Ginger Conlon of MKTG Insight: Hype About Digital Transformation Shouldn’t Make You Feel You’re Late to the Party

Next week at CRM Evolution, the annual event put on by the editors of CRM magazine that invites many of the leading thought leaders to present on important topics and trends shaping the industry, digital transformation will be a very hot topic.  And as a co-chair for the conference, I was extremely happy when Ginger Conlon, Chief Editor and Marketing Alchemist for MKTG Insight, agreed to present about myths and realities surrounding digital transformation.

Before founding MKTG Insight, Ginger was editor-in-chief at publications like CRM and Direct Marketing News.  And with her wealth of knowledge and experience, I wanted to get a preview of what she’ll be discussing at the conference.  And I asked my co-chair, Paul Greenberg, to help me ask Ginger about one of the myths surrounding digital transformation, and also an example of a company doing digital transformation the right way, from a marketing perspective.

Below is an edited transcript of our conversation.  To see the full conversation watch the video below, or click on the embedded SoundCloud player.

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digital transformationSmall Business Trends:  I love this title [of your CRM Evolution presentation], “Digital Transformation Myths and Realities.” Since this is about the road to evolution and we’re spending time with some of the speakers, you’ve got to tell us, maybe give us the top myth and the top reality when it comes to digital transformation.

Ginger Conlon: I’m going to be talking about six, but the top one is, “I’m so behind everyone else!” The reality is no, you’re not behind. We’re all in it together. There are some fast movers, sure, and you need to keep moving forward, but you are certainly not alone, being in the middle or even the back of the pack.

Paul Greenberg:  What makes people even say that? What are they looking at that makes them think, “Oh, everyone else is so ahead of us in digital transformation. I know that because …” and then completing … Turn it into a myth.

Ginger Conlon: There’s so much hype in the market. There’s so many different opinions on where you should be, what you should be doing. A lot of the vendors, of course, have a vested interest in fast movers and everyone else adopting the different technologies to help them along their digital transformation. It causes all the hype and all the myths about what’s going on.

The success stories get so trumpeted that you feel like, “Oh, gee, I must be so far behind”. Even some of the companies who are doing well in some areas are still behind in other areas because it’s a whole journey. I think that’s what causes all of this to be happening.

Paul Greenberg:  Do any go back to their boardroom and say, “We’ve got to do this because everyone else is and we’re already behind so we really need to speed it up,” and then they speed it up and they kind of fail… What happens, basically? Take us through …

Ginger Conlon:  I think part of that is because digital transformation is going to be unique to your organization. How much is it going to permeate your organization? Are you going to start with one team and work out from there? For example, start with marketing transformation, then work on service and et cetera, et cetera, or is it going to be a whole bunch of teams coming together and trying to do a company wide thing? It’s just like the days of implementing CRM and thinking about it as a technology instead of a strategy. You’ve got to start with the strategy first. What do you want to do by adding more digital elements into your business operations? What are the goals? Then, you go backwards from there to make it happen.

That’s where I think people feel like they’re so far behind, they get in a rush. What they need to do is … It’s like running. You have to run your own pace in your own race. You can’t worry about what the front-runner who runs the five minute mile is doing if you’re a seven minute miler, you just have to worry about running your seven minute mile.

Paul Greenberg:  You started out and said something interesting. You said, “Starting, for example, with marketing transformation.” What would be an example of marketing transformation?  That’s kind of a big deal, especially given the mindset of marketers. How does that get done right and what actually happens?

Ginger Conlon:  How does it get done right? That’s kind of a loaded question.

Paul Greenberg:  Right.

Ginger Conlon: Probably the most important elements are communication and collaboration. Like I said before, you’ve got to start with your strategy. If you don’t have that, you don’t have the roadmap to where you want to go. Then, your team needs to be working together.

I’ve got a great example. I just spoke to one of the execs from Virgin Holidays. They’re transformation started with quick wins. They started using Phrasee to add AI to their email testing. They didn’t have the side staff to be able to do extensive testing so they added this tool which was AI for subject lines. They saw a lift there. Then, that win got them to be able to say, “All right, well, we’ve got the outside done. Let’s do the inside of the e-mail,” and they brought in Moveable Ink and started using that to do personalization. Then, they found, “Okay, well, those two things are going really well but, because of the way we have the data set up, it’s making it take too long,” so they brought in Adobe Campaign. Then, they ran all their data through Adobe Campaign. It simplified the process. It went from a day to like 20 or 30 minutes to creating a campaign. They saw just incredible lift across the board.

That went so well that they said, “Okay, now what else do we need to do to improve our data models so that we can improve the way data flows through the systems throughout the organization? Now let’s bring in customer service, tie the data together through customer service,” and then, “Hey, well, let’s also bring customer service communications through our hub. Now, we’re talking to customers in one voice, whether it’s marketing, sales, or service.” Sales was also part of that shift.

It was one thing at a time. Their goal was to be even more customer-centric than they were, but specifically they had some numericals around that. They had things like they wanted to increase their digital interactions by 50%, and that included self-service and things like that. Then, they also wanted to support the agents in their stores by getting them the information that they need at their fingertips, and that’s also the next phase — making sure the frontline agents have the same data that the internal folks have. It’s step-by-step through the process and …

Saul Lopes, the exec I spoke with, he made it the point where, whenever they would hit any kind of a snag, which, of course, a lot was around bringing the data together, he said there was no finger-pointing; there was him and his team and any partners involved saying, “All right, we hit this snag. What do we need to do to fix it?,” collaborating and moving forward. Those are the kind of things that you need to do to make a transformation successful.

He also thinks of it not as a destination but an ongoing journey. “We have done this thing. What’s the next thing we can do and the next thing and the next thing?”

Paul Greenberg:  Did they get a budget buy-in for that?

Ginger Conlon:  Yes, because, with each success, they were able to sell in the next thing. This worked for us. We didn’t have to do anything major to make this thing happen. Now, let’s do that. Yeah, he got buy-in and budget all along by taking these baby steps forward and showing the successes.

Small Business Trends:  When you talk to these companies that, I guess, maybe are on kind of the leading edge of digital transformation, what are some of the surprises that they run into that could help folks that are kind of in the laggard stage when it comes to digital transformation?

Ginger Conlon:  I think that they’re probably not surprises. They’re probably the things that everyone runs into. It’s just a matter of how you handle them. That would be your data. Your data’s a mess. It’s all over the place. The quality is questionable, so you need to have a data strategy, first and foremost. Then, the people side. You need to engage your people. You need to make sure that you have the environment set up for collaboration. That includes your compensation. You need to make sure that you’re compensating people to work together, not work against each other.

This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

Brent Leary Brent Leary is the host of the Small Business Trends One-on-One interview series and co-founder of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. Brent is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award-winning blogger.