Digital Transformation Is Core to SMBs’ Survival.

Their CMOs Must Act Accordingly

By Meaghan Sullivan | 2.11.18

Competing against a slate of long-established brands and disruptive startups is a stressful and exhaustive reality for many marketers at small and midsize businesses (SMBs). They’re not only up against rivals with extensive resources, capital, and brand recognition, but also first-mover visionaries fueled by nonstop creativity, out-of-the-box thinking, and an “everything to gain, nothing to lose” spirit.


This environment may appear as the death knell for SMBs and look like a burning ship to the marketers at the helm, but it’s neither.


According to Oxford Economics’ 2017 “The Transformation Imperative for Small and Midsize Companies,” digital transformation initiatives are helping these companies stay competitive. The survey of 3,000 executives across 17 countries reveals that more than half of SMB executives polled view digital transformation as a core survival objective that will increase in urgency by as much as 32 percent over the next five years.


Marketing executives also put the responsibility on themselves to complete a digital transformation — in fact, 21 percent of the overall respondents said the CMO is responsible for this change.

Source: “The Transformation Imperative for Small and Midsize Companies,” Oxford Economics,

sponsored by SAP, 2017.

What’s motivating most marketers at SMBs to pay attention and invest in digital transformation? Customer expectations, of course. But just as motivational is the buzzworthy wave of next-generation marketing technology that’s emerging as a viable, often necessary, enabler of capabilities required to operate competitively.


Sweeping, technology-driven changes advance the importance of

digital transformation

For marketers at more digitally savvy SMBs, the road to digital transformation has been hard-won. This level of technology-driven change was once considered an option reserved for large enterprises that could afford it. However, the growth and improvement SMBs are experiencing now from their digital initiatives closely resemble those realized by their much larger rivals. According to the Oxford Economics report, businesses with annual revenues between U.S. $100 million and $499.9 million are using digital transformation to attract and retain the right talent and increase profitability — nearly as much as companies generating millions and billions more.

Source: “The Transformation Imperative for Small and Midsize Companies,” Oxford Economics,

sponsored by SAP, 2017

While this is all excellent news, SMBs are far from done with digital transformation. And many marketers at SMBs are still in the early stages of that transformation.


Go further, faster

Whether you’re a marketer at a digitally savvy SMB or a marketer still working to convince company leadership of the important and value of making that transformation, there are ways you can prepare to evolve with new and existing enabling technologies.


Emerging technologies such as self-service analytics, the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and blockchain are finding their way into conversations among business leaders, analysts, and trusted solution providers. Marketers need to be informed about those technologies and leading the conversations with their executive teams. Marketing leaders should also collaborate with other areas of the business to ensure the technology is aligned and can streamline processes, versus it making more work.


Marketers at any SMB that is already evolving its practices with analytics, cloud solutions, mobile applications, or digital commerce platforms, should continue to ensure that the capabilities enabled by these new digital investments are highly accessible by their teams. For example, keep using IoT to enable everything from high-precision hyperlocal advertising and online search to tracking shipments and customers.


These marketers are take their seemingly random collection of data to pull insights on product performance, customer behavior, and brand sentiment. With information like this, they have a better sense of how to increase revenue while avoiding oncoming risks and preventable costs.


In many cases, marketing executives are likely to cite lack of budget as a challenge to achieving digital transformation. Instead of viewing this as a barrier, marketers should explore whether other lines of business or functional areas are already leveraging the next-generation technologies they’re planning to adopt. If so, add the appropriate marketing staff to the list of users.


Uncover hidden gems

Some marketers may be surprised to learn that taking advantage of these next-generation technologies doesn’t necessarily mean actually implementing them.


It’s highly likely that marketers at SMBs of most every level of digital maturity are using — or will use — software or services that tap into these advanced technologies. Machine learning, for example, is turning data analytics is a simpler, more-decisive tool. Cybersecurity solutions are leveraging blockchain to validate authentication and secure data governance. AI is being embedded in marketing technology applications to guide users through processes, workflows, and information search.


Currently, marketers often use machine learning technology to create a better experience for consumers. For instance, marketers can use the technology to ensure that the same pair of shoes a consumer just purchased isn’t being advertised to them across channels. Machine learning can also help deliver relevant content, such a discount for a scarf that would pair well with the shoes that consumer just purchased.


In too many cases, consumers are being overwhelmed with products they already bought – and they don’t want to buy the same thing twice. However, machine learning technology can instead help make the retargeting process an enjoyable one, where consumers receive helpful information and interesting new products instead of more ads for what they already have.


So, here’s my bet for 2018: Every SMB marketer will touch technology more than ever before — whether through active adoption or passive use. Marketers at SMBs who know how to take advantage of these opportunities will reap tremendous rewards. And, as their digital transformation matures, these marketers will be able to single out the digital technology winners that will make their team’s lives easier, add value to the customer experience, and build a stronger brand name.

About the Author

Meaghan Sullivan is VP of Global Channel Marketing at SAP. She is tasked with accelerating global indirect revenue through channel marketing practices with a focus on VARs and distributors. Sullivan focuses on demand-gen activities that help SAP partners to more efficiently market SAP solutions and services. Previously, Sullivan held senior channel partner roles at Hewlett-Packard and Motorola.