BtoB: How tough is it to market original equipment components to automobile manufacturers?
Andrea: It's a very difficult proposition ... First, you have to realize that they're under tremendous pressure to produce the greatest value to the end user for the lowest cost. That means you have to have a product that adds value-such as a satellite navigation system or new materials that increase durability-to the car that can be passed on to consumers or directly or indirectly reduces the cost of manufacturing. You also have to be committed to large-scale production, exacting Six Sigma quality standards and shouldering some of the product liability burden.
BtoB: How can marketers get that first look from carmakers?
Andrea: There are a number of ways to build brand recognition and get direct attention from automobile manufacturers. One is to put your products out in front of their engineers. Show off your product at the annual Society of Automotive Engineers Congress, which increasingly features smaller-tier suppliers. Getting articles published or advertising in the leading industry publications can help get you noticed, too. You can collaborate with the government's U.S. Council on Car Research or national laboratories that do immense amounts of R&D for the auto industry. But ultimately it will come down to building relationships on all levels, from your engineers to their engineers to your CXOs to their CXOs. Luckily, while it's a huge industry, most of the North American R&D facilities and tech labs are based in the Detroit area, so knocking on doors doesn't require much travel.