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.

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Creating a Marketing Strategy – Part II

November 24, 2009

Last week, we talked about defining your marketing strategy. Now, let’s define the requirements and process to fulfill the strategy. When you think about it, we’re essentially going through the similar methodology that you mighy use for your techincal projects. The better you can define the scope, requirements, and test criterion, the better your chance for success.

Develop a Campaign

A campaign is a series of integrated marketing activities that you often structure around a product launch or company vision, and that support a higher-level goal. When you roll out, or execute, a campaign, you should:

  1. Set attainable goals
  2. Determine your target audience
  3. Plan marketing activities that support those goals and target your specific audience
  4. Capture leads and drive them through the sales process
  5. Track and measure success to determine future activities

Ideally, each marketing activity meets a different need during the campaign. At the very top level, all of the inquiries represent the first stage of the marketing and sales cycle – awareness. As the leads move through the marketing cycle, they become more qualified. Customers evolve through awareness, interest, trial, and purchase stages.

Set Goals and Metrics

To define meaningful goals, you have to define how marketing will impact the bottom line, which is called marketing return on investment (ROI). You need to measure each marketing venture based on:

  1. Ability to capture. How many new leads have been established as a result of the activity?
  2. Maintenance. How many target customer contacts have responded to this specific communication?
  3. Upgrade factor. How many target customer contacts have responded in a way that gives you permission to take the dialogue to the next level?
  4. Cost. What was the cost of each of the above?

Follow Through to Sales

A key marketing strategy involves following leads through the marketing process to sales. While it can be a difficult process, it helps the company to see what marketing activities are effective and generating revenue.

To maintain a lead, marketers must create a feedback loop with sales to reflect the customer path. For example:

  • Did the customer generate revenue?
  • Why did we lose the potential sale?
  • Are there closed-loop marketing activities that you can continue to do with that customer?

Creating a Marketing Strategy – Part I

November 17, 2009

After spending the last couple of weeks diving into some tactics for various marketing activities, and I realized that I should back up to consider the overall marketing strategy. Actually, that is a common mistake. So, here is the process we recommend to get you started:

  • Set the Strategy
  • Develop a Campaign
  • Set Goals and Metrics
  • Follow Through to Sales

Set the Strategy

Marketing success means having a competitive advantage such as location, historical establishment, and market-specific vertical expertise. To target customers, divide them into segments – customer groups who respond differently to competitive strategies. By segmenting your customers, you can tailor your strategy to meet their unmet needs. You must also consider your competitors and your corporate strengths and weaknesses in your approach.

Once you have decided your business goals and identified both customers and prospective customers, you are ready to create your marketing plan. The plan should encompass multiple campaigns that target the appropriate customer groups. With your marketing plan, you can:

  1. Track your expenditures. You can budget marketing expenses, keep control of your expenditures, manage your cash flow, track sales-to-marketing expense ratio, and measure your marketing effort success. You also ensure that you don’t waste product development dollars.
  2. Focus your marketing plan to give the company something to rally behind. It helps staff understand goals and focus on customers.
  3. Achieve success by charting your destination point and providing a step-by-step guide for your company’s success.
  4. See the big picture – in the daily routine of putting out fires, it is hard to turn your attention to the big picture. Writing your marketing plan helps determine your current business status and provides a roadmap for business goals.
  5. Improve and reuse it. Once the plan is complete, it will serve as a template and benchmark as you define your objectives and strategies for each coming year. It becomes a living document for measuring sales success, customer retention, product development, and sales initiatives.

Next week, we’ll talk about designing the campaign, goals, and metrics to ensure that your marketing strategy is successful.


Alliance Strategies – Part 5 – Systems

July 6, 2009

Products – Systems

Some Alliance Partners produce solutions into standard systems. Note that NI still classifies these companies as “Solution Partners,” because they channel NI products, rather than “Product Partners” that co-market a complementary tool. The concept of turning repeat projects into standard products is definitely a good one, but you should avoid the temptation of creating generic systems. Saying that your system “Will Test Anything” is not credible or compelling to the user. Instead, consider marketing a series of specific systems. The series may rely on a common architecture, but the individual models are more compelling and actionable.

