In recent years CEOs have commonly handed off digital to CIOs or have hired Chief Digital Officers to own the digital realm. But as veteran CIO Larry Bonfante wrote in a recent piece for Heller Search Associates, they’ve got it all wrong. For every company trying to transform into a digital enterprise there likely is a misunderstanding of what digital is and the right strategic approach for embracing it.

According to Bonfante, digital isn’t a “thing.” It doesn’t strictly belong in IT or marketing. It’s not a department. It isn’t something to hand off to developers. And, digital is not a job title.

Instead, says Bonfante, “Digital is a way of doing business that leverages technologies such as mobile apps, big data, analytics, websites, and social media to create a deeper more personalized level of engagement with the ultimate consumers of a company’s products and services. It’s not a technology thing or a marketing thing, it’s a business thing!”

Take a moment and let that soak in. This is a radical notion that few companies have yet to adopt so far. Even those at some of the largest, best-known global companies. Case in point: In January 2017, Deutsche Bank CEO John Cryan said that when it comes to digital, “We haven’t been innovative other than in delivery channels.”  

But CXO understanding that digital impacts the entire business is evolving. As IDC FutureScape noted in its Worldwide IT Industry 2017 Predictions, over the next several years, digital transformation efforts will evolve from being a special initiative, project, or business unit to an organizational transformation into being “digital native.”

That means everyone in the C-suite, will make decisions and take actions in the context of digital because the digital economy touches everything, from leadership and revenue growth, to customer engagement, operational efficiency, and workforce agility.

From a CXO perspective, their challenges and responsibilities will be compounding. Bonfante notes, “Digital requires the business acumen, sales acumen, technology acumen, financial acumen, and marketing acumen of the entire C-suite.”

For you, a vendor selling products and services, the implications are equally enormous. If you’ve strictly been courting the people in the CIO’s office you need to branch out. Technology impacts every CXO or LOB leader, and if they aren’t doing the actual signing off on deals, they are influencers.

While that realization may feel overwhelming, consider this, though. With thorough knowledge about the CXO, the business, and their priorities, you have the potential to guide them through terrain they may be unfamiliar with. CIOs may be conversant in areas of the technology behind digital. So may CMOs and even some CEOs. But many CXOs across the organization may feel like deer caught in the headlights. They know they need to make smart tech decisions that align with the business but they don’t have the expertise. Doing research, asking questions (and really listening to answers), then offering suggestions based on your expertise that address their goals can turn you into a valued partner.

This is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. You can’t just go in with a broad overview of the business. Each CXO faces a unique set of challenges based on their responsibilities. But armed with the right insights, you are launched into the unique position of being able to delve into issues impacting each one and piece together a holistic view of that company’s digital transformation needs. You can then help them determine viable options that support both their specific goals and the overall organizational goals.

If digital is “owned” by everyone, if the company’s mandate is truly end-to-end digital transformation, then your mandate, in turn, is to be attuned to the issues facing each of your prospect’s CXOs. They’re going to need your help.


Sharon Gillenwater is the founder and editor-in-chief of Boardroom Insiders, which maintains an extensive database of the most in-depth executive profiles on the market, from Fortune 500 companies to independent non-profits, to help sales and marketing professionals build deeper relationships and close more deals with clients. Gillenwater is a long-time marketing consultant with expertise in marketing strategy, account-based marketing, and CXO engagement programs.