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It is critical for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to plug into the digital economy — How to start your SME digital transformation

It is critical for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to plug into the digital economy — How to start your SME digital transformation

During the 2019 “budget season” in Singapore, multiple news stories discussed the role of digital in Singapore and, specifically, among Singaporean SMEs. One came out recently, after the Minister for Communications and Information said that “it is critical for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to plug into the digital economy as it would make a noticeable impact on Singapore's growth.

While it’s great to hear that the Singaporean Government sees digital as a critical component for the growth of Singaporean SMEs, it’s not always easy for the leader of an SME to take the first step into digital. That’s mainly because digital is not digitization. It’s not simply about doing what you are doing today (as this Forbes article explains: Digitization, Digitalization, And Digital Transformation: Confuse Them At Your Peril).

So, how to get started? Here is Daptiv’s four-step approach to digital transformation for SMEs:

  1. As an SME business owner, you want immediate and tangible results. It’s hard to do this with all aspects of digital (e.g., adopting tools and processes that make it easier for you to hire and retain fresh talent is hardly measurable in terms of short-term results), but starting from the front of the house is more likely to yield the results you want. That’s why we recommend starting from digital presence and online demand generation.
  2. The next steps are about making the right plan
  3. Then, set up the right processes for your team and have the tools to support them
  4. Finally, you can do all this by yourself, or you can choose to have one or more partners.

Digital Presence and Online Demand Generation for SMEs

One finger in pink

Focus on your digital presence and online demand generation first (both for B2B or B2C)

Digital presence is about your online footprint—that is, your website and social media presence. “Only 40% of SMEs in Singapore have a website. The percentage goes up to 53% among the fastest growing SMEs (those with revenue growing faster than 15% per year). Even though there is not a single format that works for all, a website is a must-have. Then you can consider a presence on Facebook and/or Twitter (respectively for B2C and B2B), and finally, LinkedIn, if you are planning on selling services to professionals” – according to our own SME research.

Recently, I have been working with a very traditional medium-sized B2B enterprise in Singapore. I spent a great deal of time discussing with the owner the value of digital presence and online demand generation for their particular situation. In short:

  1. It’s the first impression
  2. New prospects
  3. Matching competitors
  4. Engage the various audiences in the way most convenient to them (for selling, recruiting, communicating, etc…)
  5. B2B ecommerce is coming

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Two fingers in red

Create your digital (marketing) plan

So, you are starting from the front of the house because of the focus on immediate results. That’s why we are now talking about the digital marketing plan (further along in your digital transformation journey, you will be building plans for the rest of your digital operations).

Exactly as in your traditional marketing, you are going to focus on setting goals and allocating resources to reach into your target segments. In the case of digital marketing, you are going to:

  1. Define your online buyer personas
  2. Understand the online buyers’ journeys
  3. Map all online resources to these personas and journeys

Check out this post if you would like to see more info about Getting Started with Digital Marketing for SMEs.

Software vendors, especially the bigger ones, have done a great job of having you believe that all you have to do is to pick their solution. However, jumping into using one (or more) tools for your online presence without spending enough time planning—even when selecting the latest and greatest tools—is how not to do digital transformation. The recipe for doing it right is to set a bold plan (interestingly, this review from McKinsey of failed digital transformation project pinpointed the lack of a bold plan as the first reason for failure: A CEO guide for avoiding the ten traps that derail digital transformations).

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Three fingers in blue

Set the right processes and choose the right tools for your team


Digital presence and online demand generation have a handful of key underlying processes that you will have to look into in detail. As an SME, assuming you have a simpler organization and approval process, you can group the processes into three main categories:

  1. Content creation
  2. Campaign management
  3. Periodic analytics and reporting

The content creation process takes into account persona and journeys. It involves the creation of multiple maps of content needed for each persona at each stage of their journey, and then identifies content gaps. These gaps are the starting point for new content, and the initial items in your content calendar. Then, as you run campaigns and keep refining your persona and buyers’ journeys, you will identify new content needs, which you will feed into a content calendar. And, finally, you will have a process to analyse your progress and improve your assets.

Understanding the processes fully is crucial to selecting the right tools. Take the process of updating your website with new content, for example. To make sure your team can update your site by themselves, not just through a third party who manages the website, they need a good tool—one that has been implemented with all the possible templates that you may need for the different types of assets (a blog post, a landing page, a product page, a news release, a form, or a new call-to-action), and is integrated with your SEO tool, optimization tool, advertisement tool, and reporting tool.


Once you have a good understanding of how the three processes will work for your team, you will finally look at tools. With some differences according to business type, you will need:

  1. A content management system
  2. A marketing automation platform
  3. A customer relationship management system
  4. Potentially, a customer support system

Within each of these four, there is the option of selecting an “all-in-one” solution or of selecting a number of best-of-breed tools and integrating them. All-in-one tools usually work better for smaller companies (as they do not require you to maintain a complex web of integrations), but there can be exceptions, depending on your team’s technical skills and your needs. Also, the more comprehensive all-in-one solutions go well beyond the boundaries of one of the four system areas listed here. For example, HubSpot, a leading tool for SMEs, has a platform that spans across all four.

Regardless of the choice, to support your digital presence and your online demand generation, you will need:

  1. Publishing of new content:
    • Easily and securely
    • With approval workflows if needed
  2. Digital asset management
  3. Supporting https (not http—since Google announced in August 2014 that https sites would be prioritized, it’s no longer acceptable to have http sites)
  4. On-page SEO analysis and provides insights
  5. Email platform (and depending on the industry, potentially, a multi-channel tool supporting other means of communication besides emails)
  6. Design and automation tool to be able to orchestrate your campaigns
  7. Ads tracking
  8. Social media publishing and listening tool
  9. Optimization, to be able to experiment with multiple versions of emails and landing pages
  10. Personalization engine (for certain industries)
  11. Google Analytics, or some other analytics tool, linked to your buyers’ journeys, to report end-to-end on your conversion path
  12. A CRM to handover prospects to sales.

The good news is that there is plenty of choice! The not-so-good news is that it’s not easy to navigate through the selection process… which brings us to the next topic: You may need one or more partner(s).

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Four fingers in green

Find the right partner(s)

Partners can help in multiple ways with your digital transformation. Depending on your capabilities, you may want an advisor to help you with planning, with the implementation, and/or with your ongoing day-to-day digital marketing operations.

If your team has already been producing some content and feels generally comfortable with the three new processes (content creation, campaign management, and periodic analytics and reporting), you may be okay with focusing on an implementation partner only. If you don’t have a marketing team, you will need a partner or multiple partners to take you end-to-end through your digital transformation journey. Regardless of which type of partner you need, our suggestion is that you start from here: 20 Questions to Select Software Vendors and Partners for Your Digital Marketing Program.

One final piece of advice, don’t think that it’s not possible to test and experiment with a new partner. Recently, I worked with an owner of a medium-size enterprise to run a “pilot” of online demand generation program for their B2B. The owner wasn’t fully convinced of the value of a marketing automation tool. Before implementing one, he wanted to see if and how the process would work. This was in spite of the common belief that there is a specific way to run pilots and experiments when it comes to digital….

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Besides getting started on your SME digital transformation journey, there are many more steps to take. For a comprehensive guide for founders and CEOs, check out this post here: Digital for Singaporean SMEs: Practical Guide for founders and CEOs.

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