Being Different in a Digital World

The most frequent question we have heard this year at Practically Digital Why does digital matter to my business”

The short answer, because the business world has changed, quickly. The number of people with mobile devices now exceeds PCs, the degrees of engagement for customers are tilting strongly into digital territory, and customer expectations (and attention spans) are drastically heightened and short. There are growing piles of statistics that indicate that the business world is now running at a different speed. 

Digital is about time. Saving it. Optimizing it. Being different and catching the eye, thought, and opportunity for a customer to engage with your company.  Time is the most valuable asset in commerce today (both for the business and customer).

That is why differentiation in the digital world matters. The historic business activities, processes, and outcomes are growing tired in the eyes of the customer base.  People are ‘swiping left’ on companies they no longer have time to explore or wait on.  Customers are looking for fresh and engaging. They are looking for different. 

Companies who get the digital opportunity are leveraging this unique era to grow exponentially, much as they did during the 1st and 2nd Internet revolutions.  Optimizing customer journeys through digital engagement points (web presence, social media, email campaigning), selling with a high degree of affinity for the customer’s preferences, and concluding contracts in hours and days (instead of months and quarter) are all ways that leading companies are differentiating themselves.   

For 2017, we foresee a greater opportunity through digital than ever before. Companies (and individuals) who want to differentiate and go to market quickly and with high customer affinity – can do so for modest investment and effort.   

Finding those right digital business capabilities is what we focus on with our clients. Helping our clients understand the opportunities, how to roll up the sleeves and get forward quickly, and better engage customers.   We believe every company is a digital business, and the digital opportunity awaits in the year ahead.  

Start your digital year right at In a digital world, be different.


The Digital Business Portfolio: A balanced approach to transformation

In the past months, a growing trend we have seen is the corporate appetite for ‘digital everything’.  Looking for ‘moonshots’ and transformation at every turn, digital transformation seems at the top of every agenda. 

The challenge with that is the amount of organization change it requires succeeding at one transformation cycle, much less ‘all things to everyone’.   Based on experience, we recommend a more balanced, portfolio approach to digital transformation.   How to do? Read on!

Asset classes in a ‘digital portfolio’

Like an investment portfolio or real estate holdings mix, ‘digital’ portfolios have different types of investment for different types of result.    Depending on a company’s risk tolerances, market conditions, and maturity, each portfolio investment can make a major digital difference on your journey.  

an example Digital Business Portfolio with weight towards Sales transformation & growth

an example Digital Business Portfolio with weight towards Sales transformation & growth

Asset class: Growth-focused digital changes

In this area of the portfolio, the digital investments are focused on growing the top-line revenue and market growth for a company.  Most often this is through digital experience changes, including improved digital presence (websites), customer / user experiences, mobile / app capabilities, sales enablement, digital marketing and brand building, and accelerated transaction processing.    All are focused on driving brand awareness, marketing engagement, and 'click to close' sales outcomes.

Asset class: Digital efficiency efforts

Digital improvements to a company’s eco-system are not limited to top line revenue efforts.  Each area of a business, including the traditional functions like Human Resources, Corporate learning, Finance, Collaboration and information sharing within a company – all have digital opportunities today.   

Migrating many of these to the ‘cloud’ is a common response – though thought needs to be given to key dependencies including identity management (logins and access controls), information updates and real time ‘feeds’ of core information, and the ability to record  outcomes across multiple systems. 

Business process automation, machine learning, and robotic process automation (RPA) are all digital investments in the operations portfolio.  

Enterprise architecture is a key skill that a company needs to have in abundance when undertaking these sort of changes, as digital experiences can set (or disrupt) corporate culture quickly if not done well.  

Asset class: Improving the digital risk position

 With the constant talk about ‘digital transformation’, the security and stability of a company’s infrastructure usually takes the back seat to other new digital imperatives. 

What can be missed – the importance of information security, life cycle management of information including data backups and restoration (now cloud enabled), and continuous cyber-security interference.   If you do not consider these when you digitize, you put the entire portfolio (and likely company) at a much higher risk. 

The wisest of companies are continuing to invest in their information security capabilities and readiness in parallel to other digital efforts.   These include upgrades to network monitoring and intrusion detections, preparations for the malware outbreaks, and cloud disruptions are now common place.  

When you accelerate, and enable digital systems to interact across cloud platforms, disruption and reliance on third parties become a higher priority to manage than ever before.  Either outsourcing to a trusted third party the management, or investing in automated tools and infrastructure that identifies and protects issues is a better practice.  


