When Henry Ford created the Model T, he transformed car manufacturing from a slow, expensive process requiring highly skilled teams to one where a non-expert team of people could assemble a car in about 90 minutes.
More than a hundred years later, Ford Motor Company is in the midst of another, ongoing revolution—one whose impact on every industry only accelerated during the pandemic: digital transformation.
Yet, not every industry is equally sold on operating smarter with technology, even if they desperately need to do so. Some are happy with tried-and-true processes. So, how do you sell change in industries where they don’t necessarily want it?
What does ‘digital transformation’ really mean?
The term digital transformation has been thrown around so much that it’s almost lost its meaning. What it actually means is using technology and data to automate outdated, often manual tasks. Another essential aspect of digital transformation requires gathering, aggregating and accessing data efficiently, thus enabling corporate stakeholders to make better-informed, data-driven decisions.
The pandemic forced many organizations to adopt digital transformation by integrating video calls, videoconferencing and remote working options in their daily business practices. Today, companies can go a step further by asking departments what challenges or inefficiencies they’re now experiencing as a result. When employees propose improvements, they can have a positive impact on efficiency, costs and job satisfaction.
Digital transformation needn’t involve a significant change or a complete overhaul of a process to be effective. Companies resistant to change can start small by targeting an area or process that’s struggling or one with the most potential for a high return on investment. The organization needs time to recognize the benefits of one digitization before proceeding to a complete digital transformation. Small steps allow time to get buy-in for future stages.
Digital transformation can affect and impact every part of an organization. Some industries have focused more on one area—often the front office touching revenue-driving activities—but might lag in the back office. From my experience, goods-producing industries like construction or manufacturing often seem more reluctant to change than others.
But you can’t stereotype an entire industry. There will always be trendsetters willing to try new things and push the boundaries of the “normal process.” Late adopters are more cautious. They believe the risk is too great and adhere to the mentality, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”
Why are some companies reluctant to modernize their systems and processing?
Several factors could explain a reluctance to embrace digital transformation, such as:
- Lack of awareness about the benefits and ROI of automation or digital transformation;
- Legacy accounting, enterprise resource planning or other systems posing barriers to modernization;
- Fear of breaking a “tried and true” process (however imperfect) that isn’t “broken;”
- Lack of resources to drive transformation projects;
- Difficulty finding the right tools due to outdated or overly complex processes.
In the accounts payable space for example, common reasons organizations put off digital transformation initiatives often include inadequate time allocated to implementing and training everyone on new processes. Another fear is that the change will be too costly, and there are more pressing challenges to deal with first.
Other companies have been the industry or local market share leaders so long that they feel no need to adjust their processes. But with the shifting environment that the pandemic brought to all industries, even those have woken up to the need for change and improvement.
Perhaps it’s due to the new structure of their organization post-pandemic, or it could be because their competitors took positive steps to incorporate digitization. Regardless, the competition is starting to surpass the former leaders, and the laggards see they must keep up or be left behind.
How can you sell change in an industry that fears it?
Getting buy-in from all levels helps ensure a smooth digital transformation implementation process that leads to faster, more efficient user adoption and the greatest ROI. The primary decision-makers and stakeholders depend on your industry, business function and organization. But the support of those who will use the digital solution regularly is crucial in gaining approval from top decision-makers, as they are key influencers in the process.
An accounts payable automation initiative, for example, needs the CFO’s complete buy-in. Usually, a designated champion will supervise the entire project, acting as the interface between users and decision-makers.
As a technological provider, you can leverage events like industry or software trade shows and conferences to share your ideas and perspectives on digital transformation with reluctant audiences.
You can reach (and educate) an even broader range of decision-makers in various industries using virtual and digital events such as webinars, partnerships or sponsorships with relevant or complementary businesses. Even local vectors like chambers of commerce and professional C-level associations can be a good way to educate companies on the benefits of digital transformation.
Educate first and provide valuable free resources such as white papers, industry reports and webinars to start conversations around new technology solutions and how they can benefit an organization.
Finally, when entering a new industry or niche, cast a wide net with public and educational approaches using email marketing and paid social media. You also need a personalized touch and individual attention at certain points in the marketing process. Success stories that back up your value proposition and ROI are essential to building credibility with your audience.
Ford Motor Company looks nothing like it did in the 1900s—or even the 1990s. Ford’s digital transformation has made the company a leader in automation, the use of software in manufacturing and even robotics. Other industries have no choice but to follow suit to remain competitive.
Change can be hard sometimes, especially when it comes to making a technology leap. Some industries are naturally more reluctant than others, but there can be holdouts in even forward-thinking industries. Does this modify the approach to selling change in different industries? Not really. Sometimes, you just have to digitally transform an industry one company at a time.
About the Author
Laurent Charpentier is the CEO of Yooz, an accounts payable automation company. Prior to joining Yooz, Laurent served as Solution Lead Architect and Security Lead Consultant for Accenture, and was Business Analyst for Dell Inc. Since 2016, Laurent has been Yooz NORAM COO and CIO and became Yooz CEO in 2022 to lead the next growth momentum. Laurent Charpentier received his Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his Master of Science in Electrical Engineering from INSA Lyon.