Five Most Important Marketing Investments (Part 2)

August 24, 2010

This week, we continue to describe  the 5 highest marketing priorities according to TREW Marketing, a full services marketing firm that focuses specifically on engineering and scientific companies, who gave a great session on Alliance Day.

3. Search Engine Marketing

Search engines are most popular tool for engineers and scientists to research a topic. Yet, over half of the Alliance Partners surveyed are unaware of their search engine performance for key terms that describe their products and services. There are basically two approaches to search engine marketing:

  • Natural relevancy – is the search engines own ability to identify and rank the content from your web site. Basically, you are looking for ways to optimize the content on your web site including metatags, page and section titles, even your web address. You can also improve your ranking by having your content linked to from other site (e.g. ni.com).
  • Pay-per-click advertising – again there is a lot of material out there on this topic. It starts by picking good keywords. More likely a combination of key words that narrows the respondents to those that would legitimately be interested in your products and services.

There are entire presentations on this topic (including one given on Alliance Day). I’ll try to summarize the content from that session in an upcoming blog post.

4. Leveraging NI Marketing

National Instrument provides a number of ways for Alliance Partners to marketing their products, systems, and services. Yet, over 70% of those surveyed do not believe that they are taking full advantage of these opportunities.

  • The Alliance Directory – This is the central repository for information about Alliance Partners and their products systems and services. For more information on how to keep it up to date, click here.
  • New Community Tools – At NIWeek, NI announced new tools in our on-line NI Community that greatly enhance Alliance Partners capabilities to promote themselves on ni.com. By creating a ‘group’ for their company, they can add ‘documents’ for their complementary products, systems, services and solutions. Unlike using the current Alliance Directory profiles (which are limited to text descriptions), Alliance Partners can add graphics, videos, pdfs, and examples to enhance their descriptions.
  • NI Campaigns and Product Marketing – Of course, NI has its own marketing campaigns and activities. So, if you can help extend NI’s platforms or demonstrate how their use in customer solutions, then may be interested in highlighting your content. TREW Marketing recommends that you build relationships with the key stakeholders for those business areas. And be ‘marketing-ready’ if NI shows interest.

5. E-newsletters

Last, but not least, TREW Marketing recommends that Alliance Partners use an e-newsletter to nurture leads for the long-term. By staying in regular contact with your customers, you can stay on the top of their minds. And by going electronic, you can drive them back to your web site to leverage existing content as well as measure traffic and response. Similar to design concepts for your web site, your e-newletter should have a clean design, headings that grab your attention, and concise content with links for more information.

Thanks again to our friends at TREW Marketing for sharing their insights. If you would like further information about their presentation or assistance with your own marketing efforts, contact them at trewmarketing.com.


Five Most Important Marketing Investments

August 17, 2010

TREW Marketing, a full services marketing firm that focuses specifically on engineering and scientific companies, gave a great session on Alliance Day sharing straightforward, actionable ideas for Alliance Partners. In preparation for their presentation, TREW Marketing worked with NI to survey Alliance Partners about their marketing activities. From this, they formulated the 5 highest priorities:

1. Your Web Site

Your website is your single most important marketing investment. 80% of Alliance Partners believe that their web site is very to critically important. Yet, over 2/3rd of Alliance Partners believe their web site is weak or even detrimental to their business. TREW Marketing advices you to focus on 3 things:

  • Clean navigation – Make sure that users can easily navigate your site. For instance, don’t clutter your home page with lots of text. Instead, use navigation bars and links to make content easily accessible.
  • Clear, tight content –See more in #2.
  • Engaging visitors – After providing the user with a short explanation, give them the option to download a white paper, article, or datasheet for more information.

2. Content and Collateral

Despite customers interest in technical content and case studies, less than 1/4th of Alliance Partners believe that they provide an adequate breadth and variety of content on their website. Your content should be fresh, engaging, educational and actionable. Specific recommendations included:

  • Quality not quantity – Work hard to keep your content concise. In general headlines should be short and text on a page kept to a paragraph or two.

  • Customer testimonials – Case studies and customer quotes are always effective at building confidence of your prospects.
  • Re-use – Take advantage of content that you are creating for customer proposals, events, …. For instance, make a video of a tradeshow demonstration or a customer application and use it as content on your web site.

I’ll summarize the tips 3-5 from TREW Marketing next week.


