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Social Influencer Series | Tom Erskine, CMO One Door

Social Influencer Series | Tom Erskine, CMO One Door

Two of the most compelling conversations in business today are the changing role and expectations of the Chief Marketing Officer and the mission-critical importance of delivering world class customer experience.

I sat down recently with Tom Erskine - CMO and SVP of Product at One Door - for some perspective on this and I came away with the conclusion that these two themes are inextricably linked. We talked about the transformational realization that the foundation of growth today comes from delivering a "modern", best-in-class customer experience across an entire organization. Smart companies and smarter CMO's get this. The one's that don't are poised to get Uber'd. 52% of the Fortune 500 have disappeared in the past 15 years

Tom "gets it", and shared his perspective based on over 20 years of experience at the board and executive level as a CMO, innovator, inventor and entrepreneur; and consultant to early and growth-stage startups like Connected2Fiber, BrandNetworks and WHERE.com. We also talked about his current role at One Door, where has been a part of team that has transformed the company's go-to-market strategy and grown SaaS 3X.  He’s executed a full re-brand and a consolidated the company’s multiple offerings into a single, SaaS offering, and we’re lucky to get his perspective on the journey.

Here is as a snapshot of what he had to say:

So much effort today is put into delivering world-class customer experience. How is One Door helping retail brands bring that experience to life in-store, while at the same time helping them optimize their performance?

Thanks for letting me start with a plug for what we do at One Door! In short we help retailers ensure that their stores always look great. We believe that stores have an important role to play in the omni-channel world. Stores will always remain unique as the place where customers can connect best, and immerse themselves in a retailer’s brand. So while their format may change, they’re not going away.

If you’re a retailer with hundreds or thousands of locations, one of your challenges is ensuring that your stores always look the way you want them to, and that products and promotions are displayed right. Retailers create these visual merchandising plans at headquarters, and then send them to stores to execute. With the pressure on retailers to do more with less today this process is cracking under the strain. As a result, the right products aren’t in the right place, promotional displays aren’t set up properly, customers don’t find what they want, don’t buy as much, and have a poor experience.

So we’ve pioneered a more collaborative and store-centric approach to this process with an application called Merchandising Cloud. Using our product, headquarters and store teams collaborate in real-time around visual merchandising, using an exact digital plan of how each store should look. It makes both headquarters and store teams more efficient and effective, and it helps drive sales because the right products and promotions are always in the right place.

Let's take a step back - you went through a massive re-brand at One Door, transforming RBM Technologies to the One Door brand. Why? A rebrand is an expensive and risky undertaking for a CMO. Take us through your thought process.

We did. I need to be honest that I wasn’t 100% onboard with the idea coming in the door to the company, which I imagine is pretty bizarre to hear from a CMO. I was worried about the risk and distractions, and thought maybe our product name could carry us. But after spending a year investing in improving the product, and seeing us build up our sales and support infrastructure, it became clear that the name “RBM Technologies” wasn’t going to work long term. When we thought about where we wanted to be in 3-5 years, the RBM name didn’t really fit.

Our decision was also impacted by the trend in B2B software sales to less face-to-face selling in the early stages of the customer journey. This shift is well documented and people like Michele Buckley from Gartner have done some great work in this area. In the old days of B2B software (say 10 years ago), a salesperson would engage a prospect early and become the brand ambassador. Today prospects do their own research, and don’t reach out to you until later in the sales process, which puts more pressure on the brand.

In the new world of B2B tech the brand has to work a lot harder that it used to. It needs to get you invited to the conversation, but then also needs to resonate with a prospect as they start building their vision for a solution on their own. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that companies that get this, like Salesforce and Hubspot, are some of the most valuable names in B2B software.

So at One Door, that was a big part of our thinking, and 2+ years in we are so happy with the decision. We understand that this takes time when you start from scratch, but when you see it working it’s incredibly satisfying. I was recently at a customer and he showed me the presentation he had prepared for his senior leadership team. It was all our stuff! He took all of our messaging and used it to make his case. And what made it even better was that he got his approval, and we got the order.

