TMMPDX.COM’s Internet Strategy Forum Summit Preview: Q&A with Sheila Tolle, VP of Marketing for Intuit’s Small Business Group
TMMPDX had the pleasure of having a Q&A with Sheila Tolle, Intuit’s Small Business Group VP of Marketing. Sheila took the time to share her thoughts on the latest eCommerce trends and provide tips for building an online community for any business. Sheila Tolle is a keynote speaker at the 6th Annual Internet Strategy Forum Summit happening this Thursday, July 23rd at the Governor Hotel.
TMMPDX: As the Vice President of Marketing for Intuit’s Small Business Group, what types of marketing trends are you seeing in eCommerce?
ST: One major trend I am seeing is the blurring of marketing and sales – a departure from the old way of marketing first, then selling. This blurring is leading to innovations in both marketing AND sales, resulting in another trend: an increase in the involvement of customers in the shop and buy experience. Customers can now loop between marketing and sales, asking questions and researching throughout their shop and buy experience. The prevalence of places to get and give information is accelerating this.
TMMPDX: “Word of mouth is the oldest form of marketing”, yet many businesses feel they have some control over their brand and they don’t want to give that up to consumers. What advice do you have for companies who are hesitant to adapt to a “new normal”?
ST: In the past (pre-social networking/web), businesses did not have as much control over their brand as they thought – people talked, word of mouth was still happening, but companies didn’t have easy listening posts. The social web has allowed businesses to “hear” the conversation and, if appropriate, participate. For an example of what may be talked about a brand – try searching for a brand name + the word “sucks,” “fail,” or “complaints” to see what we mean. Companies can choose to be part of the conversation about their brands, which is the best way to shape how consumers perceive the brands. Also, companies should take care to be consistent in their own messages, efforts and activities. One of the most surefire ways to lose complete control is to have inconsistent messaging or inconsistent experiences for customers.
TMMPDX: Inevitably, not every customer is a happy customer. How does Intuit respond to negative feedback from online communities?
ST: Listening to customers has always been in our DNA. From Follow-Me-Homes (in which we literally follow customers to their home or office) to extensive customer research, we’ve always involved customers in our product development and marketing. So, feedback – both constructive and positive – is a critical way for us to better serve customers.
Specifically in terms of negative feedback, we first try to resolve the issue the customer is experiencing. That’s most important – taking care of the customer. Then, we circle back with the appropriate teams (product development, customer service, marketing, etc) to give them the feedback.
TMMPDX: Many businesses, especially B-2-C companies, are now understanding the importance of engaging customers online. How can B-2-B companies connect with business decision makers in social and community networks?
ST: B-2-B is not really different than B-2-C (especially when your customers are small businesses), in the end you are still selling to a person. In businesses, it may be more than one person involved in the purchase decision but they are people not faceless entities. The key to engaging a business decision maker in social/community environment is to make the engagement and venue relevant to the customer’s business success.
TMMPDX: Do you think it is important for a business to engage customers via social networks and a community formed on the company’s own website? Is one channel better than the other?
ST: The key to this question is that the customer decides where (and when) to engage. It is important for a business to understand where their customers already are, where they want to engage and then to take their lead and join the conversation.
TMMPDX: How does Intuit measure the success of the Intuit Community and other online marketing campaigns?
ST: We first determine the measure of success based on the objectives for the community and/or campaign, just as we do with all of our marketing activities (both online and offline). For our in-product Live Community, we look at how many people are using it as they want help or coaching on a product feature, how many answers are given by the community rather than Intuit, and the customer’s satisfaction with the answer. For a marketing campaign, the measure might be visitors, repeat visitors, number of interactions, and an engagement metric around quality and satisfaction. The wonderful thing about online campaigns is the timeliness, richness and quantity of metrics that can be used.
TMMPDX: Can Intuit attribute the efforts of combining e-commerce and community to a measurable increase in sales?
ST: Where appropriate, when the objective of the activities was an increase in sales, we have been able to measure the interaction. In many cases, the objective is not short-term sales but rather customer input/feedback, timely product assistance or a customer’s business success. The important consideration is to be clear up-front on the objective and put in place the appropriate metrics.
TMMPDX: What do you find most challenging about combining eCommerce and Community?
ST: Actually, if we go back to the definition of commerce (per dictionary.com): 1. An interchange of goods or commodities; business dealings; trade. 2. Social relations, esp. the exchange of views, attitudes. 3. Intellectual or spiritual interchange; communion. So combining eCommerce, commerce online, and community is very complementary. The challenge is keeping very clear when the objective of the activity is sales and when we are driving interaction for other purposes. Intuit has always been about empowering individuals and businesses to achieve their dreams – sometimes this involves an offering transaction and other times we offer advice, forums and education.
TMMPDX: What changes in eCommerce do you expect to see over the next few years?
ST: More and more customers will want to engage in experiences with brands and not just be sold by brands. We also expect to see continued openness and collaboration – customers will expect to be part of the process to build the products and services they use and to have a hand in making them better. And, with continued fragmentation of media, consumers will rely more and more on each other for advice on what to use and buy.
TMMPDX: The topic you will be covering at the Internet Strategy Forum Summit is ‘Combining eCommerce and Community: It’s a New Normal…And, There’s No Going Back’. Can ISF Summit attendees expect to walk away with some actionable information?
ST: Both the experienced social marketer and the marketer new to this area will gain insights.
TMMPDX: Any advice for companies who are just starting to grow an online community?
ST: See what works for you – try a variety of activities, talk to your customers and prospects to find out where and how they want to engage. BTW, there may already be a vibrant community that you don’t know about!!!
Don’t miss Shiela Tolle’s keynote speech ‘Combining eCommerce and Community: It’s a New Normal…And, There’s No Going Back’ at the Internet Strategy Forum Summit on Thursday, July 23rd. Visit internetstrategyforum.org for event details and to register.