Simon Wakeman
Simon Wakeman 3 July 2018

Demystifying B2B Digital Transformation

Digital transformation has been almost endlessly discussed – in fact it is safe to say that it is now one of those phrases. But despite all this discussion, 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, especially when it come to B2B organisations.

In fact, there has long been a perception that B2B businesses often lag behind their consumer counterparts when it comes to digital transformation. Yet it has the capacity to redefine and drive business growth for B2B just as much as for consumer businesses.

This is precisely why digital transformation has been the subject of so much attention – it’s such a critical issue for businesses, and this is something that is only going to intensify as the relentless progress of technology marches on.

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.

A new wave of marketing-led, informed buyers are demanding the same personalised customer journeys and experiences they enjoy as consumers. Perhaps now more than ever, organisations can’t afford to get left behind. It’s easier than ever before for agile and fast moving competitors to harness technology, disrupt established business models and steal market share. Playing catch is no longer enough and maintaining the status quo is unthinkable.

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 senior leadership team.

When confronted with the need to digitally transform, it’s not surprising that it can seem a daunting prospect, 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.

Undertaking a digital transformation journey: key elements for success

So, if constantly playing catch up and tackling digital transformation as one giant project is not the recipe for successful change, what is? Our key roadmap to success is outlined below.

  1. Understand the drivers for change

You know you need to digitally transform, but do you know why? Understanding this is crucial and will be unique to each organisation, although there are common themes we see time and again. Sometimes these drivers are intrinsic to the organisation and sometimes they relate to the wider context it is operating in.

  1. Identify the right approach

It’s vital to consider the different approaches for how your organisation will deliver digital transformation, as this will dictate how the programme of change is planned and executed.

While there are four main broad approaches organisations can take, in reality, a successful programme will take elements from each.

  • Process-led: Making change by redesigning internal processes to reduce inefficiencies.
  • Technology-led: Starting with the new system to be implemented and then designing from there.
  • Brand-led: Using your brand promise and values as the basis for a digital transformation.
  • Customer experience-led / Service design-led: Taking an evidence-based approach to designing and delivering a customer experience.
  1. Getting going: introducing a roadmap for change

Whatever is driving the change, going from ‘we must’ to ‘we are’ is a big step. What happens next? We recommend the following key elements to get going.

  • Take stock: Conduct a digital health check – a short survey designed to yield a large amount of data on how digital is seen and used by various teams, and how the organisation as a whole values digital thinking.
  • Think big: Using your organisational vision and the outputs from the digital health check, the next stage is to devise an idealistic concept for how digital will help your organisation address the internal and external drivers for digital transformation you identified in the earlier stages of the project.
  • Build advocacy: Create a low fidelity ‘prototype’ of your concept and use it to demonstrate your vision to everyone in your organisation – either face to face, via a recorded talk, web conference, or similar.
  • Gap analysis: To act on your vision you need people who are capable, technologies that are fit for purpose, and attitudes, which will foster innovation. Your vision is linked to strategic goals, you’re starting to get people’s buy-in, you now need to understand the difference between where you are now and where you want to get to.
  • Define your initial roadmap: The part that everyone is scared of – the roadmap – can be defined broadly in a single day with the right focus and facilitation. If it takes longer than that, it’s probably getting too detailed for an initial roadmap.
  1. Winning hearts and minds

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.

While there may still be a long way for many B2B organisations to go in demystifying digital transformation, with the right understanding, approach and leadership, B2B businesses can be steered into culture of continuous optimisation and improvement that will enable them to drive change and deliver value. 

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