NetApp shines a spotlight on some of its STEMinists: Nancy Hart, VP of Geo Marketing, tells how she uses data to build teams and break down challenges.
My role as VP of Geo Marketing for NetApp is a long way from the gas fields of West Texas where I started my career as a hard-hat-and-steel-toed-boot-wearing chemical engineer. But my origin story—my scientific mindset—gives me a unique perspective on the power of data as a tool for problem solving and teambuilding within a global organization.
When problems aren’t well defined, we complain about them; we let them bumble along, uninterrupted, and watch them snowball. But by applying basic scientific method to this kind of scope creep, teams can shift their focus to identifying and solving problems.
The key is to create a hypothesis around what drives the problem. This applies to data challenges, it applies to people, and it applies to entire organizations. Creating a hypothesis can be challenging—it requires a deep understanding of how the world works—but once you have it, you can set up a plan to test it. You can collect data and then go back to your hypothesis and see how it held up.
I love this approach for a number of reasons.
First, it doesn’t matter if your hypothesis is right or wrong. Disproving a hypothesis can be more valuable than proving it. Embracing any kind of failure isn’t a natural skill for many marketeers, but if you are crisp in your hypothesis—if you test it and then extract something from it—you’re learning.
Even if the learning is, “Oh, my God, don’t ever do this again,” you haven’t failed; you’ve succeeded in changing the conversation. You’ve changed the dynamic of what we do.
And when you come to a solution, it may not apply everywhere, and it may not apply all the time, but again, that’s something learned. It’s important to be a learning organization at every level, continually discovering, continually moving forward. You articulate your boundaries, create a hypothesis, gather and test the data, deploy, and then adapt and evolve. You’ve got to be brave enough to fail and learn and keep going.
The second reason I love this strategy is that we’re interrogating the data, not the people involved. If all you do is talk about a problem, it creates conflict, but if you build a hypothesis and find ways to test it, then it doesn’t matter what side you’re on. By focusing on the data, you change the dynamics around the problem and reduce conflict.
Being analytical is my superpower. I always want to see the data first, then the outcomes. That is how I operate and how I run all my teams, and it’s not what people expect from a marketing organization. In marketing, we’re creatives—we do color and cool tchotchkes at giveaways—but what I love about modern marketing is how much data we have.
I rolled out a set of common shared KPIs across the entire marketing discipline, which is a first for NetApp, and when we have meetings or standups, I start with the data and then ask questions like, “What outcomes are we driving?” Because every audience journey is different. Some audiences we know well, so how are we growing that audience? What are we doing for the team that is trying to break into new markets? I’m accountable to business outcomes and to my sales leaders, and I want to know what we’re doing to get there. The KPIs help us focus on what’s important for individual teams, as well as the all-around outcomes, and you can only get there with data.
Business is a series of decisions, some big and some little, and everyone has a role to play. It’s easy to know the end of the bell curve: “Do this, or, for Pete’s sake, stop doing that.” But it’s the middle that’s messy, and it’s hard to identify—from the numerous mundane things we do—what to stop.
Having the data gives teams the confidence to make those decisions. You can’t outsource the insight extraction process. We have lots of different systems, as well as third-party and internal data, and to bring all that together, to have one single source of truth? That responsibility lies with everybody. Every single person in every single organization is responsible for their own critical thinking, analysis, insights, and action—from the lowest IC, up to me, my boss, and beyond.
Taking a data-forward approach empowers our teams and gives us the confidence to make decisions at every level of the organization.
I have amazing talent on my team, and I need them all moving in the same direction—together. I need them to know that there’s no such thing as failure if you’re learning and sharing what you’ve discovered.
I empower them to experiment and learn by showing them how they fit into the big picture: “Here’s the power that you have; here’s your how your role belongs—how you belong—you cannot fail.” I’m there to connect the dots, to say, “This is how we operate. I’m here to move big rocks for you, to hold the umbrella so you have space to get your work done.” It’s powerful. We all have our own values and ethos and beliefs around what matters. Mine is how to unleash the enormous power and impact that really great people can have—because together we’re phenomenal.
We’re a global organization, so from a teamwork perspective, it’s important to bring different teams together to share across boundaries. This way, they all benefit from that connection. Instead of meetings, I have a weekly standup—a deep dive into one or two topics—and a few weeks ago we had the APAC team in, showing us what they are doing, and the Americas team wanted to know all about it. Those teams would never have connected if we weren’t sharing what we’re all learning. So, now my APAC team and my Americas team can accelerate the impact and the outcomes that they draw, because they were able to learn from each other’s data.
Modern marketing is data driven and there’s both an art and a science in turning data into information, and information into wisdom. To get there, you have to do two things. First, dig in and do that data analysis. You can’t be afraid of the math, not in the modern world. You don’t need to have a degree in data science, but you’re going to have to be fluent in it, like it or not! Second, stay curious. There are no universal truths, but if you stay curious, you will begin to understand what you’ve learned and when to use it.
I’ve always been a generalist with wide-ranging interests, which means I make connections that others can’t. It also means that I’m often the contrarian in the room—and I’m good with that. As a professional woman, it took me a long time to get comfortable in my own skin—and with my own inner nerd. But doing so allowed me to leverage my curiosity, education, and experience (steel-toed boots and all) to forge the career I have today.
Learn more about NetApp’s team of cloud storage specialists and how they can help you unleash the power of your data.
In her current role, Nancy Hart is responsible for driving material impact to the business using modern marketing toolsets. She focuses on reaching new buyers and new markets for NetApp’s expanding portfolio of products, services and technologies. Nancy is especially passionate about the opportunities for customers to leverage the best of public clouds and private datacenters to build new businesses. Nancy is a 20-year enterprise storage veteran with positions at Oracle, Sun Microsystems and StorageTek in roles of increasing scope and responsibility. She launched her career in semiconductor manufacturing at Motorola in Austin, Texas. Nancy is a graduate of Kansas State University in Chemical Engineering and holds an MBA from Harvard Business School. She is currently loving the city life in downtown Denver, Colorado.