Published September 12th, 2016 by

The Problem With Digital “Strategies” and How to Fix Them

Over the last few weeks I have had the opportunity to be interviewed for several blogs and publications about the state of B2B marketing. During these interviews, I am asked “what are some of the biggest challenges marketers are facing today?”  It is a great question and while I have my answers and do believe responding to the age of the digital buyer is one of the biggest, I was glad to see Deloitte and MIT Sloan Management Review recently published a study that provides insight into just how big a challenge this is for organizations.

While the study took a look at the initiatives organizations are taking to implement digital strategies, it also showed just how unprepared companies are in response to our digital buyers.  There is also a resounding frustration that seems to exist among personnel at the lack of forward movement by their organizations to embrace a digital mindset.

Furthermore, business executives are compounding the negative impact of this unpreparedness in the way they are responding (or not responding), and according to the study, have shown that they are having a hard time grasping the enormity of the digital challenge in front of them.

It’s Not About the Technology!

When looking deeper into the study, it shows that barely half (52%) of executives agree that their companies have a clear and coherent digital strategy. The report goes onto state that just 52% of those surveyed say their leadership has the sufficient knowledge and ability to lead a successful digital strategy, and when asked about the employees’ ability to do the same, that number drops to 43%.

Source: MITSloan Management Review

Source: MITSloan Management Review

So beyond a lack of skills and capabilities to respond to the digital disruption, what is the problem? 44% of business executive are making technology the focal point of digital disruption.

While technology has definitely enabled the disruption, in and of itself, it has not disrupted anything.  What executives need to understand (and once they do perhaps more than 52% will be equipped to manage more effectively) is that our buyers and customers are the cause for the digital disruption.  While you could maybe argue that they are using technology to do so, the bottom line is we do not market and sell to technology; we market and sell to our buyers and customers and therefore we have to understand their digital body language and behaviors and use technology to enable that strategic, buyer-centric approach.

It is no secret that buyers today have been highly disruptive in the way they interact with their vendors, how they purchase and how they consume information on a day-to-day basis.  This kind of buyer/digital disruption is what has caught business leaders (including CMOs and Heads of Sales) rather flatfooted.  However, if they continue to look at this solely as responding to technology or acquiring more technology as the foundational element to respond, they will be doomed to fail.  Technology can certainly enable organizations to be more attuned to their digitally sophisticated customers, but without a core digital, buyer-centered strategy it will yield little in return.

Connecting the Dots Between Change and Digital Initiatives and Goals

More than 90% of the respondents to the survey agreed that improving the customer experience and customer engagement were objectives of their digital strategy.  As it should be! In fact, this focus outweighed the objectives of increasing innovation and fundamentally transforming their business process or models and this is where executives begin to go off course.

The reality is that you cannot provide a better customer experience and improve on customer engagement without innovation. And in order to drive innovation, there must be change. So while executives are ranking innovation and change lower on their priority list, they are unwittingly missing the big picture all together and failing to realize it is not an either/or scenario, but an if/then approach they must take.

Failing to realize how all of these areas are interconnected and core to advancing in overall digital maturity will only serve as an obstacle in achieving an organization’s digital goals.

As much as we may want the digital transformation in our organizations to be about technology, at its core it is about change management and the need to drive that change starting with an organization’s culture.  The most mature executives get this point as evidenced by the responses in the report that show the following:

  • Creating an effective digital culture is an intentional effort with nearly 80% of maturing organizations engaged in efforts to bolster risk taking, agility and collaboration as opposed with the only 23% of less mature organizations who are doing so
  • Soft skills trump knowledge when it comes to digital transformation: When asked what skills are needed, only 18% stated technology skills as tops, while other executives talked about having a transformative vision (22%), being a forward thinker (20%) and having a change oriented mindset (18%)

Until executives begin to view the whole picture and understand that the foundation to driving digital transformation is change, they will continue to be stuck in a rut and see very little advancement in their initiatives.

