There aren’t many companies that would work with a customer that admitted to having no money. But Nanometrics is not like many companies. When a university in Greece informed the Ottawa-based company that they could no longer afford to pay for its company’s seismic monitoring equipment due to the economic meltdown, Nanometrics shipped them the equipment anyway.
“They were always the biggest fan of our equipment, so we decided to work out how to pay for it later,” says Neil Spriggs, who joined Nanometrics in 1992 as a vice-president of sales before becoming its CEO in 2015. “And they came through.”
Even though the company was unsure if or when it would be paid, Nanometrics knew it was better to have a long-term approach to client relationships. After all, Spriggs believes the best type of client is a repeat client. “It’s almost immaterial if they have money or not,” he says.
The company deals with the exotic science of analyzing Earth’s rumblings. It provides instruments and data to governments, academic institutions and corporations in more than 100 countries around the world that want to develop tsunami warning systems or control risks associated with man-made shakings. It’s life-saving stuff, but there’s not a huge pool of customers from which to draw. Spriggs says any given country may only have a maximum of 10 potential clients.
Client retention, then, is key (and explains why Nanometrics took a gamble in that instance), as well as a self-motivated sales team that checks in with each client on a regular basis by phone and, as often as possible, in person. This proactive approach has allowed the company to keep its customer retention rate in the high 90s. “We don’t have customers. We have friends and colleagues who are very near and dear to us,” says Spriggs.
In a field where time is of the essence, clients also expect speed and simplicity, which is why the Nanometrics approach to innovation involves rapid development of features instead of pursuing perfection. Nanometrics engineers start each new project by challenging themselves to produce the minimum viable product that will excite customers.
That challenge led to the creation last year of Pegasus, an unpretentious-looking device that can record data in the planet’s most remote places using very little power. From an engineering standpoint, it’s simple and elegant. For Nanometrics clients, it was functional solution—and easier to embrace than a gadget packed with bells and whistles.
Pegasus was a huge hit from the start. The company is currently gearing up to start mass production in late spring.