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How to lead a digital transformation | Digital transformation leader

With both customers and employees embracing the digital economy, more and more businesses must learn how to lead a digital transformation.

By Donny Kelwig, Contributing Writer

Published November 4, 2021
Last updated March 22, 2022

When the pandemic first disrupted business as usual, Zendesk was one of the earliest adopters of the new normal.

“I think we were one of the very first organizations to make the decision that all of our sales were going to be 100 percent remote indefinitely,” says Monica Telles, VP of Zendesk Sell. “And now, a lot of organizations have brought back some element of being back in the office, whereas Zendesk leaned all-in on embracing the digital-first idea.”

To complete that digital transformation, Zendesk’s leaders had to find new tools and processes that empowered employees to thrive in a remote work environment. It required technical and cultural adjustments, with both shifts being led from the top down.

What is a digital transformation leader?

Before we can answer that question, we’ll briefly review what digital business transformation is. Then, we can talk about what it means to lead a digital transformation.

Digital transformation is a continual process of using digital technology and digital strategy to fundamentally change your organization’s culture, business & operating processes, and customer experience.

When most people talk about digital transformation, they mean moving to a fully or partially remote workspace. But the term can also incorporate many other processes, including:

  • IT modernization, such as cloud computing
  • Reskilling employees
  • Adopting AI and other automation tools, which give employees more time to focus on complex tasks
  • Using design thinking to identify and eliminate pain points in the customer journey

Digital transformation is all about equipping your business with the best technology for optimizing ROI, improving productivity, and serving your customers efficiently and profitably. Digital transformation lets businesses keep pace with shifting trends so businesses can meet and serve customers where they already are and cater to their expectations with speed and efficiency.

The problem with the word “best” when it comes to technology is that it’s often used synonymously with “the newest.” But you can’t just go purchasing the latest software tools every time an innovation hits the market. And you certainly don’t just want to close your eyes and pick something. Knowing which software tools to equip your company with is an enormous responsibility, with many different factors to consider.

That’s where digital transformation leaders come in.

Digital transformation leaders help businesses identify and adopt digital tools for streamlining their operations. Requiring employees to learn a new piece of software—especially if they’re comfortable with the way things are now—can be a big ask. Digital transformation leaders are the ones who take employee sentiment and IT abilities into account. They also have to consider the best ways to implement the new software so that its benefits can be felt sooner rather than later.

Without this kind of digital transformation leadership, businesses miss out on opportunities to maximize the resources they already have and expand their reach to customers.

Digital transformation leadership skills

With consumers increasingly craving digital experiences—from online shopping to video conference sales calls to effortless mobile support interactions—it’s important for leaders of digital transformation to know what tech tools will provide the best service and value to both the business and its customers. And—it should go without saying—they should have a pretty strong interest in technology, which will ensure they keep up with the newest trends and innovations.

Here are some other skills digital transformation leaders employ to help their businesses adapt to the tech-first world.

  1. Able to weigh many factors & strike a balance

    There’s a lot that goes into selecting a new software platform and implementing it. A good digital transformation leader knows how to consider all of their options, weigh the importance of each platform and its potential usefulness, and then help the team learn to adopt it.

    They have to consider IT skills, price, features, security, and a whole list of other issues, and then be willing to make compromises and adjustments to find a balance that pleases everyone.

  2. Knows how to interpret data

    Digital transformation leaders also need to know how to document and study their customers’ digital experiences, so they can identify areas for improvement. Most sales executives already have experience analyzing customer data, as they typically spend time reviewing sales reports and other CRM analytics to gain insights into their customer base and sales strategy.

  3. Can clearly communicate needs

    Digital transformation disrupts the old way of doing things, which can cause considerable stress. It’s important that digital transformation leaders be able to clearly communicate the new direction your company is headed, explain new organizational and procedural changes, and solicit feedback from employees on what’s working and what’s not.

  4. Knows the company inside and out

    When you lead a digital transformation, you have to continually take the pulse of your organization and be asking yourself what it needs. Not every new tech tool that arrives on the market is going to be the next big solution for your business. But by keeping a close eye on the company’s exact needs and processes, a digital transformation leader can be ready to spot a new digital opportunity the moment it appears.

If you want to keep reading on the subject, here are more tips on becoming a better digital transformation leader.

What is a digital transformation manager?

Depending on the size of your company and your personnel structure, your digital transformation leader could be anyone in your company whose skills and qualifications make them a good fit for the task. A digital transformation manager, on the other hand, is a role with specific responsibilities. These responsibilities include:

  • Identifying problems in the day-to-day operations of the business
  • Considering possible different tech-based solutions
  • Weighing the different positives and negative consequences of the possible solutions
  • Monitoring the success of implementing the solutions

Digital transformation manager skills

The position of digital transformation manager is a job like any other. In addition to being experienced in DT and having the skills described above, here’s a list of qualities digital transformation managers are expected to have that make them successful on the job.