Different digital portfolios for different (corporate) goals

Each company is at a different maturity stage with technology (digital or otherwise), personnel capabilities and staffing (outsourced, in-sourced, hybrid, shadow IT), and market conditions faced.  That is what makes finding a ‘perfect answer’ for digital a broad spectrum response to this sort of query.  There are several archetypes and better practices to start with.  Some of the more common digital models observed include:

Growth minded (with lower priority on efficiency or risk factors):

-       Aggressive user experience / customer journey mapping projects that focus on touch points and digital marketing to sales conversion.   CRM platforms are usually up for review and transaction / deal flow enablement technologies are implement;

-       An efficiency / operations project to improve collaboration or work place experience (HR platform / benefits platform)

-       Outsourced managed info-security scanning and monitoring.

In this scenario, investment in a digital marketing / IT savvy solution partner, and investment longer term in a digitally experienced CMO is recommended.  With focus on the digital marketing / sales experience, companies pursuing this transformation will find themselves often in the land of digital agencies and solution providers enabling direct email marketing, social listening and auto response, and managing engagement campaigns across many digital channels.    Internal initiatives will take lower priority by cultural / leadership focus

Balanced with bias towards conservation of capital (typical private SMB):

-       1 to 3 digital growth initiatives (marketing, digital user experience, sales enablement)

-       1 to 2 efficiency efforts (digital transaction management, workforce collaboration)

-       2 risk management efforts (data center replication to the cloud, information security testing and systemic improvement)

In these circumstances, the corporate entity is balancing a finite capital budget with the new operational expense costs of many ‘cloud’ platforms, and attempting to execute change in concert across these multiple areas.   In this scenario, having a centralized change office / project management office, working in concert with enterprise architects to ensure alignment between information process and business / experience outcomes.   

Digital ‘dabbler’ with low(er) risk tolerance

-       1 digital growth initiative (digital marketing and social media listening typically)

-       1 efficiency effort (usually a long running and slow moving back office migration to a cloud platform, or industry vertical cloud shift)

-       2+ risk management digital solutions

In these portfolio cases, the investments on digital transformation are limited and enterprise risk / operations are willing the majority of budget, talent, and focus for the business.  This scenario is not a bad one for a slower moving incumbent / market leader that has a sizeable revenue gap and time to evaluate and implement digital capabilities at a slower pace.  The risk, that a disrupter/ competitor emerges – exists and digital can become a hurdle (vs. a benefit) in the scenario. 

Which ‘digital assets’ and model are right for you?

This is where we help.  Finding the right ‘digital transformation’ game plan for your company is what we help companies identify, prioritize, and enable.   Making the digital journey is a challenge, and we believe in practical answers tailored to each Client’s market, business, and digital conditions.   

To learn where and how to start on your digital journey, or to optimize your digital portfolio in place today, get in touch!    We provide a free hour’s assessment and chance to understand the ‘art of the possible’ and how you can become a better digital business!       

Sharing the Digital Transformation Bonfire: Our Drinks N Digital events

Rhinodox leadership including Justin Ullman, Kevin Carlson, and Julia Huang, speaking on July 13th 2017 at TechNexus

Rhinodox leadership including Justin Ullman, Kevin Carlson, and Julia Huang, speaking on July 13th 2017 at TechNexus

 Last evening, we had a great evening with over 40 people attending our monthly Drinks N Digital event, this time with a new innovative technology company Rhinodox sharing their vision and Worklight platform.  

During the event I had a chance to connect with many of the attendees, and heard a frequent question: “Why do we (Practically Digital) host these events,  - they are different than most?!”  

The Answer: every fire needs help to grow, and when we find really cool technology solutions we want to see flourish in the world, we throw a party and invite our friends to help build the blaze! 

Really cool is subjective, we know.  Really cool can be transformative in an industry, bringing a new solution to the market that solves hundred (if not thousands) companies needs.  Rhinodox is one of those we feel.  They have innovated and launched a contextual search and workflow automation platform that helps companies reduce repetitive work.  Impressive capabilities and results for any company - especially those handling large amounts of standard forms, claims, records, or files.   

Other times our events highlight an emerging services companies that is taking a fresh look, often disruptively – to existing industries.   All of these events generate dialog, moments of ‘wow I wonder if…’ and follow up meetings and conversations around the food and beverages provided.   

Our events serve another purpose - they help bridge the enterprise / corporate IT and operations worlds, with the startup / tech community here in Chicago.   There are thousands of emerging tech companies each year, and finding new solutions that help you digitally transform is much easier when there is a location, a time, and free food and beverages to help you get started.   We dig it when great teams come together, and we hope our attendees do as well!    

If you are interested in learning about future events and joining us, sign up to our list below.  If you are interested in presenting (even better!), get in touch at and let’s talk about your awesome tech solution or service!

