Businesses in the UK today are very focused on bringing digital tools and tech into the heart of their processes.
You are a brave Marketing or Operations Director if you say that digital transformation is not at the heart of your 12, 24, or 36 month plan.
The benefits of embracing digital are observed everywhere: customers want to browse your products online, buy them online, find your store online, have their questions answered through prompt emails and chatbots, have their returns handled online, and so on.
And there’s plenty of tech vendors selling the dream – tech that enables and automates these processes – helping you to target customers with messages and offers tailored to their needs without any messy set-up requirements, easy to operate, cheaper-faster-better, and pain-free.
Sounds familiar…yet very rarely turns out like that, right? This is because you have to build your digital tech around the way your organisation works, not the other way around.
Less is more with technology, the focus is the customer journey
The reasons for disappointment in digital transformation projects are numerous, but at its core the problem tends to be the same – if you get to the stage where your people are supporting your tech instead of the other way around, you’re in trouble.
Many of our clients ask us for advice on their digital tools and data architecture and are frustrated that they have not obtained the benefits expected from their choice of Data Management Platform, or email service provider, or analytics package. Most often, the problem is not the tech, but the way that the tech has been configured (or not configured), compounded by the fact that the client has set up the tool in isolation from the other tools in their infrastructure. Buying new tools to replace and improve upon the tools’ already there is not the solution!
The solution comes from forensically focusing on identifying exactly what it is that the client needs to execute and configuring the tech for every use case. For large companies, this can require hundreds of use cases and data sets, and that can sound daunting. But that’s what’s required, for many reasons.
One specifically being it’s the law. GDPR requires all companies that hold customer data to have documented processes for the management and deployment of each customer interaction, by channel. To be compliant businesses need to painstakingly deconstruct and document the way they obtain, store, process and deploy their data in each use case anyway.
Another reason is that, whatever the martech salespeople say, the tools do not “seamlessly and automatically interface with your other tools”, or whatever other blasé statement they make to smooth the sale.
This type of mis-selling almost led to a disaster for an international client of ours embarking on a multi-million pound marketing transformation project. As we were specifying the solution, including tools and processes, our new client told us that one of the tools at the centre of their new process was being taken out of the scope, because they had been assured by the vendor that their tool would “set all the taxonomies for the data, and if anything changed, the tool would automatically ripple through all of the changes to the taxonomy…so we don’t think we need help with that”.
Fortunately, we had the experience with the tool and the communication skills to convince the client otherwise – the tool did none of those things and had no automated interface with the large number of data sources in the project. For the client, it was a near-miss; if we had accepted the claim of the vendor that the data would be set up and reconfigured automatically, the project would have been yet another digital white elephant, with everyone scratching their heads, asking what had gone wrong.
Businesses must re-think coordination and collaboration
The final ‘problem’ causing implementations to not go as planned is people. I like to say that any transformation project involves 30 percent of the work getting the tech set up right, and 70 percent “getting people to do things differently”. I’m not advocating that people’s processes and ways of working need to be radically reconfigured. The tools we use for digital marketing are not hard to use, and correctly configured, they should require little reskilling.
The core change that businesses need to make is around coordination: which means, getting people within and across teams to collaborate better, so that the business has a coordinated response to each customer interaction, rather than each team operating in its silo, sending emails, banners or coupons to solve each customer problem in isolation, because it is the only tool they have been given.
The key to success in deploying tools is for the business to be clear on the role for that tool and have a clear plan for how the data used by it will flow to and from other tools in the stack. You can be sure that you will be using different tools in a year’s time, so the instinct to make a decision that you can lock in for years to come is misguided.
You need a set of tools that remains flexible and focused on the tasks required, or you’ll soon find your infrastructure is out of date and not able to give your people the best available capabilities for serving customers. Tools should be just that – tools to do a job.
They should not define the job.