Making Sense of the Chaos: Social CRM with Bill Odell

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Guest Post by: Maria Pergolino

This next B2B Marketing Thought Leader Interview is with Bill Odell, vice president of marketing at Helpstream, a Social CRM solutions company. Bill is responsible for the company’s overall marketing and go-to-market strategies and oversees all product marketing, partner marketing and corporate marketing activities. Bill has 20 years of experience leading marketing for several innovative, category creating technology companies, including Sun Microsystems, Cisco, Compression Labs – the developer of DirectTV – and Interlace Systems.

What is social CRM?

There are many definitions floating around to describe Social CRM, but the one I like the best is one provided by Paul Greenberg, author of CRM at the Speed of Light and arguably the most highly regarded expert on CRM. Paul describes Social CRM as “what we do when the customer controls the conversation.” Many companies today are realizing that the era of command and control, where companies dictate how they want to engage customers, has changed due to the rapid adoption of social software such as Facebook ,Twitter and YouTube. Just think about how one musician drew the attention of every major news network when he posted a homemade music video on YouTube – with 5 million hits in 48 hours – pointing out how United Airlines refused to compensate him for breaking his guitar. Today customers have a much larger say in how they want to engage with vendors and in fact, research has shown that they would prefer to engage socially, with a network of their peers, supported by the vendor. Social CRM enables that type of relationship.

Why is this relevant to marketers?

There is so much hype today regarding social media for marketing that it’s hard to make sense with all the noise. I attend conferences with marketing professionals that are packed with people trying to understand what to do with social media. I spoke with one marketing person recently who came back from such a conference and complained that she had only become more confused and was searching for something to help her “make sense of the chaos.” Social CRM helps marketers leverage the power of social media by integrating it with existing marketing processes and systems such as CRM platforms and Marketing Automation platforms. The power of this approach makes it easier for marketers to manage and monitor the effectiveness of social media marketing campaigns and understand what’s working and why.

Social CRM is so cutting edge. How did you get involved in this area of marketing?

Actually, I became aware of Social CRM when I had a problem with my iTunes software. I shared my issue with a friend who pointed me to Apple’s customer forum where I could ask for help from other Apple customers. It turned out I got my answer in less than 10 minutes, complete with step-by-step instructions from another Apple customer who had the same problem. After years of trying to shift through company web sites searching for documentation or waiting on hold for some tech support person in India or the Philippines who may or may not know how to solve my problem, I now first look for help from a company’s customer community. So I guess I would say I became a believer by realizing the power of Social CRM first hand. With the ability to leverage Social CRM beyond customer service and into marketing and sales, I see an enormous potential in the market.

I know Helpstream lets community members vote on ideas they have about a product or service. Why is this voting important and is there a benefit here for marketers?

Voting is fantastic example of the power of Social CRM. As a former product manager, I know how difficult and time consuming it is to capture and assimilate customer input on new products and new product features. Often product managers are left with sifting through some long list of customer requests for enhancements and maybe vetting these with a few customers before locking down an MRD or PRD. With Idea Sharing or Voting, it’s very easy and very fast to get ideas for new products from customers and have the customer community vote on those product ideas. There are companies that routinely use this feature of Social CRM to develop new products that are much more aligned with customer needs. 

Recently I have seen some debate about whether social media is the responsibility of the marketing team or the customer support team. What do you think?

Yes, the debate about who owns social media has been raging for some time now, in fact the broader debate over who owns the customer relationship has been raging for years. Ironically, I am not sure the rise of social media will force any definitive answers to that question, but I do think that the forward looking companies are asking all functions to figure out how best to leverage social media. Given that social media has given customers more control over their the entire spectrum of their relationships with vendors – from customer service, marketing and to sales – it behooves companies to have a cross functional social media strategy.

What metrics should marketers include when reporting to their C-Suite about the results of a social CRM?

From a marketing perspective, Social CRM enables marketers to:

  • Have a better handle on metrics for their social media investments. 
  • Leverage the same reporting systems, their CRM systems and their Marketing Automation systems
  • Track social media marketing campaigns. For example, with an active customer community in place, supported by a robust Social CRM platform, marketers can track the activity of prospects and customers in the community and pass this information over for lead scoring by a Marketing Automation system. 
  • In addition, marketers can bring in feeds from public social networks, like Twitter, to their Social CRM system for actionable insights.

The C-Suite wants to know how social media marketing investments translate into business, and this is exactly what Social CRM enables marketers to communicate. 

What do you think will be some of the challenges and trends in social CRM for 2010?

There is a lot of noise in the market today around Social CRM. If you do a Google search on Social CRM today, you will get as many hits as you will for Marketing Automation searches. That is a good thing for the industry and it means people are genuinely seeking for more information, and ultimately solutions. One of the challenges for the industry will be making it easier for companies to understand the solutions landscape and how best to think about making investments. I often tell people the question the industry should focus on is “how” not “why.” The days of why Social CRM are largely behind us. It’s time to start educating companies on how to get started.

Bonus Question: Outside of social CRM, what other emerging (or traditional) areas should marketers be focusing their time right now?

I think marketing professionals still struggle on communicating the ROI of their marketing spend. While this is not a new issue, the recent economic downturn only exacerbated the need for marketers to do a better job of developing strategies that drive top line revenue. I did a presentation at a seminar earlier this year entitled “Defending Your Spend.” My opening comment was that the days of ‘spray and pray’ marketing spend were dead. Marketers simply have to do a better job articulating and measuring how their spend translates into sales. If we all do a better job on that issue, we will see an increase in marketing budgets and hopefully more successful businesses leads by marketing.

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