+ See you at our next Drinks N Digital event!  -Rob








Digital Transformation: 3 questions that help focus your digital journey

Digital Transformation: 3 questions that help focus your digital journey

an excerpt from our "Practical Guide to Digital Transformation" 2017 edition

Digital is about speed” is the prevailing opinion held by many strategy shops and consultants.   The common playbook includes chapters on knocking out steps in the supply chain, decreasing decision making steps, implementing cloud platforms to ‘leap frog’ historic infrastructure, and ‘enabling’ the business teams to do more (usually with less human intervention and lots of info graphic reports).  

What is often missing in most of these assessments is the impact that digital transformation can make on your customers (velocity), and the value creation that results.    Done right, you can magnify the value of the change 2x and 3x when you execute a digital transformation campaign that takes into account the bigger picture of business and customer growth.

What ‘digital done right’ looks like

First, be clear on slogans, tactics, and strategy.   “Being a digital business” is a slogan or advertisement for change – it is neither action or direction itself.   We have seen a growing number of first generation ‘digital transformations’ stumble on the slogan-heavy, change lite approach to digital transformation.  

Digital transformation is a campaign process (with multiple sprints of effort within) and change journey that focuses on the human, process, and platform changes in concert to ensure the digital journey sticks.   Like most change programs, digital transformation efforts go through cycles (hype, disappoints, and acceptance), and requires a steady hand and a sense of company ownership to achieve the desired results. 

Clear away the digital jargon and take a focused, practical look at your business.   Three questions we often ask clients to consider as they envision digital transformation:

1. Start with your leading indicators.  What areas of your business are flattening or trending poorly (new customer acquisition, transactions per cycle, days to sales close, marketing engagement factors) as an indicator of an opportunity for digital transformation?    These leading indicators usually point to an opportunity for incremental digital change, with a 1 to 2 quarter transformation time frame possible with the right strategic choices.   

2. What new market entrants (competitors) are trending upwards, and what digital techniques are they deploying to differentiate?    Differentiation at scale (think 5x to 10x impact difference in brand awareness or competitive marketing impressions) is possible with digital techniques and new models including digital marketing and sales enablement processes.    

3. Which areas of your business face the customer most, and are your customers receiving the best experience on those channels?     

A quick way to find out whether you are hitting the digital mark with your customers is an informal customer discussion (invite the top 10 and bottom 10 customers to a coffee, meeting, or meal) on how they are finding their experience.   Explore for aspirations (‘we wish you would …’ dialogs) and consider the art of the possible. 

If a digital answer exists (or could be brought forward in the near term) – consider the economics and effort it would take to prototype.   Most times, you will find a test case and pilot evaluation leads to a new way of work / customer service that can digitally transform your business.  

Tactics and techniques can help

There are several macro-trends in digital transformation that you should consider on your digital journey:

Customer journey mapping, combined with next generation business process management solutions, can drive digital experiences to a new level with the right team.   Customer journey mapping helps you identify how and where there are touch points, and opportunities for digital experiences that make a difference.    Automating those journeys with BPM platforms can ensure consistency and measurable results, allowing for continuous improvement (read on!)

Design thinking and rapid prototyping a solution for a customer, aligned with the proposed customer journeys, brings together a better roadmap for digital success.    Design thinking, a method favored by many high-tech companies and pioneered by leading companies like Apple, use a rapid prototype and feedback process ensures you are getting ‘closer and closer’ to the ultimate customer experience without waiting months to years for a final product (or change) to reach market.  Doing so with digital experiences helps you evaluate the effectiveness and market acceptance of change, both key factors in digital transformation success.

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To learn how to better align your business strategy with digital opportunities, get in touch with us! 



A compelling vision from the Salesforce World Tour 2017

A compelling vision: Salesforce World Tour 2017

This week, Salesforce delivered on their world tour commitments to the central US markets, bringing a piece of the annual Dreamforce experience to the lakeside convention center in Chicago.   Between the Chicago-style hot dogs and Sierra-themed conference, the world tour experience was more than memorable – it provided a degree of clarity to the benefits of the past few years acquisitions and investments by Salesforce.

Several important points were made today, six months on from the last Dreamforce event in San Francisco 2016.  The top 10 insights from today:

1)    The entire keynote was delivered by women executives – all at the top of Salesforce.  I share this point first because it was refreshing to experience, and illustrates why Salesforce stands apart from many in the Silicon Valley universe as a progressive and inclusive organization.  I encourage more in the tech industry to follow suit.

2)    Einstein, the Salesforce based Artificial intelligence capability, was in full effect across Sales, Marketing, and Service platforms.   What was hinted at a year ago, is now fully realized in guiding intelligently the various customer journeys.  

