Step Aside Salesforce and Adobe, Microsoft is the New Leader in Martech

With its integrated suite and large market share, Microsoft is muscling past the category leaders.

For the past five years, Salesforce and Adobe have regularly topped our list of the most used primary marketing technology platforms in companies. But this year, Microsoft came out of nowhere to take the top place.

In our annual “State of Digital Marketing” survey, we asked companies what their primary digital marketing platform was, giving them a choice between the top players in the space. Most companies rely on a primary digital marketing platform or suite to orchestrate the majority of their digital marketing strategies. These platforms usually have a core application (typically email or web management) with integrated add-ons for managing other channels such as web publishing, advertising and analytics.

In past years, the “big 4” enterprise marketing technology players (Salesforce, Adobe, Oracle, and IBM) have accounted for most of the market share. However, this year, Microsoft shot to the top as the most popular primary martech platform (26%) marginally ahead of Salesforce (25%), the previous year’s leader.

Admittedly, this came as a bit of a shock. Salesforce, Adobe (and Oracle to a lesser extent) are well known for their best-in-class offerings for digital marketers, with each one claiming to offer more tools and integrations than the other. Microsoft wasn’t even in the picture unless you count its well-regarded CRM platform Dynamics, a direct competitor to Salesforce’s legacy CRM platform. Microsoft’s marketing automation offering is a direct add-on to its Dynamics CRM, with features for email marketing, customized landing pages, segment analysis and limited multi-channel orchestration. It’s a direct competitor to Adobe’s Campaign and Marketo, Salesforce’s Marketing Cloud and Oracle’s Eloqua.

“Microsoft’s marketing automation offering is a direct add-on to its Dynamics CRM.”

However, upon closer scrutiny of the responses, these results varied quite a bit by different geographies. In the US, Salesforce was easily number one (39%), followed by Adobe (19%) and Microsoft (15%) which is consistent with what we have been observing in the market.

When you get to Europe (in this case UK, France and Germany), Microsoft was well ahead of everyone else, and even IBM had a stronger showing outside of the US. We believe this is the reason the overall results are skewing towards Microsoft as the overall leader.


This shows that Microsoft’s strategy for its digital marketing solution has really been to compete in markets where Salesforce and Adobe don’t have as much footprint, and their branding around digital marketing innovation is more diluted. Couple that with its sizeable foothold in another business tech (productivity, work suite etc, cloud storage) it makes sense that Microsoft could capture a huge chunk of the market with its sheer scale and strong claims for an integrated suite. Even if the Microsoft marketing automation solution isn’t quite as innovative as Salesforce or Adobe’s, these factors would be enough for it to do some real damage to competitors’ market share.

Download Altimeter’s “2020 State of Digital Marketing” report for even more benchmarks, insights and stats on digital marketing.


The Most Desired Skills for Marketing Hires in 2021

Companies are scrambling to hire those with magical marketing skills, as well as data-analysis wizards.

In Altimeter’s annual State of Digital Marketing survey, we asked marketers in the US, Europe and China to rank their most desired skills in new hires for next year.

The results showed us the continued importance of hiring both “Mad Men” and “Math Men” for digital marketing success.

Data analysis (42%) and marketing automation expertise (39%) continue to be the most desired skills in 2020–2021, a result unchanged from when we did the survey last year. These are the two skills that underpin the “digital” in “digital marketing” and it’s hard to imagine any company progressing to maturity without them.

In particular, we’re seeing companies invest more in data than they ever have before. This means hiring analysts who can gain insights from data gathered from multiple sources, as well as creating data centers of excellence for managing the flow of data throughout the organization. All this is in service of creating and delivering the best possible customer experience, across as many digital (and non-digital) touchpoints as possible.

“All this is in service of creating and delivering the best possible customer experience, across as many digital (and non-digital) touchpoints as possible.”

Marketing automation skills are also in high demand, as companies continue to look for specialists who have the technical knowledge to operate sophisticated marketing automation platforms, but also the business know-how needed to create and optimize data-based experiences in collaboration with other customer-facing teams.

However, more mainstream marketing skills such as UX design and graphic design are still in demand, especially as digital marketing becomes more customer-centric and more consideration is given to providing the right visual and experiential elements across digital interactions. It’s good to see that traditional marketing skills are still just as important, even with the proliferation of all things digital.


