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"nextweb" intranet article (abridgement of print tabloid version):

Cracking the Windows of Opportunity
Sale of Soft Modem to Compaq Europe Could Create Openings with OEMs Elsewhere

A team in the PC OEM Sales group recently secured a key design win with Compaq Europe to supply it with a cost-efficient, high-value soft modem solution for all consumer desktop products sold in the region. Besides strengthening that current customer relationship, the deal might also open doors to Compaq's U.S. consumer desktop business and other OEM opportunities.

The team succeeded because of the good old-fashioned selling techniques of emphasizing price, features and performance. It also accommodated customer preferences, added value via software, provided strong technical support and communicated frequently.

Leveraging a Relationship

The team was led by Field Applications Engineer Mike Keith and District Sales Manager Michael Nguyen - a Compaq-dedicated sales staff based in Houston. They decided to explore a sales effort with Compaq Europe -- based in Munich, Germany -- after Compaq U.S. repeatedly resisted their offers to provide the HSF (soft) modem for the U.S. consumer desktop line. Compaq U.S. uses Conexant modem chips only in its consumer laptops. "It occurred to all of us that we'd have an opportunity to better serve our European customer while boosting the reputation of HSF for the Compaq desktop line in the U.S. to see," says Mike.

In the HSF solution, the two key parts of a modem system - the controller (sort of a traffic coordinator) and the digital signal processor (DSP) - operate as part of complementary software, resulting in reduced hardware costs and greater durability.

Mike and Michael enlisted the help of Customer Marketing Manager Helen Yoder, based in Newport Beach, and Regional Sales Manager Mourad Bedrani, based in Paris to set up a team and approach Compaq Europe, a loyal customer since 1994.

Besides Mike, Michael, Helen and Mourad, the team included Field Applications Engineer Boris Harle, in Paris; Manager of the European Product Applications Engineering Group, Mark Wynn, in Sophia Antipolis, France; Product Applications Engineer Yossi Bar-On, in Israel; and engineers from GVC, Conexant's manufacturing partner in Taiwan. Mike acted as project manager to lead the diverse team through the product development process.

Overcoming Reluctance

It wasn't an easy sell. Compaq Europe was happy with the product it had been using, the HCF controllerless modem chip, which functions with the controller as a software element. But unlike the HSF, the HCF's DSP -- which converts the analog input from the phone line -- is still part of the chip (or hardware). This was just fine with Compaq Europe, because it was pleased with the quality of another part of the modem that must interface with the DSP -- the data access arrangement (DAA). GVC had custom-designed the DAA, which prepares the communication input for the DSP.

The team worked hard over several months to provide several reasons for Compaq Europe to consider the HSF solution. First, it reminded the customer that Compaq U.S. was already using a Conexant soft modem in its consumer laptop products. Then, the team provided performance data, cost figures and feature descriptions that showed the HSF would be a less expensive and more reliable long-term solution. "We explained that less hardware means decreased production and engineering costs as well as fewer inventory and assembly hassles," says Helen.

Next, the team worked out a way to incorporate GVC's DAA into the HSF design, satisfying the customer's wish to continue using the trusted circuit. But what iced the deal, according to Helen, was that the team configured the HSF to run on V.92 modem chip technology, which accelerates the initial connection - or "handshake" - time by at least 50%. V.92 also performs well in Europe, where it meets the region's line interface specifications. "And the beauty of it is," says Helen, "Conexant is the only one that offers it."

This new V.92-based soft modem solution, now dubbed HSFi, also enabled the team to bundle in some key software, including NetWaiting, which allows a call without disrupting connectivity; and ModemXpert, which alerts users of line problems and identifies the source.

Holding Hands

The team also provided a level of customer support that is uncommon among chip suppliers. It has furnished the customer with continual and convenient access to information when it's been needed. Mike serves as a single point of contact so the customer doesn't have to call multiple departments or locations to get answers. And the team sticks with the customer throughout the sales cycle - from the initial engagement through configuration, delivery and launch. "We're there to hold their hands every step of the way," says Helen.

Mourad is convinced that rivals in the U.S. and elsewhere can't satisfy all of the customers' needs like Conexant can. "Our prices are just as competitive and the others don't provide answers to requirements such as the V.92 standard, diagnostic tools, worldwide support, quality and reliability," he explains.

Read more about the team's customer support efforts and the value-added software it offers to raise the bar against competitors in the full version of this article, found in the fourth quarter issue of next...