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To Be An Experience Business Requires Organizational And Cultural Shifts.

When Rishi Dave was hired to lead the digital transformation at Dun & Bradstreet three years ago, the new CMO knew that fully overhauling the marketing technology stack would be required to transform the 175-year-old company into a modern, data-driven enterprise. But that isn’t where he started.

“What we focused on first and foremost was modernizing our culture and our brand,” Dave said. “Until we were clear on what our purpose was and where our value would be, investing in the digital experience didn’t make sense.”

While there was some immediate work to do to improve the existing digital customer experience, that was performed in parallel with more important work: establishing a new go-to-market strategy around customer personas rather than products and creating the right culture to support it. Building that strategic foundation from which to deliver a winning digital experience took a year-and-a-half. And taking the extra time was a risk—but one that paid off.

“It doesn’t matter how much you invest in new technology or great content if you don’t have a clear understanding of who you are and who you are targeting. And that early work confirmed that we needed to create an entirely new digital experience for our customers,” said Dave, noting that the company’s key customer experience performance indicators all went up after the reorganization and launch of the new digital experience platform, including lead generation numbers, which leapt 95%. “We were able to do more than just design a great experience leveraging good technology and new data and analytics. We had a strong understanding of who we were targeting and how to differentiate the experience we were creating for them.”

Top Of The Agenda

Reorganizing around the digital experience is at the top of the agenda for companies across industries today. “Better customer experience underpins everything today, and that’s code for better, more seamless digital experiences,” said Norm Yustin, executive director with Russell Reynolds Associates. “It’s a significantly high priority today—all the way up to the board level.”

In the recent past, such digital transformation occurred in pockets of the marketing organization. “Many times it was bottom-up, with some cool, young Millennial people doing skunkworks projects that might bubble up,” Yustin said. “Now it’s top-down, which has a significant impact on how quickly marketing organizations need to adapt organizationally and culturally in order to put the customer at the center of everything.”

What’s more, successfully restructuring around the digital experience “requires significant transformation not just in marketing but in the entire company,” said Debbie Qaqish, principal partner and chief strategy officer of The Pedowitz Group and author of “Rise of the Revenue Marketer.” “In most cases, I see marketing getting on board with a customer focus before the rest of the organization. Spreading this new mindset to the rest of an organization is challenging, especially in product-focused and technology companies.”

The key to this marketing-led makeover isn’t jumping into tactics or technology, but investing in the necessary strategic, cultural, and organizational shifts required to drive the transformation. “When creating a ‘digital-first’ marketing organization, it’s important to remember that it isn’t about implementing a particular technology or a single process,” said Melissa Puls, CMO of billion-dollar software maker Progress. “It’s about ensuring internal alignment and adopting a holistic approach that works.” talked to marketing leaders about their best practices for restructuring to deliver a winning digital experience.

Invest in Hearts and Minds

Change is never easy. But marketing departments that have thrived in the past may be particularly resistant to reorganizing around the digital experience. “It’s easy to be a victim of past success and use formulas that worked in a bygone era,” said Paul Gottsegen, senior vice president, chief marketing and strategy officer at Mindtree. “Some of the most accomplished people on [our] team were actually the last ones to jump on the transformation train because they had an offline system that worked pretty well.”

It’s important to give everyone time to experiment, he added, and room to occasionally fail.

At Dun & Bradstreet, those who couldn’t align themselves with the new culture and approach left. Many stayed throughout the transition. And Dave brought in a number of new hires as well. “Culture is incredibly important when you’re trying to be digitally driven,” he said. “We want people who are comfortable trying new things, letting go of those that don’t work, and scaling the things that do. We want people who are excited by 

Think Big

“It’s essential to define the brand before building a digital experience strategy,” said Peggy Chen, CMO at language translation and content management company SDL. “This means truly understanding who we are as a company, what we do, and why we do it.”

At software maker Progress, that meant a global rebrand “to focus on delivering better digital experiences for our customers and, ultimately, to stay ahead of the curve with agile startups that have flooded the digital transformation market,” Puls said.

At Dun & Bradstreet, the marketing group talked to employees in all functions around the world to get a better idea of what changes were required. “It was very important to gather feedback not just from marketing about what we needed to do to modernize,” Dave said.

Deliver Short-Term Wins

At localization services provider Lionbridge, marketing has been focused on better understanding the customer and his journey.

“The challenge is balancing efforts that have short- and long-term impact,” CMO Clint Poole said. “Many digital transformation activities have long development cycles, such as web development and building social audiences, or a long time to impact, such as SEO efforts. Our approach has been to map out all of the programs and initiatives, then prioritize the execution that balances long- and short-term results.”

The incremental improvements build momentum and ensure ongoing support and funding.

