Getting in front of customers

Tikiri Wanduragala

Wednesday 25 May 2016

Tikiri Wanduragala, Lenovo’s EMEA x86 Server Systems Snr. Consultant, writes for Think Progress about Lenovo’s customer events and why they’re so valuable to both the company and its customers.

Hello everyone, and welcome to my latest blog. I want to touch on something that I mentioned a few months ago, in my first blog for Think Progress, in fact. I mentioned that I would be taking part in some customer events, and have been asked by a couple of people to provide a bit more information about them – the why, where and what.

The purpose of these events is to disclose our plans going forward to our key customers – to give people a short-, medium- and long-term outline of our products and services. The most recent event was held in Stuttgart, Germany, for two customer sets: the HPC customer set, and the standard enterprise customers.

The customers were from across EMEA, representing a cross-section of industries, such as banks, industrial goods and the public sector, and larger accounts rather than our smaller customers. It was a small, select group, just 40 customers. Our entire management team from the development organisation attended.

Not the usual customer event

The forum is very different to the more traditional customer events. Normally you’d get up and talk for an hour, and then there would be 15 minutes for customer questions at the end. Here it’s a maximum presentation of 20 minutes, followed by over an hour of discussions and questions. It’s very much a customer-driven event.

Why is this open style of customer event better than a traditional one-to-one meeting, I hear you ask? Well, a big part of the value is customers being able to talk to each other. A lot of them want validation of their ideas, to know they’re going in the right direction, and to know that their peers are doing the same thing. In a 1-2-1 situation, that’s less likely to happen.

The people who give the talks are product people, they’re not marketing people. They’re people who live these products every day, and can demonstrate exactly what the products can do and how they will benefit our customers.

Getting feedback

So, while we showed off what we’ve got coming up, the most important part of the event was the feedback we received from our customers. And some people were very frank! They’re entitled to be, of course, as many of them have spent very serious money with Lenovo.

The number one message that came across was the need to simplify things, particularly on the mid-range and long-term products. People said that data centres are very complex environments, although the complexity could have arisen for various reasons. One is age, of course.

Another issue is that manufacturers are very good at rushing products out the door, and are not too worried about how they’re operated on. There are multiple vendors in the data centre space, all working to different schedules; that can create complexity. The general message was: “You come up with product X but we need to use it alongside product Y from manufacturer Z. How do you harmonise all that?”

Many of our customers are going through a period of transition, meaning some have to maintain their existing infrastructure while at the same time offer a new type of infrastructure to their own customers. They see this as a period when they may have to manage and maintain two sets of infrastructure, but they don’t want double the complexity.

The message that came across very clearly was: whatever we can do to simplify things, from cradle to grave (meaning procurement onwards), is good. Simplify the range, simplify the parts that are used, find more commonality of parts. Simplify the online ordering process, the testing process and so on. Do whatever we can to make things simpler.

A second big theme was partnerships. There are technologies coming from the internet space –  hyperscale technologies, for example – that are disruptive in our customers’ environments. Our customers feel they have to embrace these technologies, but are very conscious of the cost implications, so they look to partnerships. That’s something Lenovo has to embrace, with new entrants into this market.

Prioritising changes, and the future

So what do we do with this feedback? Well, sometimes the customers ask us to fix specific things. In some cases we can, but often in short-term products we can’t do it straight away.

However, for medium- or long-term projects we prioritise which changes make the most sense so our engineering teams can get to work. It could be because customer X has asked for a certain change and we know it’s critical for them, so we prioritise that change up the list.

We will be running our next summit in October. Because the reaction to the Stuttgart event has been so good and the feedback so positive, we will expand to three countries: Germany, France and the UK.

This will help us get more customers along, and maybe help the customers choose which event to attend. This could, in turn, really focus the events – the UK event might be financial institutions, for example.

These really are incredibly valuable events for Lenovo and our customers, and I am really looking forward to the next installment.

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