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NIST-MEP: Focusing on What Customers Value Stimulates Growth--Montana Instruments Corp
Mon, 2012-08-13 12:15

Montana Instruments is a Bozeman, Montana firm that manufactures state-of-the-art optical and cryogenic research equipment. The Cryostation product breaks performance barriers that allows new research and also makes low temperature research simpler and less time-consuming. The system operates at temperatures approaching absolute zero where all nano-scale motion stops. The Cryostation’s minimal vibration enables researchers to more accurately measure results and draw more precise conclusions. Such research has the potential to lead to nano-size semiconductors of totally new materials created in a lab, with entirely new applications. Its capabilities and features make it attractive to a wider audience, expanding the market of cold-research.

In less than two years from the company’s start, it evolved from an R&D (research and development) project to a company commercializing with seven employees. It now has 10 employees and projections of several million in sales over the next few years.

In the early stages, Montana Instruments' founder spent months interviewing researchers around the world about how they use their equipment to determine what they wanted and what they needed. He wanted to gain knowledge about how they use cryogenic systems and what could make one better. In a few years, the company had progressed to actively marketing its product and preparing for a steady production rate to not only keep up with demand but also to increase sales. For a technology product, a focus on the customer is critical not only during the design phase but also during the marketing phase. New perspective was needed to see the product’s value through customers’ eyes, by identifying why different features are valuable to them. To reach its niche market effectively the company needed a strategic marketing plan, a clear customer message and support pieces to attract buyers.

The firm sought expertise from the B2B Marketing Program, a collaboration of Montana Manufacturing
Extension Center(MMEC), an MSU College of Engineering outreach center and NIST MEP affiliate, and the Montana Department of Commerce (DOC). The B2B marketing specialist worked with the company’s Business Development Officer, who had previously been a technology company owner, to bring customer perspectives to marketing and instruction on sales strategy. After defining the product value for customers, the pair collaborated in writing a selling script for cold calling; segmenting potential customers by specialty; identifying a target market; and characterizing the best customer. The Montana Instruments tag line “Cold Science Made Simple,” is an outcome of B2B marketing meetings. MMEC/DOC B2B taught strategies for trade show setup, promotional ideas, how to engage new customers, and to keep the message simple and clear. The creative ideas for trade show exhibitions have helped attract traffic to the Montana Instruments exhibit booth, visually demonstrating the differences between the Cryostation and competitor products in attention-getting ways.

The growth project was delivered in tandem with an MMEC engineering project that provided Lean Manufacturing guidance, procedures to achieve repeatability, and plug and play metrics to reduce rework. This project enabled the company to meet growth head on by planning and managing production efficiently and delivering products on time even as sales increase. With a marketing strategy and messaging in place and improved production
and management tools, Montana Instruments is poised for growth.

Results: Grew sales to $5M in 3 years; added 3 employees; created a strategic marketing plan and branding campaign; increased company's online presence.

MMEC’s program demonstrated approaches that really work for a small company on a limited budget. They helped simplify the message, communicate value and made it concise.