This jewel is one of the most important lessons I remember from Bob Graham. The setting was at an off-site meeting in Monterey during the mid-eighties. Applied Materials was working on its next block-buster: CVD. Out of this meeting came ideas that would lead to the creation of the Applied’s P5000 and Novellus’ Concept One. We were outside at lunch, one of those airy California days, discussing the new vertical furnaces that had come out in order to address the user issues with horizontal furnaces. The sun was burning down and brightly illuminating the Mexican pavers of the patio and the flowers edging it, while the ocean crashed on the cliffs in the distance. Just the sort of setting where you either slip into a haze getting nothing done, or some odd creative chemistry gels new concepts.
I had spent that morning giving them a presentation predicting that the future potential of CVD would center in solving the gap fill and planarization problems in the inter-metal-dielectric. That with metal layers growing, it would be the business opportunity of the future for equipment. In my normal bold fashion, I had stated that, “Lithography, long the Queen of the fab, was about to be dethroned by deposition. Deposition would be larger than lithography by the end of the decade and deposition companies would lead the top 10, not lithography companies.” I was quickly put in my place by Skip Mathews, another invited guest, who said, “I agree with everything you said, except lithography has always been and will always be the Queen of the fab.”
While I was licking my wounds at lunch, someone asked about the vertical furnaces and their future. In talking to customers, I had found they were generally enthusiastic about the technology, to which Bob replied, “there are four essential things in all product purchase decisions: wants, needs, features, and benefits. Most marketing people go ask the customer what they want and then come back with a list of features, which is how the vertical furnace came to be. But does it solve any major problems? No. Brilliant marketing people learn the customer better than the customer knows themself. They develop a deep understanding of what the customer needs to do and how it will benefit them. If we know this, engineering can develop a system in which the needed features will drop out. The wants are no more than a wish list – ignore them. For us, their needs are defined by what they need to do with the film.”
For me, Bob’s lecture resulted in an epiphany – the word that describes a sudden insight into the essence of something. By the end of the decade, deposition was indeed larger than lithography and Applied had gone from no presence in CVD to being the dominant player and the largest supplier of semiconductor equipment. Why? Because the customer needed better gap-fill and planarization to get more metal layers, with the benefit being greater integration. More importantly, it was Bob’s idea that offering solutions to a customer’s needs was the way to sell equipment that proved to be a key contributor in driving Applied Materials to its leadership position. Bob eventually left Applied and went to Novellus, where he rescued the company from anonymity by applying these same concepts. Today, SEMI’s highest award for sales and marketing is named after him.