It’s interesting to see how mainstream digital marketing skills such as SEO and paid media expertise are way down the list of desired skills. This indicates that companies are more likely to outsource these activities to agencies, where it makes more economic sense for them. Additionally, the main vehicles for SEO and paid media (namely Google and Facebook) have made it extremely easy to operate on their platforms, making the task of search and display advertising much more intuitive and frictionless than before. All this indicates that these skills, while still required, don’t require the same level of specialization that they used to.

Click here to download Altimeter’s 2020 State of Digital Marketing for more benchmarks, stats and insights on digital marketing.


Altimeter’s 2021 Trends in Digital Transformation

Our analysts forecast digital marketing and sales shifts in the year ahead.

Every year the Altimeter analyst team publishes predictions around which digital trends will have the biggest impact on business for the coming year. This year, analysts Charlene Li, Susan Etlinger, Omar Akhtar, and Ed Terpening offer their thoughts. 

Read the trends below.

Charlene Li’s trends

Digital Transformation Becomes a Transformation Discipline and Department

2020 showed that the challenges of adapting to an ever-changing business environment will make the management of transformation an ongoing activity. Responsibilities will shift from building digital capabilities into overseeing business transformation tied into the long-term strategy. Companies will evolve temporary transformation management offices (TMO) into permanent departmental fixtures in the organizational chart, detailed with required skills/competencies and career ladders. Budgets previously spent on outside consultants will shift to building this capability in-house and business schools will offer courses and degrees in professional transformation management, similar to marketing, strategy, and finance tracks. 

“We Work” Morphs into “We Gather”

While executives ponder the logistics of managing split time in the office (three days at home, two days in the office), the core question to ask is WHY do we need to be in the office when work gets done pretty well at home? Having tasted the benefits of working from home (no commute, work in my PJs, etc.) it will take a lot to lure many office workers back. Offices will become primarily places to gather rather than to work, as the experience of being together — either to collaborate on work or to create and celebrate culture — must be enough to overcome commute headaches, putting on actual clothes, and engaging with office politics. Implications mean a re-working of office spaces to accommodate collaborations and gatherings while de-prioritizing individual workspaces. 

The 360 Customer Organization Takes Shape, But On Different Paths

The need for seamless customer experiences will force companies to develop the organizational and digital platforms needed to execute those intentions. But rather than tearing down silos between marketing, sales, and service, they will build windows between them. B2B companies will double down on integrating marketing and sales operations, reducing the data distance so that prospects and customers flow seamlessly between these two functions. In contrast, B2C companies will focus on integrating marketing and post-sale service collaboration to close the loop on any issues that may come to light. The pace will be set by B2B2C companies who have already been integrating across the customer journey, often out of necessity. 

Susan Etlinger’s trends

Organizational models will begin to transform

As the world emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, leaders will assess the many lessons learned in 2020. Distributed work is here to stay, but will become more of a spectrum of hybrid models than a binary between “onsite” and “remote” work. The brittle nature of complex supply chains and intelligent automation will drive some companies to vertically integrate and localize, while others will build ecosystems as a way to extend value and hedge against future disruption. Leaders will start to scale scenario planning across the business, scanning for risks and opportunities not only in financial models but in externalities — weather, social movements, public health and others — on a more regular basis. All of this adds up to the need for increased decision-making at the edge supported by scaled insight tools and a single source of (data) truth that can inform strategic decisions consistently, quickly and with confidence. As a result, we’ll finally start to see real experimentation with different, more resilient and less hierarchical organizational models for enterprise.

Workforce analytics — eventually digital workforce platforms — will become a key enabler of distributed work

As the pandemic moved critical functions to the cloud and accelerated digital transformation, it rapidly became clear that existing, siloed ways of understanding enterprise performance and employee productivity do not translate well to digital business. Email and collaborative tool analytics offer slices of insight on discrete activities, but leaders quickly learned that any situational awareness they had depended to a great extent on the nonverbal, environmental cues that they could pick up in their physical workplaces. While in 2020 this resulted in more meetings, more 1-1s, more virtual coffee chats, more everything — this isn’t sustainable. The real opportunity is in workplace analytics and eventually digital platforms that offer a comprehensive view of digital workplace signals, from discrete activity and employee/customer sentiment at a departmental level to business performance overall.

Intelligent technologies will become a competitive differentiator — just not in the way you might think

This doesn’t mean all competitiveness relies on using AI. Rather, as intelligent technologies continue to become commonplace, the way businesses use them will drive performance. Poor data governance will result in critical systems built on the equivalent of a digital landfill. Over-automation, over-reaching use cases, over-reliance on machine over human understanding will simply exacerbate existing areas of fragility and brittleness in the business. Lack of accountability and responsible technology processes will erode trust in data, digital products and services and, eventually, brands themselves. As digitalization and intelligent automation increase, the key to using these technologies effectively and inventively will lie not just in placing a “human in the loop” but in starting from business strategy and then applying intelligent people — and technologies — where they add the most value.

