Information Technology

B2B digital transformation: the importance of winning hearts and minds

By Simon Wakeman, managing director at Deeson
Information Technology
Published: 27 June 2018

It is somewhat ironic that while digital transformation continues to be one of the most discussed business issues, there is still a lot of confusion and misunderstanding around what constitutes a successful digital transformation programme, and also how to enable such a programme.

When it comes to organisations that sell to other businesses, there has long been a perception that they often lag behind their consumer counterparts when it comes to digital transformation. Yet it has the capacity to redefine and drive business growth just as much as for consumer businesses. In the words of McKinsey, “turning your company into a top quartile B2B digital player can increase revenue by 3.5%.” Not something to be sniffed at!

Although there may be a view that B2B is playing catch up when it comes to digital transformation, there has in fact been a huge transition in B2B marketing in recent times. Long gone are the days when marketing was seen as merely sales support.

According to research from Econsultancy, 80% of a B2B purchase decision is made before contacting a sales representative. And this isn’t the only shift, a new wave of marketing-led, informed buyers are demanding the same personalised customer journeys and experiences they enjoy as consumers.

The change deficit
This shift presents a number of opportunities and challenges for B2B organisations. One key challenge (which actually doesn’t just apply to B2B brands), is a form of digital FOMO (fear of missing out), which can develop into a vicious circle that sees organisations forever chasing their digital tails.

It’s human nature to look forward and focus on the next ‘big thing’. From mobile and IoT, to AR and VR, certain buzzwords dominate the technology landscape and become the focus of attention for organisations keen to keep up with the pack.

In reality, as technology continues to advance, many organisations – and B2B ones in particular – continue to fall further and further behind in their digital transformation.

Perhaps now more than ever, you can’t afford to get left behind. It’s easier than ever before for agile and fast moving organisations to harness technology, disrupt established business models and steal market share. Playing catch-up is no longer enough and maintaining the status quo is unthinkable.

Taking digital transformation to the boardroom
While digital transformation may not be optional, it’s still misunderstood and perhaps even feared, especially at the C-level. At the same time, because digital transformation touches every part of a business and should really be thought of as an ongoing programme of organisational change, it’s an issue that needs to be championed and led by the CEO and senior leadership team.

When confronted with the need to digitally transform, it’s not surprising that it can seem a daunting prospect, especially when tied in with digital elements that may not be in a CEO’s core skillset. It’s really important to remember that digital transformation doesn’t necessarily mean tackling everything at once or turning every process on its head. It also doesn’t mean focusing solely on technology. We define it as “generating incremental value through radical innovative change affecting people, processes and technology” and it’s something best done as a gradual process as part of a culture of continuous evolution.

Winning hearts and minds
Of the three elements quoted above, it is the ‘people’ part that really needs attention, especially from the senior leadership team. Time and again we see B2B companies start with technology and then move straight onto processes, forgetting about one of the most important elements – people! Really effective digital transformation is about helping people change.

It’s no secret that humans are an easily spooked animal. And so when you say “hey everyone, we are going to transform the business to be more efficient and offer a better customer experience” what people actually hear is “hey everyone, we are cutting jobs and replacing you with software”. It doesn’t matter how you say it, how great your smile is, or what sector you work in. Everyone has the same base response – fear, doubt, uncertainty.

If you don’t replace that fear response with excitement and confidence, it will creep in, set and your transformation is dead before it has started. Despite this, IDG’s 2018 Digital Business research found that only 19% of decision makers have fully implemented a workforce strategy to accommodate digital transformation.

We’ve helped dozens of companies introduce new technologies and processes into their businesses – from multi-national energy companies to media agencies representing renowned musicians. In our extensive experience we’ve found the following proven activities the most valuable in changing fear into passion and, finally, action.

Innovation workshops: These sessions help people to see themselves and their challenges in new ways and, crucially, trains them to test their ideas beyond the limits of their own knowledge.

Clear and evidenced progress: Digital transformation is a long term project and it’s unlikely that everyone in your organisation will be involved 100% of the time. After the initial excitement abates, people will go back to business as usual, which is the enemy of what you are trying to achieve.

You need to regularly show what is being worked on, what is being achieved, and where you are on your digital roadmap.

Change management communications: Regular, relevant and open communication is vital to win the hearts and minds of those affected by the changes of a digital transformation project.

In our experience, the first step towards gaining buy-in comes from establishing a consensus about what needs to change and why. If people don’t understand and broadly agree on why the digital transformation is happening in the first place, it’s hard to move forward.

Digital transformation is a long and sometimes scary journey for businesses to take. But if you can focus on taking the people in your organisation with you on the journey, then you are definitely on the right path to success.

Further information
Deeson is a leading digital agency providing high profile, high stakes digital transformation. Based in London and Canterbury its multidisciplinary agile teams have been successfully delivering high profile content managed websites and digital products since 2001. Clients include Johnson & Johnson, ITV, BDO, Robbie Williams, Royal Collection Trust, Imperial War Museums, and the National Crime Agency.