What does a digital strategy consultant do?
Curious about how a digital strategy consultant can help you?
Digital has become an increasingly common term in business today and shows up in all facets of our lives. We see it used by marketing and video production agencies, IT managed services, cyber security firms, business development agencies, and SaaS product companies. Digital isn’t just about tech and marketing anymore; it’s about solving problems, making better data-driven decisions, and growing your business in the most scalable way possible. Even the term scalability has taken on a new meaning. It’s no longer about pulling cost out of your business
but more about the rate at which we can adapt and change. Modern enterprises are adopting digital across all work streams, processes, and customer-facing technology. A digital strategy consultant can help you navigate and better understand the complex ecosystem of suppliers, products, and technology while steering you clear of some of the most common pitfalls.
Developing a digital strategy isn’t a one-size-fits-all endeavor. The approach should strike the right balance between thoroughness and speed. Most importantly, a well-developed digital strategy will deliver measurable business outcomes in predictable, incremental, timeframes. A digital-first business strategy provides a formula for growth and scalability that generates compounded benefits like a high yield investment and maximizes the benefit of every dollar spent.
So, what does a digital strategy consultant do? A digital strategy consultant provides expertise in experience engineering and helps to architect an optimized future-state for your customers and your employees. This process evaluates your business at whatever stage of growth you’re at to determine the right tools, technology, and processes for your business. A digital strategy consultant designs and delivers an invaluable artifact – a well-planned, phased, budgeted and actionable roadmap to execute against.
Digital Transformation vs. Digital Evolution
Ironically, to ensure a successful program, I believe we have to stop using the term digital transformation to describe it. Transformation implies a single tool, technology, or product can morph your company into some version of a digital butterfly that can flap its wings and float away into a world of connectedness and growth. It also implies an end-state where an effort is complete. For those of us who have lived through or are responsible for digital programs, we know the effort never really ends. We know this because we rely on user generated data to measure our progress. Users, and the data they generate are not static variables. We know as technology and user behavior evolves, so must we.
Traditional businesses manage their operation through internal operating data and KPIs. Digital businesses manage their operation through internal and external data and KPIs. “Digital Transformation” attracts a lot of leaders who fail to understand they are stepping into a new normal; one that shifts the landscape more frequently but in more easily quantified ways. The result of this gap in understanding? Thousands of articles, blog posts and white papers on the “Top 10 reasons why digital transformations fail”.
Your evolution may fail to meet leadership’s expectations without strategies for measuring progress and telling the story to the right stakeholders, at the right time, in the right way. It’s for this reason, having a digital strategy is the key to success. Managing expectations and demystifying digital transformation is more effective with a tangible artifact – a roadmap. This is how we attribute value to each phase of the journey. Transformation in and of itself is not the goal. Evolving with and for our customers, suppliers and employees is what it’s all about.
Questions I Ask New Clients as A Digital Strategy Consultant
If you are staring down the barrel of significant change you need to lay a solid foundation first. While it’s normal to want to jump into the fun work of building new things, there is a lot that requires careful thought and planning. You may find brand theory boring, value propositioning pointless, or persona work a waste of time, but chances are you’re going to discover your brand strategy, client segmentation, or competitive market analysis are not as thorough as you thought.
I recently had a client say to me, “Oh no, not the persona discussion again!”. They had been through the exercise with their web, SEO, business development, and CRM partners. They “felt” it was redundant but failed to realize a significant part of their strategy was missing. If you’re sick of talking about segmentation and personas, look inward! Either you don’t have a strategy, your strategy is missing something, your strategy isn’t as thorough as it needs to be, or you haven’t shared your strategy with your partners. Regardless of the reason, if you’re paying experts to help you and they’re asking for more – trust them.
Your suppliers depend on you having a robust strategy to ensure their solutions align to it. Without it, they are forced to build disconnected, disparate, pseudo-strategies. This is never an ideal approach. It not only costs you more money to do things this way, it almost always costs you results.