Omar Akhtar’s trends

Increased integration across different customer-facing teams

Companies are moving towards an even more integrated working process between their customer-facing teams, namely marketing, sales and service. Our most recent research shows that the majority of marketers are collaborating with sales teams more than they ever have. This includes sharing and even co-creating digital campaign plans and strategies. In addition, marketing, sales and service are increasingly being assigned shared goals for customer experience and revenue generation. This collaboration is more than simply working better together, it requires an investment in shared digital platforms, the scaled adoption of innovative practices and continuous transfer of data between previously separate teams.

Shift from 3rd party data to first and second party data

While companies may never get away from using third-party data completely, we do foresee a big shift away from it. For many years, marketers have used third-party data, i.e. data procured from a service provider or market place to identify and target new customers, or enhance the data on their existing customer profiles/segments. However, this data has been highly reliant on cookie-tracking technology, which we now know is going away. Consequently, companies are preparing to wean themselves off buying data from vendors, and instead generate more insights on the data from owned sources. Another alternative is to exchange data from second parties, or companies that are not competitors but may provide complementary products or services. We believe these partnerships are safer, and more mutually beneficial, and should be an area of focus for any marketers preparing for the future.

Increasing marketing use cases for AI

2020 may be the tipping point for AI usage in digital marketing. Our recent survey on the State of Digital Marketing showed that almost a fifth of companies were comfortable using AI to generate and analyze customer segments, predict and design customer interactions, and personalize content elements for greater relevance and engagement. In addition, AI is being used to automatically recognize, tag and organize digital content to help adapt to the tremendous scaling of content needed for today’s hyper-personalized digital campaigns. If you haven’t already, 2021 is a good year to start turning on and exploring those AI features in your existing software, or start listing the use cases where AI could add value within your marketing organization.

Ed Terpening’s trends

The Digital Transformation of Selling will change the Sales-Marketing Relationship 

Over the years, Marketing has led the charge into analytics and digital enablement to increase their effectiveness and scale impact. There has been an uneven understanding of technology and data between marketing and sales teams for years.  As Sales embraces the digital transformation of selling, their data, tools and skills will rival Marketing’s. Where in the past a sales team may have had to simply trust Marketing’s data, their new skills will make them equal digital peers. This will force marketing to better justify their analytics, and sales’ empowerment through digital will expand what they do. For example, sales will increasingly prospect their own leads using SFA tools, which will diminish the value of a Marketing Qualified Lead.

The pandemic will have lasting impact on sales teams

Our research has found important gaps in digital selling maturity during the pandemic. While 75% of businesses report at least some gaps in digital sales-readiness during COVID-19, 33% have identified significant gaps. We’ve found that top sales performers are much more digitally capable than their peers — evidence that digital skills and enablement translate to results like exceeding sales quota and customer satisfaction goals. The pandemic has initiated digital pilots — especially among Fields Sales organizations hit particularly hard by forced virtual selling. And business buyers have learned new ways to work virtually. Much of these practices are sure to continue post-COVID, with both buyers and sellers learning where digital adds the most value.

“Top sales performers are much more digitally capable than their peers — evidence that digital skills and enablement translate to results like exceeding sales quota and customer satisfaction goals.”


In the midst and aftermath of COVID-19, businesses will need to reimagine their customer journey and sales funnel

Business buyers’ adoption of digital tools to evaluate and acquire products has been accelerated by their new work-from-home constraints.  With this change in buyer behavior as a catalyst, B2B sellers will reassess their customer journey work and sales funnel processes.  Our research has shown that B2B2C businesses outperform B2B sellers using digital, and they report half the disruption experienced by B2Bs during the pandemic.  Given the maturity of consumer e-commerce practices, B2B2Cs understand how digital shoppers make buying decisions and the expectations their customers have and so should be studied as an example for how B2B can successfully transform.


The State of Digital Selling 2020

Selling has always been a team sport. But as digital excellence builds, boundaries are even blurrier.

Insights for Driving Sales Productivity & Resilience

Digital has long been a key ingredient in sales teams’ success, even before disruptive technologies made digital transformation a business-wide imperative. Now, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, digital selling is more important than ever.

In our 2020 State of Digital Selling research, we sought to understand the capabilities and key success factors enabling the digital transformation of selling among B2B businesses.