Still Decompressing from NIWeek and Alliance Day

August 10, 2010

Well, after nearly a perfect track record of recording a blog post every week, NIWeek finally snapped my string. While it was on my mind to get something out last Tuesday, my mind was a blur with information overload (and perhaps too many drinks at the evening activities). Nonetheless, I’ve gathered enough insights from the various sessions that I should have enough fodder for this blog in the coming weeks. Here’s a quick recap of Alliance Day.

Moving Forward Together

Alex Davern, our CFO, and Pete Zogas, our Sr. VP of Sales/Marketing, did their usual great job of explaining our business strategies. Alex talked about how our strategic plan had allowed us to continue to invest in R&D and our sales organization throughout the downturn, so we are in even a better competitive position as the economy recovers.

Pete then describe how NI continues to evolve as our system-level business grows. For instance, we are creating industry and application segment teams to develop key accounts and partners. We also continue to expand our service offering (e.g. design consulting, product customization, calibration, ….) to meet the needs of our customers and partners in more demanding applications. Finally, we are expanding our partner team:

  • Group Manager – Armando Valim
  • Solution Partners – Jack Barber
  • Software Product Partners – Jeff Meisel
  • Hardware Product Partners – Robert Jackson
  • Technology Partners – Rachel Garcia
  • Regional Partner Manager – Rob Reichmeider, ….

Empowering Your Business

The rest of the day was packed with sessions designed specifically for our Alliance Partners. As mentioned in my last post, there were product sessions about you can use them to win more business and training on our latest architectures to facilitate your development.

But, given the nature of this blog (and my own interests), I’ll stick mostly to the business empowerment sessions offer insights and information on running your business, improving your marketing, and more. In the coming weeks, I’ll relay information from several of those sessions. Of course, that will pail in comparison hearing it directly. So, make plans to attend NIWeek next year!


NIWeek and Alliance Day 2010 Approaches

July 27, 2010

As always, there is a buzz around National Instruments during the final week of preparation for NIWeek.  Folks putting their final touches on their presentations and demonstrations. It is a bit of a crucible, but I find it always brings out the best of NI and our people.

Alliance Day

The week begins with Alliance Day on Monday. It’s a great chance to meet with our Alliance Partners to share business strategies before the customers arrive and NIWeek begins. During the keynote, you’ll hear from Alex Davern, our CFO, about how NI is faring in this economy; and Pete Zogas, our Sr. VP of Worldwide Sales, about how NI continues to evolve our organization to meet the demands of both our transactional and system-level business.

The rest of the day is packed with sessions designed specifically for our Alliance Partners. Our product managers will talk about our latest offering and how you can use them to win more business. Our system engineers will provide training on our latest architectures to facilitate your development. And, our business empowerment sessions offer insights and information on running your business, improving your marketing, and more.

Hope to See You There

If you are an NI Alliance Partner that is basing your business around National Instruments, there is no better place to be than NIWeek and Alliance Day. Catch me in the hallways to discuss your business. And feel free to let me know what you think of this blog – what you find useful and how it can be improved.


Customer Selection (3 of 4) – Activity-Based Costing

June 22, 2010

In his Are You Selecting Your Customers…Or Are They Selecting You?  presentation at CSIA 2010, Dean Streck, CEO of V I Engineering, encourages the use of Activity-Based Costing (ABC) to identify, describe, assign costs to, and report on operational performance. A more accurate cost management system than traditional cost accounting; ABC identifies opportunities to improve business process effectiveness and efficiency by determining the “true” cost of a product or service. ABC principles are used:

  1. To focus management attention on the total cost to produce a product or service, and
  2. As the basis for full and accurate cost recovery.

Support services are particularly suitable for activity-based resourcing because they produce identifiable and measurable units of output.

4 Steps to Knowing Your ABCs

Dean goes on to recommend some basic steps to implementing your Activity-based Costing system.

Identify activities—perform an in-depth analysis of the operating processes of each responsibility segment. Each process may consist of one or more activities required by outputs.

Assign resource costs to activities—this is sometimes called “tracing.” Traceability refers to tracing costs to cost objects to determine why costs were incurred.

Identify outputs—identify all of the outputs for which an activity segment performs activities and consumes resources. Outputs can be products, services, or customers.

Assign activity costs to outputs—assign activity costs to outputs using activity drivers. Activity drivers assign activity costs to outputs based on individual outputs’ consumption or demand for activities. For example, a driver may be the number of times an activity is performed (transaction driver) or the length of time an activity is performed (duration driver).

