Making digital transformation work in your sales-driven organization

Can you recognize a digitally transformed product? It’s not difficult to do.

Tesla shows us what a car can become after a digital transformation. Not only is the car equipped with multiple cameras and sensors that allow it to collect massive amounts of data. But, it also relies on software for the majority of its non-mechanical functions. This means that nearly anything about the car can be updated quickly and remotely.

It isn’t just another car. It’s a completely new way of approaching cars.

The lesson

Transformation is the most important part of the phrase digital transformation. Beyond just slapping together a new tool for doing things, your organization needs to transform how people use that tool and the way it’s used.

Why digital transformation is critical to your sales organization’s success

Digital transformation is already happening within your organization. It’s up to you whether you embrace it or not.

Your organization is already experiencing some degree of digital transformation. If you sent an email this morning or use the calendar on your phone to manage appointments, then you’re already embracing digital tools and using them to get work done.

When we think at an enterprise level, one of the areas that has experienced the highest level of transformation is martech. As of 2019, there are 7,040 different martech tools available to businesses. The sheer number shows that brands are benefitting from a huge number of options in their digital sales and marketing tools. Your organization is probably already using a few of them and seeing an ROI from these small transformations.

Beyond the tools and products that are available, there’s another even more vital group that your organization’s digital transformation will affect: your customers. Customers across industries are embracing digital because it makes their lives and experience easier and more enjoyable.

As more companies are becoming digitally transformed, customers are becoming increasingly frustrated with those that aren’t.

“The companies that do transform digitally are creating highly engaged customers.

And these customers are:

  • Six times more likely to try a new product or service from their preferred brand
  • Four times more likely to have referred your brand to their friends, family and connections
  • Two times more likely to make a purchase with their preferred brand, even when a competitor has a better product or price

Furthermore, highly engaged customers buy 90% more frequently, spend 60% more per purchase, and have 3x the annual value (compared to the average customer).” – SuperOffice

Highly Engaged Customers (compared to the average customer)

Your customers’ expectations of you are changing and this needs to drive innovation and transformation in your company. Think of mobile check deposits. This used to be a novel feature and a differentiator. Today if your bank doesn’t accept mobile deposits, it is behind the times and is a big motivator for switching banks. Customers’ digital expectations are being set by technology leader, regardless of whether these leaders are your competitors or not.

As a business owner, these shifts can feel overwhelming. But, instead of being frustrated by the changes that are sweeping over your business and becoming paralyzed, you need to adapt. You need the agility to embrace change quickly so as to gain competitive and operational advantages. This is the power that digital transformation gives you.

When a business that is operated using traditional models and tools embraces digital transformation, it positively changes the entire business model. This transformation can root out deeply entrenched inefficiencies and move you toward more effective ways of doing business. It allows you to embrace positive change in your business faster to reap the rewards.

Digital transformation is happening to you whether you like it or not. Your customers are expecting it from you whether you like it or not. This fourth industrial revolution can’t be stopped. But, you can embrace it and doing so will give you a tremendous advantage.

What can digital transformation look like for you organization?

Digital transformation should never start with digital.

The most important word in the phrase digital transformation isn’t digital. Creating tools and products that digitize your current way of doing things won’t do much for your business. Your activities will be the same, your processes will be the same, and the outcomes will be more or less the same. The only difference is that now you use a piece of technology to do them.

Transformation is the most important part of the phrase digital transformation. Beyond just slapping together a new tool for doing things, your organization needs to transform how people use that tool and the way it’s used.

One big-box retailer that approached us was struggling with this exact issue. The company had digitally transformed all of its sales tools. But, it had only achieved 1% adoption among its team members. From a technology perspective the retailer had done well, but it never addressed people and process. How can you address the most important parts of digital transformation?

“Too often, “going digital” means loosely stringing together pockets of digital activity instead of developing and implementing a coherent and unified digital strategy. The result is that customers are left hanging, either unable to get what they need or receiving incongruent communication. The best-performing companies couple top-down leadership with bottom-up change management to truly transform the way the organization works over the long term.”

Digital transformation starts with people and process

Before any technology can positively impact your business you need two things. First, you need a team that is committed to going on the digital transformation journey with you, has a meaningful voice in the transformation, and is willing to adopt the new technology. Second, you need to optimize your business processes for digital.

