The first thing to remember about a digital transformation strategy is that your people and technology have to work together to be successful. The flashy buzzwords and marketing spin might blindside you into thinking you need a certain product, but your employees know what your business aims are. Your digital transformation strategy and the products and tools you adopt should be dictated by that knowledge and the people that are going to implement them.
What can a digital business transformation strategy do?
A digital strategy is critical for any SME today because it will make your daily operations faster, more efficient, and, therefore, cheaper.
Marketing and sales
In marketing and sales, your digital strategy will help you find customers where they live and speak their language using the styles of each platform they use, including email and social media. It makes any leads you generate easier to act on because your customers will tell you what they want, virtually hand-feeding you the means to turn engagement into sales.
Using tools like CRM and marketing automation software, you can also track customer interactions, so you'll have a much clearer idea of where opportunities are (or aren't). This shows you where you should apply resources at a very granular and real time level.
In areas like manufacturing or production, your digital strategy can help you design and prototype products and test them in virtual environments. Whether you’re building a spare part or a house, 3D design products from a company like Autodesk build the technical code behind the scenes as you find the best solution in the foreground. In the same way, cloud services can give you a secure silo to program, beta test, and deploy software.
Your digital strategy also offers the long-promised move away from a world drowning in paper, with systems as simple as a WordPress backend to a fully-fledged cloud logistics and warehousing function on AWS or Azure keeping track of inventory, orders, and delivery status.
Operations and finance
Accounting software like Quicken, Xero, or QuickBooks can seamlessly deliver revenue figures directly to your bank or tax agent for at-a-glance pictures of your financial health.
Better yet, all that data can be used quantitatively and provide immediate feedback, making your business strategy’s progress much clearer. Everything from marketing leads to financial accounts can be synthesized, shared, and analyzed using products from SAP and Salesforce. Cloud tools plug directly into any new service or platform you need to connect with, from product mentions on Instagram to your tax reporting software, automating much of the workflow and letting you avoid the time and cost of double handling data.
Why you should care about a digital strategy
The Japanese pop culture character Hello Kitty was a kids' cartoon until hip, wealthy Hollywood socialites made it a must-have brand, propelling sales into the stratosphere. The moral of the story? You never know what vast, untapped market is talking about you that you're blissfully unaware of.
If you don't find that market and act fast, a more responsive competitor who's plugged into the zeitgeist (or even just a new social platform) need only swoop in and steal that entire market share away from you.
To beat others to the punch, you need to be adaptable, which is the cornerstone of a good digital transformation. As a small business, you have an advantage because you can pivot quickly by identifying a new segment, using a new tool to go after it, or even hiring gig workers for particular and finite areas of expertise to help get you there.
But all that movement costs time and money, and with finite resources, you want to make sure you get the most for every dollar you spend.
Digital strategy 101
A million small business blog posts talk about digital strategy milestones, and many are fairly obvious, albeit vague. They say things like:
- improve customer service
- grow your customer base
- business expansion and maturity
- efficient quality control
To get to the heart of each of these, you need to think about the overall picture such goals add up to. In almost every case it will be this: you want to be nimble. Your market, your customers, and the tools and systems available to connect and engage with them are constantly shifting, appearing, and disappearing. You need to be able to move with them.
You'd be surprised how many successful businesses with seemingly extraordinary turnover operate with only a website and a handful of remote staff communicating via chat, Skype, or Zoom. Every step of the marketing and transaction is done online using distributed and automated means. That could be you, and here’s how.
1. Audit your current strategy
The first thing to ask yourself is what kind of technological shape your company is in right now. What do you still do on paper or using old records from ancient computer systems?
2. Map out your transformation goals
Sketch your transformation aims out from that starting point. Identify bottlenecks you have because you have to transpose records from one medium to another, or highlight online services you should be targeting for leads.
3. Do you software research
Research software, services, platforms, and systems through the prism of what you’ve found about your pain points. Make purchases (or field test free trials) of accounting packages, cloud computing services, CMS like Joomla or Drupal, and CRM systems like Oracle, Sage, or Netsuite based on the needs you’ve identified.
4. Create and track workflows
Use all that information to have a fixed – yet fully flexible – action plan around specific tasks, the staff they're assigned to, deadlines, lifecycles, and what you expect each step to achieve. Keep track of the time, man-hours, expenses, and any other factors they impose on your business as they progress.
5. Analyze the data
Establish an analysis phase for each component of your transformation and when you reach it. Compare the metrics you’ve collected about its deployment against the solution it was designed to fix. Did it? What could you have done better? Adjust, rinse, and repeat.
A cohesive whole
Different business units will also have different needs, yet they all need a smooth workflow that directs data through the company unimpeded.
Sales and marketing
It's not enough just to go and find the market, but you have to let it talk to you, too. Do the research to find where your customers are, the demographics they identify with, and the languages they speak. Don't know what TikTok is? Find out, or pay someone to teach you.
Dabble in new systems you don't understand — few of us can stay on top of the new channels that seem to pop up and capture the New Cool every other week — but keep it all quantifiable against your goals and budgets.
And don’t forget about the data your company already has. Whether they’re in your CRM, business intelligence software, or just scattered in spreadsheets across your network, datasets can be repurposed into common file formats and collected together to provide better insights.
Customer records, finances, inquiries-to-sales stats, and more can also be put together in any number of popular cloud services like Google Docs, Alibaba Cloud, or VMWare, many of which are completely automated to reveal an overall picture of your business.
The digital strategy for making your product is about management and support systems that do most of the initial work setting up a client, project, sale, or product’s records automatically. This automation adds time back into your day, so you can focus on improving current products and ideating new ones, what you might consider your 'real' work.
These changes can be as simple as filing assets properly using established naming conventions, or you can implement larger systems that funnel an order into your hands, set up the necessary infrastructure, and then automatically prepare it for delivery, payment, and/or archiving.
Admin and back office
Revenue, customer profiles, and employee engagement metrics will originate from several different platforms, including your bank, social media mentions, and HR software. The software and methods you choose need to integrate directly or with APIs to keep information flowing seamlessly through your pipeline.
Your digital transformation strategy should make it easier to view hiring statistics and workflows, highlighting departments that may need more staff to be efficient. The data can also provide information on your operating costs, helping you identify problem areas and increase your revenue.
It’s time to create your own digital transformation strategy
Plenty of born-digital companies are already going after your niche, and they have the advantage of being built on the tools you need to catch up with them. What are you waiting for? With the right digital strategy and software, you can make your business more adaptable to the needs of your customers.