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PixelVision - A View into Tomorrow

When it comes to changing industry paradigms and evolving technologies, New England is without a doubt one of the centers of innovation in the world that has evoked tremendous change. With a dense population of technology based organizations from biotechnology to computer technology, New England has played a key role in the growth of many technical industries and technological achievements that have changed the course of history for the entire world.

PixelVision, which is located in Acton, Massachusetts, is a company that is ushering in a new era of computer related technology by attempting to change the way the world looks at their computers and interacts with them. PixelVision is the leading company in designing and producing flat panel computer monitors that offer high quality, multi-functional capabilities in monitors that are only several inches thick. Founded in 1991 this company has grown from creating unique and special order products in small lots to steering towards the mass market and more universal applications of their technology to have its sales bloom from $400K in 1992 to $14MM in 1995. PixelVision's most significant achievement in selling its product to date was the sale of 1,000 panels to the New York Stock Exchange as part of the Exchange's re-engineered trading system. Now every time one looks at CNN to see the NYSE trading floor from a bird's eye view, the monitors suspended from booms and seen within the trading floor infrastructure are all PixelVision monitors.

With such monumental growth and ambitions of being the first organization to offer this alternative technology to the current and extremely large traditional CRT (cathode ray tube) computer monitor installed base, PixelVision is striving to develop their organization to capture this opportunity and become the dominant company in this market place. The EM visited with Jeff Schiebe the Vice President of Sales and Marketing for PixelVision who has the responsibility of positioning the company and its products into this new mass market place. Jeff's years of experience in the high tech industries and in sales and marketing have resulted in a core set of philosophies of strategy and planning for creating successful sales and marketing elements within organizations. He is employing these philosophies in PixelVision now and shared them with the EM emphasizing how they are critical key components of sales and marketing planning for an organization in any type of industry.

History and Current Status

Jeff Schiebe has a long history in technology environments and engineering starting from his Electrical Engineering degree earned from the University of Minnesota. Having moved to Massachusetts in 1970 Jeff came into the computer industry where he developed his professional experience in engineering, marketing and manufacturing in the computer industry. The bulk of his experience came from the mainframe segment, and then in 1990 Jeff moved into the video conferencing business by joining PictureTel which is a leading video teleconferencing technology provider. He was brought into PictureTel to establish the company's international sales as they were experiencing rapid growth and in need of developing new markets.

Jeff joined PixelVision in January of this year to establish the company's sales and marketing functions to embrace the new markets the growing company had targeted. The challenge Jeff has faced is to define the company's product family to organize the overall offering the company intends to promote, educate the marketplace of the existence of the flat panel technology, promote and successful sell the product to new clients and users, and establish a distribution channel to facilitate the product's release and integration into the marketplace.

PixelVision's need to perform these activities were driven by its success and desire to move into the marketplace that its products would thrive in for the future, "We needed to transition from that single product or idea and get it into the market. It was important for us to get out of the niche market, custom product because there is less opportunity for it to grow." In achieving these goals, Jeff described his three phase strategy that embodies all of the activities and efforts his sales and marketing team designs and undertakes to set-up this 55 employee organization to become a leading technology corporation in the future. The three areas are planning, executing and results.

Planning - The 60 Second Elevator Ride

"I don't care what you're doing, you need a plan. You have to develop a corporate mission not matter what stage you are at." This corporate mission strategy is a critical tool in Jeff's efforts for a company to be able to succinctly state what it does, what its overall goal is in what it does, and how it intends to accomplish its goals. Within the mission strategy all facets of the company's operation are addressed to have all the pistons pumping in a cohesive effort: channels, process, product, customer, market and service. "One chart can be developed that clearly and effectively tells the viewer a lot about the company in a brief moment." This refers to the mission statement slide Jeff feels is an important piece of the entire mission strategy. "At PixelVision all of this information existed in one place or another, and it took just a little effort to tie it into one slide and have all the critical information available in one neat package."

