Podcast: What does the perfect digital platform look like?

By Alexander Evjenth

Podcast: What does the perfect digital platform look like?

Zooma's chief analyst Martin Ray joined me in this week's episode, to talk about digital platforms. If you're a B2B company with an endless amount of digital tools at your fingertips, what should you prioritise? Martin had plenty of tips to share.

Generally, when it comes to choosing those digital platforms that make up your company's digital infrastructure - like CRM systems, CMS systems, and service platforms - you want the very best. Many companies go this route, but in Martin's experience, it's not necessarily the best approach. Instead, a more holistic approach that focuses on giving your customers the best experience, rather than your staff the most advanced tools, works out better for everyone.

Martin has guided and advised a huge number of companies on digital platforms in the past, so this episode is full of wisdom that can help you make better decisions when investing in new tools.

Consume this episode however you want, and enjoy! The video version and transcription are available below, and you can listen and subscribe to The Onlinification Pod on your podcast platform of choice with the links further down. 

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AE: [00:00:00] After 10 minutes of technical problems, we found out it was my fault. I'm sorry for that.

MR: [00:00:11] No worries.

AE: [00:00:12] That's what happens when Doug, our head of podcast production is not attending the meeting. This is what he does behind everything. Now I need to manage that as well. And finally, we have this episode. How are you, Martin?

MR: [00:00:31] I'm pretty good. Starting to get a little bit colder here now where I'm at. But that's just fine, I think.

AE: [00:00:40] Yeah. And yesterday we met physically to play some kubb with our colleagues. How did it go?

MR: [00:00:50] Not that well. I think my team finished number three of four teams, so it wasn't dead last, but not really anything to write home about.

AE: [00:01:00] Yeah. Very nice to see everyone.

MR: [00:01:03] Yes. We've been, you know, working remotely or from home, all of us, for the last year and a half now, right? We haven't had many interactions.

AE: [00:01:15] Yeah, exactly. And this episode we tried to schedule for a long time. And you published an article in April, I believe, which is called 'Digital platforms: How to choose what's best for your company'. And that's what we're going to talk a bit about today. So we're going to link that in the description of this episode so everyone can read that article as well. And we try to dive a bit deeper into this subject this time. But overall, could you start by explaining what a digital platform is?

MR: [00:01:55] I mean, a digital platform is really kind of all the digital infrastructure company has or builds to, you know, really interact between colleagues and with its customers. So it's things like the web content management system, marketing automation system, CRM system, you know, customer support system, all of that, all of those different pieces that make up a company's digital infrastructure really, to facilitate commercial interactions.

AE: [00:02:26] So could you give some examples of what brands there are?

MR: [00:02:30] I mean, on the highest level, you can talk about companies like, you know, Facebook or Google or Amazon and so on as being digital platforms. But really, every company that is kind of interacting with customers, buying and selling stuff online will have some sort of digital platform. And historically, the way to do that is either you can build it kind of piecemeal and kind of put a lot of different infrastructures together to kind of internally put some sort of best of breed platform together. Or increasingly there are different suppliers that are aiming to kind of supply an all-in-one platform. So whether that's kind of the CMS providers like Episerver or Adobe or something like that, or companies coming from the customer relationship management side of things like Salesforce or marketing automation side of things like HubSpot, they all are kind of aiming to get to this one all-encompassing platform to help companies build that, you know, digital platform that they need.

AE: [00:03:40] Yeah. Because in the article you wrote that most organisations today have a jigsaw puzzle of disparate software. So can you just explain a bit why it's like that today?

MR: [00:03:54] Well, I mean, it's mostly because of historical reasons. I mean, if you think about how most organisations, how most companies are built, their IT infrastructure going all the way back started with, all of a sudden, people need personal computers. Right. So most IT organisations have started from the point of view that staff or employees need digital tools, we need to source those tools. Typically back in the day, if you go all the way back to the 90s, almost 80s, that's hardware, right? You need the tools to do your digital work, as it were. And then eventually, of course, those were networked. And so you need to kind of source servers and connect those devices between the employees, and then by the late 90s, everyone needs a website, so then you start building a website, and then you get more and more digital tools and then you get things like sales guys needing CRM tools, marketeers need different marketing, digital marketing tools, you know, and then you get like service people coming in and saying, "we need some sort of digital service platforms." So that's what happens over a long period of time. Most organisations have built from the inside out. You have a central kind of, let's call it an IT department, IT team, that has on-demand provided the organisation what it needs in that point in time. And all of these different departments or portions of the company demand things at different points in time. And therefore, there hasn't been a coherent kind of, "we are building a system that works together". It's more like we add pieces, therefore, piecemeal, as needed. And the result is that most organisations have this jigsaw puzzle of different parts. It doesn't really, it was never meant to kind of work together.

