Data-driven Transformation: Proximus, Digipolitans and 800% sales growth

Jennifer Armstrong January 2019 Digital Marketing, Transformation

In large companies, digital transformation can seem like an almost impossible challenge. In a rapidly evolving consumer landscape, new marketing ideas need to navigate a dizzying array of products, points of sale and customer journeys. Layers of hierarchy, legacy ways of working and stubborn silos may make it hard to thrive. It can seem like theories for success are everywhere, but turning theories into concrete results is a whole other ball game.

So when Proximus, Belgium’s largest telecommunications company, increased sales by 800% with a data-driven transformation project in just 12 weeks, we knew it was a story worth sharing. With more than 14,000 employees, Proximus offers fixed phone, mobile, broadband internet and TV for the country’s residential market as well as digital solutions for businesses. Teaming up with the experts at boutique consultancy Digipolitans, Proximus engineered a radical approach that really delivered: sales leads increased six-fold over the previous campaign, on a substantially reduced budget; the ratio of new visitors to the site increased to 72% from a benchmark of 40%; and conversion rate grew from 4 to 14%.

We caught up with Alex Thoré, Director CRM, Branding and Communications at Proximus and Christophe Glorieux, Founder and Managing Partner at Digipolitans to hear about perfect campaigns, shrinking companies, and how to get real change off the ground.

Data-driven Transformation

Jennifer Armstrong: Alex, tell us about the situation when you began working with Digipolitans.

Alex Thoré:

It all started in 2015. Back then if you searched for a Samsung S5 which was the latest model at the time, you would get hits for several mobile and digital retailers, but not for Proximus. In reality, we were one of the biggest mobile sellers in Belgium, with sales of around one million devices a year, but we just weren’t registering.

Likewise, we had made a deal with Netflix to be the only telecommunications player able to stream Netflix on TV, which was a USP in the market. But if you searched for Netflix, you’d see newspaper content and Netflix itself. You wouldn’t see Proximus.

It was clear that we were missing sales opportunities right across the board, and we began looking for a digital sales engine backed by consistently excellent campaigns.

JA: Christophe, when you came on the scene, what was the first thing you did?

Christophe Glorieux:

We recognized that Proximus had this big ambition to build a more effective, more efficient sales machine. The obvious question was: how do we make it happen? And part of that challenge was to find a way to make that change tangible for Proximus – to show the organization what transformation would look like.

AT:

When driving change, you can tackle everything in an organization, even a huge organization, if you approach it the right way. For a telco company like Proximus, there are so many areas, products and devices to work on, and so many ways to look at them, that it becomes a vast, unmanageable problem.

The trick is to focus on doing just one thing at a time.

This is so important in big organizations because if you tell a CEO of a company of 14,000 people that you want to change the way the whole company works, that just won’t fly.  But if you apply your method to a test project, you can get results without too much discussion. Then you can apply that example of transformation to the whole organization and justify a need for new competencies and new people. If the test case has worked well, it’s almost a non-debate.


When driving change, you can tackle everything in an organization, even a huge organization, if you approach it the right way.

– Alex Thoré, Director CRM, Branding and Communications at Proximus


CG:

That’s why we began by doing two simple things:

First of all, we shrank the company. Proximus is big, with more than 14,000 people in Belgium, so we recruited people from different departments all over the company, added expertise from Digipolitans as well as experts from Google and other agencies, and brought them all together in a small team we call a “squad”.

Secondly, we shrank the portfolio of the company. Instead of trying to transform the whole portfolio at once, we chose just one strategic product to work on.

That product was Netflix, so we took that small team and we challenged them to double Netflix sales in 12 weeks.

JA: So what happened when you took this Netflix project to the smaller team?

CG:

There are rules to respect if you shrink a company and a portfolio, and here are three of them:

Number one is that all the layers of hierarchy within and above the squad need to be cut away. The squad reported directly to the top of the company. There was an executive sounding board that the team could use for consultation, but in the end they themselves decided what to do, how to do it and when to do it.

The second is to put time pressure on the team. That doesn’t just help them execute in a short period, it also means the company can see quickly where real problems are so they can work on them.

Thirdly, when we recruit people all over the company, each of those specialists had their own KPIs and their own division. All that had to be put aside. In the squad the KPI was simple – double Netflix sales in half the available budget in twelve weeks.


People think that transformation is about technology and data, and that’s half of it. But the other half is people. It's about convincing people, motivating people, and recruiting the right people for your project from all over the company. We don’t only put established experts in a squad. The human part is how you make things happen.

–Christophe Glorieux, Founder and Managing Partner at Digipolitans


JA: When you apply that time pressure, how do ensure psychological safety, so people feel comfortable sharing opinions and speaking their mind?

CG:

You have to be careful with time pressure, but applied right it’s a strong multiplier to get people to focus and decide. It’s about learning very fast, executing, measuring, doing it again.

AT:

Because it’s a test approach, psychological safety is inherent. When you test stuff there are things that will work and things that will not work. You expect and welcome failure, so you can learn from the things that haven't worked to find those that do.

CG:

People think that transformation is about technology and data, and that’s half of it. But the other half is people. It's about convincing people, motivating people, and recruiting the right people for your project from all over the company. We don’t only put established experts in a squad. The human part is how you make things happen.

JA: What surprised you about the impact of data on your campaign?

CG:

The squad had to answer four questions, the first of which was: “Who is interested in Netflix?” We had research from Netflix and from other companies, and at that time the target group across all of them was male, 20 to 35. Everybody was targeting the same people.

Together with Google, we discovered that in many of the same sessions where people looked for Netflix content, they also searched YouTube for content for kids. We discovered that families were a target group with huge untapped potential. Answering that first question was a big part of the success of the campaign. We had a whole group of people to target that nobody was targeting at the time.

JA: What results did you see from the project, and what happens next?

AT:

We exceeded our objectives both in growth and in cost-efficiency. Sales went up by eight times and budgets were even lower than our 50% target.

It was a huge success, and that success meant we could create new roles. Media departments traditionally have a Media Planner, but now we have a Journey Manager instead, who maps all the touchpoints that you need to tackle in the customer journey. They act as the architect of the campaign. Alongside them, the Digital Creative Manager fills in all the touchpoints, and the third new role is the Performance Manager, who tracks what’s working, what’s not, and says where resources need to be applied or other approaches are required.

That's how we are literally changing the way campaigns are created. Previously, the first question from a marketing brief was “What is the creative concept?” Now the first question is “What will be the journey?”

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