What is the reason for all this information being tied together in a concise little package? Here is a favorite analogy from Jeff that articulates the benefits of having completed this effort, "Imagine you're in an elevator with the president of the company you are about to visit for a sales call. This person has the power to make all of the decisions including whether or not to start a relationship with your company. In the time it takes the elevator to ride up to the client's floor, you have those 60 seconds to explain your product, your company, your service, and your idea to this person standing next to you." Think this is an unlikely scenario? Coming from Jeff who has a made a career out of marketing and selling, "I know this... I've done this!" The moral, having thought hard beforehand to define all these critical elements of your company's products and services and business operations will make for extreme efficiency and effectiveness in communicating them to potential clients.

Planning - The Marketing Plan

A company's marketing plan contains information pertaining to the target markets that their products or services are aimed at. This information addresses issues such as the market size, competitors, customer preferences, current sales trends, and future market directions. In acquiring all of this data to compose a usable marketing plan Jeff mentions an important underlying element to the effort, "To develop a marketing plan you have to understand your customer. Understand them and talk to them by going directly to the source." It is obvious the importance of knowing the customer's perspective on one's products or services, and getting in touch with the potential customers early on to prevent the pitfall of the entrepreneur thinking they know rather well what the customer is going to want, "You think you know it, but you don't. You have to understand things such as how the customer is going to buy your product. Understand that the customer has the choice to choose any and all of the products that are related." Evidently it goes beyond just knowing if the customer thinks the product or service is something they may use. Knowing what they will use it for and how they will get it for example play an important role in understanding as completely as possible an effective way of targeting a business' key customers.

With information such as this to guide the collection of the data necessary for filling in the marketing plan, sources of information to acquire such detail can be approached in places accessible to any size business, "Get industry reports at the library, you don't always have to buy them. Internet searches can turn up a lot of valuable information. Talk to a related company to understand if there is an existing market pattern for you to see. Look at your competition and who you are competing with."

Competition is an important dimension to look at when considering the company's marketing strategy and developing its mission strategy. By taking heart of what competing firms are stating they can offer, a company can define its efforts and entry into the market that will focus on its core competencies and clearly define what the company is offering to differentiate itself from the competitors, "Ask yourself what do the competitor products look like and offer? Then develop the plans that best fits your competencies and markets. You have to focus, there is just too much market out there. Otherwise you're gonna get creamed." The reality of spreading oneself to thinly in too many directions means a company's resources will be stretched out into so many efforts that none may be accomplished to a high level of success. "Do one or two things that you do very well."

In the case of PixelVision, they looked at the entire marketplace of all monitors that are sold and decided they did the best in the top level monitors. Thus they left the middle and lower end products to the rest of the market. They established a specific place in the market that they would target, and not try to accommodate all of the opportunities in the entire marketplace. They established a product family from the various monitors they were offering which helped quantify what they were selling, and helped them communicate this information to their partners in business such as their channels partners.

Execution - "This is the fun part"

"You've developed the plan, now you have to go out and start telling the world about yourself." As PixelVision moved towards the mass market from its custom made products for a select group of clients, the challenge was how to address this broader market that did not necessarily have a need in which they actively sought out assistance from PixelVision, "We knew our primary customers, the question was how to get to that next level down to broaden that field. We had to target prospects that were going to match our product. In targeting these people we had to make sure that we had a product design that meets the market's needs. A solution that will meet the market." An ingenious way to expose PixelVision to these customers was the creation of a cardboard mock-up of a PixelVision monitor that had the same dimensions and appearance of a real monitor, made from cardboard material with stickers on the sides imitating the monitor's actual appearance. This was sent to 200 of their top customer types from a good quality mail list that they purchased. "The mock-up had all of the appearance of a real product unit with product specifications on the flat panel side. It opened up more doors for us than you could imagine." Here is just one example of how some clever thinking can effectively accomplish an objective of "getting the product in front of your customer."

On the theme of getting the product and one's company's presence in front of the customer, trade shows and seminars prove to be effective activities to accomplish this goal, "Go after one of the associations in your area. Table top exhibits are small, inexpensive, and easy to get involved with. These can be done on a local basis to start." When attempting to get into bigger trade shows where the benefits of a larger audience faces off against the cost of doing so, partnering is always a viable solution to try and defray the costs, "Find those that will leverage you into another show or shows. PixelVision attended a large trade show where we were set up in the pavilion of a larger company. It certainly helped us to get in with a smaller investment on our part."

