04-08-2016 | | By Nigel Watts
Forums, blogs, links, direct mail, downloads. There now exists a true plethora of routes to find the information you need online.
How the world has changed since the days when sales execs would arrive on a company’s doorstep armed with data books, product selector guides, datasheets and samples of products to be greeted by an enthusiastic audience of engineers all wanting the latest information available.
Who can remember the famous Orange Texas Instruments data books, a treasured and fiercely guarded possession for any designer? At least twice a year the postman would arrive with the latest “doorstop” catalogue from Farnell Electronics and RS Components, two commercial publications that were treated as an encyclopaedia rather a commercial catalogue.
In the larger companies reference libraries, managed and guarded by the infamous component standards engineer, existed where the data from just about every known electronic component supplier could be found and sales account managers were charged with ensuring that the latest product information was on the shelves or in the direct possession of the key design engineers. Sales and engineering contact was frequent, friendly and often informal.
We have witnessed and experienced a revolution in communication, working practices, relationship development and maintenance.
The vast majority of information and services are available online and technology now allows for anonymity and even shielding practices to develop in an attempt to prevent hungry sales engineers from gaining access and extracting valuable details and facts about the latest product development.
Manufacturers and distributors of electronic components, especially those that have emerged during the Internet age, have invested vast amounts of money and resources in developing their online presence to provide customers easy access and gateways to the products and technologies they offer and produce. Customers can access what they need without the need of a visit from their local friendly sales representative or even the need to deposit their personal details in order to obtain the information required.
Sales and marketing departments have implemented advanced digital tracking software in an attempt to identify who is asking for what and then trying to establish direct contact and extract valuable project information, after all it is difficult to design and produce products for customer consumption if you are blind to their requirements.
It’s a two-way street, the need for secrecy and anonymity balanced against the need for information to provide the optimal commercial and technical support in order to secure designs, drive revenue streams and design the products required for customers to secure their future in an ever increasingly competitive world.
Communication and relationships are key and required and how they are achieved to the satisfaction of all parties involved is not an exact science and we have suffered the typical human over reaction by forcing the pendulum from one extreme to the other, from open and free contact to guarded and in some cases preventative access to people and information often required to enhance and benefit the experience and relationship between the vendor and the end user.
Ease of access to information is a must in order for designers and specifiers to make informed decisions in an efficient and effective manner. The continued development of the Internet and other technologies will cater directly for that.
However, I argue that there is a need for peer-to-peer contact in the process but it must be of a level that adds real value to all, end users prepared to share sensitive information to vendors and vendors providing resources and personnel capable of delivering the value required to the end user, These two elements are crucial to the future success of relationships between the maker and the provider.
The sales and marketing world needs to adopt more of the technology it sells in order to provide customers with what they need in a cost effective and scalable fashion. All to often you find that technology is being used as a veneer rather than a core asset in the sales and marketing strategies deployed.
Sales teams are operating very much in the same way as they were in the pre-Internet period and that needs to change in order to gain the respect and trust of the end users.
Many end users have put up the barriers and that doesn’t work either.
Take a look at your own company website and see how much information is public, there is information on the web that would never be given to a visitor or a cold calling salesman entering your reception, which is often an uninviting area with an old phone sat on a glass coffee table alongside a message stating that sales representatives will only be seen with a prior appointment. I get that because how can you add real value without preparation? Conversely, end users need to respect and understand the needs of the vendors, a balance needs to be struck that is currently and sadly lacking.
Technology is a great asset but it will never fully replace the need for the human, peer-to-peer and tactile elements in the relationship process.
Nigel Watts is co-founder of ISMOsys, a company that represents electronics companies across Europe. It provides technical, sales and marketing expertise and also supports design houses, designers and engineers.