Digital Leaders Share their Insights on Digital Transformation Success

Quote from Hugh O'Byrne, VP Global Sales Center Excellence at IBM

On April 4th 2017, the Digital Marketing Institute convened its Industry Advisory Council, comprising the world’s leading digital influencers including IBM, Google, Twitter and Microsoft.

As part of the its remit to define and publish digital skills standards reflected within global business, the Council heard a presentation entitled ‘Digital Transformation within Global Business’ delivered by IBM’s Digital Business Group VP of Global Sales Center Excellence, Hugh O’Byrne, and debated the current challenges of digital transformation with the workforce. In this blog we provide insight into their observations.   

What has digital changed?

Digital is no longer a choice, it’s a necessity to succeed in the world of business. At the IAC, the experts had no qualms in acknowledging the huge impact of digital but stated that knowing how to drive it is a key challenge along with finding the right people to achieve success.

In addition, trust has become an issue for customers when it comes to purchasing with trust in government and big brands in decline since as far back as Enron. “People are worried about data – what do with it, where it is kept and how safe it is. The flip side is that there’s an increase in trust in people and communities,” stated O’Byrne.

This faith in peer recommendations and individuals can be invaluable to businesses and a huge driver in brand awareness. “Digital transformation is an opportunity to disrupt and it’s about how good you are as a business at engaging with the customer. It’s about knowing your customer and remembering that customers have a phenomenal amount of knowledge platforms and are scoping all the time. Being an influencer and authentic is essential,” stated Olivia Kearney, CMO at Microsoft. 

Putting people in front of a brand

As a result of this shift in consumer behavior, IBM saw the potential in using digital to their advantage and set out to have their brand embody trust in the eyes of customer and clients. To achieve this they put their people at the front of the brand, investing in a digital mastery program to help sellers use digital tools and strategies to establish and nurture meaningful relationships.

Quote from Hugh O'Byrne, VP Global Sales Center Excellence at IBM

To achieve this IBM created a strategy that saw sellers populate their social media channels with content that’s relevant and meaningful. For marketing, this was a huge change as they needed to create social network friendly content.

“At the start, we dragged our people online by the scruff of the neck and said ‘drink that’. Then we went off to focus on something else in the business and were frustrated as it didn’t work. We realized that we needed to make it something our salespeople loved to do.”

Generalist vs Specialist

Making digital engagement appealing to the workforce is one thing, but when it comes to skills, many companies are aware of the fast pace of digital and the lag time associated with employee’s skills. 

Ciaran O’Muirthile, Head of New Customer Onboarding EMEA at Google believes that the threshold for transformation is now higher and so deep specialisms are needed in particular fields. “The problem then is there’s a fragmented approach for customers so a generalist function is needed to orchestrate it.” 

“But how you deliver that is a challenge and how do you bring that specialism to the fore? It’s becoming more complex every day and there are new fields arriving every few months that need specialists.”

The Council believes that agility is crucial to today’s workforce. The willingness to learn new skills and constantly upskill was seen as important to learn new skills but also meet the demands of business. Ultimately, it’s about hiring and retaining the right people across the organization.

Quote from Roisin Glynn, Head of Social Media at AIB

So, how did IBM make digital transformation a success within their workforce?

Certification is key

For IBM’s digital selling program, the key was to develop an externally recognized certification for people that will give them unique skills to build their career. To achieve this the company worked with the Digital Marketing Institute to create a bespoke program - Certificate in Professional Digital Selling - that met the unique needs of their sellers and business. 

According to O’Byrne “certification was key to engaging staff as it improved their skills, gave them a recognizable certification and made them more comfortable in the digital world. We were not aware of any other company creating a program like this and even now not many have. What changed it for us was that our sellers really wanted to be the first and best at digital and social selling.”

Along with certification, the need for a tangible outcome is integral to learning and honing digital skills. Employees want to know how these skills and credentials will impact on their daily role and what it can provide for their career in the long-term.

“The funniest thing about digital is people focus on the obligation rather than the opportunity. So, rather than talk about how social benefits the business, it’s important to show them how it will impact on a personal level,” stated Jamie White, Founder & Director of Leading Social. “If you tell people how to use it for their life, they can do it for the business.”

IBM reaped the rewards

On completion of the Certified Digital Selling Professional program, IBM’s sales representatives were assessed on the benefits of the training. IBM found a 50% improvement in seller’s confidence levels in working digitally based on learning. 

Through the program, personal branding was established along with understanding how to curate content, communicate and engage online - skills that are crucial in terms of future business development.

The biggest test of the program’s efficacy was the business impact…

An ROI study carried out over 15 months looking at 7,200 opportunities being developed by our Business Development staff, delivered a 7% increase in win rate and 37% reduction in days to close. 

The Future…

As AI and machine learning emerge as powerful digital technologies for businesses, its impact is difficult to gauge. With customer experience at the forefront of executive’s mind, these new technologies have great potential. 

Quote from Jamie White, Founder of Living Social

While members of the IAC discussed the benefit of AI on the customer experience, some mentioned the impact it could have on jobs and the need for professionals to keep learning to remain relevant.

Hugh O’Byrne sees the future for IBM in digital as one that continues to push the envelope. “I’ve had a lot of field sales teams coming in and when we tell them how we work, they want to know how best to use digital in their roles. The challenge is we know they need to know digital, but we don’t know how much they need to know. We’re working with different parts of the field and evaluating what they should learn and how we can help them on that journey.”

Key Takeaways:

  • Digital transformation is difficult to define but it continues to have a huge impact and businesses need to respond
  • Customer trust has shifted to people and communities making credibility and authenticity key for an organization
  • The agility of a workforce is crucial to succeeding in a fast-paced and competitive online world
  • Employees need to see a tangible personal benefit to learning and honing digital skills as part of the transformation process e.g. certification
  • AI and other technologies pose huge opportunities for improving the customer experience

Find out more about the Industry Advisory Council here