At the foundation of the high-tech manufacturing industry are semiconductors. At about 60 years of age, the semiconductor industry is now at a very interesting crossroads. Many organizations are looking to implement new technologies, but there are some unique challenges to consider. Recently I sat down with two industry experts on the MST team – Chief Operating Officer, Ken Costello, and Praveen Rapeti, Practice Lead for the High Tech and Manufacturing sectors – to talk about those challenges.
High on the list of critical challenges in this sector is a very complex sales process. Not only is there sometimes a certain level of opacity around who the end customer is, but research, testing, and compliance needs can greatly lengthen the sales pipeline, even to as long as 8-10 years. As Ken explains:
“For example, if you’re making [computer] chips that are going into a medical device – those medical devices have to go through rigorous testing, and that testing can take several years – in some cases 8 to 10 years. It’s necessary then for these organizations to track those tests, track the chips that are in those tests, so that they know what their pipeline is and what the potential is for a forecast for the next few years.”
Keeping tabs on these long-term projects is often done through a combination of software, spreadsheets, and other disparate tools that don’t integrate well with each other, if at all. It can easily hamper an organization’s growth. What’s more, while the seasoned salespeople – who often have decades of semiconductor experience – are veterans at working with long, complex sales processes, what happens when they start to retire?
The Gray Tsunami and New Hire Blues
Right now a large wave of our workforce is approaching or has already reached retirement age. Dubbed “The Gray Tsunami,” the semiconductor industry in particular is facing major challenges with specialized workers - who have decades of experience - reaching retirement age. Ken explains:
“The salespeople that typically work in these organizations have been in those jobs for a long time. We’ve talked to some people who have been sales reps in the semiconductor industry for 20, 30, 40 years. In a lot of cases, they’re not using a centralized system to track their opportunities, their accounts, or their contacts. As these people get closer to retirement, that becomes a bigger issue. So the different semiconductor companies are looking for better ways to track opportunities, to track contacts and to track accounts, and take that information out of Outlook, out of Rolodexes, or cell phones and put it into a centralized location.”
With demand for new tech increasing exponentially, new junior sales reps need to ramp up quickly – a difficult proposition when so many processes remain manual or fragmented across disparate software apps. As Ken goes on to say:
“As these organizations are bringing on junior salespeople, not only are they looking to track their opportunities better and their activities better, they’re also looking to onboard faster. Long gone are the days where we could wait for two or three years for a salesperson to get up to speed on the semiconductor industry. We want them to get up to speed much faster than that. So we need a way for them to access the information that they need to sell. We need ways for them to be able to collaborate across the globe with different sales teams or different technical teams.”
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In addition to these considerations, there’s also the complexity of the tech stack itself and the need to implement new technology that integrates with existing systems without breaking their ERP or disrupting operations.
Implementation Without Interruption
One of the worst situations that can happen on the shop floor of your semiconductor fab is a halt to operations. It can take hours, or even days, to get back up to speed and clear the backlog from protracted delays.
“Typically [semiconductors] have very complex tech stacks,” Praveen explains, “There are a lot of moving parts that are in various stages of modernization. In addition, sometimes there’s a need to have some technology or data kept on site. Any implementation of new tech has to be deployed with great care to ensure that it integrates well with existing technology and causes zero disruption to the org’s ERP and operations.”
Our work with clients in the high-tech space has given us a few key insights into how to mitigate these challenges, especially in the Sales and Front End offices.
A CRM That Grows With You
First on the list is a robust CRM, like Salesforce, that can capture the full opportunity pipeline and is both scalable AND customizable. Ken breaks down what can be done with the right platform:
“We’ve done several Salesforce implementations across various different high tech manufacturing organizations, and if we go back to the issue of tracking the sales pipeline, that’s really a sweet spot for Salesforce. Once implemented, we’re actually able to capture the full sales process, no matter how long, no matter how complex. We can show the client history. We can show the next steps for the salesperson that’s working with the opportunity. We can enable group selling. We can bring in knowledge from various different locations – all to help the sales rep close more deals and increase attach rates. Once we’ve got the contacts, we’ve got the pipeline knowledge, we’ve got the industry knowledge out of the heads and out of Rolodexes into one spot, onboarding and guidance of new salespeople becomes much easier, because everything’s centrally located within the CRM.”
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With a solid CRM in place, you can build in features like guided sales processes, incorporate machine learning, and move data from across your entire tech stack for better analytics and reporting. A key component to this enhanced functionality and the ability to collaborate across globally located teams is integration between disparate systems.
Connectivity Through Integration
Collaboration between client engagement teams and business units across often globally located fabs is vital to staying on top of the opportunity pipeline and ensuring a high level of customer satisfaction. As Praveen describes:
“Connectivity across on-premises, cloud, and IoT technologies is critical to delivering an effective sales and distribution strategy. Powerful integration tools like MuleSoft can pull data from apps that don’t naturally communicate with each other – and this is both from cloud apps AND on-premises servers - and unite it into one dashboard to create better collaboration between client engagement teams and business units.”
A great benefit to implementing powerful, cloud-based CRM technology that communicates with other software apps is the level of future-proofing that it adds to your system.
Learn how Microchip used Salesforce and the best change management strategy we’ve yet seen to increase their pipeline by 20%.
Scalable and Configurable
With some semiconductor organizations decades old, it’s no surprise that legacy technology is pretty commonplace. Software and hardware that was state of the art at the time get outdated. This creates big problems with keeping tech stacks up to date. As systems become unsupported over time, it can be hard to even locate skilled talent at reconfiguring custom code. Cloud technology steps in as the best solution to build scalability into your tech stack.
“Once you have a system like this in place, and it’s connected to all of your other systems within your tech stack, it gets very easy to scale and customize as the needs dictate,” Ken explains, “For example, you can add Salesforce AI that can make client specific recommendations for maximizing attach rates, and reducing time to close. You can add marketing automation software that communicates with your CRM to better align with sales and marketing, and a whole host of other applications and uses that can be added on to the base CRM once you have it in place.”
That brings us to Ken and Praveen’s final recommendation, and it’s perhaps the most important one: finding the right third-party partner to consult with.
How to Find the Right Consulting Partner
Digital transformation is a complex endeavor. Bringing in an implementation partner with the right set of skills specific to the semiconductor sector’s needs is the best way to ensure a smooth implementation and a platform that fully aligns with your desired business outcomes. Praveen has this to say about what to look for in a consulting partner:
“When it comes to configuration and integration of new technologies into your existing tech stack, we recommend finding a partner with extensive experience both in the software that you’re looking to implement AND the high-tech industry. Proven experience in high-tech better assures that new technology can be introduced without causing disruption to your operations.”
To that end, we’re offering a free, downloadable Digital Transformation Preparedness Checklist to help you as you work through the early planning steps.
Implementing new tech can seem like a daunting project; however, with critical business needs identified, thorough change management, and a partner with a clear understanding of the semiconductor industry’s unique needs, you’ll be in the best position to create a scalable, configurable system that delivers the tools your engagement teams need.