What “Digital Transformation” Really Means Today

Digital transformation isn’t Mark Shank’s favorite term.

Yet, he recognizes that it’s widely used, and so he uses the term to speak the language of his clients. He takes the often narrow definition of digital transformation—implementing a new system—and teaches people to work outward from that understanding to identify how everyone involved in transformation is affected.

In a recent interview on The B2B Revenue Executive Experience, Mark shared tips for staying ahead of the curve in digital transformation based on his work with KPMG.

Here’s some of the best from that episode.

Defining Digital Transformation

Mark’s gone through a long, evolutionary career in the digital space. So we asked how he defines digital transformation for his clients.

“You have to react to the market,” he said. “If your job is to service businesses and the business world, then you have to understand their language. Certainly, then, digital transformation is something they talk about.”

But then he quoted a former co-worker: “Digital has just become synonymous with the word ‘modern.’” When you say ‘digital transformation,’ you’re really just talking about transformation in the year 2017.


Transformation is the wholesale change of technology, people, and processes. What’s often ignored by that well-known phrase is the physical spaces.

People always think of customer spaces, but they don’t think as much about the work spaces. That’s starting to change now in warehouses, where automation is coming into play, and where augmented reality and other IoT sensors are changing things.

The most frequent implementation of what people refer to as digital transformation is the installation of a new system, which is only one part of transformation. But if you do take that as your impetus for the transformation, then you also need to look at what’s happening to your people, of all types, as a result.

What will be the impact on their jobs? Where are the experience gaps? If you’ve identified outcomes you want to achieve from the implementation, then ask what it’s going to take to get you there.

KPMG does a lot of industry research. One of the things they found recently was that only 53% of the business case is realized for large implementations.

In other words, you can expect to get half of what you said you were going to get that got you all that budget. So how can you close the gap?

Why Transformation Is Hard for All Companies, Regardless of Size

Smaller organizations have a greater ability to successfully pull off transformation. Larger organizations have layers of executives that are high up enough that they can see industry trends and problems and have greater ambition, but they have difficult implementing as well.

To simplify things, small companies have the ability but not the will, and the very large companies have the will but struggle with the ability, because of all the players, silos, and inevitable impacts that transformation brings.

Specifically in the case of many smaller companies, everything that the customer isn’t touching is just a cost. It’s a necessary evil. Many fail to see things like transformation as having the potential to drive value.

If Mark Were Your Prospect…

Towards the end of the interview, we asked Mark to give some advice to someone who might try to capture his attention with a sales pitch.

Here’s what he said:

“That’s a tough one. Capturing my attention, that is.

The most honest thing is that it’s really hard for you to capture my attention. Keep in mind, I’m in a pretty specific field working in the experience space with designers and engineers.

But if you can get the people I work with to tell me that they need something, then I’m much more likely to go out and allocate the funds to buy it. Whatever we’ve bought has come up organically.

Otherwise, you can try to show me you can improve my sales cycle and other things. But even with that, it’s hard to break through the noise. Short of that personal recommendation, it’s hard to break through with just a cold email.

Acceleration Insight


In each episode of the B2B Revenue Executive Experience, we’re going to ask our guests for one nugget of wisdom they would impart to a sales professional. Here’s this one:

“Maybe it sounds trite, but be authentic. If you really are engaged in the topic you’re advocating for, that comes through. It makes up for a lot of other deficiencies. No one would ever accuse me of being a great salesperson, but if you can be genuinely passionate about the thing you’re talking about, that comes through.”

This post is based on a podcast interview with Mark Shank from KPMG. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to the B2B Revenue Executive Experience.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.

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