Based on a survey of 506 sales professionals across North America, Europe, and China, this report offers a comprehensive view of how B2B sales teams are leveraging digital in their sales processes.

Key Learnings From the Report

  1. Now, more than ever, selling is a team sport.
  2. Sales teams need to make the digital mindset shift.
  3. High-touch, high-value cross-functional selling outperforms automated high-volume selling.
  4. Top performers focus on the customer through customer-focused metrics, cross-functional teaming, and selling by vertical industry.
  5. As teams build digital excellence, boundaries are likely to blur between sales and marketing teams.
  6. Digitally mature sellers are outperforming less mature teams through the global COVID-19 pandemic.

For all the data and insights, download the full report below.

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The 2020 State of Digital Marketing

The most coveted skills for new hires? Firms are hungry for data analysis and marketing automation expertise.

Identifying Trends, Best Practices and Key Capabilities for Digital Marketing Excellence

Altimeter’s 2020 State of Digital Marketing report gives marketers the latest data on how companies are using digital marketing to drive business results. It identifies and quantifies the key practices being used by companies to achieve digital marketing excellence.

Based on a survey of 476 senior digital marketers across North America, Europe, and China, the report provides key insights into what strategies, channels, and practices perform best, including how these vary across industries and regions. It also identifies trends in innovation, current technology adoption, and key metrics for measuring digital marketing success.

Key Findings From the Report

  1. The top objectives for digital marketers include acquiring new customers (40%) and increasing revenue from current customers (39%).
  2. Digital marketers’ top priorities for improvement include more effective personalization (52%), better segmentation (42%) and optimized owned channel performance (37%).
  3. Fifty-two percent of companies rated technology integration as their top digital marketing challenge. Hiring the right talent (51%) and scaling innovation across the organization (49%) were top challenges, too.
  4. Despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, most marketers (56%) are continuing transformation plans, with 22% even accelerating them in response to the crisis.
  5. Ninety-five percent of companies are able to personalize messaging and experiences in some form based on customer data. Nearly a fifth are using AI-driven predictive analytics.
  6. The most desired skills for new hires include data analysis (42%) and marketing automation expertise (39%).
  7. Microsoft (26%) narrowly beat Salesforce (25%), Oracle (13%) and Adobe (10%) as the leading primary martech platform for most marketing teams.

Download the report to learn more.

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The State of Digital Transformation in China: 2020 Report

CEOs here are more likely to have oversight of transformation. But they are worse at communicating about it.

Advancing Digital Transformation to Grow Better in China

With the challenges brought by COVID-19 and other geopolitical factors, new opportunities and industry patterns have emerged. It is now imperative for companies in China to seize these opportunities and accelerate their digital transformation agenda.

In our new report The 2020 State of Digital Transformation, Altimeter, a Prophet company, surveyed more than 600 executives, including 100 in China, about how they are pursuing digital transformation. The research revealed some distinct regional differences and highlighted the opportunities for companies in China to achieve uncommon growth.

What you will learn in this report:

  • Significantly more Chinese CEOs understand they are ultimately responsible for digital transformation compared to the rest of the world.
  • Yet CEOs in China often fail to communicate transformation as a top priority and don’t provide enough strategic guidance.
  • The top drivers of digital transformation in China are to build a more resilient and high-performance culture and operation.
  • Compliance concerns, resistance to change and budget are the top three challenges of digital transformation.
  • While the rest of the world is committed to five main technologies, Chinese companies are more diversified by placing smaller bets in more types of tech.
  • There is still much work to be done for Chinese companies to allow better collaboration across all departments and functions.
  • Chinese companies still trail other regions in making data use a core strategic component.

Download the full report below.

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The Acceleration of Digital Transformation in Europe

Our research shows that employee collaboration and a new kind of agility are fueling regional gains.

Every January, the Prophet team sets out our predictions for what the year ahead might bring. This year one of the predictions we made was that 2020 would be the year when failed digital transformation initiatives would face a reckoning.

And then 2020 happened.

Since COVID-19 first emerged in Asia at the start of the year and then took hold in Europe in March, we have lived through a period of dramatic change – the pace of which nobody could have predicted.

This is especially true when it comes to the adoption of digital technologies in our professional and personal lives. In the UK, the e-commerce share of total retail jumped from 20 percent to 30 percent in just two months, and even as lockdown eased, online grocery purchases continued to rise, almost doubling from mid-May to mid-June. In France, in just one week, there were almost half a million online telemedicine consultations, compared to 40 thousand the month before. And, following a surge in-home streaming in March, Netflix agreed to reduce the bitrate for its streams across the EU to lessen the demand on networks.

