What it takes to win in the digital world

It was early 2020 when a small medical device company launched their first eCommerce initiative. It was their move to play in the digital world. Sell their devices online to distributors, along with easier ordering for current distributors for select products. The idea was perfect. It was a smart decision. They hired a competent web design agency, used a respectable eCommerce platform, hired an SEO specialist and set some budget for programmatic advertising. They had success with existing distributors, attracted a few new customers. But within a few months, some distributors had stopped ordering their products as usual. Finding new distributors was harder and harder.

The marketing team along with sales, set out to try and determine what was wrong. It didn’t take long. Two of their competitors were eating their lunch in the digital world. They were slightly larger with more marketing budget and had a few years experience playing in the digital world. They knew how to play to win in the digital space.

It can, at first blush, seem fairly simple to get into the digital world. It is. It’s also more complicated than even just a few years ago and needs a different approach to thinking through the strategy you need to play to win. It also means being more agile. It means meeting the customer where they are, not bringing them to you like the old days of trade shows and cold calls and broadcast marketing. You still need to do much of that, but digital is a whole other game. If you’re not prepared to win, success will be limited or nothing.

While the manufacturer largely did the right things, they had no UX strategy, the business model wasn’t really a digital business model, there was no content or engagement planning, no dedicated digital resource in-house. Most of the work was farmed out and the in-house marketing team spent maybe 20% of their time on the digital business initiative. Their competitors had a proper UX strategy and a truly digital business model. Most importantly, they had dedicated in-house resources, a digital marketing team. They used inbound marketing tactics with a content and engagement strategy and were also tightly integrated with the sales team and support from the executive.

Their competitors, upon seeing the company enter the digital space, went to war. Ramping up content for SEO and outreach, using programmatic alongside theirs so their ads appeared more often and high ranking than the newbie on the digital street. Unlike the newbie, the competitors were meeting the customer where they were too, in online forums, business network platforms and so on.

Doing business in the real-world, with physical products and marketing and sales, even if you have some marketing online and SalesTech stack, is a long term process. Sure, there’s the day to day sales and it means being aggressive to win. But doing business in the digital world takes it to a whole new level. You must be highly adaptive, have a good UX strategy that can change as the market changes. You need to have a team that thinks agile, that keeps up with changes. You must play hardball and be relentless. Disruptors can move in quickly and from unexpected quarters.

Playing to win in the digital world is no longer inexpensive and it moves faster with more complexity than the traditional world. It is not for the feint of heart. If you aren’t relentless, agile and fast, you won’t win.

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