If you want your suppliers to be positioned for success, have a digital strategy ready to share from day one. They should be able to see themselves in your vision and understand where they can offer the most value. Below are a few of the high-level questions I use to get the creative juices flowing:
What are you transforming from?
Many jump too quickly into digital transformation initiatives without taking the time to map out the current state. This is a critical element of change management for your internal operations as well as your existing customers. Current-state process maps and customer journey flows serve as a bedrock for identifying high impact risks and will flush out the quick wins that deliver value in the early weeks or months. Put more simply: Know thyself!
What are you transforming or evolving into?
When evaluating the “to” state, think in terms of customer segments, size of the company, location of the company, additional products & services being offered or a transition from a B2C business to a B2B business (or vice versa). The answer to this comes before the goal setting phase. It is your vision for the future. Not everyone will have a clear vision yet and that’s okay. They may have a problem that needs to be solved but are unsure what it looks like. We can work with that and help with the vision development.
Why are you doing it?
Don’t underestimate the importance of having an honest and authentic reason behind the required changes and don’t be afraid to put more than one “why” up on the board. As a digital strategy consultant, one of the biggest obstacles in achieving success is effective change management. You will fail in this area if you do not have a well-developed rationale for change. Consider multiple audiences such as your investors, board members, advisors, partners, suppliers and especially your employees. Your “why” should be compelling. Change for the sake of change is not enough. Just because you build it does not mean they will come.
What is the value of the effort?
Defining value is something that many are fearful of doing or are reluctant to share. There is real pressure associated with putting a number out there. Unfortunately, I have experienced many leaders skipping this critical step or holding this portion of the strategy too close to the vest. This results in two areas being weakened: the business case and the team responsible for delivering. Defining value is challenging. Market analysis, statistical analysis, user interviews, R&D, financial modeling, and competitive research are required. ROI isn’t sexy, until it is.
What are your goals?
From here, we dig into some more tangible questions about goals. Goals are typically tied to growth, scalability, or a combination of the two. I begin with these:
1. What are the goals and desired outcomes you are working towards?
2. When do you WANT to reach these goals?
3. When do you NEED to reach these goals and why?
How long until the next transformation?
When working on digital strategy development, the last thing leadership wants to discuss is iteration #2 or iteration #3…but it’s essential to understand (and accept) that this is not a one-and-done process. It’s an evolution. Digital transformation is first and foremost a commitment to this discipline. You must cling to a “never-done” mindset. Only once this commitment is made, and your business teams are transformed into thinking this way, can you claim yours to be a digital enterprise. Digital products, digital marketing and automation are merely mechanisms to support or accelerate your evolution; they are never the endgame.
What does the demand landscape look like?
Demand landscape is made up of the factors that influence the goals such as: market factors, competition, at-risk customers, investor demand, financing, outside funding, exit strategy, mergers, acquisitions, changes in leadership or changes in ownership. Capturing the external factors that influence your goals is KEY to how we approach your roadmap. It provides much needed context that helps to manage expectations and ensures success is defined in terms that everyone agrees on.
Your Digital Roadmap – The Gift That Keeps on Giving
Technology roadmaps serve many purposes. These strategy documents are integral to attracting investors, calculating the current or future valuation of your business, identifying a right-fit for mergers or acquisitions and attracting top talent. You should expect both a strategic and a tactical plan that generates alignment, accountability and inspires every member of your team by clearly articulating opportunities and what each means to the business.
Building a digital roadmap begins with your vision and goals and reverse engineers a plan focused on people, process and data. Digital can be expensive and can disrupt day-to-day culture, impact departmental budgets and has the potential to be disruptive. Getting it right and delivering value early is critical to maintaining engagement, support, and a positive outlook on the future.
A digital roadmap focuses on building a holistic view of what is needed for growth and scalability within your operation, broken into digestible phases. As the number of inbound leads increase, additional customers will require support. To support this growth and avoid volume disruption, bottlenecks and data gaps need to be flushed out by examining how things are done and why they are done that way.
Digital Strategy Consultant Role and The Discovery Process
Below is a list of areas that may or may not be part of the discovery and documentation phase leading up to your digital strategy formation. Anything look familiar?
