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Substance, Not Sizzle, Earns Customer Loyalty: MicroStrategy

Published
  • November 01 2005, 1:00am EST

This column showcases MicroStrategy's "Culture of Engineering Excellence" in building customer loyalty and is the fifth in this series. The objective of this column is to showcase best practices so that you may integrate them into your own IT environments.  

Sanju Bansal, COO of MicroStrategy, states, "We are an organization which focuses on engineering excellence to build innovative solutions and deliver value to earn customer loyalty."

Engineering excellence resonates in every aspect of MicroStrategy choices. From strategies to execution, intense focus on acquiring, integrating, evolving and protecting engineering resources is a top priority. As well, a precision-oriented, disciplined approach seems to be the fundamental driving force for operational decisions. Let us examine MicroStrategy's approach to earning customer loyalty and what opportunities it illuminates to improve your IT environment.  

  Customer needs that earn loyalty as described in the March issue of DM Review:

  1. Minimize turnover to preserve communications and improve accountability.
  2. Share IT's intense focus on solving customer problems.
  3. Collaborate across multivendor teams.
  4. Employ R&D to build strategic advantage.
  5. Optimize multitrack communication channels.
  6. Leverage executive communications, a powerful tool.


Figure 1: MicroStrategy Approach to Earn Customer Loyalty

Minimize Turnover to Preserve Communications and Improve Accountability

"Working with the same team preserves communications and holds them accountable for business results. Better decisions are made in less time." - Director of Business Intelligence

MicroStrategy's culture of engineering excellence is the anchor of their core customer-value proposition and aids in continuity across the board. "Ultimately, customers value continuity of technical, engineering and R&D resources," says Bansal.

MicroStrategy deploys a multipronged approach to minimize turnover. The process to build engineering excellence and continuity starts with recruiting the best mathematical minds on the planet: Yale, MIT, Stanford, Oxford, Cambridge, Indian Institutes of Technology, Institute of Technology in Mexico at Monterrey and Beijing Institute of Technology, China. Next, they insulate engineers from business tactics while nurturing, cultivating and challenging their technical skills. Lastly, MicroStrategy's location in Virginia (not California's Silicon Valley, where stealing talent is common practice) also stabilizes turnover.

The results are impressive. Nearly 20 of the top-tier engineering managers at MicroStrategy have an average tenure of 9 to 10 years in a 12-year-old software engineering history. Key factors for such stability include their motivation to innovate while collaborating with top-flight engineering talent in a high performance environment. They are well compensated and are offered career growth plans that enable technical specialization. They are encouraged to take advantage of opportunities to keep their technical skills sharp through continuous education and training programs. In an extremely competitive environment for experienced talent, MicroStrategy engineers have been very stable.

Questions

  • How valuable is sales turnover if the technical resources remain connected?
  • How deeply is the vendor's technical team involved in the expectation-setting stage?
  • Who is accountable if the expectations and results are mismatched?
  • Are the technical teams aware of pricing details if sales teams are sparsely represented?

Share IT's Intense Focus on Solving Customer Problems

"Every instance where IT provides input to business teams is an opportunity to either build trust or to lose credibility" - Senior IT Project Manager

MicroStrategy's intense focus is culturally driven by technical solutions and problem solving. They have constructed a unique approach and multiple paths to educate clients and elevate the level of tools utilization. Again, the engineering-focused infrastructure uses a quality measurement approach, defining scope, requirements, specifications and alternative methods with measurable results.

"We don't have a deep sales organization that can devote time to pursue our own agenda in the account. We have built thousands of features in our software. Our mission is to enable the users to use them," states Bansal.

Through fee-based and free programs, MicroStrategy teams meet customer needs. One such program that provides a snapshot of MicroStrategy tool usage and sometimes a broader view of the BI environment is an annual HealthCheck, a rigorous three-day program. MicroStrategy's Professional Services representatives conduct on-site interviews with a cross-section of users; they compile results and present findings on a checklist. Feedback is not happy talk. It is a graded assessment on an extensive list of evaluation criterion items. CIOs, in particular, value this candid, objective and thorough assessment. Their own teams often lack resources, political acceptance and discipline to take such snapshots.

Another program aimed at enhancing education and promoting user adoption and skills is the Perennial Education Program. For a fixed fee, a named user can attend unlimited training courses. Curriculum includes 20 instructor-led classroom sessions, 12 to 15 online courses and a three-week certification program. There is no limit to repeating a full course or partial sections to satisfy a particular need. By offering a perennial pass, enrollment in education programs has nearly doubled.

The Technical Advisory Service offers a strategic value to customers. The customer hires an expert to provide advance insights, best practices and proactive assessments - whether it is an industry or a specific functionality question, this expert serves as a trusted resource to guide strategic choices. It is an annual two- or four-days-a-week engagement for the full year. With the same meticulous precision of the HealthCheck and checklists to measure progress, this program provides a quarterly report card to the CIO or the sponsor. Approximately 100 MicroStrategy clients have used this service.

For a client needing special care, the Gold Technical Support Service offers a single point of contact. The contact here is a highly skilled, prestigious, tenured engineer who knows the products and can efficiently engage resources within the team and across partner organizations. Often, they replicate a portion of the client environment in the MicroStrategy labs to resolve technical issues. These experts carry no more than four to five accounts during the whole year, allowing them to remain focused on solving client issues.

Questions

  • How well do you leverage professional education for IT?
  • What options do your vendors offer?    

Figure 2: Tool Utilization

Collaborate Across Multivendor Teams

"We expect vendors to work across the 11 other IT partners we have in our environment." - Senior MIS Manager

MicroStrategy engineering teams develop skills in two areas - mastery of MicroStrategy tools and expertise on database partners. Results of this collaboration provide customers with solutions for their heterogeneous systems environments. MicroStrategy's sales teams and support staff are trained, knowledgeable and confident to participate in solving multivendor environment issues.  

Questions

  • How well do you IT partners/vendors work with each other?
  • How is that factored into solution selection process?

Employ R&D to Build Strategic Advantage

Generally, clients have found more firepower available than they have been able to deploy. The challenge for MicroStrategy has not been one of having to build new functions. Although it has cataloged several thousand new capabilities, priorities are based on thorough customer, partner and technical validation processes. The requests for customized functionality have not been an issue.

Question

  • How and how often do you calibrate your needs with supplier priorities?

Optimize Multitrack Communication Channels

"Today, we employ a variety of strategies to work with our IT partners." - IT Manager

With intense focus on technical excellence, processes speed customer connections to the right technical resource. They employ the project management processes and quality measurement tools to deliver results. Performance criteria (problem logs, commitment date, date closed, impact on customer, etc.) are strictly managed.

Question

  •  How do your teams maintain technical excellence while staying vigilant about new functionality?

Leverage Executive Communications

"What we need from IT vendors' executives is continuity of  sponsorship." - IT Director

MicroStrategy executives serve as sponsors or advocates for accounts. They typically see their role as strategic partners. However, when needed, they assist the clients in ensuring the requirements are being met.

Questions

  • How effectively do you invest in executive relationships with your IT vendors?
  • Is the relationship tactical and focused on today's needs or a strategic collaboration?

Critical Thought

With IT playing a critical role in enterprise operational effectiveness, could strategic IT relationships become a competitive advantage?

Note: MicroStrategy customers validated this process and offered insights that you might employ. This best-practices series is BI Results' industry contribution to revitalize IT for competitive advantage. They accept no fee or payment for this series.

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