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National Instruments (NI) is one of the leading providers of automated test equipment and virtual instrumentation software. For the past 40 years, NI has worked with engineers and scientists through its open, software-centric platform that takes advantage of modular hardware to provide solutions to the world’s greatest engineering challenges.
At the recent NIDays 2016 event in Singapore, I spoke with Matej Krajnc, managing director ASEAN/ANZ of National Instruments, about the challenges for sales and marketing executives in the electronics manufacturing industry, effective sales strategies, and key attributes of a sales person. He also shares his outlook on some of the key technology trends next year.
Stephen Las Marias: Matej, what do you think are the greatest challenges of working with direct sales people and sales representatives or partners?
Matej Krajnc: Both have pros and cons. When you deal with direct sales people, you are more in control about how you reach your customers and how you sell your products. When you work through the partners and representatives, you use them as a channel to that. In most countries where we use our direct sales presence and our direct sales engineers the first thing that we really want to know is that the engineers are very proficient. We spent quite a significant amount of time developing the proficiency program. They need to be proficient in the products or at least have a very high understanding of the industries that they are serving and potentially also application areas that they are targeting.
The other part, as you know for our region, is that the geography is extremely challenging. You have the Philippines on one side made up of so many islands, and we cover many of them, and on the other side you have Australia as a continent and country where life is surrounded along the coast. You have to be very efficient in providing the coverage for both. One of the biggest challenges covering such territories is understanding their culture and being able to address their needs in the various languages.
Las Marias: We recently did a survey to learn what technology suppliers and providers are saying and what their challenges are when it comes to sales and marketing. Having a good technical knowledge of the products that they're selling is one of the biggest challenges when it comes to doing sales, according to our survey. That is, unless people know the product, or know the customer that they're selling the product to, or the requirements of the customers, it will not work out.
Krajnc: For us, product knowledge is the ultimate condition for successfully selling products. I mean, you can sell it, but successfully selling is a different thing, especially because we have a platform that can be applied to so many different things. We need to understand what the capabilities of the product are and where that platform can be applied. You can't do this without really understanding how the product really works on a low level, as well as what the reliability is for industry-specific applications. I would say everything starts there.
Then having technical knowledge in terms of understanding and knowing the environment, or the industry customers, is another part of it. We tend to sell our products in a way that we can help customers to solve their problems. In order to help someone solve something, you need to understand the problem that person has.
Las Marias: What advice or strategy would you give a salesperson in this market?
Krajnc: One is to know what customers to target. You need to give a clear direction of where to go. Then also, let's say if engineers are selling to our customers, they really need to bring value to the customers. Because if they don't bring value, why would the prospect be willing to meet with them? That needs to be pretty evident. Also, they need to show where we differ from others and what benefits the prospect will be getting after buying our products or our platform, because that drives the sales. If customers don't see that, normally they don't sell.
The other part is really fine-tuning and tailoring solutions to meet customer expectations. The expectations might change during the process, because we all understand each other now. We do this by having and developing strong relationships with our customers. It's establishing a partnership. If you approach from that side, you get a lot of information that helps you tailor the offer to your customers and increase the success for both you and the customer.
Las Marias: Do you have a sales training program for your salespeople? If so, why do you think it's important, and do you think it's effective?
Krajnc: We do have a sales training program because, in most cases, we hire engineers. I'm an engineer as well, and I didn't get that sales training at the university. National Instruments has a well-established and developed sales training program that we provide for our sales team across the globe. Initially, before someone is assigned to be a seller, they have to go through extensive technical training, which is a part of the application engineering process. We have so many products, so many technologies, that the only way to really understand the product is to teach customers how to use LabVIEW and to take part of some prototyping in respect to proof-of-concept. Building some setups to understand what the real challenges are that our customers are facing when using our product.
Once that knowledge is there, the best will be selected and we teach them about how to communicate, how to manage sales meetings, for example, and how to sell. Once someone graduates from that program, we continuously improve their proficiency in sales skills with additional trainings in new sales approaches and concepts, because in sales there is always a lot of innovation happening. How we sold products 15 years back might not be the best way right now, so we always have to evolve and we need to keep an eye open and see what's happening in the industry and try to apply the best new methods and practices.
Las Marias: How should a sales plan be developed?
Krajnc: The sales plan should be developed together with the manager, for instance, from a certain territory. That will take into consideration industries that are served, and it has to be done in conjunction with marketing because marketing is key to building awareness. Then the plan really should have clear objectives about what someone wants to achieve. You need to have a clear list of activities to do, because activities are the one thing that we can really manage. The rest of the outcomes are practically uncontrollable.
Las Marias: Speaking of marketing, how should you get the story about the company or the story about your product out there to support sales?
Krajnc: We use different ways of doing marketing, because marketing is a pretty large part of the organization within NI, so we have different groups that care about different activities. One group runs events like this, which is an event that requires a lot of publicity and a lot of information about the products. It requires also that we bring quite a large portion of the ecosystems of our partners so that customers not only listen and hear from us, but that they also have a chance to listen to some of the customers speak on what their ecosystem does on top of or in parallel with our product. This is one type of event, but we have seminars and a lot of electronic media like webinars, which is pretty strong, and we collaborate with people by advertising in magazines.
To read this entire article, which appeared in the December 2016 issue of SMT Magazine, click here.