Capture the future state in terms of experience.
- Experience is not limited to customers; it should also include employees, distribution partners, or contractors.
Define the future state in terms of KPIs or measurable goals.
- It’s important to understand the KPIs that exist and the ones that don’t. Industry metrics around safety, quality, satisfaction, conversions, ratings, retention, efficiency, are just a few.
Clarify, or expand upon customer segmentation strategy.
- We look at the segments you currently service along with their planned growth.
- Identification of planned future segments are also flushed out. Understanding growth creates efficiencies of scale when planning product roadmaps.
Define, clarify, or expand upon customer personas.
- Who are the personas your products or services are designed for? What are the problems they are trying to solve?
- What personas are being targeted in the future?
Document current state processes.
- Many times, downstream experiences or processes are dependent upon upstream ones. We flow through the operational processes to look for bottlenecks that require attention.
Map out current state customer journeys.
- In parallel, we map the customer journey flow and tie customer touch points to internal processes and triggers to identify gaps or opportunities for automation with the goal of supporting growth at scale.
Capture the full digital footprint.
- A digital blueprint is a great way to diagram all of the places your content lives and all the ways customers interact with you through various stages of their journey.
Reengineer future state processes.
- With stakeholder input, we begin to weave together an optimized future-state.
Design the proposed future state customer journeys.
- We architect a new digital blueprint for an optimized customer experience.
Complete the gap analysis.
- Operational GAP analysis is provided for high-priority areas requiring attention.
Prioritize based on value, effort, and time to deliver.
- We look at the results of the GAP analysis and begin to prioritize as a team. Every idea, enhancement or change must have a value, a cost, and relative effort assigned to it.
Obtain high-level estimations.
- As rough estimates are provided, we begin to shift things around and phasing/iterations begin to organically appear.
Deliver a complete (but never finished) digital roadmap.
- At first glance, your roadmap may look a lot like a traditional project plan but it will be higher-level and will focus on efforts that tie directly to company goals. It exists within a governance framework that allows for changes over time. (If you’re familiar with Agile, think of your roadmap as a collection of Epics.)
Execution of a Digital Strategy Roadmap
It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in business, executing against a digital roadmap is going to bring challenges. Every organization is unique with varying degrees of maturity in different areas across the business. Bringing in an objective person to identify issues quickly, enables the development of micro-strategies for mitigating issues before they impact your milestones.
Your execution phase requires the same care and thoughtful planning that went into building the roadmap to begin with. This requires experience, emotional intelligence, and mature change management acumen. It requires taking an unbiased look at how your organization is structured, how budgets are allocated, and pays careful attention to the culture. I’ve shared some ideas below to get you thinking.
A digital strategy forges a healthy marriage between IT and Marketing
Most of my clients consider IT and Marketing as cost centers with budgets being capped at a percentage of revenue each year. Deteriorating market conditions usually affect these areas directly. This can result in a tug-of-war where leaders are constantly competing for resources or fighting to protect their own interests. Culture can be transformed through digital initiatives by transforming these departments from cost centers to revenue centers or at the very least “value” centers. To achieve this, leaders must let go of the old way of thinking. It requires cross-functional collaboration and a desire to solve problems together.
Digital promises highly personalized ways of interacting with clients and requires fast, secure, and reliable transactional processing. More efficient technologies must be adopted to ensure scalable growth rates. Without IT and Marketing speaking the same language, setting priorities based on growth or continuously pulling cost out of the process, you’ll burn through runway quickly.
Doing new things, in new ways, can cause the most talented and intelligent individuals to struggle visualizing it. That’s where I come in. I help to forge these new internal partnerships and processes and cement a vision for the future that others may struggle to see.
How to budget for digital strategy execution.
According to recent research from Gartner, the average spend on marketing grew from 6.4% of company revenue to 9.5% in 2022. Some of this is a bounce back from pre pandemic levels which averaged 10.9% of company revenue. In 2022, IT budgets jumped to an average of 3.6% of company revenue, “the largest increase in a decade”. Even without a digital component added to your business strategy, IT and Marketing budgets are making up a larger share of overhead than ever before.
