What does transformation really mean? Merriam-Webster dictionary offers a grounded and elegant definition: “The act or process of changing completely.” Interestingly, I am not the only one to be curious about this word recently. The online dictionary tracks the popularity of word lookups — “transformation” is in the top 20 percent. Why? I have some theories.
The concept of transformation across an organization is especially appealing in many large, well-established organizations right now. This is because it promises what most people want more of — streamlined processes that lead to better outcomes. But like most big promises, the expectation and reality are often askew.
The reality is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach — every transformation is driven by a unique opportunity and brings its own set of challenges.
As I have written before, there are many types of transformations. There is not just one transformation. What companies really need to take on in today’s dynamic markets is an “enterprise transformation.” Change that improves customer experiences and improves how they operate the entire company.
At Aha!, we speak with hundreds of customers every week. These customers are working through opportunities and challenges at companies ranging from startups to Fortune 500. At many of the larger companies, product managers are also leading the rollout of key transformational changes.
Let me give you a few examples because these transformation efforts are changing how businesses operate and serve customers.
New technology is one way to modernize an organization’s product or services. This happens via all public-facing channels (websites, email, social media, mobile). However, we also see this happening internally, as companies replace legacy systems and infrastructure with new technologies. Of course, a digital transformation requires hiring the right people — those who understand how to use technology to drive innovation. This means identifying new product opportunities, reimagining existing products, and making the right technology investments to make it all possible.
We recently spoke with the product team at a multinational automobile manufacturer. They came to Aha! as they were embarking on a massive overhaul of their retail sales process — both offline and online. Instead of focusing only on the car-selling transaction itself, they knew they needed to improve the entire buying cycle. This meant investing in a digital platform aligned with the way people research and purchase cars. It required reimagining how customers experienced the entire process. They are going through a digital transformation.
A solution transformation means rethinking how products are built, bundled, and sold to make it easier for customers to do business. This is a shift away from selling capabilities and features, focusing instead on selling the value or the outcome of the product. Product teams need to think deeply about what customers want today — not on how specific products have been built or sold in the past. This is particularly important in organizations with broad product portfolios that have been built over decades through a series of acquisitions.
One of our new customers is a strategy director at a major fintech company that provides software and solutions to businesses. Decades of acquisitions left them with dozens of teams selling point products to customers who expected integrated sales and support with a broader understanding of their challenges. They are going through a solution transformation.
Data intelligence drives more informed decisions and allows companies to respond to customers’ needs faster. A data transformation starts with analyzing customer behavior and preference, then testing to learn what they want, and finally measuring the results. Sometimes it means then selling that technology back to the customer. Companies going through this type of transformation need an infrastructure that brings together key systems — product, marketing, finance, etc. — to inform all aspects of the customer experience. This is difficult in larger organizations, where data tends to be in siloed legacy systems.
We have been working closely with one of the world’s largest IT companies. Company leaders thought there was an opportunity to expand and offer intelligent, new cloud-based services. But first they needed to analyze the market and then strategically plan to deliver a differentiated data intelligence solution. This means changing how they use data and changing how customers make better decisions based on data too. They are going through a data transformation.
The fact that these companies are transforming is nothing new — companies have always had to grow and adapt.
But these transformations look different now because customers are different. In our digital-first world, customers expect more customization, flexibility, and quicker service. They want improved experiences that are delivered with no hassle. They have powerful megaphones from which to shout their frustrations on social media. And this is no longer a concern just for consumer brands. B2B companies who cannot meet these expectations will soon be left behind.
The companies described above and those who succeed do one thing exceptionally well. You could call it an obsession. They focus on an exceptional customer experience — regardless of how they are trying to change their business. This means examining how customers experience the product and services from every angle. It takes a holistic approach that I named the Complete Product Experience (CPE) in my bestselling book Lovability.
So, before you jump to the conclusion that you need to invest in a transformation, you need to ask a simple question: Why?
Where is your company lagging when it comes to delivering an exceptional customer experience? Many are answering this question with a “digital transformation” answer — focusing on new technologies in hopes that it will deliver on the promise I talked about earlier. But implementing new technology is not considering the CPE in its totality.
For most companies, achieving lasting greatness requires a meaningful investment in the future — it takes an enterprise transformation.
If you take anything away from this blog post, I hope it is this: Companies that want to successfully transform need to examine every area of change. But if you are hungry for more, know that I will be writing more about all three types of enterprise transformations in the coming weeks.
Because as Merriam-Webster says, transformation is not just a small shift — it is changing “completely.”
How is your company putting customers at the center of enterprise change?
Read more about enterprise transformation.