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How Small Businesses Should Approach Digital Transformation

Today’s connected world has led to the age of the customer: Powered by technology and the internet, customers have higher expectations than ever before. Mobile has led consumers to be always on, connected and in control. Social has created a digital influencer community; voice has brought instant gratification and convenience.

This shift has resulted in changes to business rules for brands. We are seeing enterprise brands respond by prioritizing customer experience (CX) and deploying digital transformation strategies. Digital transformation fundamentally changes how enterprises operate and deliver value to customers, by integrating digital technology into all areas of the business.

Brand focus on digital transformation is a result of increasing competition and the need to drive customer value by leading changes. Watermark’s 2019 consulting report shows that brands that focus on CX demonstrate 3x greater stock performance returns than CX laggards. Therefore, it is no wonder that Gartner sees that digital transformation is among the top three priorities for enterprises, and their spending reflects this priority. In 2019, IDC projected that spending on digital transformation would top $1.18 trillion by the end of the year.

Successful deployment of digital transformation includes modern technology, vendors and cultural support across the organization. Enterprises have the advantage of larger budgets and access to technology vendors that can help them transform their businesses. However, prioritizing digital transformation isn’t just for enterprises; it benefits small businesses too.

According to SMB Group’s 2017 U.S. Small and Medium Business Digital Transformation Study, nearly half of small and medium businesses (SMBs) surveyed said they “are currently planning to engage in activities that will help them adapt and transform their businesses for a digital future,” and around 75% of companies surveyed agreed that digital tech was impacting how they did business.

As consumer expectations have increased, SMBs have the same impetus to change as large enterprises. However, there are some dissimilarities between enterprises and small business:

• Budget and time: Most enterprises need to transform complex solutions and, therefore, need larger budgets and typically have a longer runway to get it right. However, the opposite is true for small businesses: They have smaller budgets and a shorter time period to transform. As a result, simplifying digital transformation to focus on the most important areas to integrate digital technology (versus all areas of the business) and having a tailored playbook are critical for their success.

• People and culture: Enterprises can hire leaders who are responsible for digital transformation and can leverage these initiatives to invigorate culture and inject energy into the organization. Many small businesses lack similar executive support needed to drive transformation.

• Consultant support: Enterprises can fund and engage consulting firms to provide them with the road map to drive transformation. Smaller businesses may not have the same luxury or budget.

Given these challenges, some small businesses choose to stand still. However, with 84% of customers prioritizing experience as much as actual products and services, digital transformation is a requirement for all small businesses to support the modern consumer.

Having a simplified digital transformation strategy that is prioritized to drive the most value — and partnering with the right vendor to help execute against the strategy — can be the key to propelling small businesses to drive successful transformation.

Leveraging vendors can be a key strategic decision to help small businesses to transform. As a small business, look for vendors that recognize that digital transformation and customer-centricity ultimately drive to the same outcome. Here are some specific things to look for in a vendor:

• Has expertise in your industry or business model:Find a vendor that deeply understands your industry vertical and specific business needs. This will ensure that their approach will be tailored to drive success for your company.

• Enables you to have access to consumers: Find a vendor that can use their platform to provide you with rich insights about your own customers. Data-driven insights allow for up-leveling CX, including running loyalty programs, workflow optimization, etc.

• Invests in technology, including machine learning (ML): Find a vendor that invests in ML algorithms that turn customer insights into personalized experiences that can enable small businesses to better prepare for the digital future.

• Has a robust set of integrations: Find vendors that have hooks into other commonly used tools and services. This will ensure that you are successfully migrating the whole business to cater to the digital customer.

• Prioritizes customer care: Find vendors that prioritize customer care for their own platform. Having vendors that prioritize customer care will guarantee that they can successfully guide you through the transformation process.

• Actively challenges you to think about driving consumers to digital: Finally, find vendors that actively challenge and support you to drive change.

In conclusion, remember the why. Digital transformation ensures that SMBs can continue to deliver value to customers while supporting their changing behaviors and needs. Digital transformation for small businesses starts with a strategy and a clear road map, but success comes with having the right vendor(s) to drive the transformation.

Originally published on Forbes.

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