Change Is Natural

Web-Based Product Research Expands Its Influence. Users Are Changing the Way They Get Information

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By Joe Feeley, editor in chief

How the Control Design audience researches, specifies and buys machine automation products and services is the subject of research we conducted earlier this year to determine whether the habits of this population are changing in these endeavors.

The first two years of this annual study confirmed the steady migration away from more-traditional distributor relationships and trade- show trips to a far wider use of Internet-based tools.

This year, we looked into some of those areas again to see if things are still changing and added other areas of this subject to explore. We use these findings to get a better sense of how to build content that helps you with these issues. It also provides something of a snapshot of how your buying habits are evolving, compared with those of your peers. In previous years, it has pointed out issues that the supplier community needs to pay heed to in order to better serve your needs.

Calling The Shots—More Than Ever

In 2006, our respondents said they make the primary automation choices for their machines about 67% of the time, with customers doing so about 28% of the time. That seemed high. We asked the same question in 2007 and got similar results—65% said they make those choices for their machines.

We repeated that question this year and, once again, 64% of the machine builders say they make the decisions, with customers calling the shots about a quarter of the time.

We asked system integrators the same question and found when they’re involved in a machine automation project, they make the automation decisions about half the time, with the machine user doing so about one-third of the time.

There wasn’t a great deal of variation in these responses among the various machine builder market segments participating (see demographics breakdown).

Change Partners

This year we asked the study participants about the stability of their supplier relationships. Anecdotally, it seems that suppliers and users want to establish lasting partnerships.

This was the most surprising finding this year. Fifty-two percent said they changed primary suppliers for one or more product categories in the past year. About one-quarter said they’ve changed primary suppliers for controllers, I/O, sensors/measurement and motors/drives (topped the list at 27%). Some 16% said they’ve changed their primary supplier of mechanical components, while 17% changed OI/HMI suppliers.

Figure 1

Given the level of churn, we surely wanted to know why (Figure 1). Of those who changed suppliers for at least one product category, 29% cited product quality and performance problems. Price was cited by 22%. And a discontinued product line was noted by 20% of the respondents.

The Search Leads to …

Each year we ask about our participants’ primary method for doing product research. We expect a continuation of the trend toward more use of Web-based research tools at the expense of local distributors and trade shows.

Figure 2This year, 35% of our respondents say their most-used method for automation product research is searching vendor web sites. That’s up from 30% last year and 25% in 2006.

Meeting/speaking with local reps and distributors stayed statistically constant at 25% this year from 26% in 2007 and 27% in 2006. Figure 2 summarizes these findings.

In Your Face to Face

We wanted to follow up on evidence that said our respondents want more direct contact with suppliers’ technical people and cite frustration due to a lack of availability of these experts.

Figure 3 indicates what we found when participants agreed or disagreed with various statements about the values that direct contact with vendor experts can bring.

A clear 63% strongly agreed they get better technical information directly from the vendor source than from local distributors. But only 38% strongly agreed it was better than information from local sales reps. In both cases, the total that agreed strongly or somewhat exceeded 90%.

A full 42% strongly agreed and an additional 39% agreed somewhat that they can have more of a solutions-based discussion with the suppliers’ technical experts.

While only 16% strongly agreed that the supplier’s technical experts were eager to help, a reassuring 54% agreed somewhat that the experts were eager to please.

Figure 3On the downside, 54% of the respondents disagreed somewhat or disagreed strongly that these experts are easy to reach or that they receive prompt callbacks.

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