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Marketing Change Agents: Get Your CEO on Board with Digital Transformation

min read

Clare Kirlin
Director of Marketing
CEO Digital Transformation

How important is digital transformation to your CEO?

A study from Organic and Marketing Week found that 62% of employees feel the biggest barrier to digital transformation is “not having a leadership mandate.

“It really does come down to the chief executive officer. I can’t think of an example where a company is succeeding at strategic digital business change, but the chief executive is disengaged,” says Mark Raskino, CEO and Digital Business Leadership research team at Gartner.

If your CEO is not prioritizing digital transformation, you’re probably frustrated.

Don’t despair.

Marketing change agents like you have the capacity to channel this frustration into a significant business impact.

It’s true that digital transformation requires partnership across the enterprise, particularly with IT and digital functions; we’ve never seen a case of one individual or one team achieving digital maturity at the organizational level.

But as a senior marketer, you are in a unique position to elevate digital transformation to the top of your executive agenda.

Apply Campaign Thinking

There are highly effective strategies that marketing leaders can use to drive digital transformation at the CEO level.

It starts with a campaign mindset.

By applying the strategic framework you’d use for any marketing campaign, you can build consensus and win support for digital transformation.

No need to kick down the boardroom door wielding a carefully crafted strategic roadmap.

In fact, your CEO is probably already working toward digital transformation — but simply does not realize they are doing so, in the absence of explicitly defined digital transformation goals.

Craft Your Message

Strategy 1: Craft Your Message

As with any external campaign, your internal campaign to champion digital transformation requires a storyline.

First, identify the key digital transformation goals for your organization. There is almost certainly overlap with your CEO’s current agenda. That’s your core message.

We’re hard-pressed to find a CEO who isn’t thinking about driving profit, reducing operating expenses, or increasing lifetime customer value. What opportunity does digital transformation offer to advance these existing organizational goals?

Remember to keep it simple. Don’t over-sell. Don’t over-promise. Don’t over-hype. CEOs have enough on their mind with big data, AI, mobile, and angry mobs of dissatisfied shareholders. Sounding the alarm bells on yet another megatrend won’t help them sleep at night.

Demonstrating how their existing priorities will move your company’s digital transformation will. The key is not to position digital transformation against other organizational priorities, but to align with them.

In fact, they may be grateful to have your help; the board is probably asking about it anyway.

Start Small

Strategy 2: Start Small

Ultimately, you’re seeking to remove roadblocks and increase opportunities.

Plan to ask this key question of your CEO: “How do we get more executive sponsorship for digital transformation to smooth the path for greater collaboration and backing?”

Starting that conversation without adequate data to justify your request is a fool’s errand. But gathering that data may be easier than you think.

Odds are high that you already have initiatives underway that are driving digital transformation across the enterprise. Take a “winventory;” identify the projects and programs that have already proven value toward your digital transformation goals.

Don’t limit your conversations to marketing allies; meet with influencers in other departments to better understand where the company is already achieving digital maturity. You can extrapolate from this data to demonstrate the value that similar initiatives could bring to the entire enterprise.

ROI is a useful metric, but consider others—such as increased customer acquisition, decreased cost across digital channels, or reduced delivery times. As investment and returns increase, continue the practice of quantifying value and highlighting your wins to build your business case.

Think Money

Strategy 3: Think Money

What you’re asking for can amount to major organizational shifts in culture, structure, and more. The central question on your CEO’s mind is, “You’re asking me to place a bet on digital transformation. What will you deliver for the investment?”

The digital transformation investment gap exists because leaders fail to adequately address this question. (Harvard Business Review reports that the average investment in emerging technologies as a percentage of overall technology spend grew only 1% in the last ten years.)

Produce detailed information on how people, processes, and technology can help you transform digitally.

The answer might be cost savings, new revenue streams, or increased profitability. It requires your organization to balance this quarter’s results against the long-game payoff, particularly if it hasn’t paid off in the past, so be prepared to speak to long-term organizational needs. We don’t advocate fear-mongering, but the long-term risks of ignoring digital transformation cannot be ignored if your CEO (and the organization they lead) are going to thrive beyond the next reporting period.

Don’t let historical failures stop you; use the learnings to demonstrate how approaching similar efforts through the lens of digital transformation can produce better results in the future.

In Conclusion  

Digital transformation can’t happen without buy-in from your CEO. Until they are on formally on board, you’ll only get so far.

Marketing can and should play a key role in driving the executive agenda; true digital transformation is an organizational effort.

Curious to know how your digital maturity stacks up against the competition? Take our short quiz to see where you stand.