Embrace Digital Disruption or Face Extinction

by / Jul 31, 2020

“In these unprecedented times…” We’ve all heard that phrase so often lately it’s become a trope. And yet, it’s true. The circumstances and experiences of the last few months are unprecedented. But now it’s up to us marketers to decide how we move forward — the reopening, the recovery, the rebound. Business-wise, it’s time to embrace digital disruption or face extinction.

It’s clear we can’t just go back to business as usual. The marketing and sales cycle is under stress — from event marketing, to face-to-face sales meetings, to product demos. Digital transformation is how we reimagine customer conversations to be scalable and available, anywhere and anytime.

As B2B marketers, we have a choice to make. Disrupt or be disrupted. For those already down the path to digital transformation, it’s time to accelerate. If you’ve just been dipping your toes in, it’s time to jump in with both feet. Wherever you are, I recommend focusing on three key elements:

1. THE PLATFORM

Technologies like content management systems, marketing automation platforms, CRMs and MRMs can provide tremendous advances in how you market to your customers through better personalization, behavior-based marketing and data-driven decisions. They enable what I call the “long conversation” — progressively refining content over a nurture cycle to fit customer needs.

2. THE PRODUCT

By “product,” I don’t mean the products you sell. I mean custom web and mobile applications that facilitate the “deep conversation” — the intense back-and-forth with customers or prospects that quickly dials into what they need.

Buyers hunger for ways to self-serve throughout the research and selection process. They want to guide themselves further along the buying journey than the platform can take them. To give your customers what they want and pull ahead of your competitors, you’ll need more than any off-the-shelf software can provide. You need a custom product that facilitates deep conversation, whether that’s ROI evaluation, product selection or value-added consulting about the customer’s processes.

3. THE PLAN

The plan is often most focused on technology selection and implementation roadmaps. While those things are certainly important, they’re only the start toward digital disruption.

Digital transformation is a strategy, not just a tool you can buy or build. To enact that strategy, you’ll need to make organizational shifts in culture, priorities and approach that reshape how your company thinks about new business development and marketing investments. Digital transformation is as much like product management as marketing. That pivot to longer horizons of ROI, building momentum that starts small and gets big, and refinement of the tool set and implementations doesn’t always square with the OpEx view of marketing investment. But it’s critical. Initial implementations just give you the foundation. It’s the ongoing refinement that gives you traction and accumulates momentum and results.

Escaping the Pull of “Business as Usual”

One of the most challenging parts of any digital transformation is the fact that it needs to happen alongside the tried-and-true operational, sales and marketing processes that grew your business to where it is today. They’re the strength and grit that make it possible for you to even think about what’s next.

And these things we’re comfortable with have an incredible gravitational pull. It takes all of our resources just to keep that engine running. So the idea of intentional digital disruption for something completely unproven can feel like a conflict of interest. Diverting time and intention to an idea that’s just hatching is scary. But it’s exactly what you need to do. After all, if you don’t do it, someone else less invested in the existing model will.

How to Embrace Digital Disruption

Get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Don’t try to minimize the disruption to your existing business processes. The disruption IS the point. Certainly, you need to make sure that you can continue to sell and support customers as you shift, but in the end, you’re looking for a TRANSFORMATION, not a minor shift in what you’re doing.

Embrace the competition. I don’t mean the other businesses you compete with in your market. I mean that you need to embrace the competition within your organization. Digital transformation can falter when it’s made to complement existing revenue streams. Rather than only being willing to adopt options that will supplement your existing approach without cannibalizing anything, you need to set up the organization to embrace the fact that this new approach IS allowed to compete and you WANT it to overcome your existing approach.

Create structural integrity. Even the most well-intentioned organizations that are aligned on digital transformation objectives can get sidelined by the tyranny of the urgent. To make sure your team doesn’t dilute the promise of digital transformation by getting pulled into current needs and just using technology to solve for business as usual in a new way, you need to carve out the resources and focus time to do it right. Break down the organizational structure to allow inventors a place to focus on creating true digital disruption and transformation vs. window dressing on your existing approach.

Trust and believe. The list of small startups that have overtaken established businesses with their disruptive technology is seemingly never-ending. It seems counterintuitive. How can they do that when the established business has more resources and market pull? The short answer: they trusted and they believed. Established businesses often look at new approaches as too risky and unable to compete with their established gorillas. So they don’t give the time, resources or investment to make it come to life. Startups believe in the promise of what they’re building. They know that even if it looks small now, if they trust and invest in what they’re building, it can become a T-Rex that can eat the competition. You need to believe that you’re building a T-Rex that may eat your gorilla one day … and be OK with that.

Aim for a strike. Many digital transformations falter because organizations try to transform everything at once, for all audiences and stakeholders. A better strategy is to aim for a strike … in bowling. To borrow a phrase from author Geoffrey Moore, you want to employ a bowling pin strategy. Your first pin is your first goal. Find the best opportunity within your customer base where digital transformation can have the biggest bang for your buck, and then solve for that. Then move to the next adjacent market or segment where 60–80% of what you just did is still applicable, and solve for that. One by one, you’ll be knocking down pins and gaining momentum until you’ve created substantive impact on your customers and your business.

To go deeper on the fundamental mindset shifts that can lead to true digital disruption and transformation, I highly recommend reading Geoffrey Moore’s books “Escape Velocity” and “Crossing the Chasm.” And if you’d like to discuss your digital transformation challenges, let’s talk and see if my team and I can help you get down the disruption path faster.

Kevin Coe

Partner & Senior Vice President of Digital, The Mx Group

Kevin oversees the digital development practice at The Mx Group and has been instrumental in the growth of the company’s digital and technology service offerings. Under his guidance, The Mx Group develops and implements hundreds of digital and custom applications each year for clients ranging from mid-size to enterprise. As an agency leader, he works to challenge the status quo and develop new ideas that incorporate technology to guarantee outstanding customer experiences. His digital expertise is wide-ranging, and includes the strategic development and management of global websites, e-commerce solutions and ERP integrations.