Digging Beyond the Data

As distributors seek to embed themselves deeper within their customers' design chain, the channel is spending more in-house time and resources to differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack.

For example, component data sheets are available just about anywhere: through supplier sites, aggregators, distributor Websites, component libraries and databases, and even a random hit on a search engine. Rather than simply duplicate these efforts, distributors are providing more practical data and options for engineers seeking the right part.

Distributors that specialize in low-volume, high-mix orders — Allied Electronics, Digi-Key, Newark/element14, and Mouser, for example — make it easy for engineers to purchase the parts they are researching. {complink 12816|Mouser Electronics Inc.}, which also publishes a print catalogue, has developed a series of online Product Knowledge Centers (PKCs) to guide engineers to the optimum component for their applications.

Users can search the PKCs by product type, component part number, vendor, application, or spec. A PKC page will show the users' result and all related information. If an engineer decides to purchase the part, it goes into a shopping cart and to Mouser's BOM tool. The BOM may be customized to reflect pending purchases, past purchases, the current shopping cart, and customer-specific prices. It also remembers user preferences, the layout of spreadsheets, and customer naming conventions.

Efforts such as PKCs and {complink 12809|element14}'s The Knode are developed in-house by the distributors. This requires both engineering and programming expertise and a significant investment by the distributor. Mouser is able to see the return on its efforts.

“We track how long users stay on our site, and on average it is a minute and a half,” says Kevin Hess, Mouser's vice president of technical marketing. “That's a long time to spend on a specific product. That tells us users are taking the time to review the information and there is a low bounce rate off of the page. They are digging deeper. So we provide everything we need to get the part to the engineer.” Hess says some of Mouser's suppliers use the PKCs for their own product information and training.

A higher level of engineering support is developing throughout the distribution channel. Distributors create reference designs; hold hands-on training sessions; provide Web training and how-to videos; and offer development toolkits, software, and 24/7 tech support. In some cases, this is in addition to the classic distribution functions of order fulfillment and logistics.

Distribution executives say these investments are absolute necessities in the customer service game. “Engineers don't have time or the reach to recreate the wheel every time they start a design,” says Hess. “What we try to do is provide the most comprehensive, accurate and detailed data possible and to make the transactions as easy as possible. It makes the engineer's life easier, and hopefully saves them time.”

9 comments on “Digging Beyond the Data

  1. Houngbo_Hospice
    February 24, 2012

    “We track how long users stay on our site…”

    Sounds like  Mouser   is doing a good analytics job in order to better understand its users' need and preference. It will be also good if visitors can leave comments or rate their experience on the site.

  2. _hm
    February 24, 2012

    One majorr aspect differentiating distributors are providing with free high end develoment tools – Evaluation moduels, compilers etc. That is very helpful.


  3. t.alex
    February 25, 2012

    Yes, free samples and readily available developmet kits are major factors for engineers to bring up the design fast.

  4. Eldredge
    February 25, 2012

    Basically, the distributors that are providing these added services are seeking ways to add value for their prospective clients.  SOnds like a goos apprach to take.

  5. Nemos
    February 26, 2012

    With the PKC page, you can see if your site has the quality it needs to keep the consumers. It doesn't matter if you have a lot of visitors per day. Consider the following image: You take a stand in a big exhibition show a lot of visitors visit the exhibition and pass from your stand also, but nobody stays more than one minute.

  6. prabhakar_deosthali
    February 27, 2012

    I think , with the kind of support , many of these supplier and distributor sites are offering , they are just one step away from becoming the design houses themselves. Their application engineers are many times more knowledgeable than the hard core design engineers. I even have couple of examples where the FAEs have become good design engineers after spending couple of years in the field supporting design houses.


  7. stochastic excursion
    February 27, 2012

    A vendor that is able to cater to a customer's end product is that much ahead of the game.  Experienced FAE's can be more valuable than design engineers because of this.

  8. Barbara Jorgensen
    February 27, 2012

    @prabhkar: I'll admit I have had that thought myself. Sometimes i wonder if distributors are moving too far away from their core competency, which has to remains inventory warehousing and management. no other company in the supply chain wants to deal with inventory. on the other hand, distributors make a really good case that these are the services their customers want. I think it is an ongoing challenge but there is a balance that many distributors have managed to achieve. 

  9. Barbara Jorgensen
    February 27, 2012

    @rich: thanks! Credit goes to distributors who are willing to spend some time explaining their programs to customers and the media. The channel sometimes feels it has to justify its existence, although the success of many of these companies attests to the success they are having in serving their two main constiutents: suppliers and end-customers. I did have the opportunity to speak with another distrbutor on some leadership projects and I will be writing on that topic this week.

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