Business Model Design / Design Thinking / Ideas / innovation / Process / Sales Enablement / Start-up / Tools / Transformation / Value / Value Proposition Design

From Gut Instinct to Process

Build success on collaborative energy and the design-based processes for repeating it

In recent blog posts I’ve written about creativity, strategy and innovation. I’m someone who really needs to buy into the vision and the culture or the programs I work on. Gut instinct is one thing, having a process for turning it into meaningful results is another. In this post, I go back to the first great creative program I lead and explore retrospectively how we achieved some phenomenal results and had huge fun doing it.  Then I lay out some of the tools we used to design this program and others since. The core principles are always: great teamwork and excellent results through smart program design.

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Start-Up Mode inside a Fortune 200

During my career at EMC, I was responsible for spinning up a customer engagement program at our brand new Briefing Center in Silicon Valley. With just two people on the team, we delivered 300 net new customer meetings in the first year.

In the second year, we added a contract front desk agent and topped 450 engagements with our three staff. We extended our offering from simple, transactional briefings to include a program of themed ‘Solution’ weeks. It allowed us to create a win-win for both customers and internal groups alike: if we guaranteed our customers that the best talent in the company around a given topic would be in one location for one week, it would be worth their while to join us for a conference at nano-scale – where every session ran at a scale of one panel of experts: one customer. Not surprisingly, our sales leaders loved it. So too did our channel team and in the following year – our third year of operation – we extended to include key partners.

These ‘Solution Weeks’ were the door-opener to us for a continuous run-rate of over 500 customer engagements, workshops and briefings in our Silicon Valley Executive Briefing Center with a full-time staff that grew to five in number. In our fifth year of operation, customer accounts representing ten percent of EMC’s global business passed through our doors and attended at least one meeting at our center. The EBC became a noted inflection point in a multi-point attribution model that lead to over $2.5 billion revenue.

Looking back on that effort – the tremendous grass roots partnerships that made it possible, the innovation that it enabled and the global programs it helped launch – it is possible to do great things, with a small and committed core of people operating with clear principles. Our principles at the time were simple:

  • Create an unrivaled in-person customer engagement experience at 1:1 scale
  • Achieve a net new run-rate of >500 customer engagements per year
  • Maximize the utilization of the available capacity and resources

Some of the corporate initiatives our series of programs launched included VCE – the VMware/ Cisco/ EMC converged infrastructure start-up did all of its initial testing and customer engagements on our Solutions Week platform – and the EMC/ SAP relationship – which morphed from a turnout of 15 customers in our first year of operation to a global, rolling program that today hits more than 20 cities world-wide. Our management set us two objectives: continue to deliver a volume of >500 engagements per year and continue to deliver on feedback with a minimum score of 4/5. They didn’t tell us how to do our jobs and they made training available to us when we requested it.

Looking back, we didn’t go into this program with a grand plan on paper. Initially, there was just one goal: hit a run-rate of 500 customer visits per year within the first three years (we did it) and have the Silicon Valley center become a global Center of Excellence for the company around a theme that on the occasion of our opening had yet to be decided.   A few years on, that theme was Collaborative Innovation. “Want to see the Next Thing and how it will work in the Cloud? Come to EMC in Silicon Valley.

The factors that enabled our success were straightforward:

  1. My small core team and our collaborators were hungry, driven and given freedom to design the program as we saw fit, so long as we hit the objectives.
  2. We opened the Center at a time when EMC was in the midst of acquiring 65 companies, many of which were in the Bay Area and both customers and our EMC colleagues were unsure of the direction the company was going in – we brought clarity to an emerging market place around Cloud and ITaaS.
  3. We established a culture of Innovation and Collaboration where the whole was greater than the sum of individual parts. We threw social events around our program and built up a tremendous ‘esprit de corps’ – great friendships were built around our programs.
  4. We built on the many ‘adjacent possibilities’ that emerged from our events, from the water cooler effect of having talented people camped in our green room for weeks at a time.
  5. Dull power-point presentations were banned: speakers were nominated on quality and white boarding was a pre-requisite skill for leading sessions. Later on, we grew to include Design Thinking and Discovery Workshops in our programs.
  6. We did a great job supporting sales and never forgot that if the sales guys didn’t get paid, we didn’t get paid.

In short, we built a reputation of enabling sales teams to achieve significant cross-sell and up-sell through engaging, discovery sessions with leading customers, partners and prospects. One bugbear that we had continuously was measurement. Typically, briefing centers have separate management and reporting tools that were designed for administrative purposes and not for showing the return on investment of the program from revenue or influence. Read on and you’ll see how we began to change this in section 2: ‘Definition and Measurement’.

