PTC says successful companies follow one of two general paths characterized by decisions, tactics, business initiatives, and software-solution sets.

After a year of interviewing more than 120 successful firms, researchers at CAD vendor PTC, Needham, Mass. (www.ptc.com), came to some conclusions about how companies (not all of them PTC clients) stay successful. The software developer assembled the tactics and methods into a chart. In a nutshell, they found most approaches could be lumped into two groups, one labeled Profit, and the other Growth.

"If you pick the growth route, for example, you get about six more choices," says William Berutti, PTC senior vice president. "These include headings such as 'Grow share with customer-focused profits.' This means the company will match its products more closely with the needs of customer segments in a market. Sony is an example of a company that uses the tactic. It has a reputation for dozens of products in a range of consumer-electronics segments."

Another item on the list, "Protect product position," might be typified by Gillette Corp. Its tactic is to patent as much as possible to make it tough for fast-following companies, those that monitor the market and quickly copy whatever their competitors make.

PTC has also identified trends that are motivating manufacturers in the areas of automotive, aerospace and defense, industry and heavy equipment, consumer electronics, and industrial electronics. In consumer electronics, for instance, trends include product integration, multifunction capability, digital operations, and online or wireless connections. Berutti adds that PTC will be giving away its research at trade shows and other events.