Transformation Pathway 1: A Disciplined Start using Pilots

Most enterprises today are on unique transformation journeys, negotiating complex and time consuming obstacles. Most of them would like to accelerate the transformation process but don’t know where to begin. During our work with enterprise clients over the last few years, we’ve had the chance to observe these obstacles more closely and have identified 4 common pathways for accelerating marketing and sales transformation, based on our Operational Maturity/Business Imperative (OMBI) framework.

In today's post, I’d like to address Pathway 1: Disciplined Start, which is relevant to organisations in the early stages of change whereby the business is not experiencing immediate pressure to transform and therefore has a lower operational maturity.


Facing the complexity of organisational transformation can be daunting and often feels never-ending. No matter the program you pursue, there are always a myriad of evolutionary changes to make over time.  Yet, you must start somewhere or be left behind by your competitors, shareholders and customers.  The famous Chinese philosopher and founder of Taoism, Lao Tzu, posited “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. In a similar vein, a meaningful first step to gaining traction with transformation activities is to use pilots programs; to test and learn new ways of working in order to realise benefits and earn the right to deliver broader change.

The conventional wisdom espoused by many around pilots is to fail fast and to be ‘agile’.  This agile development methodology has a lot of merit, and works very well in many situations including start-up environments.  However, the reality facing most enterprises is one of legacy systems, complicated matrix-style organisational structures, mature customer books and significant compliance regimes.  Change in this space can often feel like running on a treadmill – a lot of movement but not a lot of actual distance covered.  To help visualise this in a real life context, I’d like to share a case study with you of an organisation facing this exact dilemma – lots of activity but no tangible outcomes. 

Case Study

A major financial institution was in a very early stage of translating its relatively mature B2C marketing capability into its more traditional B2B relationship selling environment.  There was some degree of executive buy-in, and alignment on the fact that they wanted to shift the expenditure on above-the-line brand building to targeted below-the-line activity.  However, this remained a significant change program for the business.  To earn the right they had to prove the value, and based on conventional wisdom they began with an agile pilot.

Everything the business did was solid, common practice - they developed a thorough, considered business case which detailed project objectives. They chose a mature or legacy customer base currently in decline, and built email newsletter type content with some tailoring based on wealth or age demographic parameters, which delivered leads into the sales pipeline. They also focussed on communicating the program of work and the benefits to the frontline.

However the pilot derailed, and on review what they found was - the business case and objectives weren’t compelling and the leads, whilst many, were of a very poor quality. The implementation became ‘too much stick and not enough carrot’.

Shift your pilot from common practice to best practice

So, learning from this case study, what can you do differently to shift a pilot project from common practice (and derailment) to best practice, and ultimately accelerate delivery of benefits? 

  1. Ensure your pilot delivers tangible business outcomes

The business case dimensions need to be meaningful in the context of the organisation.  For a small enterprise, a $1m increase in revenue may be very material. However, for a business generating annual revenues of $180m+ this will not raise many eyebrows. Also, many organisations focus on getting leads into the sales funnel, but leads alone do not drive profit – conversion drives profit.  Worse still, filling the pipeline with unqualified leads will drive sales and marketing further apart.  We need to move to meaningful commercial outcomes that capture executives’ attention and drive performance in terms of new customers, improved retention and growth.

  2. Deliver an integrated marketing and sales execution

Being targeted with your content is directionally the way to go, but at this stage, the cake is still only partly baked.  Pilot projects need to consider the stage of the buyer’s journey, and their individual channel preferences.  For example; email and SMS channels can be utilised for customers in the ‘Discovery’ phase, whilst product offers and whitepapers may be better for the ‘Consideration’ phase.  The ‘Decision’ phase could be well supported through case studies and testimonials. The true measure of success here is when you can deliver everything with seamless hand-offs between sales and marketing.  This seamlessness comes when marketing and sales processes are integrated, simple and enabling with CRM and technology being leveraged to deliver relevance at scale.

  3. Move from frontline engagement to frontline ownership

Think about how many emails your frontline receives with ‘calls to action’ each week, but which don’t actually result in any meaningful action whatsoever.  We are all busy with competing priorities, and being lectured through your inbox is likely to be the least impactful change lever.  Imagine the emails being followed by an ocean of unqualified leads, and the resulting level of ownership for your pilot.
Instead, a more disciplined approach to change management with the frontline should be employed – any investment in time and energy for this will be rewarded many times over.  More importantly, the frontline is guaranteed to be engaged, accountable and more willing to own the results of your pilot if it helps them sell more.

Unconventional wisdom – don’t fail fast, rather be disciplined and win fast

Whilst it may seem controversial to say, our view at Blackdot is that common practice is the antidote to success. We are all in corporates with shareholders and regulators and existing customers, we’re not start-ups.  Focus your pilots on delivering tangible outcomes, leveraging programs of work that deliver increasing levels of integration between marketing and sales, and be passionate about creating greater ownership from the frontline.  In doing so you’ll set yourself up to win and with each win, earn the right to invest in more change.

Look out for our next blog in this series which is Transformation Pathway 2 – Rapid Operational Reinvention.

Worded by Justin Bock