Are you wasting money on digital solutions without getting results?

Your business is growing, and so is the long list of digital solutions you’re piecing together to try to improve efficiency and take your customer experience to the next level.

But it seems that the more cash you pour into digital platforms, apps, and tools, the more time you’re spending on the digital learning curve. When will you start to reap returns on your digital investments?

If this sounds familiar, then you may be falling into a common trap: modernizing your business by thinking like a consumer, not a business leader.

Consumer thinking will give you flash, not function

When we buy technology for personal or home use, we tend to  place a high value on intangible aspects of a product, such as branding and aesthetics. But that’s not necessarily the smartest approach when you’re buying digital solutions for your business.

At home, you may want the sleekest, most stylish version of Alexa to coordinate with your sofa cushions. And when you’re out on the town, you may enjoy sporting the latest smart watch—not because you use (or even know how to use) all its features, but simply because it looks cool.

The cool factor is worth paying for when the main reason for buying something is to get pleasure from it. But when you’re shopping for business technology, what pleases the eye doesn’t always deliver the  best results.

The app that looks beautiful and claims to have an “intuitive interface” (famous last words!) may not be full-featured enough to serve all your business needs. It may also require custom configuration and employee training before it can really do what you need it to do. To prevent yourself from spending money on so-called solutions that don’t really solve your business problems, keep your eye on your strategic business goals. Let those serve as your North star to keep you on track as you steer your organization toward your digital future.

Seven digital distractions to avoid

Rise above the consumer mindset by staying alert to seven common digital distractions that make business technology look more valuable than it really is:

1. Chasing the latest model. Think of this as the iPhone phenomenon. Apple afficionados will claim there have been great technical gains between the iPhone 8 and the iPhone 12. But how do those enhanced features actually improve the day-to-day experience for most users? Unless you’re using your phone to shoot professional-quality photos, can you really tell the difference between one model and another of the iPhone camera?

The latest model of any product always looks shinier than what came before it, but take the time to look under the hood. Make sure you’re getting more than just surface improvements to the way the technology looks and feels.

2. Keeping up with the Jones’s tech. FOMO (fear of missing out) distorts too much digital decision-making.

Don’t try to keep up with the competition because their needs may differ dramatically from yours. Two companies may look similar from the outside yet run on radically different internal processes. Just because you and Company Jones both make donuts doesn’t mean you use the same recipe or the same equipment, and it certainly doesn’t mean you have the same team. So why should you expect to use the same digital solutions?

Instead of trying to keep up with the Jones’s, take time to define, in detail, the business problems you want to solve and the processes you want to streamline. Let those guide you to making smart digital purchases.

3. Automatically updating software. This can be a tough distraction to resist because it comes baked into many applications. Most software will automatically notify you as soon as an updated version has been released. But that doesn’t mean you automatically need to click the “Upgrade now” button.

Before updating any application, take time to decide whether the new or improved features will really benefit your business. It’s also wise to find out whether upgrading would require you to spend time reconfiguring existing processes and/or training employees.

4. Falling for friendly salespeople. As consumers, we often make decisions based on our relationship with the salesperson. For instance, we may choose a real estate agent who’s a friend of a friend. And how many boxes of cookies or chocolate have you bought just because the kid selling them was your neighbor’s daughter?

Just because you’re a long-term customer of a particular software vendor doesn’t mean you should always take their buying advice. Do your own due diligence and check out any new product your favorite digital solutions provider recommends. In the end, you know your business best, and only you can decide whether an application that sounds amazing will really make a difference to your bottom line.

5. Confusing wants with needs. New technology can be seductive. It promises so many powerful benefits—more speed, more capacity, more automation, more intelligence, more efficiency, and so on. But how much “more” do you really need?

Too many businesses buy Ferraris for their fleet cars when they’d really be better off with Fords or Toyotas. Focus on the specific goals you want to achieve through the technology and buy just enough capability to suit today’s needs while allowing for realistic future growth. 

6. Buying to belong. Consumer brands appeal to our innate human desire to belong to a group. Some brands—like Southwest Airlines and the Dollar Shave Club—exploit this longing so well that they develop a cult following.

Steer clear of business brands that try to draw you into their cult. You have a strong brand identity of your own; you don’t need to buy one by purchasing a digital solution. In fact, you should look for solutions you can white-label as your own. For example, to emphasize your own branding, choose an email marketing tool that allows you to customize templates with your own logo and remove any fine print identifying the tool provider.

7. Judging utility based on your personal preferences. Technology has become so interwoven with all aspects of live that digital choices feel like personal choices. It’s tempting to make important, expensive business decisions based on your personal preferences as a user.

Unless you’re buying a digital solution for your personal use, push your individual likes and dislikes aside. Instead, take time to investigate the needs of the end users, the employees who will spend the most time interacting with the solution. Involve them in the purchasing process so that you can get their buy-in and kindle enthusiasm for learning new tools and skills.

Pursuing the path to “frictionless business”

The path toward what Forbes author Kerrie Hoffman has called a “frictionless business” is seldom completely smooth. Getting to a friction-free state inevitably involves some trial and error, and that always creates some bumps.

However, you can minimize the jolts along the road by keeping your eye on your destination. By consciously avoiding digital distractions, you’ll be able to focus your attention on planning for success, one smart decision at a time.

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