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Implementing a Digital Transformation Strategy

Want to successfully complete your digital transformation? Slice your elephant, focus on your customers, and keep sharing your story.


People tend to resist change, especially big change. This is a huge blocker when successfully trying to execute a company-wide transformation. So how do you get everybody on board? A proven way to counter resistance to change is by making the required change more easily digestible. A technique called slicing the elephant.

The concept is simple. Break up the problem in smaller parts that are easier to manage, still contribute to your success, and build different layers into your approach. In the strategic and architectural runways, as we call these constructs at SQLI, you monitor the milestones while the teams deliver real value, time and time again.

In the meantime, the added value and feasibility of new initiatives are looped back into the daily execution for validation. This way you can continuously measure the actual results, ensuring the daily business takes ownership of the initiatives, ranging for organizational change to actual product development, by communicating frequently and transparently about what is happening, and why. This is especially important when communicating with your customers.

5 Ways to get started

1. Make sure you have real owners at C-level

For change to happen on this scale you have to ensure there’s a driving force, preferably one that comes from the combined efforts of the chief marketing officer and the chief digital officer. They provide the empowerment needed to initiate real change in the essential teams. They should also ask the important questions. Does everyone acknowledge the urgency and support the customer-centric approach? Is their communication open and honest about the hurdles the organization faces? When everyone is on board, you can start making the required decisions, both small and big, and enjoy new wins and progress.

2. Create focus with goals based on a clear vision and founded in data

We repeatedly point out that communication is important. But communication in these times of change only works if you have an inspiring and shared story, with a hero (the client), a challenge, and a sense of urgency. This allows all actors to focus on the same goals.

Telling your story once won’t have any noticeable impact. Like any good story, it deserves to be repeated over and over again. You have to repeat it every roadmap session, internal company update, and agency briefing. Are you presenting during a big company demo? Share the story and vision again. And again.

Additionally, this vision allows you to create a decision framework, the model needed to prioritize decisions on your roadmap. This also helps you map business value, costs, risk, lead time, and strategic alignment, to name but a few variables. Never forget your story must be build on a foundation of real and relevant data.

3. Empower, coach, enable organizational growth

You could employ a large number of experts that seem like a perfect fit for your organization, who temporarily empower your team. But inevitably, at some point, they will leave for various reasons, taking their knowledge and expertise with them to their next client or assignment. So what role should they play in the journey of transformation you’re on? They can coach you and your teams. Reflecting, teaching, and mentoring based on the various stages of expertise your teams are on. In order to determine which stage is needed to obtain and sustain, on both an individual and team level, you need to clearly define your path to success.

4. Roadmap to success

In addition to a vision, coaching, and a 100% ambassadorship from C-level, you need to work on your product roadmap. Don’t consider your website, commerce platforms or apps as stand-alone channels. View them as part of a total solution, fulfilling the needs, wants, and demands of your current and future customers. Visualizing this journey is made possible by determining a roadmap, which should contain enough detail to make it executable and measurable.

The farther ahead you’re planning, the more abstract your roadmap becomes, since multiple variables – such as the behaviour of the markets, your customers, new technologies and other changes on a macro level – might make you want to rethink your priorities.

The most successful transformations are fuelled by a shift from project-driven to product-oriented organizations. This way you always release value but also get to incorporate market feedback much quicker, thanks to an abundance of data. Becoming and remaining relevant mainly depends on your ability to continuously analyze results, determine value, and your ability to adapt to the changing wants and needs of your customers.

The goal is to reach a stage at which your teams make decisions based on factual data and market results, learning and improving together, releasing new features with the frequency required to validate your decisions by challenging the riskiest assumptions first. Differentiate between what you can learn from factual data, and what you would like to gain a better understanding about.

Here are several data streams that could fuel your transformation and decision making:

Product Related Data

  • Complete, consistent, well structured and up-to-date product data.
    • This includes product attributes, product-product relations (product variants, ‘goes well with’, or ‘often ordered together with’ etc.)
    • Rich product media such as images, documents, videos (not just of the product, but also the context in which it’s used)
    • For B2B environments legal and safety information is important, especially in a dynamic market
  • Product application data: how are your customers using your product?
    • For B2C this translates to reviews for the general public, as well as product (quality) feedback that enables you to improve your products and services.
    • In a B2B environment, when manufacturing raw materials or semi-finished goods, knowing how the customer uses your product can help you quickly adapt to new trends. It can also be an opportunity to strengthen the relationship with your customers by sharing research, market insights, and ultimately co-creating new products or services.
  • Localization data: textual translations, local media, manuals, legal and safety documentation, and localized (or customer-specific) assortments.
  • Pricing data: localized prices, complex tax calculations, prices steps and promotions. In a B2B environment customer specific price calculations are often quite complex and differentiated, but it’s essential to be able to give every customer real-time price information on their online assortment, as well as active cart and order history.

Customer Operational Data

  • Order history. Are you able to provide the offline order history to your customer online?
  • Customer preferences. This includes everything that’s relevant for your business. Preferences related to communication channels, categories in your assortment, payment methods, logistics, etc.
  • Interaction history
    • Record relevant webpages your customers visited to map their interests.
    • Customer service interactions, such as questions, complaints and follow-up measures, product RMA, etc.
    • Point of sale. You can log in-store purchases using a loyalty system. If your POS system has access to rich customer data, you can use this to better assist your customer, track and store new interactions, and complete customer profiles.

