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National Instruments Uses CRM to Break Down Data Silos

National Instruments, a maker of instrumentation for engineers and scientists, improved the management of its more than 25,000 business customers across multiple industry segments with the help of a database and CRM software.

The Austin, TX, company produces a test, measurement and control software package called LabView with an average selling price of $2,500. National Instruments last year had customers in more than 80 countries, such as NASA, Boeing, Siemens, Kodak, Toyota, Toshiba and Stanford University.

“No one industry is currently more than 10 percent of our overall revenue, and no one company is more than 3 percent of our sales,” company spokeswoman Heidi Baschnagel said. “This gives us a lot of opportunity from a business and messaging perspective, but it also can present a challenge because we are very broad-based.”

Given the broad scope of its customers, Baschnagel said, “trying to be targeted and efficient at measuring the results of all this activity in our history has presented a challenge.”

NI's lead process previously was very siloed based on activity.

“Our advertising was one bucket, our trade show activity was another bucket and our customer database was a whole other bucket,” she said. “Every activity area that generated leads kind of functioned on its own. Our major metric was 'Did we get a lead or not?' That's as far as we went in our process.”

To complicate matters further, NI executes hundreds of integrated marketing campaigns for LabView each year to different industries.

To get a more comprehensive view of its customers, NI began using Oracle E-Business Suite, which included a CRM portion, in the late 1990s. The system gives NI a single source of customer information, letting it serve customers more quickly and expertly and focus on driving profitable customer relationships.

“We have a comprehensive view of our customers now through a single platform,” said Kyle Ashley, NI's manager, direct marketing and eCRM. “Oracle allows us to manage our leads in a single database, a single platform.”

For example, NI used the system to manage an integrated marketing campaign to promote LabView 7 Express, which was released in mid-2003.

The effort included targeted direct mail pieces that, depending on the customer NI sought to reach, told customers they could upgrade their current versions of LabView or promoted a LabView 7 Express worldwide tour. E-mail messages let some recipients download a 30-day evaluation copy of the software and others buy it at a discounted rate.

Ashley could not offer specifics but said the campaign was successful.

“We had a significant number of upgrades and strong adoption of the new release by new customers,” he said.

The Oracle system also let NI specifically identify control groups and implement testing strategies, “which allowed us to get more targeted messages to what we believed were the right people and then measure that against control groups.” he said.

In 2004, NI plans to use Oracle to analyze which channel — e-mail, direct mail or telemarketing — had the best results for retention.

Meanwhile, NI said that Oracle's service application let customer service representatives complete tasks more quickly and efficiently through improved integration with order management. Reps also gained access to repair information that lets them instantly give customers a status report on their repair order, eliminating the need to call various departments to check the status of a repair.

In addition, the company was able to reduce application training time for customer service reps by 50 percent.

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