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Digital Transformation: B2B Companies Don’t Always Have 20/20 Vision

SVP Digital Marketing, US

December 08, 2015

The Age of the Customer. The Digital Age. Internet 2.0, 3.0, and beyond. Whatever you call it, business has changed. 

The appearance of the Internet has allowed potential customers to rummage through your offerings and comparison shop long before they ever speak to a sales representative. This has led many companies to decide they need to undergo a “digital transformation,” remaking their businesses into digital experiences where the potential customer can get all the information, education, entertainment, community connection, and support they need.

One of the seven habits of highly successful people is to “begin with the end in mind,” according to Stephen Covey. The same can be said for highly successful businesses. While some businesses can luck into markets, most have to plan and implement strategically. And the very best know where they want to end up. Unless you are very adventurous, you probably wouldn’t start your vacation by just getting in the car and driving. You would pick out a destination, then map out how to get there. Sure, there will be things along the way that will modify the plan (who can resist the Champion Cow Graves in Ferndale, CA) but you typically wind up where you planned.

So who is setting the vision for B2B companies undergoing digital transformations? According to Forrester:

  • 35% of the time it is the CIO
  • 35% of the time it is the CEO

Who should be making those plans? Companies interviewed responded that:

  • 37% thought it should be the CIO
  • 20% thought it should be the CEO
  • 17% thought it should be the Chief Digital Officer or SVP of Digital or eCommerce

These results make me suspect that those companies are saying, “Hey, our CEO is a great gal, but she doesn’t really know about this new-fangled digital experience economy. Let’s get that specialist.” Here is where I take issue.

The CEO may not understand all the new Internet-based technologies, but who understands the company mission better? Digital transformation shouldn’t simply be a one-to-one conversion of current processes, it is a chance to fundamentally rethink the nature of the business, and how the business can adapt and thrive in this new milieu. The SVP of Digital or eCommerce may understand the technologies, but are they the right person to choose the final destination for the company?

The real answer to the question of who should create the digital vision is “both,” (or all three, or however many senior leaders have a stake). A good digital vision will be a consensus long-term vision for the future of the company, not a series of projects to take out old processes and replace them with shiny new Internet-based or technology-enabled processes. Set the vision first, and then begin the process of creating the strategy to get there. But keep in mind, a clear view is not always a near view.

Before beginning the digital transformation, here are some questions to answer about how your B2B company will perform in the future:

  • How will we provide real value to our customers, and how will we know that value is what they want? Practically, your digital vision needs to include how you will receive and process ongoing and continuous feedback from your customers. Will that be via direct communications, through customer service, via social media posts, or some other digital channel? Or perhaps all of these.
  • How will we provide ease of use within digital channels? How will we ensure that interactions with our company are smooth, efficient, and productive for both our customers and ourselves?
  • How will we surprise and delight our customers, giving them things that they didn’t know they wanted, but that they can’t live without? How can we anticipate needs and meet them even before the customer asks?

In the past, many of these questions were answered simply by, “our sales rep takes care of that.” The uniquely personal relationships these reps had with clients allowed them to provide value, receive feedback, smooth out any hitches in the process, and give the customer a little something extra now and then. When moving to digital experiences, these questions beg strategic planning around topics such as:

  • Personalization of customer interactions,
  • Provision of customer service across multiple digital devices,
  • Enhanced self-service models (meaning real-time product and service information),
  • Innovative methods of conducting commerce, and
  • Innovative methods of providing content, including comparisons and reviews.

As your B2B business plans for its digital transformation, the technologies needed to meet these strategic planning objectives will need to be part of the plan. Tools for managing content, tracking customer interactions, recommending digital actions, capturing and analyzing data, and presenting information in new and compelling forms will all need to be part of the digital ecosystem.

By having a good vision of what your B2B business wants to become and then translating this vision into an actionable strategy that looks at all of the pieces needed, you can more effectively begin the process of transforming your current customer interaction processes into digital customer experiences. And that is a good digital vision.

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