Creating a News Release

October 21, 2009

Distributing a news release is an opportunity for your company to announce a new product, service, technology, or collaboration with another vendor to the media, investors, and customers. For our National Instruments Alliance Partners, we hope that you take advantage of these opportunities to tell your story in a meaningful way.

Some things to keep in mind

Your news release should announce something fresh and newsworthy and have an eye-catching headline that summarizes the main news and is benefit-oriented. Editors receive hundreds of news releases daily, so you should refrain from creating releases that are merely disguised advertising. It is much more effective if you focus on your company’s new developments and relate those developments to popular industry trends. Not only should you think about your news, but you should consider how it relates to the media you are targeting. Research the publications on your distribution lists to ensure that you are sending the most appropriate news to each outlet.

A Helping Hand

If you are planning to distribute an NI Alliance Partner news release, the NI Corporate Communications Department can help by reviewing your release for technical accuracy and appropriate content as well as providing quotes from NI spokespeople. Please send drafts of your NI Alliance Partner news releases to pr@ni.com.

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A Table of Contents

October 13, 2009

Building Stronger Partners

General Management

Business Foundation

Part 1 – Why are you in Business?

Part 2 – Establishing Guiding Principles

Part 3 – Creating a Business Plan

Part 4 – Annual Strategic Planning

Part 5 – Putting Plans into Action

Alliance Partner Business Strategies

Part 1 – Overview

Part 2 – Generalist

Part 3 – Specialist

Part 4 – Products

Part 5 – Systems

Customer Selection

Business Infrastructure

Organizational Structure

Assessing Organizational Efficiency

Facilities and Equipment

Computer Systems Management

Protecting Your Company

Loss Protection

Insurance Plans

Loss of Key Personnel (The Bus Problem)

Dealing with the Economy

Alliance Day – Surviving and Growing in Trying Times

Review of 2009

Outlook for 2010

Plans for 2010

Surviving and Thriving as a System Integrator

Strategic Planning in a Recovering Market (1-3)

Strategic Planning in a Recovering Market (2 of 3)

Strategic Planning in a Recovering Market (3 of 3)

Alliance Days and CSIA

CSIA Conference – A Great Event to Share Best Practices

NIWeek 2009 – Alliance Day Keynote

CSIA Post Best Practice Criterion

Back from CSIA 2010

Business Development

Marketing Fundamentals

Creating Your Marketing Strategy

Creating a Marketing Strategy – Part I

Creating a Marketing Strategy – Part II

Segmenting and Targeting Your Audience

Positioning Your Product or Service

Five Most Important Marketing Investments

Drip Marketing

Marketing Techniques

Creating a News Release

Stating Your Case (Study)

Direct Marketing

Tradeshows – Maximizing Your Effectiveness

Beyond Traditional Marketing – Part 1

Beyond Traditional Marketing – Part 2

Search Engine Optimization

Sales Tactics

Selling is Key to Your Success

Requirements Gathering

Requirements Gathering (cont.)

Project Estimation (1 of 3)

Project Estimation (2 of 3) – Pricing

Project Estimation (3 of 3) – Risk

Proposals (1 of 3)

Proposals (2 of 3) – Terms and Conditions

Proposals (3 of 3) – Warranties, ….

Sales Negotiations

Project Management

How to Avoid Project Failure

How To Ensure Project Success

Top Ways to Lose Money On Projects

Project Planning

Plan Your Work and Work Your Plan

Project Set Up

Project Resources

Project Scheduling

Project Communications

Project Development

Start With a Good Design

Stay on Task

Project Completion

Project Commissioning – Part 1

Project Commissioning – Part 2

Project Close – Engineering Perspective

Project Close – Commercial Perspective

Project Tracking

Project Tracking

Change Management

Reasons for Change Management

Project Cost Accounting

General Administration

Finances

Project Cost Accounting

Financial Management

Basic Accounting

Accounting and Budgeting

Billing and purchasing

Managing Cash Flow

Final Housekeeping ….

Human Resources

The People Advantage

Performance Management

Quality Management

Applying Lean Manufacturing Principles to Your Company


Project Close-Out – Part 2

October 6, 2009

Some companies make the mistake of only considering a project close-out from an engineering perspective.  Your project close-out procedures should also consider business aspects.

Commercial Pause

You should also stop and consider commercial aspects to your close-out process. From a financial perspective, there should be procedures to ensure that all billing has been completed, including change orders. In some cases, Alliance Partners require that all payments are received, even client authorization to close the project.

Marketing and Sales Opportunity

Finally, there are marketing and sales considerations during project close-out. Some Alliance Partners require that a customer story be written, even if it will only be kept internally. Ideally, it can be used in future marketing efforts. Satisfaction surveys are also a common practice – not just as a mandatory quality process, but as a chance of looking for the next opportunity. Some Alliance Partners ‘require’ the salesperson to meet with the client to complete the survey. If the feedback is good, then it is certainly a good time to ask about the next project or a customer reference. Even if it is not good, you can reinforce your professional approach and desire to do better the next time.


Project Close-Out – Part 1

September 29, 2009

With the system is successfully commissioned, it is time to close-out the project. Just as there should be a defined process to kick-off a project, there should be a define process to close a project. Consider developing a check list (just like project kick-off) that must be done.

The Obvious

 First and foremost, your project close-out should include adequate steps to make sure all project information and materials have been properly stored for future reference. This should include procedures to incorporate any field changes made during the commissioning, so that the final project information accurately reflects the final deployed solution.

Engineering perspective

 Alliance Partners will commonly require some sort of project review. At a minimum, it is a chance to review lessons learned and share them with the rest of the staff. More importantly, it is an opportunity to capture IP. What can be reused for future projects including software architecture, hardware designs, even methodologies and techniques? You should also have procedures to ensure that all project documentation is completed and properly stored.

Next week, we’ll cover the commercial aspects of project close-out.


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.


Project Communications

July 21, 2009

As much as 80% of project problems are due to a lack of proper communications between the client and the integrator, according to the results of a recent survey in which the 1800+ system integrators listed in Control Engineering‘s Automation Integrator Guide were asked to share their top tips for ensuring the success of an automation project.  For more information about the survey, see How Communications Help Integration Projects Succeed.

Communications Plan

CommunicationsSo consider creating a communication plan for each project. Who are the primary stakeholders of the project? What information do you need to provide on a regular basis? For instance, you must document and communicate those things that will impact the schedule or the client’s overall satisfaction. Your plan should include how often information is to be communicated and the preferred vehicle for that communication.

Communications Template

Speaking of customer communications, you should consider creating standards and a template for all communications. At a minimum, it should include the project ID, but may also require a confidentiality clause. And, remember any customer interaction is an opportunity to build your services brand. So, a well-designed template will not only improve your professional image with your clients, but also serve as a gentle reminder to your staff that they are always representing your company when communicating with your customer.