How to embrace digital transformation with the five stages of learning

“We didn’t know what we didn’t know.” That is what Principal Bill Singer of Kenwood Management Company said while midway into the digital transformation of the DC, Maryland, and Virginia-based property management and real estate investment firm.

Bill’s statement is the first stage of a psychological model called The Five Stages of Learning. Simply, we move from a phase of not knowing to a stage of learning. Educators often use it to help us understand the learning process while encouraging us to realize that not understanding something is part of that process.

Kenwood’s systems and processes had become an obstacle that prevented them from scaling the business in an increasingly digital world.

While working with the Kenwood executive team to deliver an enterprise-wide digital transformation, they were able to streamline their business by replacing legacy systems. For example, the migration to HubSpot for their marketing, sales, and operational processes save the Kenwood team hundreds of hours with one automated process alone. Those hours can then be spent strengthening bonds in their community and building brand loyalty. Read more about Kenwood Management Company’s journey here.

Almost all growing middle-market companies find themselves at this first stage of the five stages of learning. Actual growth comes from getting to the second stage, “I now know about it, but I’m not good at it.” The hurdle of getting to stage two often happens when a company's leadership becomes comfortable. Perhaps they don’t want to grow or feel their processes are exemplary, even if the administration admits things could run smoother. These symptoms are often seen in family organizations where the transition of leadership to the next generation has not yet happened. In the building industry, you may see builders and general contractors use different systems to manage customer relationships, contracting, and marketing. Manufacturers or distribution companies that support the building industry struggle to integrate their ERP systems with their customer service, sales, and marketing functions. Or builders and general contractors use different methods to manage customer relationships, contracting, and marketing functions.

Having a growth mindset and recognizing the five stages of learning sets your organization up for success with digital marketing, revenue operations, and digital transformation. Let’s dive into common digital transformation symptoms at each stage to see where your company falls in the five stages of learning.

Stage 1: “I didn’t know what I didn’t know.”

In this case, your company has done exceptionally well. However, it may be at a plateau, and the subsequent growth phase hinges on the knowledge and processes unfamiliar to you. You are not aware that the next level of growth needs operational solutions to begin.

Stage 1 digital transformation symptoms:
  • Teams and management have different definitions of the organization's goals, or they are not well defined
  • Use of Excel spreadsheets to manage sales and customer service efforts
  • Use of an organized email platform such as Constant Contact or Mail Chimp as a CRM tool
  • Communication between departments is typically slow or detached
  • Each department has its own set of tools disconnected from each other
  • Calculating ROI on marketing efforts is difficult
  • Management of lead qualification and sales follow-up is manual and cumbersome
  • Saving customer information in multiple places; there is no one single record with all information about a customer from sale to service
  • Management and segmentation of customer and lead databases is complex and tedious
  • No clear attribution of website activity to sales
  • Staff burdened with manual processes, such as filing and manual email follow-up
  • Internal processes are not standardized or well documented

Stage 2: “I now know about it, but I’m not good at it.”

There is awareness of the mistakes and opportunity cost to the organization. There are tools and processes, but knowledge of implementation is foggy. The number of CRM, automation, digital marketing solutions, SEO techniques, organizational software, and website development platforms can be overwhelming. How can this be integrated into your company model and processes?

Stage 2 digital transformation symptoms:
  • Organizational goals are not clear to everyone in the organization
  • Team goals and objectives are not in universal alignment with overall strategic goals
  • Research into digital transformation technology is overwhelming
  • Software companies promise custom solutions for your business, but implementation doesn’t appear to meet your expectations for customization
  • Software regret - you purchase the technology you think you need only to learn your purchase doesn’t include implementation
  • Worry that any solution will not be specific enough to your industry

Stage 3: “I know how, but I need to concentrate and think about what I have to do.”

Sound familiar? The slowest and most frustrating learning phase for growing companies is stage three. New learning is not consistent or habitual yet in your organization. At this stage, you realize that there may be a staffing issue or that reorganization of staff and duties will need to happen. Cultural “buy-in” is needed from all departments. In this stage, mistakes will still occur as you continue to learn and integrate this knowledge into your processes.

