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December 1998
Heading home to talk turkey for the holidays
3000 NewsWire Editorial
Going home can be a blessed event in the holiday season, but the travel can be hard on you. The biggest challenge can appear in the form of family, the people who know you best. You love them, but they are honest about you in a way no one else dares to be. Add that candor to carry-on bags the size of steamer trunks, and holiday family visits can sport as much angst as ecstasy.

The HP 3000’s top managers did their visiting before the holidays. They packed six North American cities into 15 days, plus the relative respite of hosting customers in their hometown of Cupertino. The CSY leaders had their own family experience on the Strategic Customer Forum tour, hearing from the family of 3000 owners.

Here at the NewsWire we had it relatively easy. We trekked off to a single destination to visit my brother’s and sister’s families in my Midwestern heartland, all because of a pig in the movies. (The sequel to “Babe” opened in the US on Thanksgiving. Having taken my six nieces to see the original, we wanted a reprise with the kids.) We survived a near-wreck in a pizza shop, shopped for presents and ate too much on Thanksgiving. Heartburn, and our safe escape from an errant Mustang leaping through a pizza shop window and into our lunch, were the worst of our week. CSY’s leaders didn’t have it so soft.

Instead, they jetted from city to city last month, listening to what they’d done wrong and telling what they’d done right. MPE releases that weren’t stable. Technology that wasn’t ready for MPE yet. Support engineers working for HP, but innocent of the HP 3000. Software upgrades still too expensive, even if HP wasn’t directly responsible. Taking notes on what to fix, they gave thanks for the input.

The Forum stop in Dallas which we attended was the finale of the tour, and HP’s managers looked braver than they must have felt. They had gotten into the airport at midnight the night before, and drove through the Texas fog to camp in hotels far from the prior night’s stop in Seattle. Travel can be like that: exhausting, with unexpected delays.

So why do we do it? For the same reason that CSY’s managers did: They care how you feel about them and what they do. Face-to-face time is becoming both less common and more important in our lives. We have plenty of ways to connect now, thanks to networks of all kinds. The richest network is still the one that transmits emotion in person. That’s why we crave the ability to “catch up” or “visit,” two euphemisms for “communicate.”

Like any family visit, CSY’s Forums took on two phases. First was an update on what’s gone well in the 3000’s life. Then came the criticism from the 3000’s family, its customers. Does that sound like a family holiday visit?

When you visit, you put on your best face. But you know that at any moment you can drop into a conversation more intimate than you’d have with most people. You could see such conversations on the edges of the room during the breaks, when managers went one-to-one with customers and channel partners. Here in Texas we call it “talking turkey.” CSY was doing it a few weeks early this year.

HP probably saw more than three times as many people in the Customer Forum tour as it did in the old model, the Customer Advisory Council. It was another investment the division has increased in the past year, along with more bodies working on 3000s and reductions in the price of software. Keeping your general manager and R&D chief out on the road for several weeks costs you something up front. The paybacks come in the critique you get face-to-face, comments you can’t gather from e-mail or phone time.

You only make this kind of investment in a business if you’re going somewhere. General Manager Harry Sterling pointed out that a cash cow business doesn’t step up expenditures or make plans far into the future. Part of his message was that the 3000 is no cash cow anymore at HP — it’s being rebuilt for the future. He also explained how remarkable this course is for a business so mature in technology.

HP hired a notable business consultant last year to advise it on the rebuilding of the 3000. (While we didn’t learn the consultant’s name, he sounded a lot like Geoffrey Moore, author of “Inside the Tornado” and “Across the Chasm,” two marketing bibles). This consultant found it hard to believe that the 3000 was winning new business in this part of its product lifecycle. Assured that it was, the consultant had to re-think his model, and is now writing another book about investing in mature technology. Sterling pointed out that many technology companies don’t reinvest in mature technologies, but just build again at great expense. The profit lies in reinvesting, something HP can now see.

This kind of revelation is just the sort of news you want to deliver in person. It’s so off-track that whoever is hearing it immediately wants to know if you’re telling the truth. That’s a lot easier to determine when you see somebody face to face. When the people you know the best change, and for the better, you want to believe it. This is the payoff for all those hours on airlines, in rental cars, away from the comforts of home.

Customers who were lucky enough to be at a Strategic Forum last month have a new view of the HP 3000, one that comes from face-time. They see a division that’s breaking down old product models and starting new business plans like Open Skies. Overall, they see a group making its parent see the value in their maturity. That can be the hardest thing to communicate in a holiday family visit — the fact that you’re grown up makes you more valuable. HP now can see that about the 3000 division. In a private letter to a channel partner this fall, CEO Lew Platt acknowledged it.

“The HP 3000 is one of the superstars of our entire company this year,” he wrote. “It shows what a little enthusiasm and focus will do. The HP 3000 has always been a super product — and now that we have a great team paying attention to it, it looks like it has lots of new life.”

Praise from those who know us, in face of our turkey talk, can be the reward for our travels. Get some face-time with people you care about this season, and give thanks for mature relationships.

— Ron Seybold

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