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At the recent [San Diego, October 2018] AltiumLive event, Barry Matties met with PCB sales expert Tara Dunn of Omni PCB to discuss selling strategies for selling PCBs in the North American market. The conversation also covers strategies for staying competitive through a generational shift in the ownership of PCB shops, and the importance of supply chain communication and building relationships.
Barry Matties: First, talk a little bit about your company for our readers.
Tara Dunn: My company is Omni PCB. We are a manufacturer’s rep company focused exclusively on the PCB industry, so we provide sales and engineering support for our customers ranging from standard FR-4 designs through high-end HDI. We also specialize in flex, rigid-flex, and advanced manufacturing that enables line width and space below one mil.
Matties: How many years have you been doing this?
Dunn: Over 20 years, and I always hate to admit it and age myself!
Matties: In those 20 years, what comes to mind for significant changes or milestones?
Dunn: Technology is definitely advancing, and I’d say particularly the last five years I’ve seen it advancing at an even faster rate. Over those 20 years, we also went to a lot of offshore manufacturing. When I first started, that wasn’t common. Also, there are changes in how we do business. We used to use fax and mail to send purchase orders and files, and use the telephone as the primary communication method. Now, we heavily depend on email. There is a much faster response time, but I think we have also lost the benefit of communicating with each other on a more personal level.
Matties: That’s interesting because at one point, ordering your circuit boards on a website was becoming popular with the prototype and hobbyist market. Is that as popular these days?
Dunn: I think that there’s still a significant portion of the market that can utilize web-based ordering and it works very well. When you move into needing high-reliability products or preproduction runs, then it becomes a little more difficult to do the web-based ordering. You miss out on some of that collaboration, design rule checks, and things like that.
Matties: I think people from the fabricator side had an electronic and not a personal relationship. They knew their numbers and had their accounts and specifications, but perhaps they didn’t really know the customers. I think that left a lot of people at a disadvantage.
Dunn: Yes. I think that’s a common issue across fabrication in North America. For example, in the spirit of trying to respond very quickly to all customers, many fabricators use a general mailbox that anyone in customer service has access to. For example, sales@ whatever the URL may be, but then you never build a relationship. You can’t even say “Hello, Judy.” You just have to say hello because you don’t know who is going to pick it up.
Matties: Exactly, and you’re in the sales business. This is what you do. When I look at selling, I always say it’s not selling but building relationships. The same holds true with PCBs. What sort of relationships do you have to build with the customer to get them to do business with you?
Dunn: I think one of the key things for Omni PCB is that we really work at connecting our customers to technical knowledge. We work at having the information out there and available whenever they need it, so they have a place to find what they are looking for. From there, you can start a conversation around that and build the relationship.
Matties: It’s always great when you can help somebody solve a technical problem because you become the hero, and that really cements a relationship, doesn’t it?
Dunn: Yes, and it’s a lot of fun.
Matties: Is your background technical?
Dunn: It is not. I graduated college with an economics degree and took my first job at a flex circuit manufacturer. At that time, I was going to do accounting, and some human resources work. Before they would let me have the checkbook, they had me work on the production floor to understand all the processes and materials.
Matties: Smart move.
Dunn: It was. And little did I know at the time the value of the education I was getting by running the equipment, and it was a small company, so it was easy to ask a lot of questions.
Matties: We are here at a design conference, and one of the things that we hear so frequently—almost to the point of it being a broken record—is there is not enough communication between designers, fabricators, and assemblers. When you’re selling, you’re selling to designers a lot. At least they influence or actually make the final purchase decision in many cases. How important is it to have that relationship or firsthand knowledge of the manufacturing?
Dunn: I think it’s extremely important for a designer to understand the manufacturing process and also for the manufacturer to understand what the designer is going through as they try to fit all these different things into one board. It definitely helps to know the manufacturing side and what your design will go through, particularly in the wet process area where you create the trace, space, and plated through-holes.
To read this interview which originally appeared in the December issue of PCB007 Magazine, click here.