Don’t Panic, Digital Transformation in Progress

When managing change, struggle is a normal phenomenon rather than a sign of failure. We can anticipate and be strategic to improve outcomes.

Digital Transformation and Change

Every now and then you come across an opinion, an analysis piece, or a report that strikes a chord. Didier Bonnet, co-author of the bestselling 2014 book Leading Digital, offered up Five reasons companies struggle with digital transformation as featured by MIT’s Sloan School of Management, and it echoes what I’ve been reflecting on for years: meaningful change is difficult for everyone. Could there be a better way of navigating through it?

Having spent half my career facilitating change, I’m naturally drawn to insight on organizational transformation. Steering the ship through uncharted waters is every leader’s primary responsibility, and few waters feel more perilous than fundamentally changing how a company finds and engages customers, proves value, and closes deals that bring in revenue. To deliver on these promises in the digital age —with the buyer more and more in charge of their own journey—Marketing has to transform on a fundamental scale.

MarTech automates and anticipates how we might attract and retain the interest of empowered buyers—but if we’re going to get results, we need to do more than simply plug in. Marketers need to transform how their brand conceives, designs, and approaches funnel marketing.

Bonnet’s insight confirmed what we’ve always observed:

In change, struggle is a normal phenomenon rather than a sign of failure. We can anticipate and be strategic to ease transformation. 

Even when it’s positive and exciting, change is disruptive. We resist it. As leaders, we have to backwards-engineer and reassemble the daily flow, habits, and expectations first of individuals, then of the collective ‘us’ that is our team. It’s no small feat.

Let’s consider Bonnet’s pitfalls of struggle, and the mindset shift to mitigate. On the left, we’ve got a sum-up of his warning signs. On the right, the mindset shift for marketers embracing transformation to overcome these pitfalls.

As leaders, we are constantly at the mercy of change. The moment we get our feet under us, a new pressure emerges.

Many of the last generation’s most established and well-known brands—those that felt cemented in our consumer consciousness—did not survive the digital era. The world changed around them. Five years ago, Sears was acting like it was still 1988. It held on to the way things had always been done, expecting to coast on its lineage  assumed staying-power. That company is now bankrupt and vastly diminished. Meanwhile, five years ago, Amazon was unattached to 1988. They made fewer assumptions and moved only by looking forward.

Every company that finds its feet despite constant movement makes fewer assumptions and only moves by looking forward. Especially now.

Retraining the fight-or-flight instinct

In today’s digital marketplace, customers are fully empowered. They are leading the conversation and asking: “Tell me how you are going to help me”. They expect you to already know who they are, what they care about, and why they need what you have to sell.

When we see change all around us, our spidey-sense kicks in with a resounding NO. We’re worried this change may bury us. Perhaps we’re cynical because in the past, we’ve taken on tools and initiatives — technology, consultants, big ideas —  that were supposed to deliver but fell short. But if you’re at the point of fight-or-flight, you are already being buried. The real struggle is in accepting discomfort as inseparable from growth.

[quote]When you are growing, you’re uncomfortable. When you’re uncomfortable, you are growing.[/quote]


Resistance to the changing customer needs and the promise of MarTech delivering on them is absolutely, perfectly normal. All team and company leaders encounter it as well. Take a breath. Remember this is a challenge most companies are facing. Look around you. Learn from the challenges others are encountering and have a strategy to adapt. To avoid the most common pitfalls, know them—or find someone with the experience to help you steer clear.

MIT recapped a webinar given by Capgemini Consulting senior VP Didier Bonnet, co-author of the bestselling 2014 book Leading Digital. “Deployed well, digital technology boosts revenue and transforms customer experience, operations, and business processes,” summarizes writer Kara Baskin. “When mismanaged, companies risk becoming obsolete.” Read the whole piece and watch Bonnet’s webinar here.

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