A few years back, I was having a conversation about technology with the CEO of a prominent manufacturing company when he somewhat defensively exclaimed to me, “But we are not a tech company, we are a manufacturer!” At the time, I thought it was an interesting reaction, but the reality was that he was right. The mindset and direction of that company was clearly not driven by technology, and spending resources on IT was very much looked at as a necessary evil.
To be fair, at that time I don’t think that mindset was particularly unique compared to other manufacturing organizations, but the tables are definitely starting to turn. The impact that technology is having on all types of organizations, including manufacturing, is dramatic. Not only is it changing the way that we run our internal businesses, but maybe more importantly, how we engage with our customers.
In this era of digital transformation, the technology that we use to engage with our customers can have as much impact as the products or services that we offer. It’s no longer enough to just have a good product; we need to provide the technology-enabled customer experience that is expected or potentially be left behind. If your competition has a more user-friendly website or a mobile app that makes them more accessible to customers, you will very likely lose business to them, even if your ultimate product is superior.
Most enterprise-level organizations have accepted that they need to lean into digital transformation, and while they are all at varying stages of maturity, most are heading down the path at their own pace. Where we do not yet see the same level of acceptance is in the mid-market organizations. We still see these organizations operating with blinders regarding technology and a persistent focus on “business as usual.”
$100 Million organizations with IT staffs of 2-3 people, websites that look to have been crafted 10 years ago, and fax machines still prominently in use for business communication. Eventually the transformation will catch up to them as well, but can they afford to wait, or will it be too late? Trying to change a foundation of legacy technology overnight can be very difficult and very costly. The change management alone can be enough to tip over an organization. I believe a proactive approach towards technology would suit them better in both the near and long term, but sometimes convincing high-level decision makers can be challenging.
As you might expect, the SMB space is even further behind when it comes to digital transformation. The cost of IT can be prohibitive for smaller businesses, and most will explain that they simply cannot afford to keep up. However, I would argue that they cannot afford NOT to be proactive when it comes to technology. While they may not be able to hire FTE resources to join their organization, hiring third parties to perform work or leveraging serviced-based IT offerings are typically an affordable option.
When you think of even some of the smallest mom & pop service-based businesses out there, from landscapers to hair salons to plumbers; they all could benefit from various online components including inquiry, quoting, scheduling and payment collection. However, very few of these types of businesses offer that type of technology-driven customer service.
As the millennials and other younger generations transition into customer age for these types of businesses, the need for technology-driven customer service will be even greater. Very few young people want to pick up the phone to call and schedule appointments, and their expectation is that they can transact with a business without having to speak to anyone. What happens to the small business that can’t, or doesn’t, offer this type of support? They get left behind.
It’s time for businesses of all sizes to accept the fact that we are all technology companies. You may not sell or deliver technology as your primary source of revenue, but you definitely need to embrace it as an integral part of doing business. Your customers expect it…whether it’s the distributor that sells your products, the retail customer that requests a quote, or the person who schedules an appointment, the expectation is that all interactions can be done easily online from our phone, laptop or PC.
The time to decide is now. You can either sit back and wait to react to your competition getting the jump on you, or be proactive and prepare your business for the transformation that is sure to come. To me, it’s a pretty easy decision.