The cobbler’s children have no shoes: Building channels to market

I was in a webinar for high tech entrepreneurs Making the Most of Cambridge Network when the cobbler’s children came to mind...

One of the first questions I usually ask of a high-tech start-up is: “So you’ve got your demo, you’ve got your slides and you’ve got your passport – who are the first five companies you want to go and visit?” And if the answer isn’t self-evident, that’s a problem, and finding the right channels to market becomes critical.

From a standing start, it’s tough to connect with all your prospects under your own steam. You can’t “touch” them all directly, so access to a focused community will help amplify your message.

A case in point: Amantys PowerDrive Partnership Programme in power electronics

I got involved with Amantys Ltd to support the announcement of funding from Arm and Moonray Investors – a few days a month for a couple of months that grew into a full-time role lasting 4 years.

The heavy power electronics industry is highly resistant to innovation – credibility is hard to establish. Amantys products add digital Arm-based intelligence to power management, monitoring complex, high power IGBT Modules (high voltage switches to you and me).

My contention was that it’s hard for a new company to break into this risk averse business with a direct market approach. Even once you’ve determined which division of Siemens, say, that you want to sell to, which one of the thousands of engineers within Siemens Wind, Traction or Drives cares enough to influence your destiny or even listen?

Finding partners at SPS/IPC Drives

The answer lay with a handful of IGBT Module market leaders who own 80% of the end equipment market. They have established reputations, understand the market intimately, and know exactly which of those engineers can influence the high volume applications.

I therefore went to the SPS/IPC Drives exhibition on a mission to engage with the top IGBT Module makers. The stands are staffed by sales and marketing personnel, but the key decision-makers are always there, meeting customers and scanning the competition.

PowerDrive Partnership Programme

From those first contacts we then established the PowerDrive Partnership Programme, signing up Infineon Technologies, Dynex Semiconductors, Fuji Electric and Hitachi Power Devices to the Amantys proposition: getting these arch rivals to sign up to a joint press announcement at PCIM was one of the toughest releases I’d ever managed.

Why did our partners care?

The innovation in play could deliver significant benefits to their product performance in their customers’ systems, described by one as the Holy Grail of IGBT Modules! And as these images show, failures are catastrophic, and in the absence of data, the blame lands with the module manufacturers; this product monitors whether the module was correctly operated or not.

Amantys Power Drive: IGBT Module testing – before……

………….and after!

How did we benefit?

The programme gave us privileged access to knowledge, markets and expertise. It also gave us instant credibility over competition and with our investors, and even led to direct development funding from them in our product roadmap.

Strategic partners and channels to market – factors to consider:

  • A business whose strategy aligns with yours in your target markets
  • An interest to gain from your success that supports their objectives…….and vice versa!
  • A market reputation that will give you reflected credibility
  • A pre-qualified, relevant audience you can access, whether directly or by association, or by partnering
  • An authoritative test of your credentials
    • If they buy into your proposition, that is a valuable proof point for your story in itself
    • Their implicit endorsement has currency with their market and customers
  • An established active outbound marketing programme you can leverage

And bear in mind, they’re unlikely to be a direct sales channel – possibly an acquirer in time, but that’s another subject!

So, back to the cobbler’s kids and coronavirus!

My business has run successfully for a decade or more, based on my ability to leverage my network in existing markets and expand quickly into new areas. Whenever I’ve completed an assignment, I’m out there again, meeting people, attending events and just “popping in” for a chat.

So with the advent of Covid, my usual networking modus operandi just doesn’t work, and I found myself in this Cambridge Network webinar. I realised that they – and others like them – could be “channels to market”, drawing in pre-qualified audiences where I can raise my profile. So “get on and do some proper marketing”, build a website, get a blog going, and use these channels to build my virtual network!

The message I’ve drawn from that is to pause occasionally and take heed of your own advice:

Don’t be like the cobbler and his kids, still running barefoot – find your sales channels!

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