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HP hits the road to meet customers

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Hewlett-Packard Software took its business to the road last month, hitting five cities in five days in an ambitious effort to personally connect with customers across the country.

The Outcomes Tour, the first of its kind for HP Software, began in Dallas and traveled to Chicago, Atlanta, New York and San Francisco. In each city, Senior VP Thomas E. Hogan, VP-Worldwide Marketing David Gee and other executives gathered with small groups of 10 to 30 customers to share breakfast and ideas. About 10 people traveled with the tour.

HP wanted face-to-face time with its top customers but knew it was important to do something special, something a bit more memorable. That's where visits to Texas Motor Speedway, Soldier Field and NBC Studios came into play.

"We didn't want to give them a ballroom PowerPoint presentation," Gee said. "We've all seen that."

HP executives began talking about this experimental marketing plan last year. They agreed that if the tour was going to be successful, they needed to provide customized presentations to each group of hand-picked industry technology leaders. They wanted to use the face time with their guests, who were typically CIOs and CTOs, to target information toward each group's specific goals, to find out more about those goals and to determine how HP Software can focus its products and services to help customers meet those needs.

Throughout the week, Gee maintained a blog to highlight each day's event, covering topics from where the group met in each city to which customer questions seemed to be most popular. A direct link to Gee's blog can be found on the tour's dedicated Web site (www.outcomesciotour.com).

A video message from Hogan welcomes visitors to the Outcomes Tour site. In the short video, Hogan talks about the value of face-to-face customer interaction and feedback.

HP executives didn't stop the information sharing there. Photo galleries from each day are posted on the Web site while streaming video, complete with city highlights, are available on YouTube. Each video runs about two minutes. Interviewing executives on the Jumbotron at Soldier Field in Chicago and answering questions from behind the "Sunday Night Football" desk at NBC Studios in New York are among the features.

Throughout the week, about 90 professionals enjoyed the personalized treatment during each two-hour session, with each beginning with an HP products and services update. The last hour or so was dedicated to customer questions and feedback. In fact, after the Dallas event, HP officials tweaked the format to provide more time for questions. Customers quizzed the executive team about a variety of issues, including drivers behind project and portfolio management, service and support challenges, and speed and time to value for IT projects.

Besides Hogan and Gee, the executive team fielding questions included Alan Kerr, VP-worldwide sales; Deborah Traub, VP-IT management software; Jonathan Rende, VP-products, quality management; and Boaz Chalamish, senior VP- research and development.

Relationships a benefit

Michael Beamer, IT applications director at National Instruments, attended the Dallas event and said he benefited most from the relationships he formed with executives both from HP and other companies. The conference room overlooked the race track, making the atmosphere a bit different from the average boardroom. And once the Q&A ended, attendees had the chance to drive a NASCAR vehicle.

After networking with HP executives, Beamer said, he feels like he can contact them "and get their ear."

"I have their cards. They know who I am now, and I know who they are," Beamer said, adding that the event was well-run.

A lot of planning went into making the five-day tour such a success, including setting up the locations, selecting customers to invite and preparing customized presentations for each group. The attention to detail extended to the post-event messaging, as well. HP executives sent hand-written thank-yous to all the customer attendees.

HP executives plan to take another tour some time soon, according to the Web site and Hogan's video message. Dates haven't yet been set, but there are plans to head to Europe, Africa and Asia. Language barriers and the logistics behind international trips might be challenging, but the face-to-face meetings are important, HP executives said.

"There is no substitute for engaging face-to-face with your best customers, prospects and clients to share your strategy and your vision, to get their live and candid feedback and to collaborate on how you can help each other most effectively," Hogan said in his video message.

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