Few companies have the legacy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Founded in 1832, it has introduced the world to literary greats from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Philip Roth, classic culinary and reference titles from Betty Crocker to Peterson Field Guides, and beloved children’s stories from Curious George to The Lord of the Rings. HMH’s iconic, best-selling titles are treasured by readers throughout the world.
But HMH hasn’t succeeded for nearly two centuries solely by sticking to the classics. With more than 4,000 employees worldwide, HMH is a leading provider of educational materials, with its content reaching nearly 50 million students across 150 countries every year. HMH’s pre-K–12 offerings make up the largest portion of the $1.37 billion company. In a time when many in the publishing industry are experiencing the pain of downsizing and consolidation, HMH succeeds by constantly evolving, changing, and innovating.
Today, school curriculum looks very different than it did even just a few years ago. We live in a new era in which we all want instant information. Our cars talk to us, our toothbrushes send reports to our dentists, our watches analyze our workouts and how we slept — and we receive this feedback instantly. As customers, we can’t even imagine an app taking weeks to report back how we slept, waiting a month for an exam score, or owning a history book that doesn’t include the most recent election results.
Those scenarios made sense in a time when we wrapped textbooks in brown paper grocery bags, but it doesn’t make sense today. HMH observed the change early and evolved to deliver content with continuously updated information, features, and functionality to where its readers engage — in an app, on a platform, on an iPad, or on an iPhone or an Android device. No longer tethered to textbooks, students can do homework on the way to soccer practice.
Interactive offerings with embedded video or gaming technology can cater to different learning preferences and allow students to engage on a deeper level. Content rendered digitally contains metadata so it can be searched or re-sequenced, making it customizable. And reviews are built into programs and happen in real time, which has given rise to adaptive learning — a new technique that allows educators to meet students where they are. These advances are transforming education and transforming the company.
Just as HMH has had to transform its content, it’s had to transform its company. Just 15 years ago, HMH sales reps had to move hundreds of pounds of books from a storage locker to a minivan to a school district for a sales call. Reps would record everything from orders to customer information in their notepads and then spend hours at night trying to transfer that information to spreadsheets and systems. “They always felt like it was data for the company, not for them. It wasn’t helping them manage their territory,” said Brian Wickham, director of sales and business analysis.
Reps would track all their sales opportunities and forecasts in Excel — which was difficult to maintain given the scope and scale of the business. In 2012, HMH standardized its sales team on Sales Cloud to track all customer and sales information. It later added Service Cloud and Chatter to communicate internally.
With Salesforce, HMH collected an enormous volume of sales information. But turning that information into usable insights was a challenge. “We were producing a lot of data, but not analyzing a lot of data,” said Wickham. “We’ve tried third-party integrations that worked for a little bit and then [would] just crash on the volume of information that we were trying to pump through there.”
HMH added Wave Analytics to its existing Salesforce products and saw the immediate benefits of being able to really visualize information. Charts, heat maps, graphs — and easily being able to change the groupings and filters — enabled HMH to look at information side by side, uncover new insights, and immediately take action. Sales reps can now drill down and gain unprecedented perspective on their interactions with the customers: where the partnerships are strong, where there are challenges, and where there are opportunities.
Now, reps view the changing landscape with different lenses. Instead of always focusing solely on the large opportunities, they also spend more time looking at smaller opportunities and finding areas in which they can better serve customers. With Wave, they are finding entirely new customer bases that were previously underserved, and taking action to close new deals and grow their business.
Today, HMH is a company poised for the future, constantly evolving to match the ways students engage with content. Sales reps no longer enter schools with hundreds of pounds of books; they walk in with an iPad, from which they can show the customer their entire catalog — and allow them to interact with it. That same device allows reps to capture information and turn it into intelligence, which empowers them to ultimately make better decisions not just for their business, but also for the millions who learn from HMH content.