Digital Transformation: A Discussion with President Michele Nichols and Red Argyle CGO Ron Wille

Michele Nichols, President of Launch Team, and Ron Wille, Chief Growth Officer for Red Argyle, which specializes in Salesforce development, consulting and administration, sit down to trade stories and best practices in digital transformation. Let's listen in.

What industries are investing in digital transformation? Why?

Michele: In the companies Red Argyle and Launch Team work with right now, where are you seeing the investments?

Ron: Across the board. Digital transformation with the focus on the customer has been highlighted in the last year. How to use digital to better understand, communicate and work with the customer. And how can they build deeper relationships with their partners? Digital transformation sits on top of your back-end processes and companies are looking to leverage the technology in place to examine the customer lifecycle and touch points as it relates to their process. Once they can get that squared away, they can more easily make it forward facing to the customer.

Michele: We saw a big catch-up year, in that there has been so much market consolidation in the markets we serve. Their toolkits got bloated and redundant. Then they added tools to move people remote. The level of complexity and disconnect had gotten so significant, they now have to stop, streamline and assess to create a centralized standard. Paragraph intro from p1

In some cases, security issues were the driver. Companies are working to meet government security levels or emerging industry standards. It's as much a privacy and security issue as usability and functionality. 

$1.3T invested in digital transformation last year

Ron: Yeah, we saw a bunch on the security front as well. With everyone being pushed home, and organizations looking for new ways to both help their employees do the work or have them engage with customers while maintaining security standards. We've been doing a lot of security audits. Salesforce is very secure, but there's an opportunity for an admin to potentially leave something open or inadvertently not lock something down. So we've been doing a lot of audits to understand what has been set up by the internal admins. Are they following all the best practices? Where are their opportunities for improvement? That seems to be a big area for us right now, with some of our smaller consulting projects.

Michele: We talk about the tool, but it's really the tool implementation that is driving process change, which is driving standardization, and not just within sales. Certainly, supply chain management came out as a huge pain point last year. With acquisitions and market consolidation, each division is doing that differently. They're standardizing processes, they're not just putting in a tool.

Change has always been hard. Is resistance higher than ever?

Ron: I don't know if we're seeing more resistance to change. COVID pushed people home, and people realize there has to be change. There’s enough momentum to overcome change, and I think that is what we're seeing. People are willing to accept change because the status quo isn't working. They have to make the change in order to survive and thrive. There are organizations right now that are doing really well and the changes are getting through, because there's so much opportunity to take advantage of. It's easier to get some people on board.


You will always have the group that loves it, the group that hates it, and the group in the middle that can be persuaded one way or the other. But I think it's easier with a little push to get people on board because they realize it has to happen.

Michele: The last year has forced a mindset shift. The divide in how people approach it and how people came out of COVID or experienced COVID is so much bigger and so hard to ignore. It's broadening that divide; you have people working from home and people working in the facility. If they don't have equal access to the same information, companies have to work a little harder at accessibility and inclusion.

Ron: We see different versions of that, as well. Some departments are trying to play catch up, where there's great data available, they want to target a specific customer audience, but the marketing tool was never set up right. They wanted to do some and needed to do some timely messaging due to COVID and couldn't. It’s been highlighting the areas that are behind digitally, in how you serve your customer. 

How do you gauge success of digital transformation?

Ron: Time to value, or how quickly can we launch something that immediately is creating a benefit. Traditional ROI is still important. They are looking at ROI on their digital investment. The time horizons of success are widely varied. But some of the other ways that I hear some customers talking about it is their ability to attract and retain top tech talent. Part of the reason they're behind it is that they haven't really invested in the right technology, human technology infrastructure to get them there. I've seen some measure percent of the technical budget that's spent on bold digital investments, as a way of measuring success.

Michele: We have a lot of imperfect measures, because we're uncovering areas that just couldn't be measured before. There was no digital means to it. So it's a matter of measuring the ROI on the improvement of areas that were measured before. It’s customer reengagement, does that drive enough dollars to justify and how quickly. It may not be the biggest payoff, but you’ve got to measure something to justify the cost.

Ron: It depends on, is it leading or lagging? I think sometimes, to your point, you need something to measure. I think early success or something early in the process that identifies there might be a problem. But if you can just articulate what to keep an eye on in month one, two, and three, as an early indicator of this success, then we can hopefully do continuous improvement on actual success over time.

