Chapter 3: How to Digitally Transform Your Business

A digital transformation is a complete business transformation. It’s crucial to keep this in mind if you’re seriously considering transforming your business. It’s not just about updating IT systems and apps. It’s a cultural shift, and a reimagining of all of your company’s processes and ways of doing things.

As we said previously, small businesses — even those just getting off the ground — can leverage a digital transformation mindset to build digital first into their company culture. What better way to imagine how digital innovation can benefit customers than by being a digital native yourself in all aspects of growing and running a business?

Before we get into how to build a framework for your digital transformation, let’s first go through some of the signs that your business is, in fact, in need of transforming.

Signs that a business needs a digital transformation.

Signs that your business is in need of a digital transformation can appear across different parts of your organization. They may not scream “It’s time to go digital!” or “Why aren’t you on Instagram?” Instead, they could manifest as a diverse set of business problems.

If one or more of the items on our checklist rings true, it might be time to think seriously about developing a digital transformation strategy.

  • You’re not getting the referrals that you used to get. More and more referrals are now shared online, via social media, apps, email, and messaging. If your business doesn’t have a strong, easy-to-share digital presence, you could be missing out on referrals.
  • Repeat business isn’t repeating like it used to. Customers not coming back to do business with you again isn’t necessarily a sign that your products and services aren’t measuring up. Losing repeat business could be due to competitors’ promotions, lack of follow-up communication on your part, or any number of other reasons. A digital transformation of your messaging strategy could shed light on why your repeats have been dwindling.
  • Tried-and-true promotions are no longer generating leads. Why aren’t your killer promotions effective any more? Are you measuring their impact? It’s hard to pinpoint the impact of print campaigns, and even last year’s best digital strategies may no longer be effective. If your promotions aren’t bringing in leads, it may be time for a new, bottom-up approach to marketing.
  • Cross-departmental complaints are mounting about a lack of collaboration and information sharing, teams operating in silos, and so on. The idea that sales and marketing just don’t get along has gone the way of the dinosaurs. Collaboration is the operative word in today’s progressive business cultures, and getting your data out of silos and in front of whoever needs it is key. At the core of every digital foundation is a plan to make business data accessible and useful across departments.
  • Your technology systems feel old — employees are asking for features they’re used to from consumer apps. Spreadsheets are great, but you shouldn’t be using them for everything. Modern business apps that serve specific needs, integrate with one another for data sharing, and offer user-friendly experiences across desktop and mobile are where it’s at. If your current technology doesn’t offer employees most, if not all, of the above, maybe it’s time to look at a technology platform that can.

Digging past the surface to understand the root causes of these problems often leads to the realization that you don’t have the proper visibility into business data necessary to make good decisions. Many SMBs are built on a patchwork of applications that don’t talk to each other. Fixing your technology infrastructure to facilitate sharing and analyzing data across your business is a key step toward better, more informed decision-making.

A digital transformation strategy is a business transformation strategy.

Remember that just as digital transformations are about business first, and digital second, problems with your business data may be signals to look more closely at how your company is doing business generally. Laurie McCabe, Co-Founder and Partner at SMB Group, said it well: “In fact, it's usually situations like these that make you realize you don't have great visibility into your own business data or, even worse, have lost touch with what your customers want and need.”

If you’re seeing red flags and realizing that your business data isn’t centralized, accessible, and working for you, what’s next? It’s time to craft a digital transformation strategy.

How small business leaders can think about a digital transformation strategy.

Start with an internal assessment to identify gaps, problems, and areas where you may experience difficulties. What’s your biggest problem? What’s the key to your survival? For very small and very new businesses, the answers may be short and sweet: We need customers and sales. We need a few key processes and systems we can run with. It’s important to involve everyone at your company. All will be part of your digital transformation over time, and you may have more stakeholders than you think.

Even if your company is small and new, and the path to digital transformation seems clear now, remember that you’re building for the future. And future you will be bigger. Whether that means more employees, more revenue, or both, your business will grow. Flexibility and the ability to stay nimble as your business evolves should be built right into your digital transformation strategy. Connecting with a Salesforce MVP online or in person can be a great — and free — resource as you start thinking about your small business digital transformation strategy.

Consider outside help in mapping a digital transformation strategy.

Working with consultants, partners, and tech vendors can be great for SMBs because they have the depth of experience and knowledge to help you figure out the best paths to success. Experienced partners have likely helped other companies in similar situations, and so can help you find the most direct paths to meaningful transformation. A great place to look for consulting partners is the consultants directory on the Salesforce AppExchange.

Many small business leaders hear the word “consultant” and instinctively flinch while reaching a hand to guard their wallets. Don’t assume that getting help is always too expensive — that’s simply not true. Many large companies offer free advice or trainings for SMBs, like Salesforce Trailhead. Beyond free offerings, there are all sorts of ways to get advice without spending a lot.

You don’t have to create your digital transformation roadmap alone.

Remember that the point of hiring or partnering with an external group to craft your digital transformation strategy is to draw upon their expertise. They bring something to the table that you don’t have — experience and industry expertise across many different clients — and can provide value and best practices. Your short-term investment in their time is designed to help your business reap bigger benefits over the long haul.

Tapping the right partner to consult on your transformation strategy lets you come up with a better plan than you could on your own, while also letting you stay focused on your core business. It will also help you avoid some of the rookie mistakes that inevitably happen when you go it alone.

Collaborate on technology decisions and investments when leading a digital transformation in your organization.

If you’re leading a digital transformation in your organization, keep this rule of thumb in mind as you consider decisions and investments: Be collaborative. If you have 10 employees, all 10 will be affected by the change, so you need to get them on board.

Don’t make decisions in a vacuum. The changes brought by digital transformation will impact everyone’s daily workflow, and are meant to empower employees. Get everyone involved early and solicit ideas. Not only will you get better buy-in, you’ll get a better outcome, too.

Avoid common mistakes in your digital transformation framework.

Technology integration is key. It’s perhaps the number one area SMBs should be investing in.

One of the biggest, easiest-to-make mistakes that businesses make is investing in a bunch of different technologies that don’t integrate. Unfortunately, it’s hard to unwind the resultant snarl of information when your platforms and apps don’t work together.

SMBs need to stay focused on getting the capabilities they need now in a way that will scale as their businesses grow. Today’s business ecosystems and platforms make it easy for vendors and developers to build apps tailored to helping SMBs grow. Adopting a scalable platform will help ensure that the processes and information in your company can flow as easily as possible. That’s the foundation upon which everything else can be built.

Build bridges to connect your data, employees, and customers.

You don’t need to scrap everything and start over when beginning a digital transformation, even if you’re transitioning from a snarl of apps that don’t talk to each other. In fact, the most effective solution is to bridge data silos, and pull all information into a central space — rather than completely starting over.

The second part of the process is to unify your data, with the aim of creating a single, unified view of the customer. Once you’ve built bridges between fragmented information, you’ll be able to surface useful insights into customer behavior and maximize the potential of new technologies like AI. Looking at your business anew with the benefit of new insights and tools is what digital transformations are all about.