What Small Companies Need to Know to Go Digital

Ursula Ringham

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Brian Moran founder and CEO, Brian Moran & Associates
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Dan Newman co-CEO, VB3, and founder, Broadside Media Group
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Brian Fanzo change evangelist
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Ursula Ringham director, Digital Marketing, SAP

By embracing digital transformation, small and midsize enterprises can distinguish themselves from competitors of any size. Whether a company is a startup or an established brand, it needs to understand the influence that data and digital technologies can have on its relationships with its customers and employees. Having a mobile app could, for example, persuade millennial customers to buy from a local shop instead of from a global retailer that delivers. Cloud-based tools might provide efficiencies that enable a small contractor to price its services competitively against larger competitors.

Small business owners typically don’t have the extra resources to experiment with new business models. But they can determine how using digital technologies can help them achieve their current business goals. SAP’s Ursula Ringham talked recently with three experts about what digital transformation means to a small business, and they identified some guiding principles. Brian Moran, founder and CEO of Brian Moran & Associates, has been lauded by the SCORE Foundation for leadership, volunteerism, and philanthropy in support of small businesses; Dan Newman, co-CEO of V3B and founder of Broadsuite Media Group, is author of The New Rules of Customer Engagement: 6 Trends Reinventing the Way We Sell; and change evangelist Brian Fanzo has been widely recognized as a social business influencer. Nearly 400 viewers tuned in to their conversation on the Blab social broadcasting platform, while some also contributed to a concurrent Twitter chat by @SAPSmallBiz. Read the highlights.

What do you think of when you hear digital transformation?

Brian Moran: A mobile, paperless economy and society that are connected to everyone and everything. Also, the massive amount of data being collected from the transformation and trying to help business owners make sense of it all.

Brian Fanzo: It’s about a change in mindset and workflow and questioning what we’ve done and are going to do, as digital has the ability to impact every aspect of our lives and business.

TwitterLogo_#55acee_50x50@MaryannWMen: I think of transforming operational processes and business models

TwitterLogo_#55acee_50x50@Popinard: Future is happening now

How does digital transformation disrupt traditional business models?

Dan Newman: We have gone from a society where knowledge was power to one where the ability to apply quickly ascertained knowledge is power. Data is being created at breakneck speeds, putting new information that impacts how people engage with brands and live their lives into the hands of consumers and workers alike.

Brian Fanzo: Digital is transforming everything: what our offices look like, how we reach our current customers, and where and who we are able to hire.

TwitterLogo_#55acee_50x50@MaryannWMen: Levels the playing field for those #smallbiz that are #innovative – #sapsmesummit

TwitterLogo_#55acee_50x50@SAPSmallBiz: This! Gives #SMEs a chance to change processes & beat out larger enterprises

Does connectivity & collaboration play a big role?

TwitterLogo_#55acee_50x50@MaryannWMen: Yes, because you need collaboration w/in a biz to support the culture of #digital transformation to happen

Brian Moran: Absolutely. There is a tremendous opportunity to cut out clutter while greatly increasing workforce productivity.

Dan Newman: Workforces are transforming just as consumers are. People want to be able to communicate with their coworkers as well as the brands they buy from in real time.

Brian Fanzo: I firmly believe community is the future of business and collaboration is the future of innovation, thanks to digital allowing us to communicate, engage, and collaborate around the world without borders or limitations.

Discuss digital transformation and the customer journey.

Brian Moran: Successful companies realize that their customers now control the conversation. In response, companies are doing everything they can to provide stellar service for their customers. In return, customers are willing to share more of their personal information with the right companies.

Brian Fanzo: Customers today often have more data and resources available to them than the businesses trying to sell them. Therefore digital communities and content often influence the customers’ buying decisions before a brand or salesperson has first contact.

Dan Newman: In some cases people would prefer not to engage a brand at all except for using digital channels. This means companies need to not only understand how their consumers want to buy but also create touch points that support this desired buying journey.

What is the “experience economy,” and how does it affect digital transformation?

Brian Moran: Companies take their product or service and stage an experience for customers in order to distinguish themselves from the competition. A good example is Starbucks. They took coffee, which people would normally buy “to go,” and used free Wi-Fi to create an in-store experience for customers. Starbucks gathers information on their customers who use the company’s mobile app to order and pay for their drinks. And customers can order their venti skinny vanilla lattes on the app, pay for them with a stored credit card, and have the drinks waiting for them. All they have to do is walk in, sit down, and open up their laptops.

Dan Newman: People expect their experiences with brands as either a customer or an employee to be consistent. This means not only do the digital and physical brands need to stand for something, but the tools and technology need to empower people to reflect that in their various interactions across many channels.

TwitterLogo_#55acee_50x50@RayBoggsSMB: “Experience” puts smile on customer face. Transcends low price. More personal/special (+ maybe more margin)

How can small businesses prepare?

Brian Moran: Small businesses need to decide if they are willing to make the investment of time, money, and other resources to fully embrace digital transformation.

TwitterLogo_#55acee_50x50@chevd80: I believe that small businesses should look at other small businesses who are doing well with the transition in digital transformation for the better

Dan Newman: They need to think about their digital footprint. Where are their buyers? How do they seek to be interacted with? A great start is to think about how your customers want to be communicated with and to make sure that your company makes these channels a priority.

TwitterLogo_#55acee_50x50@channel_gal: Own your journey. Listen. Storytelling in all shapes/forms (snackable content!)

Brian Fanzo: Understanding the tools and technologies is essential, but the key is prioritizing what makes most sense for current business goals rather than embracing technology or big data just because they have access to it.


About Ursula Ringham

Ursula Ringham isthe Director of Digital Marketing at SAP. She manages social media and digital marketing strategy for the small and midsize business community. She was recently recognized as one of 15 Women Who Rock Social Media at Top Tech Companies. Prior to SAP, Ursula worked at Adobe and Apple in their Developer Relations organizations. She managed strategic accounts, developer programs, edited a technical journal, managed content for an entire website, and wrote and taught course curriculum. In her spare time, Ursula writes thriller novels about the insidious side of Silicon Valley.