70% of change plans fail. Why?

Ron: Oh, God, let me count the ways. One big reason is lack of internal talent in the tech. Everything’s positioned as being so easy, that it’s easy to implement new tech, and it’s sold that way. Staffing the project appropriately is the best thing that a company can do. So many times it's someone's added job. You give it to the marketer to help implement the tech, but they already have so much going on, they can’t possibly do everything.

There are so many places where digital transformation could falter, whether it be the vision you’ve created for it or the training program you have for your staff. Start at the top, what are your digital priorities and how does it map to a strategy? 

I look at it in three levels: make sure you understand your goals, objectives, and priorities, make sure you staff the team appropriately, and if you're outsourcing implementation, you need to staff your side appropriately. If they're not looking at it as a tool, you have an uphill battle for user adoption for success of the program. Make sure the executive team is equally as involved and accountable. What are you seeing?

"Why do so many digital transformations fail?
Let me count the ways."

Michele: We've seen organizations spend two years on the selection of a tool, and then tried to speed through implementation or underestimate the time and the budget required to implement, integrate, and roll it out properly. They're spending their time in the wrong spot. On top of that, I think they fail when there is lack of empathy. Leaders love change and most of their staff do not, there’s an inherent disconnect. Most of their staff doesn’t care if the company hits its profit margins. If there is no clear line to what that means for them, why would they want to make their job harder by learning, training and doing something different than they did yesterday? They need to spend a little energy on what's in it for them.

Ron: I agree and sometimes the managers are a little removed from the work and process. Sometimes the goals and objectives for the project are almost aspirational. They're not the things that are truly happening. Yes, we can do some process improvement along the way, but before we get to some of these aspirational things, we just need to get back to parity. Get everyone trained and using the same tool. 

What about user exceptions?

Michele: What is your feeling on user exceptions? There's always an exception. We call him Charlie, the guy who hates technology and is relationship driven. Some companies ignore, some accomodate...what's the right move? 

Ron: I worked for an organization where their sales team went from business cards and door to doors, to a more technological side to shorten sale cycles and better inform production. There were those Charlie type people that said they were going to opt out of using the technology. Others immediately got the technology, and then there was another group that wanted to get it, but just needed some help. The company took the time to catch people up and taught everyone how to use and succeed with the new technological products. So when you're talking about user empathy, ask, how technical is our team? It’s going to be a hurdle, but when you can watch everyone excel in the new programs they have learned, it’s rewarding, and you are addressing the root of the problem.

Michele: So check your assumptions at the door. Listen, and ask a lot of questions.

Ron: You really have to take a look at your user base and check your assumptions at the door. It's amazing how well some people have hidden their struggle with technology for years, and then when their jobs really get digitized, you're creating a significant amount of stress. I don't think you really know until more and more of your processes become digitized, where the skillset of your staff is and what a successful roll-out will require. 

What’s the timeline for a digital transformation rollout?

Ron: There’s no typical timeline. Look at how long other projects took to complete in your organization. But understanding where your company is and what projects you’re coming off of is important. It really does come down to, what's the smallest thing we can roll out and succeed at? Successful, small projects add value. Whereas if you are focused on one large project and it ends up not working out, then where are you at?

Set your long-term vision, but break it into a multi-phase plan with early wins. It's the base technology that everything else has to fit on top of, if we get this done, we can immediately start the next project. We can get to value more quickly. Instead of waiting six months to use a CRM or ERP, they're using it now, and they become better customers because they know what to ask for.

40% of digital leaders report significant improvements in revenue growth.

Michele: Some of these larger organizational transformation programs plan on a two-year roll out, but they need an early win in the first 30 or 90 days. We've got to accelerate the pace of change. Plan to be at a stage of completion at six months, 12 months to achieve something that you can report on, build some advocacy.

Ron: I sometimes think those long selection processes are another version of doing nothing and pushing off a decision. The importance of change management is putting some requirements, like criteria and a timeline around the selection. Otherwise, people think if it’s going to take two years, we’ll never actually see it.

Michele: Not only does it diminish the excitement of something new, it builds this belief that boy, I could just ignore that, and they'll move on to something else.

Designing for early wins, understanding your audience and communicating the change to them effectively, and making sure your initiative is routed in business and customer pay-off are all critical to building momentum and realizing ROI of digital transformation.

For more on how to overcome the barriers to digital transformation, download our ebook on Digital Transformation.