Dealing with Change: Designing for Uninterrupted Transformation

As EMC moved into the Big Data space, we sought to make the Silicon Valley location the HQ for our customer activity around Big Data. Our facility had been designed with a glass wall data center at its core, at a time when refrigerator size storage arrays were our core product set. The team that ran that lab moved over to VCE when that company was formed and we were left with an open space at the heart of our center. Mindful of our commitment to maintaining volume of traffic, we quickly invited the Marketing Sciences team to move into the space and turn it into a customer-facing showcase of how EMC Marketing used our portfolio of Big Data technologies to run our own business. Within one quarter, we had switched the focus of the Silicon Valley center from infrastructure to data and without any fall off in customer volume, utilized our collaborative model to drive Big Data traffic and business out of the location. Here’s a link to the formal opening of the lab.

Over a period of five years we had started a program from scratch, iterating on its core objectives three times without missing our volume goals and significantly increasing measurable revenue attribution – from:

  1. Excellent transactional briefing experiences;
  2. Connecting the teams that supported the briefing program to generate a brand new business development program built around themed ‘Solution Weeks’;
  3. Evolving the customer engagement platform we had designed from Infrastructure-centric to Big Data-centric (from ‘Platform 2’ [IaaS] to ‘Platform 3’ [PaaS]) as the market changed.

We discovered that our grass roots, collaborative and innovative approach had matured into a scalable, repeatable customer engagement program that matured over the years. In the early years our team actually designed the agendas and suggested the solutions we could discuss with customers. As our results became apparent, the business units stepped into formalize the offerings but never moved off the collaborative platform that we designed.

We didn’t go into this whole experience with a documented process in mind, although in hindsight we had an informal way of doing things that maps very neatly onto a progression of process tools. In the roles I have pursued since my time leading the EBC and Customer Engagement program for EMC, the opportunities have been less organic and more prescriptive. And yet I have found that there are some great process tools for coming up to speed quickly to enable the core business results we achieved, which included:

  • Collaborative Innovation
  • High Productivity
  • Exponential ROI
  • Significant cross-sell and up-sell resulting in measurable revenue attribution, influence and demand generation
  1. The Business Model Canvas

The first of these tools is the Business Model Canvas from Strategyzer. The Business Model Canvas derives from Business Model Generation, a crowd-sourced business development guide built on collaborative and agile principles. The Canvas itself is a simple one-page framework that allows you to consider all of the variables that support your business plan.


Figure 1. The Business Model Canvas from Strategyzer

It is designed in two parts: the Cost side and the Value side. There are nine variables for consideration across these two parts:

  1. Customers
  2. Customer Relationships
  3. Channels
  4. Value Proposition
  5. Revenue Stream (Value Side determinant)
  6. Partners
  7. Key Resources
  8. Key Activities
  9. Cost Structure (Cost Side determinant)

Print out a copy of the template diagram (Figure 1) and play around with it. You’ll find that every variable of consideration when designing a new business model or program plan can be attributed to one of nine modules.

The Business Model Generation book and other tools on the website go onto help you design and plan for several different types of program – or business plan – depending on your objectives. It’s not Harvard Business School, but it’s a set of very effective day-to-day scope-planning tools.


  1. Definition of the Program and Metrics

The Business Canvas provides the broadest perspective on (1) what can be designed or ideated on. The next job is to figure out based on various parameters – interest, demand, cost-benefit analysis, change management etc. – what is (2) feasible. We should always factor in a pilot or prototype to determine what is likely to be (3) viable. In a multi-touch attribution model, your program needs to follow the measurement schedule that is common to the entire model – without exception. Don’t pick a tool that will not support direct integration with your CRM or Marketing platform. Don’t do it. We live, work and are measured in a connected world.

Sometimes I hear people say that it is “too difficult” to measure the impact of a program. I have three resources to help avoid this:

  • Capture references that show repetitive success and ability to scale
  • Measure your data as part of the prevailing multi-attribute model!
  • Get a copy of Douglas Hubbard’s How To Measure Anything.
  1. Your Program Platform aka the ‘Layer Cake’

The Layer Cake is a visual model that I use to lay out the top-down and bottom-up interdependencies in a program. Some people love the visual, others have difficulty grasping it – so, although it works for me, it’s not for everyone. Here’s the narrative supporting the concept of the program ‘platform’:

  1. The objectives, definition and measurement of the program goals will determine…
  2. The organization that is required to achieve those goals.
  3. Next we look at the specific deliverables and…
  4. The value to constituents/ stakeholders including a clear understanding of:
  5. Audiences/ Contexts/ Stories that we need to facilitate.
  6. Where and how will we collect and manage our data? (CRM, Marketing etc.)
  7. What program-specific tools are we using (that integrate with tools in #6)
  8. What thematic Customer/ Marketing campaigns are we running to generate demand or leads?
  9. What are our Content development requirements to support these campaigns and…
  10. What is our integrated Communications, Events and PR plan?