You can see the significant investment in the A.I. experience – and the intellectual value that has been embedded in the Sales support guidance, the Services automation capabilities, and the Marketing cloud actions which are informed by the A.I. that is Einstein.   The lead scoring and predictive analytics on the Sales side was particularly compelling.

3)    The value of the Lightning user experience is now a strong differentiator, and brings together the various cloud experiences in a consistent UI.   Gone are the days of ‘tab to table’ screens – the UI is fluid (allowing you to pull and drop various components on the screens), and dynamically generated based on rules and the Einstein A.I. guidance.    Easier to use = more efficient = happier sales, marketing, and service team members.    Salesforce is no longer mind boggling small fonts and depth of menus – it makes sense.

4)    Simple things are some of the most powerful in Salesforce today.  The ability to utilize the Salesforce Mobile client as a central sales engagement app on a phone or tablet is a reality today.   Where Hubspot and other email tracking platforms had outpaced Salesforce in the past years – today you can achieve equal and greater capability via the Salesforce Inbox and Mobile client.   

Being able to share calendars, email ‘sense’ engagement, and have Einstein analytics advise probability of best sales leads for the day – super charges your sales teams effectiveness.

5)    Marketing Cloud – reimagined from its prior days as ExactTarget – Marketing Cloud has taken on a new level of maturity with the Einstein A.I. enhancements and rules based actions.  You can truly design for various customer journeys, based on defined marketing / advertising and customer journeys – and engage across multiple (omni) channels to optimize audience awareness.   Yes, other players do this too – what is meaningful about Marketing Cloud + Einstein is the sense of engagement and precision / accuracy you achieve when you combine the two together.  When you tack on Pardot and the DMP (data management platform) possibilities with Einstein – it is very hard to beat.

6)    Service Cloud is now a fully integrated component and contributes to the ‘customer 360’ mindset most companies are seeking today.  Now you can see the before (marketing), during (sales), and after (service) relationships in a common dashboard and view – and again has the Einstein embedded analytics and advise.  One particularly interesting integration is the chat-bot capabilities (Live Message) which you can leverage.  Check this out if you have not considered.

7)    Community Cloud is shaping up to be a competitive alternative to Facebook Workplace as a collaboration environment you can share across suppliers, employees, and customers to create a common social space.    

Rooted strongly in the Salesforce data model (and benefits when you leverage the entire stack with Salesforce solutions) – the Community Cloud provides a common space for inter-connected entities in the schema (customers, suppliers, and employees) to share knowledge and collaborate.  If you are building (or rebuilding) a business around the Salesforce platform stack – you would be well off to consider how Community Cloud fits into your engagement thinking.   

8)    Demandware is now Commerce Cloud – and that is a very good thing.   From last years’ acquisition of the Demandware platform – the benefits to the Salesforce eco-system are clear:  Commerce Cloud brings to the table an enterprise ecommerce platform and integrating with the robust customer data model that is Salesforce itself.  The automations and A.I. capabilities ahead are fascinating to consider as Salesforce will bring eCommerce to the customer journey map through Commerce Cloud. 

9)    Lest you think this is an advertisement for Salesforce (we are a Hubspot shop in fact at Practically Digital) - there are always a few head scratchers

An example - Quip – bought last year also – is a simpler version of either Office 365 or Google G Suite – combined with Basecamp or Slack, as best was illustrated today. 

The product message is still a bit murky how a company will use it to replace or enhance your existing collaboration experience – other than to say “well it works with Salesforce really well”.   Like Sharepoint vs. Yammer in the Microsoft universe – we are not sure (yet) how Quip will become a valued point solution or part of a stack investment (unless you do not use Slack, Basecamp, G Suite or Office365 today – in which case you may be a customer contender).   

10) Are ‘2 A.I.’s are better than one’, as the partnership between Salesforce and IBM Watson from earlier this year has been messaged to the market.  This is still taking shape in the demonstrations and discussions, and not clear enough (yet) how this adds value to most companies. 

Having experience on both sides of this partnership – my sense is ‘IBM = process A.I.” and ‘Einstein = entity A.I.’ – and when you combine the two in a thoughtful way – you may arrive at two very fast digital advisors on how which business process should touch which customer, supplier, or marketing lead – in what order – without requiring (much) human intervention.  Stay tuned on this one – there is a story here worth telling but it seems a little out of focus still.


In summary – the world tour event illustrated today a major improvement on the acquisitions, artificial intelligence, and customer vision for Salesforce 2017.   If you have not looked at your relationship management solution(s) lately – now is a good time to consider how ready you are for digital business.   Especially if you are lagging behind on artificial intelligence and analytics to support business transformation.  

To learn more about digital engagement, customer experiences, and how relationship management is part of a digital business, get in touch with us below!