Let’s start by examining the people side of your digital transformation. Many organizations make the understandable mistake of thinking that digital transformation is IT’s job. There’s a big problem with this. Why would a sales leader or senior exec listen when IT tells them how to do their jobs? It simply doesn’t work.

Any transformation needs to start with executive buy-in. This allows someone within your organization who has authority and respect to lead the initiative. Throughout the process, these transformation leaders need to recognize that their role is to champion a successful digital transformation (no matter what the solution looks like), instead of pushing their own ideas. This allows for top-down leadership that doesn’t hamper your team’s focus on the user.

With this structure in place, your organization can start to establish cross-functional teams to work on the digital transformation. These teams typically include a senior leader to champion the solution, stakeholders from any departments that will be affected by the solution, an experience architect, and the design and development staff needed to implement the solution.

Cross-functional teams are critical to success. If IT builds what it thinks is best inside of a vacuum, then it won’t serve the user. And this isn’t because the IT team is unskilled, it’s simply because the user doesn’t have a voice in the process when digital lives in a silo.

Once a cross-functional team has been established, then your organization can start to focus on bottom-up change management. This may involve doing some internal PR (like putting up posters in bathrooms…we’re not kidding about that either), holding working sessions to allow the solution’s end users to contribute their voice, and bring change agents onto the affected teams. For example, if you’re building a digital solution for a traditional sales team, you may need to hire reps who are technology-minded and focused. These reps can act as advocates for the solution and be a training resource for their team members.

This “people” work is critical to any successful digital transformation. But, what role does process play?

Creating a tectonic shift in how you do business

To understand why getting your process right before a digital transformation happens is so important, we need to understand a thing or two about automation.

Imagine a fulfillment center that has a manual process for shipping that’s been in place for the past 15 years. This process evolved from an older way of doing things and the team has only made minimal updates to it based on external factors. The process is 15% inefficient because it isn’t streamlined.

The fulfillment center decides to automate that process because it’s expecting its business to double due to a new contract. When it automates, the process is just as inefficient as it was before. Now that inefficiency is simply happening faster and the fulfillment center will lose money faster.

This same scenario plays out in digital transformation over and over again. Many sales organizations want to dip their toes in digital transformation by digitizing their sales tools. But, this isn’t really a transformation, it’s just a new tool to do the same old job. Legacy inefficiencies will continue to plague the organization and a huge ROI will be left on the table.

For true digital transformation to happen you need to start by breaking your processes. Tear them apart, understand why the inefficiencies are still there, and ideate on how those inefficiencies could be eliminated through digital. Exploring your processes will give you a clearer path to change and transformation. That’s the path toward meaningful change.

“[…] digital transformation is, by definition, a whole-organization activity, and so changes to ways of working in the new normal won’t be siloed to just the product and technology teams. These changes will ripple across every unit of the company, and the more transparent and upfront leaders are about facilitating these changes and pairing them with an Agile or product-focused approach, the more speed, momentum, and stickiness the digital transformation will achieve.”

Overcoming the four biggest challenges to successful digital transformation

There’s one question left to answer. How can you ensure that your digital transformation is successful?

Over the past decade, four challenges have continuously plagued digital transformation projects. We’ve touched on some of these briefly. But, now let’s dive in and better understand how you can overcome these challenges during your digital transformation project.

1. Digital transformation is ongoing.

It’s easy to think that digital transformation is something that an organization only does one time and then it’s done. Afterall, a caterpillar can only transform into a butterfly one time. This is the wrong way to think about it.

Think of digital transformation in terms of iteration. It’s a continual process that transforms your organization over time and continues to evolve as things change. This means that your organization can’t outline, fund, and execute a single global project and consider itself digitally transformed.

As a leader, how can you successfully make this mindset and approach clear to your team? How can you continue to shepherd them down the path of digital transformation?

Start slow. Digital transformation is a lot like learning to swim. You start by dipping your feet in the water, then you wade into the shallow end, and as you gain confidence you can move toward the deep end. Conversely, if your digital transformation starts by diving into the deep end, then it will drown before it gets anywhere.

To create a truly progressive digital transformation, try the following:

  1. Start small with an exploratory session to understand the potential impact a transformation would have on your organization.
  2. Identify a roadmap for digital transformation and get buy-in for the roadmap. Determine your objectives and key results.
  3. Create a proof of concept, such as a wireframe or prototype, to illustrate your first steps.
  4. As your proof of concept goes into development, is implemented, and receives feedback keep refining, improving, and expanding on it.