AE: [00:05:47] No. And is this the main challenge that digital platform companies are trying to solve right now?

MR: [00:05:56] Yeah, I mean, as most companies mature into kind of realising that we need to facilitate sales digitally online, you start to think about it a little bit differently. So have we built systems or are we building systems just for our employees to be able to complete a task, or are we actually looking at it from that point of view, that we're trying to create an ultimate customer experience, a customer journey? What kind of system do we need to build then? So it becomes very different depending on where you start in terms of what is your goal, what is it what you're trying to accomplish. And more and more companies are coming to that realisation, of course, that we are seeing more and more business transactions, communication, everything occurring online. And therefore, we need to have a system that optimizes towards that rather than from a kind of physical world where we just optimize for individual departments or even individual employees.

AE: [00:07:00] Yeah. So if you're in the situation now as an organisation having this jigsaw puzzle, what are the main challenges with finding one digital platform, one solution?

MR: [00:07:14] Well, it's I mean, I say that you need to kind of consider, first off, who we are building the platform for? Because, as I said, it becomes a different thing. If you start from the point of view that we are, let's take this example, let's say that your company that doesn't really interact with customers, your main service might be some technical service,

MR: [00:07:39] you provide field service technicians to do specific tasks. Then you will build an IT infrastructure that your end-user is really your field technician in that scenario, right. So you want to build something that works really well for them, that makes sure that they can do their work really well. However, for most organisations, the end-user is really the customer or the prospective customer. So you're trying to build something that facilitates business and you need to think about it from that point of view. What is it that the customer wants, needs, and how do I create an effortless way of interacting with my company and ultimately buy my products or services? So that's kind of the first task in terms of figuring out who is it that I am billing that person for. And I mean, from that, you can start to say, OK, assuming then that it is really about, you know, building your business, getting your business, catering for your customers, then it becomes a question, how can I create an accurate to complete picture of my customers? The vast majority of companies today are, you know, both organisational and from a technical perspective, very siloed. So you have like a sales department that doesn't necessarily talk to the marketing department, that doesn't talk to the service department and your financial system and so on. So in most organisations, it's almost impossible to kind of get an accurate view of the entire customer journey or what we call a 360 view of the customer because you have piecemeal information, some information in maybe a sales system, a CRM system, other information in a marketing system, the third piece of information in a customer support system and so on. So to actually kind of then work to optimize the entire customer journey becomes almost impossible, because you can't just put the pieces of the puzzle together. So recognising that that's one of the core ways of building your business in a digital world to kind of, you know, make the entire customer journey as smooth as possible from the very kind of first interaction to a long term, high-value customer, then you need to build a system of really caters towards that. And thirdly, I would say you have to try to figure out what's your main aim. And what I mean with that is you want to optimize the system while kind of shortening the time to market. So you want to optimize the time to completion, as well as maximize the outcome of the digital platform of the system you're trying to build. Sometimes there is, almost always there is a conflict between those two. I mean, you can always build a highly tailored system that caters to all your different stakeholders, all your different employees, and your current way of working the way you think is going to work. But that's typically going to cost more and take much longer time to do that. So you have to consider if it's a compromise in some of those things, maybe changed my way of working, changed the way how the organisation works to some degree. I'd rather go for an all-in-one platform that maybe only meets, you know, 75 or 80 percent of your wished-for requirements, but it's typically something that requires less investment and it's much quicker to implement because it's a coherent system where you don't spend most of your time trying to custom build things rather than adapt your way of working for that platform.

AE: [00:11:27] So according to your experience working with companies, trying to help to build and identify this one digital platform, who at the company's side should be involved in such a project?

MR: [00:11:41] I mean, this is a difficult question to answer because it works a little bit differently in different companies. But I think one of the most important things is for the senior executive team, or at least someone representing the senior executive team needs to be kind of sponsor or involved heavily in this process and recognising that it's about the overall company or business success for most organisations. What you don't want to happen is to kind of just designate it to an IT person alone. I think IT needs to be involved, sales need to be involved, marketing, service, and a general kind of executive board level champion, because at the end of the day, that is about creating that coherent system. Otherwise, it tends to be you create, again, a sales system or a marketing system or an IT system that isn't necessarily catering to that overall success that you're aiming for.

