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Every year brings a new set of business buzzwords. Last year we reached out, touched base, circled back, disrupted, doubled down, and grabbed the low-hanging fruit. 

This year, as we lean in to the new normal, everyone’s pivoting, getting agile, going cloud-based, bringing forward their digital transformation agendas and leveraging their sales content strategies. 

But what do these things actually mean, and should you be doing them, too? 

In this article, we’ll take a deep dive (sorry, couldn’t resist) into the subject of digital transformation. 

We’ll give you a 4-point strategy, or framework, that you can use to:  

  • decide what kinds of new software to invest in and;
  • ensure a successful roll-out. 

This digital transformation strategy can be used to evaluate your software needs in any area of your business. 

Since it’s currently a hot topic, we are going to use sales content as an example, as we work through each of the 4-points of the framework. 

Let’s start with some definitions.

What is a sales content strategy?

Sales content includes all of the assets that help you sell your product or service. 

It can include published literature such as brochures and sales decks, as well as online content like product landing pages, thought leadership articles, videos and social media posts. 

A sales content strategy is simply a plan of how you’ll use the content you create, in an engaging, cohesive way, to influence sales. 

In the past, most sales literature took the form of a PDF or PowerPoint deck. 

New and emerging technology, such as digital proposal software, is causing enterprise firms to review their sales content strategy, in a bid to keep pace with the times. 

This brings us to the term, ‘digital transformation’. 

What does digital transformation actually mean?

Digital transformation is the act of replacing manual processes with digital ones, or replacing older digital systems with newer ones. 

As a concept, it is far from new. 

Growing up in London, I distinctly remember the first personal computer arriving at my school in the early 80’s. It was a Sinclair Spectrum with a range of just 8 colors, but to us kids it was magical! Overnight, it changed the way we interacted, learned and played; the very definition of digital transformation. 

Fast forward 40 years and the digital revolution has permeated every part of our lives, from our social interactions to our business transactions. Technology continues to evolve and we continue to find new and innovative uses for it. 

Billions of dollars are spent on digital solutions each year. And yet, according to McKinsey, a staggering 70% of transformation programs fail to reach their stated goals. 

Ouch. So why do so many digital transformation programs fail? 

The chances are, it’s because there was a lack of thought in one of more of the four steps we’ll be discussing below (and, spoiler alert, it’s probably Step four).  

Four steps to a successful digital transformation strategy

Ok, let’s get started. 

Because there are so many exciting technologies out there, it’s easy to be seduced into thinking one of them might just be the silver bullet that will really move the needle for your firm. (Ok, I’ll stop with the annoying business buzzwords, now.) 

So how do you decide what to invest in? And how do you ensure that your purchase is going to lead to the right result? 

Answer – you don’t start with the tech at all. 

Here is the golden rule. Technology should support your strategic objectives, customer proposition, operational processes and company culture, not determine them. 

A good digital transformation strategy will consist of four key elements: 

  1. Strategic focus 
  2. Customer focus 
  3. Operational focus 
  4. Cultural focus 

Let’s work through each of these to look at how you might evaluate the need for an upgrade to your sales content strategy. 

1. Strategic focus – What’s it all for?

Your digital transformation plan should seek to solve one or more of the following strategic challenges: 

  • To increase revenue 
  • To decrease costs 
  • To improve efficiency 
  • To reduce risk 

Start by articulating which of these apply and get really clear on the problems you are trying to solve.

  • Increase revenue – in which department or distribution channel? By how much? By when? 
  • Decrease costs – in which cost or profit center? By how much? By when? 
  • Improve efficiency – in which processes? To what end? 
  • Reduce risk – what kinds of risks and impacts are we talking about? 

Once you have outlined the problems, it’s much easier to define clear strategic objectives. For example, in the case of your sales content strategy, your objectives might be: 

  • To increase revenue in the pursuits team by 50%, year on year, by the end of 2021. 
  • To take 20% off the cost base for the pursuits team in the new fiscal year.
  • To be able to respond to RFPs within 3 days rather than 7 days. 
  • To demonstrate our digital capabilities to our customers, to differentiate ourselves from our closest competitor. 

Now you have your high level objectives front and center, it’s time to think about your customer proposition. 

Being clear on the strategic focus helps you stay on track.

2. Customer focus – Surprise and delight

The second step in a good digital transformation project is to put yourself in your customer’s shoes. 

Most firms think of the customer from their own perspective and so it’s common to see objectives like: 

  • Increase brand recognition and loyalty 
  • Increased traffic to our marketing site and landing pages 
  • Increase sales conversions 
  • Grow the community of followers on social media

These are all great aspirations, but what’s in it for the customer? Consider questions like: 

  • How will a makeover of our sales content strategy actually help our customers? 
  • How will their customer experience improve? 
  • What feedback have we received from them on our current processes? 

