How marketing and sales leaders can accelerate digital transformation

by Marty Nicholas

Across the marketing and sales digital transformation projects we’ve undertaken, one of the biggest talking points amongst our clients is the criticality of gaining executive sponsorship for driving change.

While sponsorship is indeed critical to transformation success, the practical reality is that business leaders typically find themselves consumed by two competing priorities – fundamentally changing the business, whilst running it at the same time. What this means is that many executives routinely face bandwidth limitations that hamper their ability to fulfil either or both of their ‘run’ or ‘build’ priorities.

The critical factor for transformation success

For most organisations undergoing transformation, executives play a much more integral role than just providing support. Not only are they required to back middle and frontline managers to drive execution of transformation initiatives, they are also essential to ensuring the organisation holds true to the transformation vision and executes to the required standard over a multiyear period.

Transformation is hard and definitely not for the faint-hearted. The road to success is bumpy and the process fundamentally shifts organisational DNA. The common denominator across all the successful transformations we’ve overseen is an executive leader with an absolute and relentless execution focus and discipline. This leader typically exhibits the following habits, allowing them to quantifiably accelerate the transformation agenda and realise the benefit profile detailed in the business case:

1. Ensuring unwavering organisational commitment throughout the transformation

With the perpetually looming need to hit the number in the near future, there often emerges a tendency to consider transformation initiatives as a ‘nice to have’ or something to be pursued ‘when we have time.’ It’s therefore essential that executives hold the line throughout the transformation journey to ensure transformation initiatives and resources aren’t sacrificed in the name of meeting business-as-usual expectations or hitting the quarterly, half-yearly or annual number.

2. Clearly communicating the ‘why’ of transformation

With transformation fundamentally disrupting or seriously inconveniencing many across the organisation, it’s the executive’s role to communicate the reasons why the business needs to transform. Laying out a clear and irrefutable case for transformation and selling the business on the benefits that will result is critical. If the broader business and frontline customer-facing sales, service and marketing functions don’t get behind the ‘why’, transformation will never happen.

3. Closely monitoring the operational detail

While many executives may have the right people in place to drive implementation, many inevitably find themselves far-removed from the operational detail. To ensure execution stays on track and meets the required standard, it’s essential that they maintain a close presence within the transformation leadership team as well as direct accountability with milestone-based governance and forums.

4. Leveraging managers to gain buy-in and adherence

Marketing and sales managers hold the key to gaining the buy-in and adherence of the customer-facing frontline team. However today’s managers, most notably the sales manager, are typically weighed down by a variety of tasks and responsibilities unrelated to their core purpose. When leaders empower managers to focus on the core purpose of their role, they will be able to effectively leverage their influence to drive transformation progress.

Executive focus and discipline are key to accelerating transformation   

We’re arguably in the midst of the biggest shift in buying dynamics in decades. Those who adapt will win. Those who fail to do so because they’re too focused on hitting next quarter’s number will be left behind. Before you put forward a transformation strategy, ensure you have sponsorship from a leader who relentlessly and passionately embodies the execution focus and discipline required to stay the course in the face of competing business-as-usual priorities.