The following article is based on an episode of Outside In, the customer centricity podcast.
Since splitting from Hewlett Packard Inc. in 2015, HPE has undergone several acquisitions and “spin-merges” – essentially, merging segments of HPE’s business with other companies to form new ones. Amidst this growth, Paul Logue, HPE’s Vice President of Growth Analytics, Market Insights and Customer Experience, has been tasked with understanding and anticipating customers’ needs, which, like most things in the tech space, are changing fast.
“We are the hub of what’s going on from a customer perspective,” he says of his team. “We’ve greatly expanded the role we’re playing as we’ve started to be part of this transformation.”
Along with 100 global team members, Paul unearths hidden insights and advocates on behalf of customers. Just don’t call them the research department. According to Paul, who joined me on the latest episode of the Outside In podcast, they operate as an agency model within the company.
Here’s how they’re doing it.
Integrate all sources of customer information to deliver “actionable intelligence”
By fusing customer experience, insights, and data analytics, Paul has created a uniquely integrated service model within HPE. His “clients” are internal business divisions, like sales and marketing. “They don’t want data, they want actionable intelligence,” he explains. “They want triggers, and they want to know specifically, ‘What do I need to do with a given company or with a given market?’”
All of that takes a diverse set of skills. Paul’s team can give a 360-degree view of all the places the customer is engaging with HPE to discover what’s working and what’s not. “You have to be ambidextrous in your capabilities,” he says. “Every single person on our team is building cross-skills, so that nobody is exempt from having that consultative skill.”
Each is trained to look at data, synthesize it, and find the insights that matter. “You can’t just have data. You have to have the data and the consultative [ability to] connect the dots to tell the story.”
Condition the organization to work with you as an agency partner
Building an internal agency isn’t without its challenges. One of the biggest, Paul says, is conditioning your company and your clients to think of you differently. “You’re not a go-fetch, desk-side research firm,” Paul asserts. “You are an agency.”
One of the very first things you do when working with an agency is brief them on the challenge or project at hand. Paul’s team has developed an insight agenda process centered on a briefing document that kicks off every project with probing questions, such as: What decision are we trying to drive? What hypothesis are we exploring? What does success look like? And, Paul’s favorite: How is my team going to work with your team collaboratively on the implementation?
“Once you get people to think about you differently,” he says, “good things start to happen.”
The power of no
“Where I choose to invest is where it provides the best impact for the company,” Paul says. And part of that impact requires saying one small yet powerful word: no.
“If you’re not saying no, you’re doing something wrong,” he says. Paul knows his team can’t be everywhere all the time, so he has built self-service tools to empower stakeholders. “If you don’t have an always-on insight platform, you can’t release your team to do the consultative work,” he says.
For example, Market Vision is a curated, self-service platform employees can access for insights, content, and research. And the Account Health Index is “a green light, yellow light, red light” indicator of each account’s performance. “We know when things are good and when things need to be addressed really early on,” Paul says.
Remember that customers are emotional. Even tech buyers.
Paul has looked to other industries, like CPG, to shape his philosophy about running insights inside a large organization. He learned that many companies are “spending a lot of time on ethnography and the mindset of their buyer and the emotional ramifications of those decisions.”
That same level of understanding is useful for tech companies like HPE. For example, Paul’s team discovered that IT leaders have to say no more than a third of the time, for lots of different reasons. “When they do [say no],” Paul says, “we found that 77% of the time there was a strong negative emotion involved.” IT is a stressful job, with many departments “in foundational transformation”; therefore, the buying process is more emotional than many people may realize.
Paul ends on a cautionary note. “There is an incredible level of emotion, and B2B companies like HPE better pay attention to that and understand how to help our customers with that emotion.”