Last September, Hitachi Vantara was launched as a new company that unified the operations of Hitachi Data Systems, Hitachi Insight Group and Pentaho. Asim Zaheer, CMO of Hitachi Vantara, talks to us about his role helping to transform the multi-billion dollar hardware/software/services business into a single integrated company. Asim Zaheer launched his career at Hitachi after his startup was acquired by the multinational conglomerate.
Hitachi Vantara is very different from Hitachi Data Systems and its core data infrastructure, storage and compute solutions. The portfolio has expanded to include new software and services, and is also targeting new IoT solutions.
Last fiscal year, Asim Zaheer’s marketing organization’s focus was on rebranding the company and launching Hitachi Vantara. They did the required heavy lifting of unveiling the new brand, repositioning themselves in the marketplace, and creating a new brand story.
This year they are focused on maximizing performance in the core business while also fueling new areas of growth.
Transformations mean focus areas pivot rapidly and Asim Zaheer has a lot of insight on how CMOs can succeed in critical moments of transformation.
In our interview we cover topics including how to partner with Sales and how marketing can drive customer experience improvements.
How do you partner with sales during critical transformations?
It all starts with being fully transparent. We go into each planning cycle transparent about my team’s objectives and how they align with the company’s goals. We cross reference my objectives with my peers’ to see if I’m aligned with product and sales.
Creating full transparency around where we’re going to spend our money is also important. For certain budgets and sets of resources I show how dollars are going to be applied.
I’m also an open book about measuring success or failure against that spend. That way if we have disagreements about spend we can identify those early on and negotiate spending changes.
We also try to recognize the trade-offs that exist so we can make course corrections throughout the year. But I think it all starts with being transparent with your team about your agenda and the resources you have and how you’re applying them. It defuses a lot of potential conflict, too.
How do you work with Sales to measure revenue and success?
There is a handshake that takes place between sales and marketing. We start by looking at our installed base of accounts and then the net-new accounts we want to secure. My team will sign up for a certain amount of influenced revenue. We base this amount on the market opportunity, benchmarks against companies our size, and the reasonable amount of revenue based on our spend. We source all that data to sanity check what we’re doing.
We’ll put together a number and negotiate with sales, asking, “Is it too high or too low?”, and we arrive at a common ground.
For new account acquisition, we’ll sign up for a sourced-revenue number, defined by leads that ultimately convert to revenue this fiscal year.
We start with the top number, with both sides agreeing, then translate these into metrics for MQL, SQL, etc. and put these together to create our KPI. This is great because I can look at our KPI on a dashboard anywhere, I can look at it on my phone right now.
So again, we agree to the numbers up front, making sure they are reasonable given our resources and our capabilities, lock it in, and then measure success from that point forward.
How can CMOs be the driver of customer experience improvements?
Marketing identified early on that we need to make the customer experience a priority and that this is how companies can differentiate themselves in a very crowded market.
We’ve prioritized areas that my organization controls which relates to the digital experience that B2B buyers have. We’ve been working to enhance our web properties, all our various digital platforms, how we communicate to customers, what type of interaction they have when they reach out to us online, and so on.
My team is championing improvements to the customer experience at large. This is a cross-functional effort which relates to every touchpoint that a customer has with your company that is going to influence their experience.
The customer could have an amazing digital experience, learn about your company, consuming information, and downloading a trial version of your product. But then if they download your product or get a trial version of your product and it’s really hard to use, they’re going to have terrible customer experience and that’s going to reflect on your entire company. Or they could enjoy every aspect of the buying cycle, and then they may have a really poor customer support experience. That will reflect on your entire company.
What we’ve done is championed a cross-functional initiative across Hitachi Vantara to look at all the touchpoints that a customer would have with us. We first understand where we measure up competitively on products, on services on web on the sales experience [which can] influence your customer’s perception of the company dramatically.
Then we’re looking at areas we’re strong in, areas we need to improve, and areas we need to innovate. Strategically, we’re pouring time and resources to champion the customer experience on behalf of our entire company.
How do you successfully work cross-functionally to improve the customer experience?
To energize the customer experience initiative, we created a broad global customer survey at the beginning of the calendar year. We included hundreds of customers from different countries different and industries.
We had a large enough statistical sample size on which to base decisions. We dissected that data, looking at it with different perspectives based on experiences customers had with our company. The customer’s current experience with product, services, sales, and marketing were used as a basis to launch this survey. This got everybody’s attention.
We supplemented our primary research with third party data that estimates the percentage increase in revenue resulting from improvements in the customer experience. We’re using third party validation along with our own customer’s voices to get people on board to talk about how we can collaborate and improve experiences. That’s been really effective.
When we bring data to the table, either direct customer feedback or some reputable third party data, it changes the conversation.
How do you balance being open to innovations and experimentation while following the plan in front of you?
At our scale you have to go into it with a plan. We plan for some amount of budget and time for experimentation.
You have to carve out resources to allow for it. We’re not just trying to be opportunistic with spare cycles, ideas, or people who want to try something new for the sake of it. We come into the year with a set amount of resources and time for areas we want to explore.
You need to allow for some flexibility. For example, you need to be nimble because you might be dabbling with a new platform in digital and something else might come along, monetizing customer feedback, that requires you to shift gears. This shift may require technology and we’ll reallocate those funds that were reserved for experimentation.