As also discussed in my project cost accounting post, this is a vital step in an integrator’s ability to maximize the profitability. It becomes impossible to run the business from macro-level – simply tracking overall receivables and payables versus the total labor cost. You must be able to account for your finances on a project-by-project basis.

Customer Lifetime Value

By performing Activity-Based Accounting, you can ultimately assign a customer lifetime value(CLV) for your accounts. The CLV is the present value of the future cash flows attributed to the customer relationship. Use of customer lifetime value as a marketing metric tends to place greater emphasis on customer service and long-term customer satisfaction, rather than on maximizing short-term sales.

Customer Selection (Part 4-4) – Customer Migration Techniques


Back from CSIA 2010

May 4, 2010

I’m back in the office after attending the Control Systems Integrators Association (CSIA) conference. I always enjoy attending the conference to connect  people who are dedicated to the betterment of system integration by sharing best practices and promoting the recognition and importance of excellence.

Familiar Faces

Despite the fact that most of the constituents focus exclusively on industrial automation, the challenges of managing a system integration business are much the same. Several NI Alliance Partners there including:

  • VI Engineering
  • Viewpoint Systems
  • Bloomy Controls
  • Optimation
  • Data Science Automation
  • DMC

It was rewarding to see them there. In many cases, I likely introduced them to CSIA. But, it is a testament to their commitment to run a quality system integration business that they they invest the time and energy to participate in the conference.

Direct from the Horses Mouth

As always, I enjoy (and get the most out of) the presentations given by managers of an SI company. Speaking from their own experiences, they offer the best insight and practical advice on how to be successful as well as how to avoid failure. So, the best 3 sessions in my opinion were:

  1. Applying Lean Manufacturing Principles to the System Integrator’s World
    Jeff Miller, Director of Automation Services, Interstates Control Systems, Inc., Sioux Center, IA
    During tough economic times clients expect to see price cuts. So how does a systems integrator survive and remain poised for tremendous growth? One way is to apply lean manufacturing principals to our everyday work.

  2. Are You Selecting Your Customers or Are They Selecting You?
    Dean Streck, CEO, VI Engineering, Farmington Hills, MI
    Not all customers are equal. This talk examines the importance of selecting your customers wisely and the far reaching impacts on your future. Dean will review various customer selection techniques and measurement methods including project margin, account margin, total lifetime value and the impact on your culture. Actual examples include the impacts of both wise and poor choices in changing industries.

  3. The Top Ten Concrete Business Tips Learned Over 25 Years as a Systems Integrator
    Rick Pierro, President, Superior Controls, Seabrook, NH
    Rick will share valuable, easy to implement, and proven ideas which will produce more profit and add more value to your business. From marketing, hiring, contracts, structure and additional services, this talk will leave you with practical ideas to improve both your customer satisfaction and your bottom line.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll try to pass along some of the ideas from these presentations. But, if you really want to get the most value consider joining CSIA and attending the conference for yourself.


Top Ways to Lose Money On Projects

January 20, 2010

After spending a couple weeks blogging about how to ensure project success, I was reminded about a presentation given by Dean Streck from V I Engineering back at NIWeek 2001. He gave a humorous presentation on the top ways to lose money on projects.

1. Don’t communicate … ever … with anyone (not your coustomer and not your vendors.)

2. Don’t train you sales team – on how to make contacts, assess customer needs, estimate projects, validate quotes, negotiate terms, close sales, ….

3. Verbals are as good as gold. Don’t worry about getting final specifications. Forget about kick-off meetings. Just take any version of the project proposal and dive right into building the system.

4. Don’tbother with project management. Just put junior engineers to the task. No need for a design review or leveraging existing technical assets. Encourage them to do it their way without constraints. 

5. Plan to use 100% of your budgeted time. And, if the customer asks for changes, just say yes. Memories are perfect, so don’t bother documenting anything especially changes. The only status updates occur at the beginning and end of the project. If your engineers do have extra time, have them spend it perfecting the system beyond required specifications.

6. When you think your done coding, try installing the system right away. The best place to find errors is at the customer site. Don’t bother the customer by calling in advance and scheduling time. Assume you will have clean power and noise free environment.

7. Support contracts are a waste of time, so forget about them. Just agree to fully support your system if the customer is ever dissatisfied or makes any changes.

I must admit I got some chuckles looking back through this presentation. Hopefully, you will too.