When it comes to utilizing technologies to better serve customers, do high-tech companies practice what they preach? Two companies--National Semiconductor and iTouch Communications--are harnessing high-tech tools via the Web to provide customers with more timely information, help salespeople close sales, consolidate and assist distributed customer support staff and train partners.
Keeping Track of Product
National Semiconductor, a pioneer in the semiconductor industry since 1959, needed a leading-edge marketing solution to help introduce and sell its changing roster of new products. When there had been changes in its catalog entries, the company used to send its customers entire updated catalogs, which had been on the order of 30 megabytes in size. To streamline information flow to customers, National Semiconductor deployed a content management system using Vignettes' Syndication server to distribute its catalog content in an XML format. Now, the company just sends the updates, which saves time, keeps customers and partners more up to date and reduces the changes to a few hundred kilobytes per night. Providing such timely information helps National Semiconductor build profitable customer relationships. Phil Gibson, director of interactive marketing at National Semiconductor, says, "In the past, we had about 16 of these relationships. With the Syndication Server, we can take it up to thousands."
Forecasting the Future
Forward-looking technology companies need to keep an eye on the future, in more than one sense. In addition to developing technologies that will meet future needs, high-tech companies also want to be able to predict how much of their new product will sell--to whom, where and when. A key aspect of sales forecasting provides a system for customers and sales people to list their projected needs so these can be accounted for in the manufacturing process.
iTouch Communications provides Internet infrastructure solutions that enable service providers and carriers to monitor high-speed Internet services on a real-time basis. Its Red-C Transaction Management System aggregates, concentrates and manages service provider customer traffic. The In-Reach product suite supports network element management and out-of-band management. The Fiber Driver family of products focuses on solutions that provide more effective usage of fiber-optic cables. Among its core competencies, iTouch claims several industry firsts, including the first multiprotocol terminal server, the first 10/100 auto-sensing switch and the first Gigabit Ethernet networks.
It was important to iTouch that it be able to predict and track product demands from sales reps and partners. The Littleton, Mass.-based company deployed a Partner Relationship Management (PRM) solution from ChannelWave to enable salespeople and partners to enter and change projected demand at their convenience. Charlie DeMers, vice president of business operations at iTouch Communications, says, "When I first came, we were doing forecasting once a month on an Excel spreadsheet, and by the time we got it, it was out of date. Now I can see revenues that we have received by region and by rep and can click down to see customers and their likely purchases, so it really gave me a dynamic forecasting tool. The return on investment has been substantial because it means that I have product on the shelf to make sure customers are happy. Forecasts are now looked at every day versus once a month."
The savings came from building an inventory of required products based on current customer estimates, rather than trying to guess what products customers might need. DeMers says, "Previously, we would track everything based on history, but history does not always repeat itself based on new products."
With the ChannelWave infrastructure in place, iTouch has also been able to automate the distribution of leads to its various partners. DeMers says that in the past, the company sent leads out into a black hole, without knowing if a particular partner was getting results. "I would go to a show in Las Vegas and gather all these leads and have someone put them into the system and send them out to a rep, but we were never really able to track them after they went out. Now I can label them and know which reps they went to and which partners they went to, and they don't get any more leads unless they give me the status on the ones they have received."