When the attention getting activities are executed and it is time to follow up with leads and potential clients, careful attention must be paid to working with the customer and attempting to accommodate their needs. "You must target your market, know what their market is, know what their business needs are, and adapt your product or service to fulfill their needs." A primary target customer for PixelVision are the brokerage houses of New York where traders handle vast amounts of information from their computer stations that contain up to eight traditional CRT monitors taking up valuable and expensive Manhattan real estate. "Show the benefits on many different facets such as space saving costs as a result of less real estate needs because of the thinner monitors. Then they can use that money savings towards other things immediately." Picking up on the details of a customer's needs can help one position the benefits of their products better to suit the customers needs as well, "At these brokerage houses in New York, desktop space is at a premium. There are no mice because mice take up space and can be thrown at other people. Thus there is no Windows operating system." Knowing this would help PixelVision, in this example, be able to promote their products compatibility with other computer operating systems instead of assuming the technology the customer may be using. "Learn these things so your product suits the clients needs on as many points as possible."

When it comes to utilizing technology and business tools to perform the marketing and promotional activities in a gro wing business, Jeff is a firm believer in not skimping on the efforts or resources that one utilizes, particularly due to the advancements in desktop computer technology and what it can now offer to small businesses. "You should have very good and crisp sales tools. The tools available today with computers and programs gives you no excuse to not have great looking material. I don't care if you are a one man shop, you should not go out of your house, garage, or your company without anything but the best. Spend a little more. Get a little better quality. Get it in color... You have no excuse."

Results

The results of the sales activities and relationships that a company has achieved can be some of the most valuable elements of mustering new sales. By taking advantage of its past successes a company can build on the reputation it develops with other clients to establish their presence in the marketplace and convince other potential clients to seek our their products or services. "Leverage resources likes repeat business. Leverage those successes in the past to get new stuff. For the NYSE sale, we became a primary component of the NYSE's annual statement as the document was filled with pictures of its newly engineered trading floor with our monitors all over the place. They were very proud of their efforts to modernize the Exchange and we benefited from it."

As all of these activities take place over time and the company begins to see how its operations and processes happen, it is effective to constantly reflect on their processes and look to see how they can be improved. For example, "Leverage your manufacturing. Improve that and make that better. Clean up the document and order handling process so in the future it will help speed up the sales. Increase efficiencies in all aspects." Though trying to improve processes may be one of the last things a growing company may be looking at as it fights to accommodate massive growth, it appears that doing as much as one can will function to facilitate change as it is needed to make future activities more effective and efficient.

Keeping the sales collateral and product information constantly updated will certainly benefit the company and give them the chance to leverage newer success as quickly as they happen, "Profile your top customers and integrate them into the presentation of the missions statement for example." Furthermore, leveraging this information can further succeed in promoting the company's overall mission and goals so they become more refined and understandable by the client as time goes on, "In the past PixelVision was perceived as a very custom product organization. Sales were very deal driven and the company was very reactive. When one is starting up it is of tremendous benefit to get some key accounts. Now as we transition into a higher product volume and more standard product driven, we become more market driven and less reactive. Becoming less deal driven and more market driven means we have to leverage all of our resources."

Take-Away

Whether an organization earns $14MM in annual revenues or $14, there are strategies and activities that all can undertake to accomplish some of the fundamental goals of marketing and sales efforts. Knowing one's marketplace, knowing one's customers, knowing one's own organization and product or service offerings, and staying flexible to accommodate all these elements as they may change over time is fundamental in achieving an effective sales and marketing effort. "It is dangerous if you fall into the trap of staying with the status quo. Need to find the right product for you to sell... I can't stress that enough. Do the market work first: do research, do analysis, undertake studies, and just plain understand. Go to trade shows yourself and poke around, see what's out there. There has to be a product that is right for the market, and the markets change fast." - ###


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