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CMO 2.0 Conversation with Erin Nelson, CMO at Dell, and Manish Mehta, VP of Social Media and Communities

erin-nelsonmanishMy CMO 2.0 Conversation with Erin Nelson, the CMO at Dell, came with a bonus in that Manish Mehta, the VP of Social Media and Community for Dell joined us as well. I hope you will enjoy this CMO 2.0 Conversation as much as I did.

Erin is responsible for Dell’s Global brand strategy, social media, global communication, as well as for the talent development of the Dell marketing teams – where she focuses on reinvigorating the way Dell marketing works. She has been with Dell for 11 years, while Manish has been with them for 15 years. Manish is in charge of social media and communities, including dell.com, their intranet and their extranet.

One of the first things we discussed was the role of social media and communities within Dell’s business strategy – and how they got to become one of the leaders in social media adoption. On the one hand, dealing with customers directly through social media is a natural extension of what the Dell brand has been all about for the past 25 years – having a direct relationship with the customer. On the other hand it was also precipitated by what has come to be known as “Dell Hell”, when prominent blogger Jeff Jarvis and others had some not too flattering things to say about Dell in public forums. The latter incident gave them no choice but to jump full force into embracing the social on a large scale. As Erin said, it wasn’t a question of test, learn, and measure, it was actually a question of survival – with their brand under severe pressure. In hindsight, Erin believes that this has been a huge benefit for Dell, saying that you cannot get into social media by just putting a toe in the water – you are either all in and it becomes part of your culture, or you’re not.

As we argue in our upcoming book, the Hyper-Social organization, we could not agree more. Companies that successfully embrace the social are those, like Dell, that make it part of the fabric or DNA of everything they do – it cannot just be managed as bolt-on programs to existing strategies. It is also interesting to note how companies like Dell and IBM, which have managed to totally transform themselves, were able to do so only after “near death” experiences (and those are my words/observations, not Dell’s). Dell truly rebuilt itself with the customer at the core of everything they do – how they sell, how they market, how they service and support, how they communicate, and how they design new products.

The scale at which Dell interacts with customers online is staggering – with billions of connections every year through the purchase path, the support path, and through the community path of learning how to use technology and achieve more with it. All that cross-functional customer interaction required them to set up a cross functional governance council, with member representatives from across the entire company – business units, marketing teams, service organizations, and product organizations. They meet on a regular basis to share the learnings, and to make sure that the learnings become embedded within all company processes.

Next we talked about the lessons learned from listening to what is being said about the company in the marketplace and from deciding how and when to engage in those conversations. As many other successful Hyper-Social organization CMO’s told us, they do not always engage. Listening is incredibly important, but often times hearing, learning, and acting upon what is being said are the real keys to success – not direct engagement. It is also important to realize that in this new world, notwithstanding that you can have a common brand spirit, you cannot really have a singular voice of the company anymore. At Dell they have 100,000 team members who are experts in what they do and who will speak out in their own voice.

We also spent a fair amount of time talking about how best to measure the impact of social media and community initiatives – especially in view of the recent announcement that Dell sold $6.5M worth of products through their Twitter channel last year. Obvioulsy being engaged in social channels such as Twitter is not all about generating revenue (although that is a nice side effect). At Dell they try to gauge many other things, including level of engagement/connectedness, sentiment, the value that they are adding in the customers’ buying decisions, and whether they add value in how customers utilize their technology better.

Lastly we talked about some of the recent changes that Dell made to their IdeaStorm environment, and how they felt the need to expand their successful online suggestion box concept with directed and time-bound innovation jams called Storm Sessions through which they ask the community questions in real time, sometimes for days, sometimes for weeks, and sometimes for hours. They have found this real time learning capability, which they use both inside and outside, to be extremely powerful.

Other things that we discussed include:

  • The importance of assigning roles to employees who engage in social media – making sure, for example, that technically unqualified employees do not attempt to respond to tech issues
  • The challenges associated with integrating acquisitions within your corporate culture (specifically the acquisition of Pro Systems, which increased the number of employees at Dell by 40%).
  • How making the social part of the fabric of the way they do business changed the way they think about market segments – thinking more about customer clusters or tribes rather than classic demographically based segments
  • The importance of ratings and reviews in leveraging the social as part of your business
  • The two types of customer interactions that happen online – disgruntled ones where you need to turn their sentiment from a negative to a positive, and fans, who are brand ambassadors and who you want to engage to influence the influencers
  • The importance and risks of status in communities
  • How talent acquisition shifted from looking for people with existing expertise to people who can develop new capabilities

As usual, you can listen to the full podcast on the CMO 2.0 site.

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