Sales and Marketing in a Digital Transformation Reality
The PCB assembly industry is going through interesting times. In addition to the traditional price pressures from overseas partners and rapid consolidation that has plagued the industry for decades, digital transformation presents new and unique challenges to today’s PCB assembly industry. Whether you are a software solutions provider, hardware equipment vendor, or a contract manufacturer, these challenges are prevalent and must be addressed to improve growth opportunities. Sales and marketing exists to provide growth for an organization and must navigate around these challenges to ensure the success of their organizations.
An effective sales and marketing program at any organization comprises three factors: people, process, and technology. Missing any one of these as part of a sales and marketing strategy represents opportunities to improve. In addition to these three important factors, sales can be built around “hunting” and “farming” strategies.
Hunting represents looking for “new kills,” that is, new opportunities. In most cases, this approach may include opening new doors, landing new logos, and mining contact databases for accounts in which no previous sales have been successful. Farming entails expanding business at existing accounts and clients until strategic partner status is achieved. Organizations should be doing both hunting and farming to achieve growth; however, key characteristics particular to the PCB assembly industry need to be addressed, including future-proofing, the digital thread, RFP to quote velocity, transparency and visualization expectations, and leveraging analytics and the cloud.
From Hunting to Farming
All client/vendor relationships start with a hunting exercise. Effective strategies for hunting are different than those of farming. Most hunting starts with effective marketing. Some of the key facets of creating an effective and compelling marketing campaign, especially related to the PCB assembly industry, would include:
- Effective contact management infrastructure
- Having an environment so data mining and analytics can be performed
- Tracking activity levels and marketing interactions
- Managing and evaluating marketing interactions to understand interests
- Understanding unique offerings that may appeal those clients of specific profiles. Profiles may include:
- Client product complexity requirements
- Type of equipment
- Type of products designed
- Need for flex, rigid flex, microvias, large boards, multiple thermal cycle needs, board density, iTAR, quality levels, etc.
- Client business levels
- Client size (revenue, number of people)
- Volume (of purchasing, requirements, etc.)
- Ability to add and manage social interactions, mobile access to information, and self-help capabilities. This is vital as the millennial generation and digital transformations hit the market space.
Once the marketing infrastructure is in place, effective sales campaigns and sales strategies can be applied. This should help organization answer these questions:
- Who is aligned to my “ideal client”?
- What is the total addressable market?
- Can I run marketing campaigns for my largest opportunity targets?
The initial opportunity may arrive through either on-line campaigns or direct sales interaction. Then the sales organization (internal or external) takes over and works to land the initial deal.
The PCB assembly industry tends to be more margin-sensitive than others. Contract manufacturers’ margins are typically tight, which drives the others in the eco-system to behave and react similarly. Personal interaction is still king. Direct communication, understanding needs, providing a holistic solution, and conveying a knowledgeable, customer-solution-focused approach normally wins.
Process Is the Same for Everyone
Hundreds of resources recommend a strategy for a sales process after a lead has been attained from the marketing activities. Most have the following elements (Figure 1):
Figure 1: Typical sales process from lead generation to proposal.
Becoming a Strategic Partner
Effective farming allows organizations to attain strategic partner status. This is somewhat of an ideal state, in which your organization is tightly integrated with client teams. They approach your organization as the proven experts and take your consult without hesitation; and for that trusted supplier status, you are rewarded with business as a primary choice. Repeat orders, additional optional services, and new opportunities continue to reward that partnership. Figure 2 outlines this the journey from an initial deal (as a hunting deal) to strategic partner.
Figure 2: The transition from one-off deals to establishing long-term, sustaining relationships.
As with any other profession, sales people have varying degrees of effectiveness. By the law of averages, you may have some high-performers and some low-performers. Most prospective clients will immediately know if a sales professional truly understand their challenges. In that initial discussion, they get a feel for whether you can solve their problem. A knowledgeable sales person, one who understands clearly the internal offerings and capabilities and the market space, is required. Frequently, professional sales people from non-related industries are hired, but it takes time to build this unique knowledge before they can succeed.
One key variable with organizations is size. The amount a larger contract manufacturer or hardware vendor can invest in people, technology, and process significantly differs from smaller contract manufacturers. However, the principles of the basics described above still hold regardless of size. A tool may be a MS Excel or simple database organized marketing platform vs. a CRM software solution (although cloud services such as salesforce.com are relatively less expensive now than ever before). Or engineers in the organization may be doing some of the internal sales calls, rather than an organized internal sales organization. Whatever the execution of the basic principles, they are still required.
