The Automation Community
As I begin establishing my new automation business I have been using the old tried and true technique of networking to reach out to potential customers. When I started my previous business in 1996 the internet was not nearly as developed as it is today. I spent a lot of time making cold calls to potential clients and mailed out hundreds of flyers and brochures. The end result was very surprising to me: I received no responses to the mailings and very few callbacks from the cold calls. In retrospect I learned that literally all of my results came through networking and referrals.
Eventually I did establish a website and would occasionally receive calls from people who had come across it while searching for something. As far as I can remember I never got any business from any of these contacts though, every customer came from meeting someone who knew someone who… well, you get the picture.
As my business grew I came to value my vendors and sales contacts very highly. One of my vendors, Bertelkamp Automation actually became a good customer as I built control panels for them and helped integrate some of their products for customers. I met my first major machine building customer, NAS through this vendor also. I had also worked for the local Allen-Bradley distributor for a couple of years in the early 1990s and many of my customers came from people I met during this period.
As I put together lists of potential customers in my area I actually made a couple of cold calls this week and true to form received no callbacks. Again most of my results have come from calling and emailing people I know. One difference between now and the mid ’90s is the social networking aspect of the internet. Linked In and various search engines and blogs have become a great resource to reestablish contacts from my previous business. Recommendations and blogging help establish credibility and allow contact with people who I didn’t have contact with before.
While spending a lot of time during the last few weeks in the networking and sales function of my fledgeling business I have realized that there is an automation community made up of integrators and solution providers, manufacturing and engineering people, vendors and machine builders and even academic and tradespeople. It is much easier to come into contact with new people through the internet but at the same time it is easy to get lost in the thousands of voices clamoring for attention in blogs and associations. The net result has not made it any easier to make contacts with new people, just different. I still have to rely on word of mouth and vendor contacts, but much of that contact can now be done online.
The results of my efforts have reinforced the value of my automation network and contacts made over the years. I remember once during a sales call for an automation distributor to a large customer an engineer once told me “I don’t buy products from XXX company, I buy them from you. You are the face of the company and if you aren’t providing what I need there is always someone else who will”. This was a good lesson that has always stuck with me. Once you have established a relationship with a customer, vendor or peer, treat it like gold. Along with your skills your network and contacts are the things that stay with you when you move on to a different company or venture.
By the way, my profile at Linked In can be found here. Feel free to contact me and become part of my automation network.