AE: [00:12:44] And you mentioned earlier that because of these siloed departments, this has resulted in the jigsaw puzzle. And now you're trying to find one solution where each department has its specific needs or routines for working with it. How do you overcome the conflict of interest between these departments? Or, according to you, when you work with it, you identify conflict?

MR: [00:13:16] Well, quite often there is in the sense that since you haven't historically maybe looked at it holistically, it's a bit counterintuitive, but going for the best of breed approach is usually not the best way of doing this, meaning that, and that's where the conflict arises, so say if I'm from sales, I want the best of breed sales solution. And if I'm from marketing, I want the best of breed marketing solution. And if I'm within the customer support team, I want the best of breed support systems. And on paper that looks logical, right, we should supply the organisation with the best of breed solutions, and they should all excel. But the problem is that you end up with these systems that aren't really connected and don't talk to each other. So on a high level, you can't get this overview, this 360 customer view that we talked about previously. And you end up spending a lot of resources, time, and money on trying to get these different systems to work together. Whereas if everyone compromised a little bit, say you get a good sales system, you got a great marketing automation system and a decent service system, whatever it might be, but they all work together and we as a company work together to create the ultimate customer journey, and we get all the analytics, we get the full view, and we can amend things across the board, that's typically much more valuable in the long term for organisations than saying that an individual has what they believe is the best system for them. So it's typically better to kind of change the way of working and change the organisation a little bit to get a coherent system than going for the best of breed.

AE: [00:14:59] And you mentioned a 360-degree view of the customers. Could you just briefly explain what that could look like?

MR: [00:15:06] Well, so it's about being able to kind of get all the information for the full customer journey. So, meaning that you can kind of see from the very first interaction, this is where the customer, or at that point the prospect came from. What kind of content they consume, how they interacted with our different touchpoints as a company, who they interacted with, what they think is good if we do surveys, nurturing them and see how they become customers, what they've bought from us if they've interacted with a service department, and what they think about that and if they give reviews and so on, right. So what you get done is kind of the full, full view of the customer. And what that lends itself to is a much higher level of personalisation. So if you get kind of the full view of the customer in terms of all these different touchpoints, you can have much more accurate data on the customer and then you can personally communicate on a much higher level. So interacting with the customer at the right time, recognising what they need, and so on. And you also create a much more consistent experience, because otherwise typically you could have like a great marketing experience, which doesn't really resonate then when the customer gets in touch with sales, or you have great sales experience but once you become a customer, the service department, the experience of the service doesn't really meet those level of expectations. And thirdly, by doing this, you get much more analytics and insights, right. So by having the complete picture of a customer, you can create much more accurate segments, behavior models. And ultimately that will help you become much more relevant towards both your customers and your prospects. And it also lends itself to more things like, you know, doing predictive forecasts, seeing that prospects that are behaving this way typically want this kind of interaction or this information, or customers that have been, you know, customer for this period of time might need now this service component or this upgrade or things like that. By having that full kind of view and a more coherent data model, you can do much more interesting things from a kind of forecasting and predictive level as well.

AE: [00:17:30] Good. So finally, can you share some learnings that you have from previous projects, working with helping companies to implement digital platforms?

MR: [00:17:42] Yeah, I think one of the biggest learnings is, it's this, it tends to be the case that most companies go for, kind of, trying to build this best of breed thing. So you think about what's the best place to, what's the best marketing tool and so on. I mean, that's the way we've done things for the last 30 years almost. So it's not a big surprise that that's the case, but it's also once you kind of start talking to what it is you're really trying to accomplish, and understanding and recognising that it might be better to, you know, have everything in one platform, have everything in Salesforce or everything in HubSpot or one of these kinds of all-in-one platforms that really are putting all the pieces of the puzzle together. So that's typically a mind change that needs to happen in most organisations. And the other thing I would say is that you really need all these different people on board. So if you're trying to do something purely from a marketing perspective or purely from an IT perspective, you tend to miss the bigger pieces of the puzzles. So it is really about trying to to to get that understanding from sales, marketing services, typically all the big three pillars in most organisations, right, and kind of understanding how does that work together with the overall idea of trying to create the best possible customer experience. So starting with a customer experience approach rather than starting from an organisation approach is usually the biggest key to success.

AE: [00:19:25] With those words, I think we are done with this episode. Thank you very much, Martin.

MR: [00:19:30] Thank you.

AE: [00:19:31] Bye-bye.

Alexander Evjenth
Alexander is a content creator who has a great interest in learning new things. What he enjoys even more is creating knowledge content.
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