may be interested.

Next week, I’ll post some of our new ideas and efforts for micro-marketing.


Alliance Day – Surviving and Growing in Trying Times

August 11, 2009

On Alliance Day of NIWeek, Don Roberts, Principal of Exotek, a consulting company who focuses exclusively on system integration companies in our industry, gave a presentation entitled, Surviving and Growing in Trying Times. He discussed what actions integrators are taking or should be taking to protect their investments and position themselves for a solid future through strategies around customers, markets, employees, vendors, management, and cash. Here are some of his thoughts (mingled with my own):

Hope is not a strategy

92% of small business owners believe they can withstand financial difficulties, almost two-thirds were so confident that they had no contingency plan in place in the event of an economic downturn — Harris/Decima 2009

The reality of our current economic situation is that we have hit ‘reset’ button. The economy isn’t likely to come roaring back to 2008 levels, but rather build slowly from this new level. So, integrators would be better to view this as a permanent condition. Shutting your eyes will not make it go away and holding your breath could be fatal. You must be proactive in facing your challenges.

General Management

You should develop and stick to Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). If possible, reflect against prior periods to establish baseline for your business. Then, monitor your KPIs closely and establish triggers for required actions. You should develop and execute on contingency plans.  Assess your risks, not just on individual projects, but for your business as a whole. Be honest and deal with key parts of business plan that haven’t materialized. And, be careful about internal projects and R&D that could deplete cash reserves. Act in a timely and decisive manner. Putting off decisions just undermines the credibility of management. Not to mention, it is likely bad for the bottom line.

Marketing

Some markets are still showing life such as Energy, Green Energy, and Medical that continue to see investments. Stimulus money will fuel Government, Military, and Infrastructure projects. Food and beverage are still doing well (people still got to eat).  You can also be creative and look for adjacent markets. For instance, the ‘tin’ industry is strong as more people by canned foods to prepare from home. But, you should use exercise caution when moving to new market. This turf will be defended by existing players. So, know your limitations and be realistic about what you can go after. Also remember, this is a global issue. So, you may have the opportunity to broaden your business to new geographies, but expect the same from global competitors.

Sales

Capital spending of your customers is tight and manufacturing utilization is under capacity, so look for new angles to improve their bottom line. Emphasize energy/cost savings and efficiency/optimization. And, look for ways to prepare your customers for the recovery. Also, continue to look for R&D projects that may be more likely than manufacturing. It is also critical to sell your unique value. Make sure your customers know you have staying power and never underestimate the power of great customer service. Finally, it is important for your sales people to Always Be Closing.  Distinguish your ‘hunters’ from your ‘gatherers’. You need folks that will drive to decision and follow decision-making process up the chain.

Financial Management

Cash reserves are critical during this time period. History is littered with ‘good’ companies that ran out of cash. So take care that you don’t use up all your cash and negotiate for more every chance you get. You can look for ways to improve cash flow. For instance, don’t let your customers use your money. Define and stick to milestone payment terms and be persistent about getting them to pay you on time.  Make sure that you don’t over engineer your projects – just meet the defined system requirements. Project your cash flow for at least 12 weeks, so you can predict your situation. Your banking relationship more important than ever. Remember that bankers don’t like surprises, so avoid the temptation to avoid communication. Keep in mind that you don’t have to be perfect, just better than the rest of their portfolio.

Human Resources

In a service-oriented business, your people are your most critical asset, but they are also your biggest cost.  So, ultimately, you may be forced to make some difficult decisions including pay-cuts, furlows, and lay-offs. This is obviously a complex and personal issue. Be prepared – educate yourself and be ready to act if necessary. For instance, create a forced ranking of all your employees and implement ‘performance’ management where necessary. While being firm in these matters, you can still be compassionate. Communicate often and honestly. Now is not the time for spin. When people don’t know, they will think the worst. Encourage bi-directional communication. Listen to their concerns.

Leadership

Tough times require true leadership. The biggest mistake is failure to plan and act. So, work on your business, not in your business. The old adage applies – that which does not destroy us makes us stronger. NI is confident that we are still gaining market share and believe there may be a fundamental shift in the marketplace. When the economy does recovery, our system-level business will again be the fastest growing part of our business which correlates to our growing portion of business through our partners. So, for those that weather the storm will be in a stronger position on the other side.

Get in Touch with Exotek

If you are interested in getting a copy of the presentation slides or better yet seeking further assistance from the experts at Exotek, please contact them at exotek.com.


NIWeek 2009 – Alliance Day Keynote

August 4, 2009

Well, I’m taking the week off of my typically blogging about the business practices of our system integrators – to spend time with those system integrators at NIWeek, our annual conference. It’s always a great chance to catch up and share information. Yesterday (August 3), we started the week with Alliance Day, which is specifically reserved for our Alliance Partners and brings us together to collaborate for increased customer success and greater business opportunities.

Back on the Main Stage

For the last couple of years, we have combined this Alliance Day with the last day of the sales conference. But in an effort to keep our expenses down in the current economic climate, we significantly scaled back the attendance of our field organization.  So, for the first time in several years (2003), I took the stage. It was interesting to look back and see how far our Alliance Business has come in the last few years. In Q3 of 2008, we nearly reached our goal of doubling the percent of NI’s business through our partner channel before the recession took hold.

Bring on the Experts

Not being an economic expert, I turned the keynote over to our Chief Financial Officer and Senior Vice President of Manufacturing and IT Operations , Alex Davern. He has a very straightfoward way of presenting our financial outlook. I know he is an Alliance Day favorite. Alex gave his opinion on the current situation, it’s impact on our industry, and the prospects on recovery.

Then, Pete Zogas, our Sr. Vice President of Sales and Marketing, talked about how we are continuing to go after the business we can find now – as well as position ourselves for the recovery. Bottomline – for the Alliance Partners that can endure and emerge on the other side with us, we will again see the opportunities associated with our growth of our system-level business.

The Menu for Today

I took the stage again and laid out the agenda for the day. Our Product Tracks demonstrated the latest technological innovations from NI in automated test, industrial and embedded design, RF, and software. Technical Empowerment Tracks, led by our NI system engineers showed attendees how to use the latest reference designs to speed application development and implement architectures to solve new applications with our newest products. And our Business Empowerment Track discussed how to enhance your business skills.

Parting Thoughts

At the end of the keynote, I emphasized that, for National Instruments, its about building stronger partners to help our customers solve the challenges of today. It’s not only been my job, but my personal passion for the last 15 years. As I travel around giving Alliance Day presentations and providing one-on-one business consultations, it has been a privilege to learn about your businesses and share what I have learned. I’ve been inspired by those of you who have embraced the challenge to work ‘on’ your business, not just ‘in’ your business. I’ve even started this blog to foster best business practices.

But,  I’m not the only one passionate about our partner business. Just a few weeks ago, I was giving a presentation about the importance of partners as part of our Leadership Development Series – a continuing education course for our NI management. So, I asked my co-present and perhaps our partners’ biggest advocate at National Instruments, our president and CEO, Dr. James Truchard, to share a few thoughts. It was great to have the head man, himself, to directly to our Alliance Partners about the critical role they play in our success and the success of our customers.