In the 2020 State of Digital Transformation report, my colleagues at Altimeter, a Prophet company, have surveyed leaders across the globe to understand how their organizations are responding to the shifts and trends that are shaping how they transform. For those of us in Europe, it provides a fascinating snapshot of the way coronavirus has dramatically shaped the role technology plays in transforming businesses.

Agile Becomes More Than a Buzzword

One of the most significant shifts in this year’s study is the key drivers of transformation efforts. In 2019, the top driver for digital transformation was growth opportunities in new markets. But in 2020, in reaction to the global pandemic and the associated economic pressures, leaders have shifted their focus to operations.

It is in this area we see one of the key differences between the leaders of transformation efforts in Europe and their North American peers. In North America, the top transformation driver is increasing productivity and streamlining operations (41%), but in Europe, the need to work with greater agility is more likely to drive transformation efforts (35%).

“It has become vital for organizations to become more digitally mature.”

The need for agile business practices is particularly pressing in Europe, which experienced a faster and deeper lockdown than North America. This lockdown has required leadership to adapt its transformation efforts to address rapidly shifting customer demands.

Europe Leads the Way in Employee Collaboration

COVID-19 has accelerated the need to shift to virtual ways of working, which has been mirrored by a boom in virtual collaboration tools. The 2020 State of Digital Transformation report shows that Europe is leading the way in this area, with 58% of respondents reporting that platforms to enable employee collaboration was either a top strategic objective for digital investment, or that employees frequently connect over digital platforms. This is particularly pronounced in Germany, with 65% of respondents in the top two levels of employee collaboration and engagement.

Seamless Experiences Command a Price Premium

The rapid adoption of digital technologies throughout the pandemic has shone a light on the points at which experiences break, with issues around technology being the most commonly received complaint.

The 2020 State of Digital Transformation report reflects this, with 52% of respondents reporting that they were yet to achieve a seamless sales and service experience.

But the benefit of doing so is also clear, and it’s an area where Europe leads the way, reflecting a relatively higher adoption of digital tools for sales teams.

29% of European respondents reported that they were able to charge a higher price premium as a result of offering a seamless sales and service experience online, compared with only 15% in North America and 9% in China.


The global pandemic has undoubtedly changed our relationship with technology, and many organizations cite it as a key driver of their own digital transformation.

As we begin to think about the “new normal” shaped by the global pandemic, it has become vital for organizations to become more digitally mature. The 2020 State of Digital Transformation report provides organizations with the opportunity to measure and benchmark their stage of digital maturity.

The report also offers encouragement for European organizations planning for what comes next. EMEA-based organizations are twice as likely as ones in North America to be at the highest stage of digital maturity. Because they have built a strong digital foundation, their focus is now on leveraging data and AI to create great customer experiences.

Helping organizations advance their digital maturity is one of our primary focuses at Prophet, from marketing to brand, experience to culture. As you look to the months and years ahead, we’d love to hear where you are focusing your transformation efforts. Comment below or reach out to us directly.


The 2020 State of Digital Transformation

Operations support, agility and revenue are priorities, as firms race to smooth out work-from-home challenges.

Benchmarking Digital Maturity in the COVID-19 Era

The COVID-19 crisis caused a major upheaval in the first half of 2020. Within weeks, organizations made drastic changes that were expected to take years, like shifting employees to remote work and digitizing customer offerings. The digitization of organizations that was previously anticipated to take years happened in a matter of days.

There is now more pressure than ever for digital to perform in ways that can power meaningful business transformations.

This year’s annual State of Digital Transformation report:

  • Examines how organizations pursue digital transformation, analyzing differences based on digital maturity stage, industry, geography, and organization size.
  • Examines the impact of COVID-19 on digital transformation efforts.
  • Offers a comprehensive benchmark of digital maturity across five areas that define customer-focused digital transformation: Leadership and culture, customer experience, marketing and sales, technology and innovation, and data and artificial intelligence.

The report has four major takeaways:

  • Operations support, agility, and revenue are top priorities given COVID-19. The lead use cases are working from home (82%); digital marketing (78% investing to improve); digital selling (76% trying to close compatability gaps); virtual product/ service delivery (52%); and growth initiatives (37%).
  • The more digitally mature the company, the more they are focused on responding to and taking advantage of the COVID-19 crisis. The less digitally mature the company, the more they are working on implementing digital basics.
  • Digitally mature companies are maintaining their strategic focus despite the pandemic; they focus on digitally-driven innovation, incorporating a new wave of technologies with an intensity that is outpacing the market.
  • Leadership from CEOs and CIO/CTOs — supplemented by CDOs, Innovation Officers, and Boards — helps ensure firms chart and follow their digital transformation ambitions.

