Wednesday, 5 January 2011

"Let's everybody keep our jobs here": Q&A with Sam Cece, CEO of social CRM pioneer StrongMail Systems

The traditional email marketing game is changing; it's getting more social. Gary Flood speaks to the boss of StrongMail to find out about the latest developments
I understand that, contrary to my initial impression, your company does more than traditional email marketing, Mr Cece?
That's right; too many companies send blanket issue, unpersonalised emails which immediately get deleted. StrongMail works with our customers to cut out this issue. In terms of Reed.co.uk, which has been a customer for a few years now, it gets 300,000 transactional emails every day, and it works with us to ensure a near 100% deliverability rate. Though that aspect is our heritage and what we did mainly for six years, until we started remaking the company about 16 months ago.
So what is it you are evolving into?
We have been purchasing a lot of digital advertising agencies and social media marketing firms, especially in New York, to create what we are calling social CRM.
Explain.
Sure. What every marketeer wants is an integrated view of the customer -
[Interrupts, groaning]: Oh please. Don't tell me you will give me one view of my customer; we've been hearing that one for ten years!
But this is different. Yes, there is a traditional CRM business message, as you say, which is about capturing historical data, patterns of activity that customers have performed so as to provide an analytical understanding of all that past activity. But what we are doing is marrying that data with social Web data, which is real-time, so as to provide a 360 degree view of the customer and their potential future activities. So it's less of a vanilla CRM than an 'intelligence' story, I think.
Sorry, I see, that's interesting - please carry on.
Thank you. The marketing department, as I was saying, wants to understand, from all the fragmentary data at hand, how to keep the most profitable customers it can in the most profitable, lifetime relationship it can. But it has all these different channels doing that now, mobile, Web, email marketing as you say, and so on. The trick - which is where companies like ours come in - is to integrate all of that so as to extend your brand's market reach as much as possible.
Including, as you say, social media data now, right?
Yes. For example, one of our best stories is what we're doing with IHG, InterContinental Hotels Group. Lots of travel chains have loyalty cards, IHG has 40 million out there in fact, but it's using us to help work out who are the one million best customers in terms of advocates and influencers out of that 40 million. It did this by moving away from sending batches of emails to sending highly personalised emails aimed at individuals, showing it's learned about me as a customer, tailored such emails to my needs and so is more likely to include things in them that are relevant and interesting to me.
The link to social media is to work on using what they are saying online about the brand and also turning that into actionable, useful data for the company.
I understand that you have about 550 or so such customers worldwide. How many in the UK?
In Europe, 30, of which I think 20 or so are in the UK. That would include brands like Tesco, The Economist and Comet Group.
Which are all great names, yes, thank you. And briefly, what is your role in all this and what's the financial picture of StrongMail?
We are capitalised by venture capital, led by Sequoia Capital, the legendary Silicon Valley VC firm. We also have two private equity backers. We just closed out our third consecutive quarter of profitability, which was also our most successful three month period ever. In my case, I joined BEA Systems pre-IPO and held a number of senior management positions there.
You've made me think that this is all great but I wonder if my reader, the CIO, is your target for all this?
You'd be right - increasingly, we work less with IT, as that's where email traditionally resides, and more with the Chief Marketing Officer level.
Which is bad for my guys; they are losing power here?
[Pauses]: In times like these, and I'm speaking as a CEO here, the goal of everyone should be to keep the customers we want to like us as happy as possible. So everyone has to look for ways to keep cash flow predictable, to make revenue as dependable as we can, protect the brand and so forth. So this is less about one part of the business doing less and more about us all collaborating and offering what we can to make the business thrive. Let's all keep our jobs here - in both tech and marketing.
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