Sandeep Kapoor Senior Director & General Manager, Category Management, Hybrid IT APAC, Hewlett Packard Enterprise #APACLeaders
Read our interview with Sandeep Kapoor, Senior Director & General Manager, Category Management, Hybrid IT APAC, Hewlett Packard Enterprise. He shares his insights on how the digital marketplace is helping in the B2B sales function.
Q1. How do you think Data can be used meaningfully today for closing deals or better targeting?
Data is the new currency. A huge amount of data is generated from across different feeds coming in; what we call from the Hybrid world perspective, data coming from the Edge – the data center like the traditional on-premise deployment – the private cloud and thirdly the public cloud – the new age ones from Amazon, Google, etc. Data is coming across in three different ways and it’s quite a complex world. We are focused on how we really optimise and integrate so that we give our customers a unique experience no matter where the data resides whether coming from the Edge – the data center or the public cloud, we are able to offer holistic, hybrid solutions to our customers.
Q2. We have seen a change in the way traditional sales has been done especially with the advent of digital. So what do you think are three things that one needs to do to close sales and make sales more relevant in this age?
In the hybrid world, digital is now a business imperative. We are B2B and with a massive portfolio that is expanding. Today our customers are profiling each of the elements they want to procure far in advance even before they contact us. No one size fits all. Across countries – there is a vast range of digital maturity. You have emerging countries like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Laos on the one side, then you have a bunch of countries like Australia, Korea, Singapore, HK, Taiwan, Japan etc. which are further ahead and mature in digital literacy skills. But in general, we believe that 60 – 70% of the time, our buyers or clients have already started profiling and they look at different kinds of ways to evaluate us. There is an average of 12 searches by them before they contact us. So that kind of process starts much ahead in advance. We are also spending a whole amount of time and effort in building the partner ecosystem – building their capabilities on social and digital.
Q3 How do you see the adoption of new digital tools in the customer acquisition process? And in what stage of the sales funnel would you use these tools?
Right now the tools are being used at a very early stage in terms of Awareness creation and kind of linked to demand gen. Our focus is on how we can send subtle messages on what we plan to do and the positioning for our different products and services. And again it depends on the type of product and service if it is something new – like for a hyper converged platform space, there is a higher propensity to use digital.
Q4 In percentage terms what would be the new acquisitions that you acquired through digital means?
Three years ago, when digital marketing was just picking up, we had negligible spend on digital – today we have 30 – 40% of our overall spend as a percent of the total. So there is obviously a big swing in digital spends from three years ago. In the B2B marketing space, investments will see a further increase from the current level.
As far as quantifying the acquisitions go, we continue to dig deep to track how our investment translates into real ROI. There is more work to be done in order to establish a direct linkage to the dollar invested in digital, our business is growing double digit across the entire Hybrid IT portfolio, so we do attribute some contribution from digital marketing.
There is a new kind of demand from people in the value chain. We see that there is a greater representation of millennials in the decision making process. While we can reach out to them in the traditional way, digital is by far a more effective way to reach out to them since they are now increasingly having a say in decision making. There is a new study from our internal sources that shows that about 82 % of millennials are in some form or shape directly or indirectly involved in decision making. 10 years from now, I would say that technically everything will be managed by this new generation. I think it is inevitable that we need to reach out to these key stakeholders of the future. We find that millennials are largely influenced by social media interactions and the popular social media channels that they use are Instagram, Facebook, Youtube, Twitter and Snapchat. So this is a group for which we need to strategise our digital communication.
67% of the buyer journey is now done digitally. According to Harvard Business Review “useful content distributed through digital channels can be as effective in provoking a dialogue as face 2 face selling. Market data suggests that 75% B2B buyers and 84% C Level executives are using Social Media when making decisions.
Q5 Being on digital media also means that metrics are more visible now compared to earlier. How do you view this? Does it mean more pressure on sales? Is it a good thing or a bad thing?
Depending on the type of business you are in, in general digital allows you to drive personalised content for your customer base. You don’t have to cluster a massive amount of information to a wide customer base – you can target by age profile, gender profile, user profile, social and economic factors. There is a lot of social techniques that are being used like social listening. And you get data that can be analysed by analytics companies that sell the data.
This does put more pressure on sales in many ways. Firstly, targeted marketing campaigns lead to sharpening the ROI. You need to know at what stage you need to continue or stop the campaign. This is leading to the next wave which is data science which is about AI and interpretation moving from humans to science led by algorithms. So you are going to see a shift from Analytics to Data Science. We are already starting to see that in the early stages today.
Q6 What is the marketing that works for customer acquisition and customer retention? How does AI actually transform Marketing over the next two years?
The action is going to move from Analytics to Data Science. We are getting ready for this. AI will be embedded in everything that we do. We acquired a company called Nimble which brings in AI capabilities for the data center. HPE Nimble offers predictive flash storage technology using “Infosight “as the AI engine. This basically uses telemetry as multiple streams of information of systems usage, based on that we are able to develop a predictability model of how customer systems behave and also a support mechanism that can kick in automatically if something is going wrong. That’s an example of how we are using AI as a fundamental building block to build an autonomous data center. AI will be a pivot rather than just a tool to support our customers which will be at the core of our strategy, going forward.
Citing an example – the user gets connected to the Infosight central support center and that central ‘brain’ fully understands the customer’s storage environment. We are able to get information about the usage patterns and as this is AI technology, it is able to self-detect and self-heal the problems. For eg, if performance bottlenecks are detected, Infosight with its AI and Machine Learning capabilities brings in a trigger mechanism to auto correct. We are able to resolve customer problems 88% of the time proactively, the customer does not have to call us to have a problem solved. So in our industry, there are multiple levels of support – and by this AI based tech, we have eliminated the Level 1 and Level 2 support. Hence the automation saves cost, time and effort. You can see from this example, how the adoption of AI and Machine Learning has helped us in enhancing customer experience and customer retention.
On the demand generation side of things the AR/VR, chat bots will see higher penetration with customer engagements, these will be run by AI/Machine learning technology as we evolve over the next few years. Our customers are going through a massive transformation. Sharing an example of Fintech in Singapore, – there used to be a Bank branch next to my office of DBS Bank. It is no longer a branch but is now a kiosk where the customer experience is totally a digital one without human interaction. There is a video bot that gives you a whole new banking experience. So new tools are going to come into marketing and change the entire user experience. Something like this is the next revolution from the perspective of customer requirements, technology, a user experience, support capability and what our customers’ customers’ are really in for. This is a holistic view of how they will be effective on sales. The only caution I see is managing security and vulnerabilities that come with data usage, which the industry needs to continuously focus on.
Sandeep Kapoor leads Category Management for the Hybrid IT business which includes HPE’s all Servers, Storage and Software defined portfolio. Kapoor is also responsible for building alliances with third party software providers that help build eco systems for Hybrid Cloud and Edge. Prior to the new role, Kapoor was leading HPE’s Mission Critical Systems and High Performance Computing business in APJ. Kapoor has over 30 years of experience in the IT industry, including 21 years with HPE. Kapoor holds a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and is currently based in HPE’s Asia Pacific headquarters in Singapore.