By considering their perspective, you’ll be able to set some customer-focused objectives for your project. If you’re struggling to do this, try writing them as stories, by finishing the following sentence:  

As a customer I want:

  • Timely and relevant information at each stage of the buying process.
  • Information presented visually to make it easier to understand. 
  • A single, central place I can go to, where all the important information is stored.  

The more you can narrow down your objectives and those of your customer, the easier it will be to determine whether a digital solution is needed and if so, which kind. 

3. Operational focus – Think processes not systems

The third step in creating an effective digital transformation strategy is to look at your operational processes. 

Notice, we are still not talking about software at this stage!  Questions to ask yourself include: 

  • What processes are working well and which need to be improved? 
  • How will improved processes help us deliver on our strategic objectives and / or our customer proposition?
  • Which departments will need to be involved in setting up any new processes?
  • Which departments will maintain them once they are up and running?
  • What kind of training will we need to provide? 
  • How will we know the new processes are working? What will we measure? What data will we need for that?  

For example, in Step 2 we identified a need to present our customers with information in a visual format. Things to consider might therefore include: 

  • We’ll need the in-house design team to create the visuals 
  • We’ll need the compliance teams to check the visuals meet regulatory and brand standards before they’re published 
  • We’ll need the marketing team to make last minute adjustments to copy and also distribute the visuals to prospective customers 
  • We’ll need to provide training to the marketing team to ensure they have the skills to administer the assets we create 
  • We’ll want to measure the change in lead numbers, sales conversion rates and average sale values
  • We’ll need the business analysts to set up the relevant reporting to ensure we can track progress. 

Resist the temptation to drift into discussion with regard to new systems or solutions at this stage. Focus instead on the processes you need to upgrade and the teams needed to operate them. 

When you’re done, it’s time to consider the most important ingredient of all. The one that will make or break the success of any digital transformation project. Your people. 

4. Cultural focus – the key ingredient

Several years ago, I was called in to help a financial services company expand its business. 

Six months prior, the company had invested tens of thousands of dollars in a revolutionary sales content software that claimed to pinpoint a customer’s deepest emotional drivers for purchasing financial products such as insurance and investments. It would then generate a report, using cleverly targeted keywords, to convince the customer to buy. 

The software company claimed that anyone using the system could emulate the most skilled salesperson in the company and achieve the exact same sales quotas. Imagine – every member of your sales team being able to perform to the same standard as your very best! 

So did it work? No. 

Within a few months of implementation, sales had dwindled to almost nothing and more than half of the national sales team had left the company. 

I came in to steady the ship and here is what I found. 

  • Only a handful of the team had been consulted on the purchase of this software before the senior leadership went ahead and bought it. All had counseled against it. 
  • The team prided itself on its personal service and relationship building. This automated system took away their ability to have a real conversation with their clients and to build trust. 
  • Using the system took twice as long to conduct a fact-finding call as before, as the client had to go through a screening call, fill out the online questionnaire and receive the automated report before they could talk to a human. This caused several customers to drop out of the process before the end. 
  • And perhaps the most depressing (albeit amusing, in hindsight) finding was this: 98% of the 5,000 customers who went through the process were apparently looking for “peace of mind” and “value for money” as their key emotional drivers for purchasing financial planning products. You don’t say! 

The moral(s) of this story?

  1. When considering a digital transformation, whether it relates to your sales content strategy or any other part of your business, consult widely, consult early and consult often. 
  1. The success or failure of any new software will depend on its adoption by your people, so ensure they have a say, early on. Make sure they have the bigger picture, know the objectives and have a chance to discuss and evaluate options before you commit.
  1. Don’t lose what is good about your current offering in the race to automate things. You’ve heard the old adage that ‘people buy people’ and it’s as true today as it ever was. 
  1. And if something looks too good to be true, it probably is!

It’s time for your digital transformation

Ok, let’s recap: 

  • Step 1 – identify the strategic objectives that are driving the need for a digital upgrade to your sales content strategy.  
  • Step 2 – look at things from a customer perspective, to make sure their needs are aligned with your own. 
  • Step 3 – think about the departments that would need to be involved if you make changes, and the processes that might be affected. 
  • Step 4 – consider the key people who would need to be involved and begin to consult with them on potential solutions as early as possible. 

By going through the 4-step digital transformation framework above, you’ll end up with a much better idea of the kind of software you might need to help solve a particular problem.  

It will also help you build a compelling business case, if you need to seek budget approval for any new purchase. 

You can then head to Silicon Valley with a clearly defined shopping list, safe in the knowledge that you have a team committed to the success of whatever digital solution you purchase. 

Happy shopping! 

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