Exile on Main Street: Digital Transformation and COVID-19

Written by Darryl Erentzen

May 15, 2020

It’s  more a mindset than a toolset.

Marketing, Sales, Service, Banking, Retail, Insurance, Consulting – every business and process can benefit by using digital tools intelligently.

Main Street looks like a ghost town.

Closed storefronts, a few parked cars, the odd piece of litter, someone walking their dog. Nothing to see here folks, move along.

Once the COVID-19 crisis passes, the world will have changed. The global jump in e-commerce isn’t just a blip, it’s the new normal. Its become more important than ever to position your business to continue whether or not face-to-face meetings are possible.

I spoke to a lawyer today who’s content to continue to get clients the old-fashioned way, through networking and referrals and the odd chance encounter. She’s fine with doing things over the phone and ignoring social media and other online marketing channels.

Even she recognizes the need to give clients a means to connect with her online, although grudgingly. We talked about creating a new website for her practice. She’s started doing webinars and needs a place to promote them with a respectable site that gives the right impression.

What does it mean when even people who’ve resisted adopting new techologies since the 90s are updating their websites?

It means that something unprecedented is occurring, something game-changing.
In response to COVID-19, people are permanently changing the way they do business. From large corporations to small businesses to consumers, everyone is adapting in ways that are establishing new habits, and habits, once formed, are tough to break.
Everyone isn’t doing the same things though, there are specific tools that make more or less sense to use in any given context. The only way to really explain what a digital transformation looks like in detail is to drill down into specific case studies.

Too much technical detail tends to confuse rather than enlighten though, so I’ll go into detail a bit later, perhaps when targeting a technical audience. Today I’m speaking to business owners, so the big picture is what I’m aiming for.

influenza pandemic chart - we are here
This isn’t going away anytime soon.

It’s  more a mindset than a toolset.

Marketing, Sales, Service, Banking, Retail, Insurance, Consulting – every business and process can benefit by using digital tools intelligently.

Why bother with Digital Transformation?

Put simply, the point is to eliminate friction from business processes.

In everything from interactions between co-workers to managing suppliers and customer relationships, when dealing with top corporations, companies and consumers have become accustomed to speed, simplicity, and portability. People want to be able to do whatever it is they need to via a simple interface that works from every device.

Employees become frustrated when taking their work home means lugging an outdated company laptop, storing files on a USB stick, or – worst of all – bringing paper files and boxes of records home. It seems archaic (because it is).

Suppliers – at least the best ones – also expect a certain savvy in communications, and their processes are generally set up to allow customers to do business digitally.

Customers have been spoiled. Websites and apps on cell phones and tablets are so convenient that they’re quite often put off from doing business with companies that don’t use digital tools to make things easy. Companies that fail to make it simple, fast and even fun

Where do I start?

Start by having a good look at what you’re already doing. Chances are that you’re not completely stuck in the stone age, there are areas of your business that are up-to-date and using modern practices, and areas that aren’t. There are opportunities and challenges to face.

For instance, there’s probably a reason that a small storefront’s inventory management system is out-of-date, not accessible via the internet, or even manually maintained in a spreadsheet. Not a great reason, but a reason nonetheless. Often it’s “I’ve been doing business this way forever and I’m still here, so why change?”

That same business owner is probably already using email to interact with suppliers and customers, has their own marker on Google Maps with a little blurb about their business, and has a “billboard” website that gives basic facts like how to find them and what they sell. They may even be putting products up on the site, but without e-commerce because it seems frighteningly complex.

Maybe there are 4 or 5 employees, including a couple of family members. Scheduling is done by hand in a spreadsheet that gets pinned up somewhere and emailed to everyone. Payroll is manual too, and there’s no formal HR system. If employees want to see or change the current schedule, they need to give someone a call to make it happen. Why change? It’s working, isn’t it?

If a manager wants to work on the business somewhere else, like from home or on the road, they’ve got to lug paper files around, or put documents on a USB stick to take home. Often, once that stuff is home, it’s not accessible to anyone at the store, or if it is, it’s not an up-to-date version and vice-versa. Changes get mixed up or lost in the shuffle of back-and-forth. Time is wasted that could be better used doing something else.

Do I need to change everything?

No. You don’t.

Some things need to change, some things are fine the way they are, some things can wait until a better time. You know your business the best, and you know what you can handle in terms of changing processes. The point is, you do need to make a plan for this stuff, or it will cost far more and cause far greater disruption.

Get used to asking yourself, “Is there a better way to do this?”

This makes sense even without the whole “Digital Transformation” angle. Businesses that become complacent about their processes get overtaken by the competition even in the absence of a game-changing technology or social circumstance.

What's the big deal?

It costs you money. In a business that isn’t digitally optimized, service suffers.

Either the customer is secondary to the need to execute some manual process that could easily be automated, or important business processes get interrupted and sidelined every time a customer needs help.

Automation can often eliminate this dynamic, freeing employees for revenue-generating activities without sacrificing customer service.

The answer is usually “Yes”.

90% of CEOs believe the digital economy will impact their industry, but less than 15% are executing on a digital strategy.
MIT Sloan and Capgemini

Be part of the 15%.

Don’t stand there watching as the tidal wave that is Digital Transformation sweeps across your industry and washes your company away. 

Be proactive. Make a plan. Execute.


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Your Website is an Investment, NOT an Expense. Demand ROI

Viewing your website(s) as a necessary expense rather than as an investment that’s expected to produce a return is a critical misstep. Business owners often have a difficult time defining the role of their Website in their online presence and marketing. People often confess to feeling overwhelmed by technology, and rather than deal with the complexity, they settle for a site that’s less functional than a business card or a billboard.

COVID-19: Can the Internet save your small business?

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I’m uniquely qualified to dispense this advice because I’ve been working from home for over a decade, most of my clients have never met me in person, and even co-workers only see me up close a few times a year, if at all.

No matter what you do for a living, there are a few smart moves you can make to keep things moving during the COVID-19 pandemic.