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Friday, August 28, 2009

Are You Ready for the Rebound?

The Silicon Valley Lunch Forum was held last week and it confirmed to me some fundamental truths about the semiconductor market. One truth was that what goes up must come down (and must go back up again). Surprise! We live in a cyclical marketplace. Whether it be inventories or consumer demand, capital spending in this industry is on a yo yo, fluctuating with the emotions of financial markets and the ebb and flow of the classic business cycles.

But like the general state of humanity, despite the downturns, chips are always on an upward trend. Just when you think the world is collapsing and we’re heading toward the stone age, the market will turn.

The other truth is that we always forget the first truth.

Bill McClean knows these truths like he knows his mother. He was absolutely ebullient at the Forum. While no one saw the suddenness and depth of the last swoon, in January he forecasted the cycle with the precision of watchmaker. This is his fifth cycle, so he’s been wise to the semi yo yo for at least the last cycle or two.

“Think quarterly,” he says, and points out that the aftermath of every global recession is pent-up demand, with “two great years of semiconductor growth.”

Next year, he sees at least 15% growth, and possibly 20% growth. “As bad as that downturn was… but it could work in reverse, as strong upwards as it was downwards,”

Bill’s more positive, of course, than most people. Lots of people in the semiconductor industry are still struggling with radical downsizing, more quarters of loss, and trends that point to a leaner, more consolidated industry. “It’s the new normal,” many of them claim and carry a glum about them like Pig Pen from the old Charlie Brown cartoons.

But business is business its time to suck it up and remember how the game is played. Growth and profitability in the industry is going to come from innovation, differentiation, diversification and stealing share the ol’ fashioned way through grit, spit and hustle.

I sense a lot of paralysis out there today. People have been so focused on surviving, they’ve forgotten how to thrive. But winter’s over folks; its warming up and time to come out and play.

If you are not laser focused on competing on the upturn, you will become instinct. If you are not actively, creatively, and aggressively planning to increase share in your key segments, then you are road kill, an artifact, a casualty of time. If you’re waiting for your customers’ spending, your R&D team or some clever refresh of PowerPoint slides to save what remains of your semiconductor business, then you might as well step aside now.

If you’re going to win in this roller coaster business, you have to learn how to get over the queasiness of the downside and enjoy the exhilarating ride to the top of the next cycle.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Great Feedback on SEMICON West

I’m passionate about getting quality data to make good decisions and get objective insights on SEMI products and services. I obsess over web analytics, attendee surveys, registration data, customer profiles, email open rates and click-throughs, and anything else I can find to enlighten and simplify a complex world.

For SEMICON West we use a number of tools to better understand our attendees and exhibitors and how to serve them. We use both qualitative and quantitative data on both attendees and exhibitors to measure event satisfaction, behavior and other parameters that are important to our customers and event planners.

Our SEMICON West post show report is the primary tool exhibitors use to evaluate the event’s audience. Our report is based on trade show industry standards; in fact, last year our report and data collection process was audited by BPA to ensure the highest quality, most accurate attendance reporting. The post show report is based on “verified visitors,” or those non-exhibitor attendees who actually pick up a badge and attend the show. In addition to sheer volume, the post show report includes demographics on title, geographic origin, product interest, and purchasing authority.

We also use the registration data to understand what specific buyers came to the show and why. We are looking for names of approximately 200 real buyers from fabs around the world to verify their attendance and behavior at the show (its not spying, but don’t tell anyone).

We also send surveys to every attendee and exhibitor asking input on key performance and satisfaction issues, and providing an opportunity for open-ended comments and recommendations. Some of the questions are the same for every SEMICON event so we can compare metrics across many events, and many questions are specific to the event and target specific issues. Our response rates are very high on these surveys, attesting to the desire of most attendees to help see SEMICON West become the best exposition possible. Believe me; I read every survey response.

We also stop by as many exhibitors as possible to get feedback and opinion on show performance. This year we met with 134 exhibitors to get their input on their show experience and ways we could improve the expo and programs. Over 40 Action Items resulted from these meeting that were intended to improve show performance.

While the quantitative feedback key performance metrics are essential, I most enjoy the personal and direct feedback I get from exhibitors. Judy Davies at Verigy was enormously well-prepared and thorough in capturing and documenting ways that SEMI could improve West. Her spread sheet listed over 20 items, each coded with the classic Red, Green and Yellow indicating how we were doing. Of course, not all of this feedback is good. Judy doesn’t hold back in her expectations and she is tough customer to satisfy. But her feedback is vital to helping us improve the show.

At yesterday’s SEMI Sales and Marketing Council, Joe Lonergan at AES Motomation gave the group an honest summary of his experience at SEMICON West. Joe explained to the group that he was concerned about the traffic (many less exhibitor staff), but was (fortunately) happy with the quality of leads.

While negative feedback healps us improve and focuses our effort, I have to admit I really enjoy the good feedback. Catherine Rossi Roos from Roos Instruments was kind enough to write, “I don't think we have such a good show since 2000 when TAP was still in San Jose. I believe our location near the TechXSpot played a big part in the both quality and quantity of our booth visitors.”

Even Pete Singer, Editor-in-Chief of SST and Small Times, said “huge kudos to the staff of SEMI who did an excellent job of lining up great speakers for a variety of tech sessions running throughout the three days of the show.” That was nice.

All of this is just a long winded way of saying, -if you have any feedback on SEMI or SEMICON West, please us (me) know. I promise we will listen and use the information to improve our products and services.