I’ve observed a direct correlation to the budgeting process and the success with digital programs. Budgets for digital can be tucked into existing IT or marketing budgets, carved out into a new department, or treated as a one-time capital expense. There are pros and cons for each. Many customers fail to consider the impact this has can have on their team. They fail to include it as part of the change management plan. Simply including your team in the discussion and clearly communicating the reason behind the investment can go a long way. Digital transformation doesn’t need to be a stealth mission, and most find that including team members in the budgeting process results in more accurate budgets.
Ideally, people work together and deliver under an umbrella of shared, structured, and clearly defined expectations. This requires an evolved culture and healthy egos amongst the leadership team. Digital transformation isn’t new technology being layered on top of old processes. Success requires every team member to embrace the change.
Be sensitive to the budgeting process and the impact this can have. Effective budgeting is less about where the dollars are categorized and more about the experience your team has as you figure it out.
How to define and manage accountability in digital transformation.
Investments in digital programs will gain the attention of your board members, investors, advisors and customers. The increased visibility can be a drain on delivery teams as everyone clamors for updates and makes suggestions on how to manage the program. Information requests come in many forms, at different times and from countless individuals. Defining the format and the timing for sharing (proactive) updates around your KPIs helps everyone stay aligned. it also provides a critical layer of insulation for the people doing the work.
Every team member needs to understand the importance of their role, and should plan to over communicate within the team. This means vertical and horizontal communication where every person shares details on their progress with one another, not just to project managers or supervisors. Your team members are stakeholders as well. There should be complete transparency with every milestone and everyone involved should have access to the same information at the same time. There should be one version of the truth.
Your organizational structure and culture will influence this accountability matrix and should be flexible enough to evolve over time. The new normal is less about fixed processes and rigid reporting structures and more about a comfort with change, transparency and accountability. You need to receive Ideas for continuous improvement and even criticisms openly. This is especially important for multi-year programs as outside technologies and customer needs change faster than delivery teams often drop new features. The best way to maintain a close pulse of what is happening is to listen to your employee’s feedback.
Digital strategy execution is led by the business.
Digital transformation is almost always an inside job. While it may begin with creative ideation around modern user experience and engagement, those experiences require dramatic shifts in process management, data management, and automation. An army of consultants cannot complete this for you – it requires broad, cross-functional support. What this execution phase looks like will depend largely on your corporate culture when you begin. Everything from siloed teams to incentive programs can work against projects that require collective thought and cooperation to be successful. To put a business-driven strategy in place, new goals must be defined and tracked. Department heads must understand that the business strategy is the new North star.
You may also find that reporting structures need to be reevaluated or changed. A common example is IT and Marketing reporting up through CGOs, CROs, or COOs. This doesn’t mean that traditional interests of these departments go away. Department heads need to maintain their responsibility for providing oversight and ensuring the business operates securely, safely, and legally. Flatter organizations are sometimes better at keeping every individual in direct contact with the company’s mission.
Finally, communication structures are a factor in planning your execution strategy. Don’t allow important information to be shared like a game of telephone unless you want to guarantee the message is distorted. The communication strategy should be chosen early on and should include a process for both sharing information and replying to questions. This is a great way to check how good your communication really is.
Digital Strategy Consulting Can Compliment Your Team
With a little bit of understanding around digital strategy consulting, the next step is to define and refine your goals. Your goals will influence the approach we take and will include process improvement, program governance, and data-driven decision making. Together, we don’t just build your plan we execute that plan, with procedural, operational and structural support along the way.
From auditing your digital footprint, to helping you run RFPs and proposals, or putting you in touch with trusted digital partners, you benefit from my experience and avoid common pitfalls along the way.
If this sounds even mildly intriguing, you can schedule a free 30-minute intro call with me. We’ll use the time to explore what your roadmap might look like and how it will enhance your business’ digital evolution.
Schedule a call with me today!