Build Functional Bridges

CMOs charged with restructuring around the digital experience also need to form strategic alliances with their C-suite peers in a way they haven’t in the past.

“Traditionally, organizational charges have been very linear,” Russell Reynolds’ Yustin said.

Digital experience-driven companies should consider more circular org charts with the CMO, CFO, and COO (or CIO) surrounding the customer, Yustin advised. “CMOs can’t live in a bubble anymore,” he said. They need to figure out how to finance and operationalize their digital transformations, and that requires partnerships with other corporate functions.

Work Toward Common Goals

Just as corporate leaders will have to reorient themselves around the customer, so, too, should members of the marketing team. “The most important success factor is getting all the disciplines within marketing to work together in service of the customer,” Dave said.

At Dun & Bradstreet, he introduced a “tiger team” approach–a term first coined by NASA, which brought together technical specialists to solve problems and innovate. “They think first about the customer experience and then figure out a way to work together to make it happen,” Dave said, adding that the entire team is responsible for a set of key performance results.

Collaborating with other customer-facing functions can further these efforts. At InContact, CMO Randy Littleson creates cross-functional teams for digital experience projects that include marketing, sales, and customer service members.

Similarly, “One of our best practices has been working directly with our customer-facing sales leaders to better understand the buyer journey and design the best digital experience possible,” said Amede Hungerford, CMO at data management company Dell Boomi.

Turn Everyone Into a Technologist

In order to deliver differentiated digital experiences, marketing organizations will have to leverage a whole host of new technologies over the next few years, including the internet of things, machine learning, robotics, and biometrics, to name a few. “These new technologies will redefine business operations, but more importantly, they will redefine the way companies engage with their customers,” said Merijn te Booij, CMO at Genesys.

CMOs themselves will need a good grasp of technology. “They don’t need to be able to code,” Yustin said, “but they do need to have their finger on the pulse of technology.”

Even more importantly, their marketing team members must become technologists as well. “In my first all-hands meeting more than three years ago, I told the team that everyone must be a marketing technologist,” Mindtree’s Gottsegen said. “Until then, it was assumed that a few specialists would handle digital marketing. But that’s very old thinking.”

Gottsegen allowed every employee the opportunity to pick a specialization–say, SEO or automation. But everyone had to learn about the full marketing stack in order to develop and execute integrated campaigns.

Build Agile-Not Annual-Plans

While CMOs will still need to deliver annual plans to their leadership teams, digital experience transformation requires a much more nimble approach. Marketing leaders must be willing and able to turn on a dime to deliver the kinds of digital experiences customers demand. When Amazon announced its new checkout-free retail stores late last year, every single retailer had to rethink its plans, Yustin said. “That’s not the kind of thing that can wait until next year.”

At financial services company Voya, Karen Eisenbach has taken on the new role of chief business marketing officer and is working closely with the company’s chief digital officer in an effort to create a more agile, responsive, and open marketing environment. “We are transforming how we engage and interact–breaking through hierarchy and breaking down silos to collaborate from an end-to-end, customer journey perspective,” Eisenbach said.

Integrate Everything

While new technologies will be critical to delivering effective digital experiences, any system that silos data will deter marketing’s transformation efforts. “Digital marketing campaigns will have to deliver exceptional omnichannel journey management because most customers are active across multiple digital channels,” Genesys’ te Booij said. “Connected campaigns that orchestrate all customer interactions with ease will have a longer shelf life and drive better business results.”

At Mindtree, that has meant completely integrating sales and marketing systems synchronized in real time. “It allows us to create and analyze customer experiences from [all] perspectives,” Gottsegen said.

Test, Learn, Scale, Repeat

Hungerford said empowering his team to take risks without fear of repercussions has been critical in coming up with innovative digital experience solutions. “I advised our team to step back and deeply understand our customer’s buying journey to ensure we were delivering an optimal experience that increased engagement and conversions,” she said.

Retailer and advertising pioneer John Wannamaker once famously said that he knew half of the money he spent on marketing was wasted—he just didn’t know which half. Modern marketers with access to new data and analytics tools can no longer plead such ignorance. “Great digital leaders can press a button and measure effectiveness,” Yustin said. “They do A/B testing. That capability is extremely attractive.”

Creating a culture that has a repeatable and measurable approach to experimentation is critical. There was significant trepidation around the planned digital transformation at Dun & Bradstreet. A test-and-learn approach alleviated anxiety. “Doing things small and then scaling those things that worked was important,” Dave said. “As we had successes, we spent a lot of time communicating those across the company to show that these new approaches were working. And then we were able to scale them. The biggest thing I learned was the importance of data and analytics: making sure that decision making is data driven and measuring impact of changes you’re driving.”