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5 Ways to be a Strong Leader in Disruptive Times

Help create stability by establishing new norms–like focusing on results rather than hours.


The Conversational Brand: Strategy for a Digital-First World

Digital assistants—whether embodied in a voice agent, a bot or both—change the way we think about brands.


The evolving COVID-19 pandemic has thrust us all into a new, urgent reality, one that—perhaps permanently—is challenging assumptions about how we live and work. From a business perspective, the pandemic is rapidly exposing the vulnerabilities in our strategies, systems and processes, and accelerating our reliance on digital systems that scale and connect where people cannot.

In this context, digital assistants such as chatbots and voice agents have a valuable role to play. They can support business resilience and reduced operational expenses, freeing up service and support representatives to focus on higher urgency, more sophisticated customer interactions; deliver needed information and services; become a source of “voice-of-the-customer” insight; or provide a moment of humanity and helpfulness when customers need it most.

The report that follows lays out strategic and brand guidelines for designing and activating digital assistants. We hope you find it valuable as you navigate this challenging time.

Susan Etlinger & Darcy Muñoz
April 8, 2020

Executive Summary

Digital assistants — whether embodied in a voice agent, a chatbot, or a combination — change the way we think about brand, from a generally static and visual experience to one that is dynamic and conversational. They unlock new strategic possibilities for customer and ecosystem engagement, and, as a result, raise questions about how brands should sound and behave in dynamic, often unpredictable situations. Finally, they compel us to address questions of brand architecture, identity, behaviors, language choices, movement, and tone in an unprecedented way.

This report, based both on independent research and direct consulting experience with global brands, addresses the opportunities of digital assistants and the conversational technologies that make them possible. We focus on conversational brand strategy, the key elements of persona development, and how to build engaging and trustworthy conversational experiences. Finally, we include a checklist to help business leaders plan for the risks and opportunities of incorporating conversational technologies into a well-considered brand strategy.

This report includes the following:

  • How to build a conversational brand that supports business strategy
  • Key elements of a conversational brand identity
  • Fundamentals of a trustworthy conversational experience
  • A checklist & assessment to guide planning efforts and gauge progress

Is your organization well-positioned to deliver strategic, on-brand and trustworthy customer experiences using digital assistants?

Take our assessment to find out.

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Five Ways to Be a Strong Leader in Disruptive Times

During disruption, stability and security are important. So are openness and transparency.

Like many of you, the events of the past few weeks have thrown me flat on my butt. My heart goes out to the many people who are dealing with COVID-19 in their families or have lost their jobs. And my soul grieves for the pain that is yet to come.

This past Fall, I published my latest book, The Disruption Mindset, and drawing upon that research, as well as over two decades of studying disruption, I’ve learned that disruption creates opportunities for change. That’s because when a disruption happens, our sense of normal is torn apart into pieces and thrown into the air. The people who thrive with disruption jump into the air to catch the pieces before they fall. Those who duck their heads and hope not to get hit will become the victims of disruption.

My hope is that people will leap high with courage and conviction so that they can be the disruptive leaders we so desperately need in the coming days. Anybody can be a leader because it doesn’t require a title. Rather, a leader is simply someone who sees the opportunity for change and takes action to rally people to that cause.

I want to share five ways you can be the best leader possible in these trying times.

  1. Develop a disruption mindset
  2. Establish stability and security with structure and process
  3. Use openness and transparency to create accountability
  4. Communicate in 3D to nurture relationships
  5. Identify opportunities for the future

1. Develop a Disruption Mindset

Let’s be honest, it’s hard to know where to head with such chaos going on. Personally, I feel whipsawed between dealing with family issues to answering text messages from clients and team members. It’s hard to focus your efforts on things that really matter and effectively manage the noise.

In researching The Disruption Mindset, I surveyed over 1,000 leaders globally and found that an individual most able to thrive with disruption possess a mindset that is both open to change and embodies the leadership behaviors that empower and inspire others. These disruptive leaders are called “Realist Optimists” in that they see the opportunity being created but are realistic about what actions need to be taken today.

At this point, you may have already had to make some tough decisions with your organization just to get through the past week. You likely won’t know the answers as your team asks, “What do we do now?”.

