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Digital Transformation: Set Expectations But Deliver Experiences

Within the digital transformation realm, the use cases out in the marketplace for platforms and services are so outlandish that I often find most of my time tempering impressionable clients. If you’ve never worked at an enterprise software company or service provider, you should understand how the process works. 

While working on hundreds or even thousands of clients, an account manager, support representative, or business development representative will come across a company or campaign that delivered exceptionally well. The news floats immediately through internal meetings and ultimately makes it to a marketer’s inbox, where they immediately interview the client, gain permission, and write up a use case on how their software or implementation enabled the transformation.

It’s neither untrue nor false advertising, but it’s also not a typical scenario. Unfortunately, while the small print may declare such, the use case is widely promoted, shared, and then cited with every new prospect. Expectations are being set that the client has finally found their silver bullet. Unfortunately, with a prospect that may not be savvy, the use case is enough to sway their purchase decision. They sign, and the trouble begins.

Every company has a combination of factors that will impact its digital transformation success — budget, timeline, people, consultants, integration capabilities, features, migration, end-customer, competitive landscape, economy…the list goes on and on. I tend to focus on the big three that can be controlled within a company to some extent: people, processes, and platforms.

More often than not, my consultants are brought in after the sale is complete and the client is looking to migrate, implement or integrate the platform. It’s often a delicate balance of tempering expectations and still providing hope that the purchase decision was an appropriate one. At times, we see customers invest in platforms that are incapable. Other times, we see customers invest in platforms that can accommodate anything, but the cost to do so is beyond their budgets. 

Setting Client Expectations

Setting expectations isn’t a matter of disillusioning the client on their digital transformation. Setting expectations is almost always asking the client the right questions and allowing them to come to their own realization of how challenging the transformation will be. It’s also important to let the client know what derails projects — from employee turnover, third-party delays, and bureaucratic impediments, to decisions, seasonality that impacts resource availability, etc.

Expectations can be set with a prospect by always qualifying the expectation. For example, the project timeline is expected to take X months. This is immediately followed by the assumptions on the resources necessary to make that timeline become a reality. Of course, we leave room in timelines for expected delays. However, you can’t always accommodate every possibility.

A few examples from a current implementation:

  • In the migration phase, a key employee left because their expertise was on the original platform and they had no interest in learning a new platform. They moved to a company where they could continue working on the platform they were certified and familiar with.
  • In the implementation phase, the staff was overworked due to some additional demands and could not meet their deadlines for the project.
  • In the operational phase, the staff never had the time to do basic training, never scheduled it, and then was expected to deliver.

Each of these challenges had a dramatic impact on the delivery of the overall project. It easily could have derailed the implementation if it weren’t for our expertise in assisting companies like this over the last two decades.

Delivering Experiences

While expectations had to be reset, the transformation can still be successful by delivering a superior experience. Consumers and businesses alike will forgive missed expectations, but they won’t forgive a poor experience. Delivering an experience is a critical aspect of every company’s products and services. It’s arguably the biggest between the success and failure of a business. Don’t believe me?

The average company with annual revenues of $1 billion can expect to earn an additional $700 million within three years of investing in customer experience. And SaaS platforms can expect to increase revenue by $1 billion.

Temkin Group

So, just as we define assumptions on our project success and timeline, as a partner in our clients’ success, we also have to ask ourselves: How we will respond when the assumptions made fall short?

  • If key employees are lost during the transformation, do we have a plan to bring in additional resources and experts who can assist?
  • If the staff is overworked, have we provided the client with a plan where we can assume more of the operational roles to alleviate the pressure on their internal employees?
  • If the staff goes without training, can we identify the key process resources internally and do rapid one-to-one training to get them capable? Or could we even augment our own staff by recruiting and training new employees for their company on their implementation?
  • Can we reprioritize deliverables and schedules to increase internal automation capabilities to reduce the workload internally? Sometimes the solution may even be purchasing a third-party tool to assist in the migration process.

Communication Is Critical

73 percent of enterprises failed to provide any business value whatsoever from their digital transformation efforts, and 78 percent failed to meet their business objectives.

Everest Group

Not meeting expectations is always going to be an issue — transformation is challenging.

In any scenario, communication and transparency between the vendor, the consultant and the company are absolutely critical. While we document all exceptions and communicate challenges transparently to the client, we also provide them with alternative solutions. At times, those may not cost anything as we shift deliverables or resources. At other times, we communicate the additional cost. 

Missed expectations can be overcome by delivering experiences.

Note: This article first appeared on Forbes.

Douglas Karr

Douglas Karr is CMO of OpenINSIGHTS and the founder of the Martech Zone. Douglas has helped dozens of successful MarTech startups, has assisted in the due diligence of over $5 bil in Martech acquisitions and investments, and continues to assist companies in implementing and automating their sales and marketing strategies. Douglas is an internationally recognized digital transformation and MarTech expert and speaker. Douglas is also a published author of a Dummie's guide and a business leadership book.

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