  • A strong ability to influence and motivate others
  • Good resource management skills
  • A project-oriented mind that can handle multiple initiatives
  • A strategic approach to implementing change
  • Resilience to push-back
  • An ability to be empathetic with tech insecurities
  • A sharp eye on the future of technology, and the advantages that might be waiting here

Now that we’ve talked about responsibilities and skills, let’s talk about the executive leaders who often take on these digital transformation leadership roles.

The sales landscape is evolving

In our 2021 Sales Trends Report, leaders from over 800 companies weighed in on what they think the most important trends in sales are right now.

C-Suite the digital transformation

Because of the big-picture implications software has, your high-level executives must be actively engaged in your company’s DT plans and strategies.

The pandemic revealed to many businesses that they weren’t prepared to take on so many new tech tools at once. But the good news is, now that so many have made the transition to hybrid and remote conditions and seen the benefits, they don’t want to go back to the old ways. Remote and hybrid work is here to stay, and cloud technology is making more services possible than ever. That means that executives need to make digital transformation a priority, and delegate its responsibilities to the best-qualified personnel.

CMOs part as digital transformation leaders

The Chief Marketing Officer is in a unique position to help businesses discover new digital opportunities. CMOs have made good digital transformation leaders because marketing works so closely with customer data, and DT is an arena of data-driven decisions. CMOs know how to find and extrapolate data in order to locate problem areas, strategize solutions, and then monitor the success of those solutions.

CIO and digital transformation

The Chief Information Officers are still responsible for the technical side of things when it comes to a digital transformation.

It’s the CIO who has to own nearly every aspect of the process, from tech needs and software implementations to data protection strategies, IT skills assessments, data management strategies, and more. It’s a lot of responsibility—though CIOs may not have to bear it all for long…

Other sources of digital transformation leadership in your company

As digital opportunities and innovations become more frequent, many organizations are starting to delegate digital transformation responsibilities among their ranks.

Rather than filter everything through the CIO, some companies create digital leadership teams made up of multiple stakeholders. These teams might include a chief digital officer, a chief data officer, a chief experience officer, and a digital engineering lead, alongside a CSO and CTO. With more than just one person in charge of technology, these teams can tackle multiple IT projects at once, fueling rapid growth in a digital economy.

Similarly, the continued popularity and proliferation of SaaS solutions have enabled CIOs to move faster when adapting to the digital economy.

In the past, CIOs would have to wait for permission before moving forward with new technology. With so many SaaS options, however, they can now quickly test out a cloud-based service and then use the results as a proof of concept.

Why digital transformation is now on the CEO’s shoulders

Digital transformation is fast becoming a priority for corporate boards and CEOs. Technology has changed how business operates, and it continues to evolve and change today. A good CEO understands the value of creating a business structure that allows them to quickly adapt to and make use of the best technology solutions.

Today, visionary CEOs are some of the first movers and shakers of technological advancement in their business operations. Many companies see their tech innovations being motivated from the top down by CEOs who aren’t shy of implementing changes. Still, it shouldn’t be forgotten that successful digital transformation is a team effort. The safety, efficacy, and profitability of your tech solutions are determined by the collective input and talents of the whole team, not just the initiatives of a single visionary.

How to lead a digital transformation

When leading a digital transformation, you can either be implementing multiple initiatives at once or just untangling one complicated knot at a time.

Digital transformation is an ongoing process, which involves making continual adjustments and adopting new tools as necessary. The easiest way to start that process is by building on a single SaaS platform that will integrate with each and every software you may need.

The Zendesk CRM can serve as a holistic solution for both sales and support. Zendesk’s ticketing capabilities allow digital-first companies to interact with their customers through an endless variety of channels, including phone, email, text, messaging, and social media.

Chatbots and other self-service options use automation to deflect common support requests, allowing agents to focus on more complex issues.

Meanwhile, Zendesk’s sales CRM gives reps a place to generate leads, communicate with prospects and clients, automate email campaigns, and more. The CRM tracks and records every interaction a rep has with a prospective or current client, capturing a wealth of data that can be analyzed for valuable insights and sales forecasting. It also enables everyone to see where each active deal is in the pipeline.

“We’ve had so many customers come to us and say, ‘We need something new because we used to have a very in-office culture, and now we don’t have as much visibility into what our sellers are doing,’” Telles says.

Zendesk’s cloud-based software allows reps, managers, and executives to work together closely while being located all over the world. There’s even a Zendesk mobile selling app for iOS and Android, which allows traveling reps to access all the functionality of a full-fledged desktop CRM right from their phone.

Built on an open and flexible CRM platform, Zendesk can easily integrate with all kinds of additional tools, such as Slack, Mailchimp, and Google and Outlook products. No coding is required to add and customize apps—or even create your own.

Zendesk even offers a free trial period, so CMOs and CIOs can give the tech a test run to see how well it fits their business strategy. Find out how much our tools can transform your work environment as well as your customer experience.

The sales landscape is evolving

In our 2021 Sales Trends Report, leaders from over 800 companies weighed in on what they think the most important trends in sales are right now.

The sales landscape is evolving

In our 2021 Sales Trends Report, leaders from over 800 companies weighed in on what they think the most important trends in sales are right now.

Learn more