But it’s not your job to have all the answers. Your job as a leader is to ask the right questions – to focus your team on the work to be done. Your job as a leader is to connect with other leaders in your network to fill in the gaps of your knowledge and experience. Your job as a leader is to keep the process moving forward so that together you all find the path forward.

Use this as an opportunity to change your perspective of what it means to lead an organization. Last August, the Business Roundtable redefined the purpose of a corporation from being solely around increasing the value to shareholders to also creating value for customers, employees, suppliers and the community. I can’t think of a better time than now to create new frameworks, metrics and best practices around what this looks like.

Being a disruptive leader requires that you have the courage and conviction to step out of your comfort zone. Courage is when you don’t know what the outcome is going to be, yet you still move forward into that uncertainty. We need courageous, disruptive leaders in these crazy times.

2. Establish Stability and Security with Structure and Process

This new normal requires new norms, especially for leaders now working with suddenly distributed teams. For example, distributed teams communicate, connect and form relationships in vastly different ways from in-person teams. Simply transferring your office protocols isn’t going to work. In a time of crisis, more information sharing is needed.

When you can no longer manage by walking around, you will need to substitute it with daily standups and weekly check-ins. Formalizing what was previously informally done creates a structure and process that will benefit your business because it ensures that everyone is aligned around your strategic goals.

Given the current crisis, traditional meetings may not make sense when people are juggling childcare and working from home. One leader I spoke with made it clear that having a toddler in a lap or a cat walking across a desk was completely acceptable given the circumstances.

Another organization decided to do away with scheduled meetings because it was too stressful for parents to make sure that they were available for a specific time. Instead, they used digital platforms to gather, organize and make decisions in an asynchronous manner. As needed, team members held unscheduled chats or posted feedback over a set time period (typically 24 hours) to move decisions forward.

Lastly, decide on the tools that you are going to use to get work done. RingCentral found that many workers waste up to an hour a day navigating between enterprise apps; so minimize the number of apps that you use. One important process to define is how people will message each other – will it be by email or another platform like Slack or Teams or WhatsApp? Designate one messaging platform that you will use, one place to share documents and one collaborative project management e tool.

You will need to develop your own protocols that work for your organization. The key is to be very clear on how work is going to be done so that you remove uncertainty and confusion.

Use this disruptive time as an opportunity to build agility, flexibility and accountability into your culture and work habits. Make disruption work in your favor as you create stability and security out of new practices and beliefs.

3. Use Openness and Transparency To Create Accountability

To build trust with both your customers and employees, it is important to have one single source of truth that is known by all. Take the time to lay out how you will share information and decisions in a transparent way.

“You will need to develop your own protocols that work for your organization. The key is to be very clear on how work is going to be done so that you remove uncertainty and confusion.”

One leader I spoke with realized that only the leadership team had access to key company data on their collaboration platform, but that the team would benefit from seeing and using it.  Except for a small amount of confidential information, they made everything accessible to the entire organization. Openness in information sharing ensures that everyone knows what is going on, giving them the security to be able to make decisions quickly.

To that end, encourage people to share information and decisions in the open. If you can’t physically see each other getting work done, then you need to tell each other what you are working on. Transparency creates trust, security and stability.

4. Communicate In 3D To Nurture Relationships

By all means, over-communicate in a time of crisis. Nokia Chairman, who guided the company through the sale of their handset business and its pivot into an Internet communications telecom giant, said, “No news is bad news. The bad news is good news. Good news is no news.” Rather than dribble out bad news slowly, deliver it with compassion and empathy as soon as you can. It’s far worse imagining the bad news than to receive it and then be able to take the necessary next steps.

Communicate in “3D,” using every channel available – email, video recordings, Slack, social media and Teams and WhatsApp. It also means using video to make calls. There’s nothing like being able to see each other to develop that connection, rather than a disembodied voice on the phone. Video also creates accountability – you can confirm that the other person is present and focused on the conversation and with you.

Another dimension is looking at communications from the perspective of being “Remote First.” Instead of thinking of remote as a second-best alternative to being face to face, think of it as the default going forward. Even when you go back to your office, keep the processes that work for distributed workers so that it makes sense for both modalities.

Lastly, your communications must also establish a new culture for this new normal. Without the serendipity of running into someone in the lunchroom, you will need to engineer serendipity by designating areas where people are encouraged to share and discuss non-work topics. From sharing pictures of their work area at home to jokes and memes, invest in this connective social tissue to help your team connect and continue to build their relationships. It’s these casual encounters that build trust.