Figure 2 is an example of this template used to map out an integrated Sales Enablement program.

 PlatformFigure 2. Sample Sales Enablement Platform

This platform takes the variables specified in the Business Canvas and allocates them to specific functional roles supporting delivery of your program. As your program matures, it will be beneficial if this platform can be made easy to use by generating it in the form of an automated Self-Service Service Catalog – for instance, if account managers sitting with customers can create a custom event via a mobile tool. In this case, we provide the customer a tailored experience delivered via an integrated platform that can track the demand generated and automatically suggest adjacent cross-sell or up-sell potential.

  1. The Logical Model Workflow

This is another eye chart that is best not to share with your stakeholders unless they are happy being in the engine room of a collaborative project!

In the model depicted below in Figure 3, we were designing for a sustainable, data-driven marketing platform for a small marketing department. It was a dynamic, sales driven company where each sales team acted effectively as their own small business. There was no common approach to marketing across the company.

Business planning was anchored to sales performance rather than a thorough going evaluation of the market opportunities. We didn’t have a clear brand statement and everyone’s view of what we did derived from their particular experience. We needed to align the core components of the company around one message and one marketing strategy.

From a design standpoint, we needed a mechanism to align our investments with our brand promise and our organization (as defined by the Program Platform, above #3). To do this, we used a Logical Model. In our case, we referred to the Logical Model Guidebook by Lisa Knowlton and Cynthia Phillips.

 Logical ModelFigure 3. Sample Marketing Logical Model

In simple form, the Logical Model looks at four basic components:

  • Inputs: resources allocated to developing the program
  • Activities: activities undertaken to deliver the program
  • Outputs: what is produced by the resources and activities
  • Outcomes/ Impacts: the results of the program

Once we laid these components out in a logical order, we were able to realign activities, resources and goals into short, medium and longer term objectives that our key stakeholders – sales, partners and leadership – were able to agree on. The model enabled the following goals:

  • Alignment of the organization with the brand promise;
  • A map that aligned our existing areas of work and identified critical gaps.
  • Prevention of scope creep by individual groups;
  • Higher productivity by positioning each team’s work in strategic context with each other team within the model;
  • Utilization of existing resources and activities to focus on the brand promises we delivered well;
  • Clear focus on a target community of strategic value rather than the dogged pursuit of revenue via an account maximization strategy.

Now we had an integrated, logical marketing model focused on strategic outcomes designed from existing resources and activities. Critically, we achieved agreement from the key stakeholders around this plan. We achieved an exponential value and ROI from each and over a three year period the revenue of the company grew three-fold.

In a future blog post I will dive deeper into designing a logical model specifically for a marketing plan including how to align tactical work packages at each step.

In Summary: Start at the End.

 I guess I have always been someone who needs to buy into a vision. I find it difficult and frankly unrewarding to work in a dead end. I define a dead end as a work effort that people don’t measure because they don’t see its intrinsic value. At one company I worked at many years ago, an office relocation lead to the discovery that my colleague Keith had actually been laid-off two years prior, except nobody updated the Payroll database. So Keith had spent two years generating a weekly report that, literally, nobody read or wanted. He was promptly laid off a second time.

Three things are critical for me with every initiative I undertake:

  1. I want to know the vision for the project and is has to be that we are going to change the world even just a little bit;
  2. The culture has to be open, engaging and collaborative and team ethos is critical;
  3. We have to be creative in our approaches.

My colleague Hoda Mehr recently sent me this great article by Kaihan Krippendorf on FastCompany. “Start at the End!” it says:

Imagine the scene of your move just before the credits appear. This is a picture of what you will achieve or what you will become in the long-term, usually 3-10 years from now. Define 1-3 metrics and their values, that will tell you that you have achieved your long-term vision. You can call these BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals).

Krippendorf goes onto lay out a pretty neat plan for achieving your vision.

I got pretty lucky early on in my career, being given a fantastic opportunity to build a new program by a leader who trusted me to do the right thing. He sought results but trusted our team to design the program we needed to meet our goals. We surpassed the goals required, with a level of productivity and revenue attribution that became the standard for the rest of the company.

In subsequent roles, I’ve always taken on a program-building function because it’s tremendously rewarding and collaborative. As time goes on, the need to document our processes becomes more prevalent. Although I’ve used many different models and tools down the years, for some of the “BHAGs” I’ve taken on, these four tools deployed together have never failed to deliver results:

  1. Business Model Canvas
  2. Clear Definition and Measurements
  3. Program Platform (aka ‘the Layer Cake’)
  4. Logical Model Workflow

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