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High-tech Companies Practice What They Preach
Many companies, themselves on the cutting edge, are looking for the newest, most productive ways to improve their relationships with customers. They are finding them in solutions that automate relationships via the Web.
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Who better to leverage the growth of the Internet than high-tech companies? Leaping far past the first phase of Web utilization where companies simply put up electronic brochures with background company information, high-tech businesses 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.

High-tech companies rapidly create and improve new technologies, and to stay in business, must be able to market and sell their new developments. Getting the word out to the right people at the right time is a business imperative. One of the key enablers for the automatic flow of product information between a company and its customers are various cataloging applications and services that allow a company to reformat and repurpose product information for a variety of customer needs.

Shawn Willet, an analyst with Current Analysis in Oakland, Calif., says, "This is actually a huge problem, and it has been underestimated by everyone involved because some of the suppliers have gigantic product lines consisting of millions of products. This is particularly a problem in high-tech where they have lots of different products and variations to sell."

Keeping Track of Product

One high-tech leader, National Semiconductor, began as a pioneer in the semiconductor industry in 1959. The use of semiconductor materials such as silicon and germanium, which are neither good conductors of electricity nor good insulators, made it possible to create computer chips and miniaturized electronic components such as transistors. The miniaturized components allowed devices to be designed with a smaller footprint and to be faster and require less energy. From the design and manufacture of early discrete transistors to the introduction of an integrated circuit product line, National Semiconductor has been at the vanguard of electronics technologies. Today, the company designs and manufactures analog and mixed-signal semiconductor products that provide access to the Internet on devices that are easier to use than PCs, such as set-top boxes and personal access devices like the WebPAD appliance.

National Semiconductor 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."

Another high-tech initiator, Lisle, Ill.-based Molex, is the world's second-largest manufacturer of electronic, electrical and fiber-optic interconnection products and systems. The company also makes a variety of switches and application tooling. Molex has a catalog of more than 100,000 different products such as cables and connectors and has deployed a Web-based cataloging solution from Saqqara to help manage the data it presents to customers. Traditionally, customers had to thumb through Molex's 1,200-page catalog to find the data they needed. The Saqqara ProductServer enables Molex to generate an online comparison table to help customers evaluate the differences between products. Howell Evans, manager of sales and marketing systems at Molex says, "The electronic catalog makes it easier to find things and to match their needs with our product. In addition, our sales force does not have to spend as much time explaining the difference between our products. The customers can go online and figure things out for themselves."

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."

Lead On

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."

Another high-tech company, Trimble Navigation, also depends on better lead management to stay ahead. In the 1980s, the U.S. Department of Defense developed the Global Positioning System (GPS), based on an array of 24 orbiting satellites and their ground stations. Trimble Navigation, founded in 1978, wanted to leverage the military technology for commercial and consumer applications and began developing GPS technology-based products. Today, its solutions combine GPS technology with wireless communications for environments ranging from agriculture and construction to asset management, automotive and timing. Aggressively investing in GPS research and development, Trimble now claims to own more GPS-related patents than the U.S. government.

It was important to the company to manage better sales leads for its products. Trimble deployed Sale Continuum and Lead Management modules by CRM vendor Remedy, which enable it to automate the distribution and tracking of leads to its various resellers and partners around the globe through a Web-based portal. Candi Faupell, project developer at Trimble, noted, "When leads come in from a trade show, we can send them out to the dealers and see if they are contacting the customers and getting results."

Consolidating Customer Service

The Remedy solution also allows the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company to share better customer information and solutions to problems among support personnel in its various offices and dealers. The subsequent efficiencies have allowed Trimble to reduce global support staff from 40 to 19 employees.

Faupell says, "Before Remedy, each of our five separate divisions had its own database with its own customers so there was a lot of interoffice calling. Part of the reason we decided to consolidate everything is that we went from a regional support to a global support solution, and Remedy allows the information to follow the customer. Now, the U.S. customer is often being handled by our New Zealand or UK offices after hours and the technicians there can review their history."

Customers call one central number, which automatically routes them to the closest open Trimble support center. In the past, the U.S. customer would always be routed to the Sunnyvale office. Faupell says 24-hour support had only been possible because they had someone carry a pager or cell phone with them. This system also enables Trimble to take over support on behalf of dealers in other countries after hours.

Training Certification

High-tech companies need to track the skills of their partners to ensure that only qualified partners are given referrals or brought into new deployments. Tracking the skill sets of partners can prove difficult when a company is growing as fast as BEA Systems, an e-commerce application server vendor.

Founded in 1995, San Jose, Calif.-based BEA Systems has become known as a leading provider of middleware for enterprise applications, due to its two products, BEA Tuxedo and BEA WebLogic, which together comprise approximately 46 percent of the transaction server market, according to IDC. BEA has now developed its E-commerce Transaction Platform, which provides a comprehensive infrastructure for development and deployment of scalable business applications for e-commerce.

BEA has experienced 80 percent annual growth for the last five years, and its partners have been growing at a rate of 100 per quarter (now at 900). With a team of four people, Sandy Mingia, manager of WorldWide Partner Training at BEA, has launched a Web-based training certification program using the ChannelWave Certification Impact software.

One element of the ChannelWave software, the partner certification portal, can notify partners when classes relevant to the skills their team needs to build are coming to their area. It also does conflict management to make sure partners don't sign up for different classes on the same day. When a partner signs up to work with BEA, it makes a commitment to completing a certain level of training. The portal allows BEA to confirm if the partners are meeting these commitments and can automate the communications process when they are not.

Mingia, who has also launched training programs for Cisco and 3Com, says the ChannelWave solution has enabled BEA to get up and running in only 70 days at a cost of about $100,000, which is significantly less than the year and millions of dollars it would have cost without the application.

staying at the leading edge in the high-technology field means staying on top of advanced business solutions, as well. With the desire to lead in research, development and production, high-tech companies find themselves employing Web-based CMR solutions that consolidate information and business processes and help them continue to build the loyal networks of partners and customers they need to keep their doors to innovation open.

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To contact the editors, please email editor@destinationCRM.com
Every month, CRM magazine covers the customer relationship management industry and beyond. To subscribe, please visit http://www.destinationCRM.com/subscribe/.
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