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.

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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.