5. Identify Opportunities for The Future

The final area is thinking about future opportunities. My research found that disruptive leaders and their organizations do one thing extremely well: they focus on the needs of their future customers. This is truer than ever in these disruptive times. It may be tempting to go back to existing customers and try to coax them to come back to you. But just as importantly, you must think about where new customers with emerging needs are going to be.

As an example, here’s a figure that maps the U.S. GDP growth rate over the last five years. You can see that times of recession and crisis resulted in great creativity and innovation. Microsoft was founded in the midst of the oil crisis of the 70s. Apple launched the iPod in 2001 after the bust. And Airbnb and Uber were founded in the depths of the last recession in 2008 and 2009, respectively.

Disruption today is creating a need not just for innovation, but also for ingenuity. The need hasn’t gone away with the shuttering of businesses – it’s instead shifted and if you can shift with the need, you can fill the gap.

Multiple examples of ingenuity have surfaced in the past few days. For example, some closed schools rerouted school buses to deliver meals to home-bound kids. In Ireland, small business AMI refurbished high-quality laptops from companies to meet  a demand to rent or buy laptops for working from home employees. And my personal favorite is seeing trainers and yoga instructors bringing their clients together on Zoom calls – it’s gratifying to see my fellow class members also struggling to catch their breath!

As a leader, you can find the next disruption opportunity by aligning yourself and your entire team around understanding the needs of the emerging customer. Instead of asking, “What can I do?”, ask instead, “How can I best serve?”

Here are three ways to better identify and understand your future customer. First, use empathy maps to better understand how these people feel, what they say, what they think and what they do (below is an example empathy map from my book). Deepen your understanding of how they approach a problem or situation.

Second, create a Customer Advisory Board (CAB). It can provide you with insight and feedback on what you are doing well and how you could serve their needs better. Don’t stack your CAB with your biggest and best current customers. Instead, find the customers who push you to do things in a different way. Ask your sales and customer services teams who the most insightful customers are – the ones who challenge the way your company works. These customers will hold you to a higher standard.

A strong CAB will push you further and faster than anything you can come up with. Having concrete examples of what future customers want is a powerful antidote to stuck-in-today thinking.

Lastly, find your customer-obsessed people. Seek out the people in your organization who are already naturally inclined to think about your customers. You likely already know who they are. They walk in customers’ shoes and intuitively understand their pain points. When you find these customer-obsessed people, give them the social proof that their opinions, not only matter but are being heard and are making a difference.

For example, one organization routinely highlights call center staff at monthly team meetings who have not only surfaced a problem from a service call but also taken the initiative to push through a change in product or policy. Recognizing the advocacy that addresses a customer’s needs turns that person into a hero to be emulated, encouraging others to surface the voices of customers.


Every Step Is the First Step on The Disruption Journey

I wish I could promise that the journey ahead is smooth sailing. It’s going to be anything but. That’s what disruption is – it forces us out of our comfort zone and makes us come face to face with our biggest doubts and fears. But if you can look past them to the opportunities to serve created by disruption, you and your team will have a focus that will steady your hand.

Today, you can decide to take the first step on the disruption path. And given the difficulties, every step will feel like the first step all over again. But trust and believe that you are on the journey, which will be so much better than staying mired in the past.


Organizing for Digital Marketing Excellence

Armed with our key questions, leaders can evaluate how effectively digital marketing teams are organized.

Executive Summary

In the last few years, marketers have had to adapt to the increasing demands of their businesses and customers alike. Customers now demand compelling, personalized content and experiences to be delivered to them on an ever-increasing list of digital channels, while CEOs now expect marketers to deliver results that go beyond brand awareness and ring the cash register. As a result, marketers, especially digital marketers have had to learn new skills, adopt innovative new technologies, and fundamentally reassess the role they play in driving the business.

While learning new skills and deploying sophisticated technology are key drivers of digital marketing excellence, their effectiveness is limited if the digital marketing teams aren’t structured or organized in the best way possible. Many businesses struggle with this crucial step as it could mean breaking legacy hierarchies and defying embedded cultures.

In our research report, we’ve defined four essential steps to help marketing leaders understand the key elements of a modern digital marketing organization and the choices they have in positioning them to best deliver on the needs of the business and its customers.

In this report, you will find:

  • A four-step process for organizing your digital marketing team
  • Three organizational models, with accompanying case examples
  • Recommendations for building out the core functions of your digital marketing team
  • A list of key questions to help you begin evaluating how your digital marketing team is organized

Download the full report below.

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