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Transformation Myth: Getting the Technology Right Is the Hardest Part

Successful technology deployments require more than just great technology. “We are tank drivers, about to buy a stealth bomber. We can’t park it on the ground and drive it like a tank,” said a friend of mine whose company was adopting marketing cloud technology. His concern is that his organization’s go-to-market strategy will not evolve to fully leverage its investment.

His statement captures why more marketing technology investments are not generating the expected return. CRM and digital marketing technology offer tremendous promise for engaging customers in a more relevant and personalized way, and the technology seems to keep getting better every year. So why don’t many companies’ technology investments yield the results they expect?

Part of that answer lies in the fact that successful technology deployment is necessary but not sufficient. Merkle’s recent study, “The Case for Change: Exposing the Myths of Customer-Centric Transformation,” dives into the myth that organizational transformation is mainly about optimizing the technology in place. Our research found that of the top five reasons why a transformation initiative failed, “hardware/software not performing as anticipated” came in as the least common reason for initiative failure.

The top five reasons include: 

  • Lack of organizational adoption
  • Scope that was too ambitious
  • Lack of executive alignment
  • Poor project management
  • Hardware/software underperformance

While successfully implementing technology is not trivial – and it’s a key foundational piece for transformation success – it is, perhaps surprisingly, not the biggest challenge. Companies need to get the technology right, and it requires solid planning and rigorous implementation. But companies also need to focus on making sure the broader ecosystem, and especially the entire organization, is prepared for change.

See how it works:

One of Merkle’s clients is a global company committed to a major transformation to improve its customer experience. This company began its transformation with a substantial investment in technology, including adopting Adobe’s software suite and implementing website development standards such as consistent tag management and common approach to forums and blogs.  But they soon realized that their technology investment would go underleveraged unless and until they addressed core organizational issues such as local market adoption, workflow adjustments, and new skills.  They also recognized that tackling adoption, workflow, and organizational issues requires a well-planned multi-year effort.

Our client recognized that its challenges were not just limited to legacy technology; the company also had to optimize a legacy ecosystem beyond technology. Marketing strategies had been built and optimized around outdated capabilities, and needed updating in order to take full advantage of the new technology. Workflows, business rules, and other processes designed to support a campaign-focused marketing approach needed to evolve to support a more ‘always-on’ marketing approach. Silos, especially those built around digital channels, were no longer practical. Fresh thinking was needed regarding roles and responsibilities. A new set of skill sets were required. The in-house marketers and salespeople were very accustomed to their old way of engaging customers, and needed to think differently in order to fully leverage the new capabilities. Policies and incentives needed to be redesigned.

It is a virtual guarantee that parts of your organization will feel threatened by the transformation efforts. It can be scary. Some may see the transformation as a major distraction from daily activities.  Others may feel their jobs are in jeopardy, or that they won’t be able to adapt. These fears are real, and shouldn’t be ignored. Merkle’s research shows that the lack of organizational adoption is the number one reason why transformation initiatives failed.

So how can your organization overcome this challenge to secure support and adoption from your organization? 

  • Clearly communicate the future-state vision.
  • Talk to each group and be prepared to discuss what the transformation will mean to them.
  • Recognize that such engagement is not ‘one and done’, but is a continual communication process (a communication plan helps).  
  • Highlight the upside to each team (including the opportunity to develop new career skills). 

It is also common for leadership will resist the change, either vocally or passively. Getting your leaders aligned is critical. Articulate a vision they can understand, build a business case that defines potential value, and engage key leadership stakeholders early and often. The vision should be clear enough and actionable enough to explain the direction you are going. Each key stakeholder should have a clear understanding of what the future-state vision means for them and their business goals. The business case should reinforce how the transformation will help stakeholders achieve their financial targets. Engaging stakeholders throughout the process gives them a voice to help own the direction, and it generates shared ownership to the end result.