Featuring insights from Geoff Bull - Marketing Director @ Wiggle.
Before COVID we said we were in a golden age for digital transformation.
How naive were we?
Now with our post-pandemic perspective, we can see why that was nonsense. Because over the course of just a few days back in March, digital transformation went from being: “That thing businesses should get around to doing soon, to function at full efficiency”.
To: “The thing businesses must do immediately if they haven’t already. Or else they won't get through this crisis”.
See the difference? It’s not subtle.
Digital transformation went from being a relative luxury (for those who had the foresight, as well as the resources), to becoming an absolute necessity overnight. That’s a huge shift that many SMEs simply weren’t prepared for.
To help you understand why it was so problematic, let’s go back to basics. What does digital transformation actually mean?
It can look different from one business to the next. It could mean digitising your product or service, or changing the way you take your product or service to market through new digital channels, but broadly it means: “to change how you do business to meet the conditions of the digital world” - either way it’s likely to rely on people with expertise who can drive change.
From making sure your systems are in place to fully enable remote working, and maximising online sales, just in case the shops are suddenly closed for eight weeks, to developing brand awareness – especially in the places your customers spend lots of their time. Like search engines and social media.
Pre-COVID, most of this was written into business plans yet still considered to be “nice-to-haves” or “must-sort-out-soons”. But now, in the warm light of June, they’re essentials that every SME must prioritise, and there’s no time to waste!
So, how are small businesses going to compete with those bigger brands pushing back with even bigger budgets?
To find out more I've been speaking with e-Commerce industry leaders, starting with Geoff Bull, e-Commerce & Marketing Director at Wiggle.
Wiggle is an online sports retailer who bucked the COVID trend and saw an upturn in sales. A combination of being prepared; fully online, could keep trading safely, good systems in place to meet increased client demand; and simply a result of being in the right place at the right time. Many more people had the time to focus on themselves as a result of lockdown, and take interest in the wonderful products Wiggle sells.
A strong SEO strategy hasn’t done them any harm either.
I asked Geoff what SMEs needing to transform should prioritise in order to compete effectively online.
Geoff believes you must be prepared to go fully digital if your business isn’t there already, because digital businesses are in the best position to understand what their customers want and build responsive systems to deliver for them.
“It's about getting back to basics, understanding what problems your customer is facing. Why do they use your products, and why do they choose you? Then you can start to think from a channel perspective about how you can build solutions for them. Maybe its research journeys that need to start online rather than the whole online purchase piece, or you might need to build out a new channel or an entirely new way of transacting, but by starting with a problem first basis allows you to understand what your customers are trying to do and build solutions around them.”
While Wiggle customers simply see a solid experience encouraging them to stick around, not shop around - one thing Wiggle does spectacularly well is manage the customer journey so it’s seamless. Customers can log in from their desktop and start looking at bikes or running gear, get distracted by work or home schooling, then come back days later to find everything exactly as they’d left it.
Despite how well 2020’s been going, Wiggle aren’t taking anything for granted. Geoff calls their current growth plans “conservative” because there’s still a lot of uncertainty in the future for their business, just like there is for everyone else.
Their biggest focus is getting the basics right; making sure customers continue to have a great experience. That way, when these new customers are looking to return to the market - they’ll choose to return to Wiggle.
But if you’re looking to emulate Wiggle’s success, you’re going to need people with digital expertise. Which for many businesses is one of the biggest recurring challenges. So how do you get this right, and accelerate the digital transformation of your business in as little time as possible?
As digital practitioners turned “digital recruiters” we understand the challenges around hiring all too well. We know that a bad hire, even at the best of times, can have a devastating impact on wider team morale. Not to mention the financial implications because of unrecoverable salaries, potential loss of business and productivity, as well as recruitment fees if you used an agency or general hiring costs if you didn’t.
In a post-COVID world, where budgets will be under closer scrutiny than ever – there’s a lot of pressure to get it right. Geoff believes you can reduce your chances of a bad hire by being less rigid in your approach to recruitment, and knowing when to bring in the experts. Here’s an example of how that looks at Wiggle:
“We’re based on the South Coast of England with a presence in Belfast. And we understand that a lot of the skills we typically search for in our core digital areas are not always available locally. So, we’re looking to take newly adopted home working practices, to be able to recruit specialists from around the UK and access a much wider talent pool. Not only to increase the opportunities for our business - but also for people who want the opportunity to work for us”.
For recruiters - it’s not just about finding the candidate with the right hard skills - matching what companies need with the skills they sometimes think they need. It’s also about finding someone who’ll fit culturally into a client’s organisation and hit the ground running in every aspect.
Hiring for culture in a digital world brings its own challenges. But if you need to build out your digital capability for the longevity of your business, one thing is certain. Now is not the time to pile even more risk onto your process by using “generalist” agencies, who don’t fully understand the nuances of digital and e-Commerce.
Maybe it’s time to get a wiggle on, and get yourself a digital specialist?