Stage 3 digital transformation symptoms:
  • Communication of organizational goals and objectives but the alignment of teams are still in progress
  • Your team is hesitant to try new technologies or methods because “this is how we've always done it.”
  • No one internally can own this project, and as the executive, you don’t have the bandwidth or expertise to implement it without support
  • Disagreement between teams or your management team on the goal of digital transformation for your organization
  • Management of the internal politics between teams about digital transformation
  • Staff or middle management holdouts who are actively against change
  • Realizing the issue is systemic to the operations of the organization, not just the technology
  • Delaying a digital transformation process because creating documentation of internal processes is daunting
  • Feelings of overwhelm or analysis paralysis

Stage 4: “I know, and I can do it effortlessly”.

You made it! Stage 4 is where your new efforts are automatic and habitual. You have departmental cooperation and cultural buy-in. Your sales, service, and operations departments are aligned and working toward the goal.

Stage 4 digital transformation symptoms:
  • Majority buy-in from middle management and teams
  • Clarity of organizational goals
  • Alignment and transparency of team goals and their alignment with organizational goals
  • The cultural shift from “I” mentality to “team”
  • Documentation critical vital systems and processes within the organization
  • Implementation of a single source of truth CRM with customer and lead data that all teams leverage for reporting and day-to-day activities

Stage 5: “Mastery.”

Here, your company is completely aligned. Marketing automation is driving your sales department. Your sales department is working with the marketing department to refine the quality of generated inbound leads. Your service department is working with operations, sales, and marketing to provide customers with the ultimate buying experience. Your operations department understands all processes to provide support to oil the machine.

Stage 5 digital transformation symptoms:
  • Non-Siloed cross-functional teams working toward solving complex customer challenges
  • Unprompted innovation arising from cross-functional teams
  • Tech-enabled staff no longer burdened with manual tasks
  • Organizational goals are bi-directional, coming not only from the executive team but also from supporting departments
  • Revenue acceleration and growth arising from reallocated resources
  • Improved customer satisfaction and communication
  • Transparency in reporting and data
  • Team ownership and accountability of company systems and processes

Self-Assessment Quiz: Where is your organization in the five stages of learning?

To get on track and to the next growth stage for your B2B organization, ask yourself the following questions to determine what you know, what you don’t know, and how you can learn:

  1. Are different departments using different CRMs or spreadsheets to track related customer data?
  2. Is the organization’s marketing and sales lead data being emailed back and forth or tracked differently?
  3. Are you using customer services ticketing systems not tied to the customer sale record history?
  4. Do you have multiple solutions trying to achieve the same goal - such as various phone providers, project management systems, or databases?
  5. Do you have a clear attribution of marketing, sales, and operational activity and how it directly impacts the company’s bottom line?
  6. Do you have few or no documented standard operating procedures?
  7. Are you using free or low-cost technology systems to send emails, manage your social media, or run your communications?
  8. Is there a designated marketing person within the organization who is always catching up, using a lot of hours to complete tasks, and searching for sales and marketing content?
  9. Do you need more resounding support to create design elements and a cleaner image?
  10. Are you unsure about the quality of your website and how to use it to generate qualified leads?
  11. Are your teams misaligned with processes and culture?
  12. Are you confused about CRM selection?
  13. Is there ongoing confusion about what defines a lead?
  14. Is there a lack of clarity or blind spots about the sales funnel?
  15. Does lead scoring not exist, or is it applied differently by marketing and sales?
  16. Do you have a service level agreement in place, and does each function have its process?
  17. Does leadership have a difficult time generating reports and understanding key metrics?
  18. Are your content files unorganized with no central content repository?
  19. Do you have multiple versions of content that cause inaccuracies and inconsistent messaging?
  20. Is your content only heavily focused on specific parts of the buyer's journey
  21. Is there regular confusion about sales protocols and processes?
  22. Do your leads fall through the cracks during the handoff between sales and marketing?
  23. Does leadership often cancel training sessions to focus on improving sales output?
  24. Is there high sales team turnover that prevents long-term development?

If you answer many of these with “yes,” your organization is not alone! All of us have experienced a transformation over the last two years. The pandemic forced a dramatic change in adaptation skills, software, processes, and communication. Growth happens with awareness and change.

Let's start the conversation. If you are curious about how Illumine8 can guide you through the five stages of learning and support effective transformation in your B2B, middle-market growth stage company, take our digital transformation readiness quiz to get started.

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