On the cost and logistics, we were pretty conservative and took an incremental approach. First on understanding our value to different stakeholders, then on the name, legal, visuals, and then finally on activation. At each step we evaluated where we were, and got the green light to proceed. An unsolicited shout-out to Ted Nelson’s team at Mechanica. They were incredible both from a creative perspective and guiding us through the process.

A lot has been said today about the changing role of the Modern CMO - "How it is shifting to become much more directly responsible for a company's growth". What are your thoughts on that?

My thoughts are we need to be careful to not inflate expectations! If the essence of this statement is that CMO’s are increasingly being relied upon to single-handedly identify new products and new markets, I think the reality is more nuanced. In our company I’m responsible for researching markets and understanding our buyers (in aggregate). But my CEO doesn’t just pop his head in my office and say “we need to double revenue by 2020, bring me some good ideas”, and I hope that doesn’t happen to my peers!

I think a more typical responsibility is converting a vision to a reality by researching and developing the value proposition. So yes, its a broader responsibility since now it’s “what should we build to capitalize on this idea?”, not just “how should we market what our engineers built?” But it isn't always about being the visionary.

Another, and maybe more interesting transformation in the CMO job that I’d offer up is the emergence of the role as a surrogate ‘customer experience officer’. In selling to CMOs, especially at larger companies, I’ve seen many examples where they end up responsible for the end-to-end customer experience from initial awareness to support. The classic organizational structure with heads of marketing, physical sales, online sales, and customer service, tends to create an inconsistent and sometimes poor customer experience, and CEOs are increasingly looking for someone to help bridge these silos and create a more seamless, consistent experience. Very often, it seems the CMO is getting that job.

How do you balance the current SaaS addiction to BDR driven growth with brand health?

Yep it is a perfect segue, because it is an example of how bad things happen when customer experience isn't looked after across silos. The aggressive BDR outreach trend right now in SaaS is a relatively inexpensive and efficient way to build pipeline, but as companies increase quantity of reps and touches, the evidence I see in my inbox is that quality is suffering.

Poor BDR outreach can evaporate hard-earned brand equity in seconds. As an example last week I received an email a week ago from a Martech brand that I have grown to know and love because they create great, relevant, content. They’ve got a fantastic brand, and no doubt have spent a ton to develop it.

The email was a link to a 30 second video created by their BDR rep trying to get me to agree to a demo. Since I respect the brand I opened the link expecting a great experience. What I got was terrible. It looked and sounded more like a hostage video than a professional solicitation. The lighting made the rep look like he hadn’t slept in 7 days, the audio was impossible to understand because it was recorded on an iPhone in a crowded room full of other BDRs doing the exact same thing, and the desperation in his voice made me want to respond purely out of pity.

The moral of the story here is that just because companies like Vidyard make it technically easy for your BDR reps to shoot inexpensive iPhone video and attach it to outbound email, it doesn’t mean they should do it without getting the basics right. The experience I got from that video created a sweatshop image that is there now, forever, and no awesome infographic or research is going to totally erase it.

What role does social media play in your world and how are smart B2B marketers leveraging social most effectively?

Social has totally changed the mix. The power of these platforms is that we no longer have to create the forum for the conversation, we get to go where the conversations are already happening, join in, and (hopefully) add value. And even more powerful is when social is used effectively to build the ‘whole’ brand, and unleash a brand’s voice and temperament, whether its serious and all business, or more light-hearted.

The downside of social is that it is getting hard to rise above the noise. There’s so much political invective and gratuitous virtue signaling! LinkedIn seems to have the most self-policing to prevent it devolving, but time will tell if it can survive as a valuable business channel.

Speed Round:

Celebratory Cocktail: Painkiller - takes me to the islands

Proudest Accomplishment: Seeing my kids become adults

Modern Marketing Guru you Admire Most: If I pick someone posthumously it’d be Jobs. If not, the Hubspot team.

Go To Social Channel: LinkedIn - not perfect but damn good

Inspirational Hashtag: #learneveryday

About the interviewer:

Mark Keaney is a Husband, Dad, Coach, Mentor and Leader. With over 20 years in the media industry and wild ride in the world of tech start-up/social - Mark is helping brands deliver world class CX and strategy through his consultancy OTL Local Marketing. Brand Globally. Market Locally. 

e: markkeaney8@gmail.com or m: (617) 513-2668 or t: @markkeaney2pt0

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