Distributors have reached the tipping point in delivering virtual service for design engineers. With the pressure to bring out products in increasing velocity, engineers have to adopt new technology on the fly. That means less time to wait for a visit from a field applications engineer and even less time to fly off to new-product seminars. Instead, design engineers seek self-service training and on-the-phone design help. Distributors are responding to this need by providing robust websites that include product training webinars that can be viewed 24/7 and supplier microsites that contain datasheets, application notes and training.
While each distributor has created its own enhanced versions of services for design engineers, distributors all have one thing in common ó most of those services are Web-based. "The general trend is less face-to-face contact," says Steve Tsukichi, vice president of marketing at Digi-Key Corp. in Thief River Falls, MN. "We see it in the way orders come in to Digi-Key. Fifty percent come in from the Web, 20 percent by fax. That means 70 percent of our orders require no personal contact." Tsukichi says the trend has been growing since the late 1990s.
Distributors are pushing more and more design information and training to the websites in response to customer demand. "We're providing a lot of new Internet-based services," says Jim Nichols, senior vice president of sales at Chicago-based Newark. "One of the things with design engineers is they never have time." In response, Newark has launched Electronic Design World, a portal where engineers can get technical data, training, even legislative information that affects components ó all in one place.
Over at TTI Inc. in Fort Worth, TX, the story is similar. The distributor is creating supplier microsites for design engineers who want to get all of their product information online. "Clearly the way people access information has changed dramatically," says Craig Conrad, senior vice president of marketing and strategic planning at TTI. "More and more customers want self service. They want to check an order at 10 p.m. and they want to check availability on a Sunday." TTI is creating supplier microsites to make it easier for engineers to find everything they need about a product in one place.