You Have to Equip Your People If You Want to Transform

I speak with marketers and marketing leaders all the time who feel hamstrung in the ability to do their jobs effectively.  The list of strategic initiatives grows (as does pressure from the CEO), but the opportunity to equip their personnel and/or expand the team is limited and executives in turn wonder why marketing is so ineffective?

Within this kind of environment, not only will organizations fail to transform, they will lose the personnel they already have.  According to the study, of those who are part of companies who are in the early stages of digital development or low digitally mature organizations, 50% of the personnel are ready to walk out the door within three years. This kind of exodus among organizations that are already challenged to respond to the digital age could literally cripple them and set them back several years more as they seek to back-fill these positions. All the while their customers and buyers will keep on advancing.

If business executives truly want their marketing teams to be proactive in driving digital transformation, they must acquire the right talent and invest in the necessary skills development of their current personnel. Not doing so is just negligence and will only serve to frustrate their personnel.  This is evidenced by the 70% of respondents who agreed that they expect their organization to help them develop the needed skills to thrive in a digital environment.  Investing in digital maturity and transformation means investing in your people.

Change Must Start Now

Perhaps one of the most compelling parts of the study was the question that asked, “Do you expect demand for your organization’s core products or services to increase or decrease because of digital trends over the next three years?” In response, 68% said they expect an increase or significant increase. What more do you need to motivate you to invest in digital transformation?

However, 68% also stated that in response to digital transformation they expect their organizations to “develop new core business lines” in response to digital transformation.  This makes no sense!

If as a company you are struggling to transform to the digital age, you lack the skills and people to respond to digital disruption and culturally you are adverse to change, how is developing a new line of business going to make things any easier?

With buyers being more digitally savvy and controlling the buying process and showing more discretion on how they interact with vendors, just because you build it does not necessarily mean they will come.

Rather than trying to develop new core products and services, organizations would be better served to invest in overhauling their digital approach and ensuring they are equipped for the very near and not so near future. Those who are not taking these steps are only setting themselves up for failure and putting their organizations in peril of being left behind.

We live in exciting times.  The wave of technology and the digital posture and sophistication of our customers is unparalleled and it provides business executives and marketers with an opportunity to respond in ways that demand risk, new solutions and dare I use the overused phrase “out-of-the box” thinking.

Employees want to work for such forward thinking organizations and not for businesses that are stuck in the stone age of 1980’s marketing.  When asked how important it was that they work for an organization that is digitally enabled or a digital leader, 77% of respondents stated that it was either important or very important. (Hello recruiting tool!)

The good news is that 50% of those who responded stated that they believe their companies are taking the necessary steps to foster change and innovation. The other 50% may just be those who are determined to leave their respective companies over the next 36 months.

While the need for digital transformation is apparent, what is equally apparent and unthinkable is organizations that are failing to respond to the disruption that is all around us.  The business landscape is full of stories of once proud companies – Blockbuster, Borders Books, Circuit City — who failed to notice the changes and disruptions around them or even worse, stuck their heads in the proverbial sands in hopes things would pass.  Rather than repeat their history, business leaders should use it as a teacher and reprioritize their investment strategy, as the digital buyer and landscape will only continue to grow more complex and sophisticated over time, causing even more disruption.  The truth is, the longer organizations wait, the harder it will be to play catch-up and sooner or later, as those companies mentioned earlier learned, it will be too late.

Carlos Hidalgo

Carlos Hidalgo

CEO and Principal at ANNUITAS
Carlos is an innovative thought-leader with over 20 years’ experience as a B2B marketing practitioner and industry visionary. Carlos is widely recognized for his expertise in strategic integrated marketing, Demand Process, Demand Transformation℠ and marketing automation. As CEO and Principal of ANNUITAS, Carlos drives strategy and leads core practice teams to Transform Demand℠ for enterprise clients globally. Carlos has been named one of the 50 Most Influential People in Sales Lead Management for the last five years and was named as a Who’s Who in BtoB Marketing in 2011 and 2012. Prior to ANNUITAS Carlos was responsible for global SMB marketing at BMC Software and held a similar role at McAfee. Carlos received his bachelor’s degree in business communications from Cedarville University in Ohio.
Carlos Hidalgo

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