Customer Experience Data

This data is extremely important, because knowing what your customers do is important, but understanding their emotions and reasoning when ordering your products is essential to complete the data. As Gartner states in this article: “B2B customer-experience index ratings significantly lag behind those of retail customers. B2C companies typically score in the 65 to 85 percent range, while B2B companies average less than 50 percent. This gap will become even more apparent as B2B customer expectations rise.”

Competitor Data

  • Follow shifts in services, products and prices.
  • Are current competitors entering new markets? Are there new competitors in your current market?
  • Recruitment: what roles are they looking for, and for which regions?
  • Are there shifts in how they address the customer, the online services they offer, or in their SEO positions compared to you?
  • Ask new customers if they’ve used a competing product before entering your ecosystem, and explore their (past) experiences and preferences.
  • Shifts in assortment and services.
  • Follow new, potentially disrupting challengers in the market.

Market Data

  • Legal changes. This is especially relevant in a B2B, global, and multichannel environment. Are you able to adapt to changes in local regulations on privacy, quality, health and safety? Not just in regards to your products, but also by providing proper documentation alongside your products.
  • (End) customer trends.

But just collecting all this data isn’t enough. The data should be available and actionable to the right people at the right time, in a well-structured format. On top of that, they should be able to combine different data streams to gain new insights, to better assist the customer and predict their needs. Users in their turn should be able to access, query, or filter the data however and whenever they want.

The most important role for management becomes empowering people, and guarding the customer-centric vision and storytelling.

5. Day to day operations – driver for success

What most articles about digital transformation fail to mention is the importance of the service part of daily operations; the people executing complex and very detailed processes. If your digital teams deliver a new release containing highly anticipated features, continue to make it available to your customers, but don’t put the same effort or budget into acceptation by business and operational colleagues, the entire release will miss its mark. Despite the good intentions and hard work of everyone involved.

That’s why it’s so important to onboard every layer of your organization as early as possible, and show them how their experiences and feedback is taken seriously. Make sure customer feedback is available for them too, so they can experience and validate the results of their own hard work. This feedback should come from customer data and research.

It’s key to reflect on sentiments throughout the organization, caused by internal and external factors. This is done by placing feedback in the correct context aligned with the vision and shared goals, sharing the story, and building innovation on tangible data. This way it’s always clear what needs to be improved, why (the potential value), and in which order. Feedback gathered from your daily operations allows you to gain vital insights, which can then be used to update your product roadmap and plan necessary organizational changes.

Additionally, it’s even more important to involve key business stakeholders as owners, resulting in an active and connected way of working, with high levels of organizational acceptance. Failing to get everyone on board will seriously impede your chances of success, and will most likely make your latest endeavour to adapt to a changing market yet another project that never lead to actual change.

Last but not least, ensure that tooling is updated accordingly, to meet new expectations.

  • Product Information Management:
    • Store all publicly exposed content in a single source of truth where it can be easily created, managed, and distributed.
    • Examples: Informatica, Stibo, InRiver
  • Engagement Platform/DXP:
    • Publish content on multiple channels. Connect each customer journey to backend data and functionalities. Create segments and personalize the customer’s experience.
    • Examples: Adobe AEM, Bloomreach, Sitecore
  • Customer Data Platforms or Data Management Platforms
    • Store all visitor and customer multichannel interactions. Create rich profiles and segments that can be used on your DXP and marketing channels
    • Examples: Blueconic, Evergage, BlueKai, Adobe Audience Manager
  • Marketing Automation Tools
    • Create content, target customers using owned, earned, and paid channels. Attract visitors, build profiles, and convert them to leads. Offer the right content at the right moment, on the right channel.
  • Customer Experience Center Tools (including CRM and Call Center tooling)
    • Collect customer data and profiles, route calls, and communicate with your customers on multiple channels. Store all the knowledge gained from customer interactions in a central location from which it can also be shared. Predict your customer’s behaviour and needs based on the collected data.
    • Examples: SAP CEC, Salesforce, Zendesk.
  • Customer Experience Management Tool:
    • Monitor customer experience across all touchpoints, and broadcast results in your organization. Create a closed loop of measuring and improving.
    • Examples: Qualtrics, Hotjar
  • BI/Datawarehouse:
    • Bring data from all sources together for reporting or ad hoc analysis. Discover new relations and insights. Uncover trends and predict future movements
    • Examples: Microsoft PowerBI, SAP analytics, Qlickview, Tableau


The Elephant Metaphor

So why the elephant metaphor, you ask? In reality, a complete company-wide transformation is too big of a decision for most managers to comfortably make, mainly due to the equally big risk to fail. Empower them on their journey, by chopping up the task at hand in smaller and more easily digestible chunks. Every chunk is part of the bigger picture, but has its own objectives to measure and complete.

Want to successfully complete your digital transformation? Slice your elephant, focus on your customers, and keep sharing your story. 

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