One of the challenges that every business faces is where to put its resources to work. National Instruments (NASDAQ:NATI) counts on its customer base of engineers and scientists to use its systems and tools to make key advances in promising fields. After having utilized a more scattershot approach toward meeting customer needs in the past, NI has more recently aimed at discovering which of its areas of expertise have the best prospects for growth and then concentrating on them more heavily.

Coming into Thursday's third-quarter financial report, National Instruments investors wanted to see solid gains in both sales and earnings. NI's results were even better than many of its bullish investors had expected, and it looks like the company's strategic vision is taking shape quite well.

Three mobile devices showing screenshots of equipment being flame-tested.

Image source: National Instruments.

How National Instruments showed success

As we've seen throughout the year, National Instruments' third-quarter results again hit unprecedented levels on key metrics. Sales came in at $346 million, the highest that NI has ever posted in the third quarter of a year, and the 8% growth rate was faster than the 6% that most of those following the stock had looked to see. Adjusted net income soared 53% from year-ago levels to $60 million, and that produced adjusted earnings of $0.45 per share, far above the consensus forecast for $0.28 per share on the bottom line.

Fundamentally, NI's results pointed to even better potential results for the future. The value of total orders received rose by 13%, and larger orders above $20,000 climbed at an even stronger 21% rate. Smaller orders under $20,000 also grew, but the 5% increase showed that National Instruments has put more emphasis on its larger customers -- as one would typically expect.

National Instruments saw fairly balanced contributions from its geographical regions. The best revenue gains came in the Asia-Pacific region, where sales were higher by 10% from year-earlier levels. However, the Americas region and the combined Europe/Middle East/India/Africa segment also enjoyed solid revenue gains of 7% each. Foreign currency impacts were minimal, providing boosts of a single percentage point in NI's two regions outside of its home market.

CFO Karen Rapp was happy with how NI did. "We believe [that] from focus comes growth," Rapp said, "and with leadership's implementation of our Core Strategic Vision, we have driven alignment to the top priorities we believe will provide the most opportunities for growth." The CFO pointed to rising operational efficiency and higher backlogs as signs of future success.

Can NI keep climbing?

National Instruments is also optimistic about its future. In the words of CEO Alex Davern, "I am excited by the multi-year growth opportunities we see in areas like 5G semiconductors and electric and autonomous vehicles." The CEO believes NI will have to invest resources in those key growth areas in order to make the most from its valuable resources.

NI's guidance for the fourth quarter was quite encouraging. The company believes that it will have revenue of between $360 million and $390 million during the quarter, which compares fairly well with the current consensus forecast among investors for about $372 million. Net income could come in far stronger than expected, with adjusted earnings of $0.46 to $0.60 per share well in excess of the $0.38 per share that those following the stock currently expect.

National Instruments investors were generally pleased with the strong results, although the stock didn't immediately respond in the after-hours market following the announcement. In the long run, NI stands to post impressive gains if its strategy can continue to work, and early signs suggest that the company is on the right track to make more from all of its opportunities.

Dan Caplinger has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends National Instruments. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.