Digital Transformation for Small Businesses 101

(This post was originally published here on June 11, 2018, by Laura Norman (@Lauranorsf) on the Salesforce blog.)
“Digital transformation” is a popular topic of conversation these days. However, for many small- and medium-sized business (SMB) owners, even the mere thought of it feels daunting. They don’t really know what it is or how it can help their businesses. So, to discuss the importance of digital transformation for SMBs, we decided to catch up with Laurie McCabe, Co-Founder and Partner at SMB Group. She is a firm believer that digital transformation is the key for SMBs to become more competitive in the marketplace and better positioned for long-term growth. See what else she had to say below.

48 percent of SMBs plan to transform their businesses for a digital future, yet many don’t understand what “digital transformation” really is. How do you define it at the SMB Group?

Even though many SMBs aren’t sure what digital transformation is, our research tells us they’re embracing a digital future. We define “digital transformation” as: how businesses use digital technologies to create new or modify existing business processes, practices, models, culture, and customer experiences to meet changing business and market dynamics. Simply stated, it’s about identifying how you must adapt your business to drive customer loyalty while maintaining a competitive edge in the digital age.

Haven’t companies been moving to digital for years?

A lot of businesses have traditionally viewed technology as nothing more than a way to support what they’re already doing – with the goal of doing it faster. When it comes to digital transformation, however, companies are taking a step back and asking themselves whether they’re actually doing the right things in the first place. Can they change their processes to enable better decision-making, game-changing efficiencies, or a better, more personalized customer experience? Those are the questions they’re asking themselves repeatedly. The reality is, the world around us has changed rapidly. Small businesses can’t continue doing what they’ve done for the past 20 years and still except the same results. “Business as usual” is a thing of the past; if you aren’t the “disruptor,” you may be disrupted.

What are the signs that a business is in need of digital transformation?

There are a number of red flags. You might not get the same amount of referrals or repeat business like you had in the past. Your once tried-and-true promotions might no longer generate strong leads. These are just a couple of examples – out of many – that could mean your business needs a swift digital transformation. 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. Many SMBs rely on a patchwork quilt of applications that don’t necessarily talk to each other. This typically results in not getting a decent handle on business trends, problems, and opportunities.

What should small business owners think about as they tackle their own digital transformations?

Every business should do an internal assessment to identify gaps, problems, and potential threats. What’s your biggest problem? What’s the key to your business’s survival? I’m a big advocate for working with skilled consultants, partners, and (tech) vendors to chart out the best paths to success. Working with an expert who has experience helping companies in the same situation can get your business moving in the right direction a lot more quickly and efficiently. It will also help you avoid some of those “rookie” mistakes by doing it on your own.

A common misconception among SMBs is that it’s too expensive to get expert help. The truth is, there are some great free and low-cost resources out there. For example, many tech companies will gladly offer SMBs some advice without charging. Dell’s Small Business Advisors and Salesforce’s Trailhead are a couple of great resources. Long story short, there are lots of ways to get advice on a budget.

How should SMBs approach tech-based decisions or investments when beginning a digital transformation effort?

Collaboration is key. Don’t make decisions in a vacuum. If you have 10 employees, each of them will be affected by the changes you make in some way. Be sure to share your suggestions and solicit their input early on to get them onboard. The more buy-in you get, the better the overall outcome will be in the end.

What are some common pitfalls for SMBs approaching their own digital transformation?

Too often I’ve seen businesses invest in different technologies that don’t integrate well. While it may not seem like an issue at the start, it can be hard to change things up later on when you find that certain technologies just can’t seem to work together. SMBs need to stay focused on one thing: implementing the capabilities they need today in a way that can scale with them as they grow. There are tons of vendors today that build ecosystems and platforms, specifically designed for SMBs, that make it much easier for them to add new capabilities in a highly customizable way. For any business to succeed, information from across the business must be able to flow through different processes and workflows seamlessly. Not only will this provide you with a clearer, more consistent view of your business as a whole, but it will also simplify and streamline your operations so you can be more effective at everything you do.

What comes after you’ve completed a so-called digital transformation?

Digital transformation is an ongoing and iterative process. The work is never complete. There’s always the next step to take. Being nimble and adaptive will be your best kept secret for success.

Source: Laurie McCabe’s Blog

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