Digital transformation is happening within companies everywhere - some of which is great, but much of it continues to not meet the expectations of the stakeholders involved. 

After more than 20 years working with customers on digital transformation initiatives, I've found the key drivers when it comes to delivering a successful transformation can be distilled in to this list of 10 critical elements: 


1. Executive sponsorship

Digital transformation projects must have an executive sponsor - someone who is passionate about the cause and who will champion it, celebrate it, and position it at every opportunity.  The sponsor fights for the project and ensures it gets the resources, budget, and visibility it needs.  Strategic projects can be disruptive, so things can get political.  At times, the whole project could be challenged.  If the initiative is business critical, then it needs a strong voice backing it.  An executive sponsor is also someone who publicly highlights and celebrates the project’s successes and leads by example in actively using the technologies supporting the initiative. 


2. Lead with the strategy, not the technology

Steve Jobs said, “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology – not the other way around.”  When considering digital transformation, know why you are doing it, the business outcomes you want, and how you will know you’ve been successful.  The initiative must be clearly mapped to the strategic business objectives of your organisation (e.g. increased revenues, improved customer satisfaction, etc.).  Once those points are clear, then decide on the technology you need.  Many organisations fall in love with ‘cool’ technology and feel compelled to implement it; sometimes for no other reason than to look innovative.  Don’t spend large amounts of money on technology which will not help your business.  Make sure the strategy is clear first and everything else should follow.   


3. Measure, measure, measure

Quantifying the impact of digital transformation is critical.  Many customers start measuring after a project is complete, which is too late.  A ‘before, during, and after’ view is essential for several reasons.  First, assuming the project is aligned to business drivers (see point two above), you must answer the question, “How will we know the project has succeeded?”  Second, depending on the cost and complexity of the project, a justification may be required at any time.  The CFO may challenge the ongoing costs or try to move funds to another area of the business so data-driven justification is essential.  Finally, you may wish to expand the scope of the project into later phases.  Justifying the impact of the first phases will certainly help to win support for further ones. 


4. Involve the business, not only IT

Too many organisations park their digital transformation project with IT – and only IT.  This is because it’s related to technology.  It is essential that your key business stakeholders be involved.  Your IT team will understand the technology, how it works, and how it needs to be deployed, but it’s your business stakeholders (e.g. sales, marketing, service, HR, etc.) who will ensure that the technology is supporting the key business drivers discussed in point two.  And don’t simply involve them for one workshop in the beginning.  They need to be an integral part of the project team - throughout the initiative.  Having business stakeholders involved also helps to drive adoption.  If they understand the value the transformation brings to the business, they will encourage their colleagues to embrace this change.


5. Don't underestimate change management

Even the simplest of digital transformation projects needs change management.  Of course, people need to be trained but to ensure that solutions are truly adopted, you must explain how they will make people more successful and the value it will bring to them as an individual as well as the business overall.  And it’s ok to make it fun!  A customer of mine recently used gamification to drive user adoption.  The first sales region to have all forecasts uploaded into Salesforce won an office party.  If people understand the benefit to them, adoption will increase.  If they feel they are being forced onto new tools and don’t understand why, your adoption will suffer.  Don’t remove change management from your project plan – even if budgets tighten.


6. Drink your own Champagne

There is no point in rolling out new technologies as part of digital transformation if you don’t use them – and at the highest levels.  Recently, I had a GM ask me why his sales leaders weren’t using Salesforce dashboards to run their business.  I asked, “Are you using them to run the business yourself?”  His said no.  At Salesforce you often hear, “If it’s not in the app (i.e. Salesforce) it doesn’t exist.”  Meetings and forecast calls are run directly from Salesforce, which drives adoption and hence forecast accuracy.  If you are expecting people to embrace change and to see the value of new solutions, they need to see their leaders embracing it before anyone else.  Leading by example is critical.  


7. Embrace Feedback

Listen to what your people are saying about solutions – positive or negative.  Not only are your people an excellent source of ideas but if you create an environment where sharing feedback is appreciated and acted on, this will increase adoption.  Make sharing feedback a transparent and collaborative process.  Introduce a gamification system whereby people are rewarded for contributions.  Salesforce’s own Trailblazer Community is an example of how this can work.  And if you implement someone’s idea, be sure to give that person credit publicly.  This sends a powerful message to the whole community.  Remember, if you keep asking for feedback and don’t act on it, people stop giving it.  Feedback - good or bad - is indeed a gift.


8. Have a communications plan

With any digital transformation initiative, it’s important to tell people it’s coming, tell them why, tell them when it’s here, and lastly tell them about the successes.  Formulate a structured and consistent communication plan for your initiative (e.g. newsletters, webex, collaboration tools, updates at team meetings).  But here’s the critical part – don’t launch your comms plan after your project has gone live.  Kick this off well in advance.  And don’t stop once it’s gone live.  An ongoing plan gives people the chance to ask questions, familiarise themselves with the change, and potentially become involved.  Build in gamification (e.g. quizzes with prizes, treasure hunts, walls of fame).  And don’t forget to address that critical question, “Why are we doing this?”  Lastly, use the communications plans to celebrate successes – and not only a go-live or new features but more importantly hitting a key KPI being measured as part of the project.  This demonstrates to the larger community and management that the initiative is having impact.


9. Leverage the creativity of your people

Too many technologies are implemented based on what managers think are the problems.  This happens when they are no longer aware of what is happening on the front lines or – worse - what the critical business challenges really are.  One way to address this is to harness the creativity of your key stakeholders by hosting ‘design thinking’ workshops with representatives from all areas of your business (even those not directly impacted by the initiative).  These workshops offer a safe, non-political environment where people can design solutions to business problems with a ‘what could be’ approach; without limitations such as budget, resources, or infrastructure.  The solutions are captured and prioritised and then become part of the project plan.  The benefit to a design thinking approach is that you typically identify the best possible outcome because it was designed by the people you know your business best.


10. Avoid 'paralysis by analysis'

Of course, it’s critical to have a plan and to map it to your business strategy, but it’s also important to put a box around your planning phase.  Don’t allow planning to drag on or you’ll experience diminishing returns and frustrated stakeholders challenging the project’s value.  Put a clear timeline on planning and then prioritise your high-impact, low-effort areas.  These become your quick wins, which you will want to publicise and which will generate positive momentum for the project.  Consider a phased implementation to roll out your top priority areas first.  This allows you to get moving faster.  Remember, the competition doesn’t sleep, so if you’ve made the decision for change, work out the plan and get started!

So there you have it.  While so many of these points may seem like common sense the key is to ensure that you’re addressing all ten.  Good luck!


At Salesforce we know that every digital transformation should always have your customers, and the experience you provide them, at the heart of it. Download the second edition of the "State of the Connected Customer" report for data-driven insights on how to drive great experiences in the Fourth Industrial Revolution