As opposed to a tools-level business that relies on mass marketing to generate numerous sales leads, a system-level business requires more market research to proactively target customers, rather than waiting for customers to contact you. Advertising and sending direct mail to large databases is often inefficient. It is quicker to simply identify your potential customers and contact them directly. Here is a hint – do not solely use the Web and search engines to market yourself, but rather, use them to proactively identify customers.

Also different than the tools-level business, the sales process is not typically transactional but rather a complex, long sales process. It is actually more similar to a services business. However, pricing strategy is quite different. Often, a services business builds a project on a time- and material-basis, but systems should be priced according to customer value and what the market can bear. Because specific customer requirements often differ, you may want quote standard system plus customization. Many skilled system suppliers often leverage the sales opportunity by offering a subscription component for ongoing maintenance and support.

Working with NI

As previously mentioned, the NI business model is optimized for mass marketing and selling tools. Therefore, while we both sell products, our processes may be completely different. It may be tempting to market to the NI database, but for the most part, our database is full of “do-it-yourself” engineers. That is not to say that NI is not interested in marketing, but we recognize our emphasis is typically about how your system is a great use of our tools, rather than solution-level marketing to end users. Still, any publicity is good publicity, so you should certainly pursue how NI marketing campaigns and activities can highlight your system. For example, NI seeks solution-level collateral for its Web site, vertical events, and the Alliance Partner news section of Instrumentation Newsletter.

Similarly, the field sales organization is primarily tasked with tools-level selling. Don’t expect an NI DSM to sell (or even know about) your system. However, please use DSMs as a resource, not as a sales channel. Rather than wait for them to call you, proactively contact DSMs regarding your target accounts. They can tell you if NI has already made end-roads into the account. You can offer to bring them along on your sales visits. They should likely be interested and can provide you with credibility and local backing.

In some instances, NI may have a business development manager dedicated to your industry area. If so, they can assist you in your marketing and sales efforts and act as a liaison for working with the NI sales and marketing organizations.


Alliance Strategies – Part 4 – Products

July 1, 2009

Products – Tools

The Alliance Partner program also includes “Product Partner” companies that offer tools-level products complementary to those from National Instruments, such as cameras, motors, stages, sensors, and more.

In addition, Alliance Partners package their expertise into National Instruments LabVIEW add-ons and toolkits. Often, the most successful Alliance Partners tend to be more vertical with significant value added, not generic routines. Besides, if your product is truly general purpose, NI is probably developing a similar product already. Before developing such a product, you may want to consider whether it is really something you want to produce or keep as a competitive advantage. Often, a toolkit can become a calling card to sell your services.

Another consideration is whether you are actually prepared for the product business model. Becoming a tools supplier requires a different approach to R&D, marketing, sales, and support. Selling tools requires mass marketing techniques. You need data sheets, demos, a Web presence, and more. Selling tools also requires a short sales cycle, so you need to invest in Web and tele-sales. Be sure to price your tools to include marketing and support costs.

Working with NI

The good news is that NI sells and markets at the tools-level, so it is easier to integrate and leverage our business development efforts. You can start with marketing your tool on ni.com. Your Alliance Partner profile should include your product description. If it is an NI LabVIEW add-on, it automatically shows up in the LabVIEW Tools Network. Third-party advisors, such as Motion Advisor and Camera Advisor, also may be applicable.

Product partners also can take advantage of marketing at NI events. For example, you can exhibit at NIWeek, NI Technical Symposium (NITS), and NIDays to interface with NI customers looking for the latest tools from NI and its partners.

For specialty tools, contact the product marketing manager whose product closely aligns with yours to discuss co-marketing plans. Recognize that the product marketing manager’s primary goal is generating leads for his or her products, so co-marketing should be a win-win situation. For example, use a direct mail campaign or Webinar that cross-markets to both your database and an NI database.

