6 Sources of Strength for your Digital Strategy

Six practical ideas any business can use in their digital strategy to improve quality, performance and sales. Think like a software company, use a client-server model, leverage data and artificial intelligence, explore networks and discover new sales channels.

What is your company’s current digital strategy? Is it “good” or “bad” strategy? The sad truth is that many businesses have a “bad” strategy or no strategy at all. They mistake goals set by ivory-castle managers with strategy. They write down “fluffy” ideas, like holistic or synergy instead of building a coherent framework of actionable policies.

For digital strategy the picture is even bleaker. The current generation of managers often has a poor understanding of digital processes. They delegate to CTOs, who soon become frustrated by unrealistic expectations. IT projects run into huge delays or don’t perform as expected. This is the sad truth and the reason why the potential for digital transformation is not nearly exhausted.

In this article I will lean on part 2 of  Richard Rumelt’s book1. After defining “good” strategy in part 1, he goes on to list potential strengths in part 2. His list is mainly aimed a company-wide strategy. It’s time to do the same thing for digital strategy. Which advantages and strengths can your company build in the digital realm? What do you need to exploit new opportunities in dynamic markets?

Since digital strategy is only part of your overall strategy, the latter should be in place. You should know your main obstacles and there should be guiding policies to tackle them. If your company has a great product, but too few customers, a coherent digital strategy will help you widen your sales funnel and attract more customers. As long as you know the way, strengths grown from good digital strategy can help you get there.

1. Software-thinking and rapid updates

A product’s functionality is increasingly defined by software. I may power your phone, run your TV or steer your car. Using Gmail or any other cloud-based service? You are using software that is most likely updated many times a day. While classic products were hard to improve or update, once shipped, it’s extremely easy to update software. It will just happen overnight. This property allows businesses to improve products at an unprecedented speed. Issues can be addressed and fixed in a matter of days.

Start thinking like a software company with rapidly updating your product and process

Even if your company doesn’t ship software-based products or runs a cloud-service, you can still take advantage of the ability to quickly update your products and processes. Some ideas:

  • Sharing best practices or instructions across your company? Stop printing them and put everything on a Wikipedia-like site with regular updates. Now you too have the ability to quickly react to emerging issues.
  • You work with loosely-coupled business partners, like sales agents? Set up a newsletter and archive to share the latest news and rapidly spread best practice. It will give you an edge over slower competitors.
  • Dynamic documentation. Make sure existing employees note all the steps in processes they regularly perform together with small improvements they may find.
  • Security and passwords. You are likely to use many external services and platforms. Are credentials centrally stored and managed? In the event of a breach or redundancy, you should be able to quickly “update” this resource to stay secure.

2. Client-Server Model

In the first days of computing, most calculations were performed on expensive mainframes. Users connected to them via “thin” clients and shared processing time. With desktop computers this model gave way to more powerful stand-alone machines. There was no broadband, so even phone books were distributed on plastic discs. The user had to store millions of number, when he only needed a small subset.

Centralize critical information and make it more accessible

With abundant broadband access and 4G connections it makes more sense to centralize information again. It’s easier to control, update and everyone works on the latest version. That’s what cloud-computing is all about. Even if you lose your phone, you can easily re-download your contacts and images from the cloud. For businesses this is a powerful concept. It counters entropy that often arises when everyone is left to fight for their own. There is less risk of data loss, compared to individual machine. You can ask the following questions to see if you can benefit from using this model:

  • Centralize critical data. Is there any data you business needs, which is not backed up or centrally stored? Can anyone who needs access easily use the latest version?
  • Share data. Employees often protect their position by “hoarding” data. This practice is highly damaging to any organization. An easy way to increase productivity is more sharing. Start with calendars, contacts, common mailboxes (to reduce response time), CRM data (like client preferences).
  • Simplify hardware. Just like the first user terminals were very simple, the client-server model allows you to simplify workstations. There are only few tasks that require a full-scale desktop machine. Why not use a thin Linux client that only runs a browser. This will save cost and avoid many security issues.

3. Data

Another strength to use is data. It’s likely that your company is already producing data as a side-product to routine tasks. Think emails, customer relationship systems or point of sales systems. You may not use it, but all these machines produce and store digital data. This data can be extracted and used. The challenge is to extract and store it in a central location for easy use. With your data in one place, it’s easy to build reporting- and alert tools around it. All the tools are out there and they have a high maturity. Some ideas to get you started:

  • Sales data: centralize invoices and sales data. Find patterns and see which factors may contribute to sales performance.
  • Internet of things: Even if your current processes don’t produce a lot of data, you can easily start collecting it with cheap networked sensors. Want to know how many potential customers visit your fashion store after a shopping window revamp? Just count clients using existing CCTV footage. This will make expensive marketing measures more tangible.
  • Website data: Already own a website with Google Analytics. Then you can just use that data to evaluate online promotion campaigns or find the important visitor sources. Running your own analytics system will even allow you to avoid data lost due to ad-blockers.

Use existing data and gain new insights

4. Artificial Intelligence

This sector gets a lot of “fluff” in the form of neural networks and “deep” learning. Ignore the hype. There is a whole range of machine learning techniques available for easy use. The underlying idea is that it is expensive and time-consuming to program complex software. With enough data available algorithms can “find” the patterns and program themselves. Some ideas to apply AI as strategic strength:

  • Marketing clusters: Creating target groups is a time-consuming exercise. With enough sales data and customer attributes, you can automate the process and prepare custom-made packages for each cluster.
  • Prediction: Many events follow a seasonal pattern. By looking at historical data time series algorithms can make forecasts and detect deviations.

Let computers program themselves and leverage the results

5. Networks

Many real-world phenomena are best modelled as network graph. How do your Facebook messages spread? Who refers customers? How do processes and employees interact? Many existing sources of data can be used to build network graphs for further analysis. Emails, social media data and driving logs are just some examples.

Which networks are relevant for your business success?

Find out which networks are relevant for your business success. Then model them to gain insights for actionable improvements, like targeted marketing measures. Some other ideas:

  • Social media networks: How do your client know you? Who lead them to your page? Do they have any common interests?
  • Asset network: Model all your analogue and digital assets in a single graph. Identify interdependencies and bottlenecks.
  • Intra-company networks: How is information flowing inside your company? Do you have any knowledgeable employees, who could help others? Who are the aggregators of information?

6. Sales channels

Digital strategy can also help you rethink your sales channels. No matter how you attract clients, there is always something like a sales funnel. X% of walker-bys enter the shop, Y% buy something, Z% become regular customers. You can apply the same concept in the digital world. How can you attract more potential leads? How will more leads convert to regular clients? Some ways to build additional sales channels and widen your sales funnel:

  • Start a Facebook, Twitter or Instagram account. Post regular updates and reach relevant users. Then make it easy for them to become customers by answering questions, posting further information and promotions.
  • Surveys: Why do some leads become customers and some not? You could send out surveys or organize events with discussion panels. The insights you can gain can drastically improve conversion performance.
  • Be the first to reach potential customers: Hypothesize about the buying process. Where is the first point you could reach a new customer? Using highly specific paid advertising on Google or Facebook can have a great return to reach potential customers early.

Widen your sales funnel and increase conversion

Conclusion

I hope these six points gave you some ideas for potential guidelines and actions in a digital strategy. With technology evolving rapidly, new possibilities emerge all the time. These can offer great chances to newcomers or fast-growing companies.

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June 3, 2016 Post by in Ideas.