These steps will help your organization to understand the ongoing mentality that drives digital transformation. By successfully testing the waters, you’ll be able to then grow your digital initiative to cover other parts of the business and start to see its transformative effects.

2. Digital transformation is a mindset shift.

Digital transformation can’t succeed in the neatly packaged, prescriptive environment that most companies are used to. There are too many unknowns and known unknowns for this to work. Instead, digital transformation requires flexibility and the opportunity to evolve over time.

This mindset shift has to start with project planning and your development team. For example, when you go on a road trip you may know your destination, but you can’t predict when a road will be closed, when accidents will happen, or when bad weather will force you to slow down. You need to make constant adjustments throughout your journey to adapt to changing circumstances, while still. In the same way, your project planning needs flexibility built into it. Using Agile methodologies is a proven way to achieve this flexibility and move your project along more effectively.

Once your team has started to embrace an Agile mindset, your organization needs to start changing its mindset from the inside out. This takes a product champion with tenacity and vision to get the project up hill.

What should you look for in a product champion? Your ideal candidate should”

  1. Believe in the digital transformation and what it can do for the organization.
  2. Have the capacity, both skills and time, to act as product champion.
  3. Know how to navigate the political waters of the organization and get things done.
  4. Know how to work with a development team, provide the right intel, and remove roadblocks, so that the development team has what they need to do their work.

When a strong product champion is in place, they will be able to continually shift the mindset within your organization and move the digital transformation forward in the way that most benefits your goals.

3. Digital transformation takes executive buy-in.

Digital transformation should essentially be a new way of operating an existing business and connecting with customers through digital. The size of this shift means that time, money, and other company resources need to be invested and reinvested into the transformation effort. Getting the necessary support throughout the initial transformation and its subsequent phases requires consistent executive buy-in.

Getting buy-in from an executive requires a very different approach. For example, it’s relatively easy to get buy-in from a marketing or sales manager who’s excited for the impact of the transformation. These boots-on-the-ground team members are measured based on specific job-related KPIs and they understand that a digital transformation will help them to succeed. Conversely, an executive may be measured based on KPIs in addition to being measured on the ROI they get from the initiatives they lead.

Understanding this mindset is critical to maintaining buy-in. It’s not just about how exciting the digital transformation is; it’s about impact and return on investment. This is why your starting point should lie in expectation setting and alignment. When you understand what the executive is expecting to see, and you’re aligned and how to get there and how long it will take, then you can prove the value of digital transformation over time and continue increasing your organization’s investment in it.

4. Digital transformation is cross-functional.

Digital transformation is cross-functional in two main ways:

  1. It requires a cross-functional journey team that incorporates stakeholders from across the business and at least one executive product champion. We’ve already discussed this, so we won’t focus on it right now.
  2. It requires cross-functional support to create a pull demand that supports it as a change management initiative. What does this mean?

During one digital transformation, we had a client that was very proactive in its change management. Even though the initial digital product would only affect the sales department, the team took a cross-functional approach to its change management. The team put up posters in bathrooms, held regular meetings across the organization, and talked about the solution constantly.

The product team also held cross-functional demos. They’d show the sales tool to departments like customer service, manufacturing, shipping, etc. During each demo the team would get new suggestions and those unrelated department would want to be a part of the digital transformation. This action drove the internal momentum of the transformation and as the initial wins helped the transformation secure more funding it was able to expand across departments and transform the business.

Envisioning your organization’s digital future

What will it take to make your business digitally transformed? As we’ve seen the process involves more than developing a digital solution for a legacy problem. It requires true change that impacts your people and your processes.

This change is complex and no one goes into it knowing everything. Each digital transformation will be different with its own unique set of challenges. If you’re considering a digital transformation, you shouldn’t think that you need a step-by-step plan for everything that will happen over the next five years. That’s simply not how digital transformation succeeds.

What you do need is a commitment to experiment, learn, and progressively embrace business’s digital evolution. If you have that mindset and a clear commitment to digitally transforming your business, then we invite you to reach out. Our team is ready to survey the landscape and work by your side to put digital transformation into motion.