While it is tempting to think that the worldwide NI sales organization can become your virtual sales force, it is probably too much to expect sales to remember your product. NI district sales managers (DSMs) are busy trying to keep up with NI product releases. Rather than sending the DSMs your literature, make sure you are listed on ni.com. This way, the NI sales organization can find you too. You also can talk to your respective product marketing manager to learn how you can participate in his or her sales training and information as a way to get the attention of the NI sales force.


Alliance Strategies – Part 3 – Specialist

June 29, 2009

Services – Specialist

Specialists differentiate their services offerings by positioning themselves as the market expert, rather than a market generalist. In doing so, these companies limit opportunities to that niche but can better focus their business development efforts and often charge a premium for their services. To effectively market your specialty, you must track your customer’s market forces and watch for evaporation. Here is a hint – simply stating that you are a National Instruments LabVIEW expert is not enough. Even calling yourself an expert with the NI LabVIEW Real-Time Module or other specific NI products is not sufficient. Think in terms of your customers. Identify your expertise in their terms, not National Instruments terms.

In many respects, business development for a specialist is the same as a generalist. Both are service-oriented business and require appropriate sales and marketing techniques. However, specialists do have something more specific to align your marketing and sales efforts around. You can network within your niche through customer references, vertical publications, and vertical trade shows. You then can better sell your unique value to a known customer list. Hiring salespeople is still difficult, but at least it is a differentiated expertise.

Working with NI

NI customers and NI salespeople often consult our online directory to identify companies with particular specialties. Therefore, it is imperative that your Alliance Partner profile includes specific information about your services. Please note that you can create separate service descriptions for each of your specialty areas. Be sure to include keywords for your specialty to increase your search relevancy.

Additionally, figure out the product marketing manager who has the most to gain from your special expertise. You can produce unique technical content; NI is always looking for success stories, particularly with newer products, that it can turn into technical articles for the Web, trade publications, and more.

As a specialist, you also have more opportunity to network with NI salespeople outside of your geography. Through your efforts with NI marketing, you can build your reputation in other geographic areas. You can also ask your local NI sponsor to introduce you to other NI salespeople in regions you would like to conduct business.

You might even consider partnering with other integrators. By differentiating your niche expertise, you can position yourself as complementary. Let them know you can subcontract your expertise as part of a larger project.


Alliance Strategies – Part 2 – Generalist

June 24, 2009

Services – Generalist

Marketing a service is difficult because the offering is intangible; there is not a specific product with a set of features and benefits you can readily market. Instead, you need to develop and market your service brand. This is largely your identity and reputation, but you can make it more tangible by developing a consistent look and feel for not only your marketing material, but also for your documentation, quotes, customer communication, software user interfaces, system enclosures, and more. Even your project methodology and the way you conduct business can help develop a marketable brand. Once this becomes more tangible, you have something to market to the local community through local trade shows, events, and more.

Sales for a services business is all about relationships. You must constantly network with vendors, customers, and the community. Most generalists heavily rely on their entrepreneurs to lead sales efforts. Hiring traditional sales people is difficult because there is not a tangible product to sell. Therefore, it often takes the credibility of the entrepreneur to convince the customer that he or she can commit the organization to complete the project. However, in a services company, it is the entire staff’s job to sell the company. Everyone who interfaces with a customer should be able to give the ‘elevator speech’ on his or her company’s capabilities.

Working with NI

Because marketing intangible services is quite different than the vast majority of typical NI product marketing, most engagement happens at the local, not corporate level. Undoubtedly, the biggest marketing benefit at the corporate level is the Alliance Partner directory on ni.com. With more than a million Web site visits each month, it is critical to keep your Alliance Partner profile complete and accurate. If a customer is looking for a local consultant or integrator, it is likely that he or she consults the Alliance Partner directory.

At the local level, NI provides numerous opportunities to network at its local events, user group meetings, seminars, and more. Attendees meet local NI regional marcom, find out what is going on, and learn how to get involved. In addition, you should stay in regular contact with the local NI sales organization. Keep sales posted on your opportunity and project status. What is the status of your project proposals? How are your current projects going (both good and bad)? When does your next project begin? Overall, it never hurts to keep the sales organization informed, so sales employees can keep their eyes open.