Now that the basics are covered, what is unique related to the PCB assembly contract manufacturers? The coming of the millennial generation into the workforce as well as digital transformation creates new challenges for contract manufacturers. After interviewing several sales and marketing professionals at various contract manufacturers, I found that the following seem to be the leading challenges (not-prioritized):
- Getting noticed—online presence driving leads (SEO)
- B2B enabling
- Accelerate RFP/RFQ to quote, accurately
- Customers wanting more transparency and visibility
- More self-help to understand capabilities
- Ensuring their capabilities are “future proof”
Although not a very scientific survey (with only a dozen or so phone interviews), these issues seem to cross multiple-sized organizations.
Increasing proficiencies and efficiencies within contract manufacturing organization would address the continuous drive for maintaining margins. Investing in an online presence, with a website that has strong search optimization capabilities is ideal. These tools drive marketing interactions to the site, and inquiries turn into leads. In a competitive environment, volume drives opportunities. However, a good internal contact management system needs to be in place to leverage a strong online presence.
One of the biggest struggles is the time to produce a quote from an initial RFP/RFQ. Sales engineering teams can review bill of material (BOM) files for cost estimations, obsolescence risk, RoHS and environmental compliance, and lead time. This can be done with integrated solutions that connect the DFM tool or quote tool to various component database aggregators such as IHS Caps Universe SiliconExpert, or the sales team can get the information from direct Google searches. However, yield and process risk must be done by process or manufacturing engineering groups who take the design files (eCADs/Gerbers) and BOMs and run automated DFM tools (such as Valor) or semi-automated DFM checks to ensure it can be built with the required quality levels.
Sometimes customers may require a Class 3 quality product, but the design data won’t support it for various reasons. Effects of multiple thermal cycles, distribution of component types and board side, surface finish type, and metallurgy of the lead types all have dramatic effect on the producibility of the product. This needs to be identified, up front, as quickly as possible, so customers can be consulted. In many cases, the DFM tools have been further automated to accelerate this function, and key statistics are extracted and identified quickly based on predefined risk models. Finding that out during production has detrimental effects on customer’s confidence, future orders, and costs, because it would be too late.
The challenges of visibility as well as future proofing are related. In the age of analytics, cloud enablement, and access to information, most OEMs prefer some visibility to their product manufacturing. Providing this capability is a great differentiator. For example, a contract manufacturer in the San Jose, California, area provides the ability for their customers to log into a secured site and have immediate information for KPIs such as running final yield, units produced, and units in production with quantities at each operation. They also offer a custom mobile app, so access is further personalized. These are add-on services that many OEMs are happy to pay for. The equipment that enable these services needs to be future-proof so that standardizations of machine-to-machine communication and machine-to-human communication (such as with the Open Manufacturing Language) can communicate to analytics platforms or software in a standard and intelligent way, ready to serve up the information at will.
Finally, in the age of social media and mobility, more organizations are looking for self-help opportunities. They want to be able to order online, get statistics online, get testimonials, and references online, and do overall research, way before a personal interaction is initiated. OEMs that are ahead of the curve with digital transformation are looking for partners to define and be an active part of this digital-thread strategy. A digital thread means having a lot of information about their products, parts used, defect information, trace information, and manufacturing parameters and outcomes (yield, costs) available through an electronically secure analytics service, with the information modeled and available for consumption by the OEM. Feedback to design, in an automated fashion, further tightens the relationship and the drives to becoming a strategic partner. Most OEMs don’t have manufacturing, but they are responsible for their products, and this ease of accessibility would be an additional key differentiator for a contract manufacturer.
A good understanding of capabilities, types of organizations you want to attract, differentiators, and strong online presence needs to be purposefully designed and available.
Both Hardware and Software Solution Providers Need to Be Smart
Knowing all the above, hardware and software solution providers are looking to enable capabilities and solve these challenges for their customer, the contract manufacturer.
One of the main strategies used currently is to ensure products and software are “Smart” enabled, addressing the desire for manufacturers to invest in hardware or software that is future-proof. Hardware suppliers know this will be required at some point, depending on where the contract manufacturer is in their journey to become a Smart manufacturer. However, it is almost a requirement now to ensure all investments won’t be short-term. Most hardware providers are scrambling to enable their products to be part of a Smart eco-system. The sales and marketing teams at hardware suppliers are positioning themselves with Smart solutions, and “integrated” solutions, which is evident at tradeshows, websites, and blogs. Core functionality is still needed, but this additional layer of requirements must be part of the portfolio.
To read this entire article, which appeared in the December 2016 issue of SMT Magazine, click here.