When considering what kind of digital strategy their company should commit to, even the smartest of professionals tend to spend too little of their time defining the business goals they want to achieve. We are problem solvers by nature and our mind quickly wonders for possible solutions. And solutions are nice because they are ideas and the best ideas are usually our own, right?

If you are holding a hammer...

When creating a digital strategy we are tempted to obey the "law of the instrument" and try to create a digital solution for every single challenge thrown at us, or in other words by Abraham Maslow:

If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail

My claim is this: spending time defining the business goals in detail, considering their impact and possible digital solutions is crucial for creating a good digital strategy. The big hits or misses are usually made at this point.

Let's use the analogy of hammer and nails in this post to make things a bit more tangible. Hammer stands for digital solutions that you can use. Websites, eCommerce platforms, dealer portals, social media campaigns, product information management systems. These are all Hammers. Nails stand for the business goals that need to be pounded through the board.

The purpose of a digital strategy is to identify the actual, well-placed nails that should be pounded with our digital Thor's hammer for the maximum impact. And to leave the other stuff alone. Yes, it's tempting to hit stuff. I know.

Few cases in my career have forced me to practice a model of evaluating whether a business goal can be contributed to with a digital solution. Or to stick with our analogy: a model for identifying those nails that should be pounded.

I usually start my (B2B) digital strategy work by interviews with business unit directors / VPs and discuss the business goals they think the digital platforms of the company should help them tackle.

The initial goals that come up are usually something similar to these:

  • Shorten the sales cycle time
  • We need more quality leads for our sales team
  • Automate the ordering process of standard products
  • Renew our website, the old one is horrible and customers are complaining
  • Make our hit rate better
  • We need to offer the best customer experience in the industry

These are all good starting points and usually derived from the company business strategy. However, they all need to be evaluated and formulated to be precise enough to drive actual development work. Some of them are also "skipping to the solution" instead of describing the actual challenge or goal at hand. The evaluation can be done in co-operation with the business owner by discussing two factors: business impact and digital feasibility.

Evaluating the business impact that digital solutions can deliver – how hard can we hit the nail?

I usually first delve into the business impact with questions such as these:‌

What kind of monetary impact does reaching this goal create?
How much are you willing to invest to make this happen?
Do you have initial thoughts on what the solution could be in practice?

This forces the business owner to put things down in numbers. We are looking for goals with maximum impact and for reasonable investment. Nails that are positioned so that we can drive them through the board with a single blow, right?

The third question also brings out the idea of a solution (which usually exists) for evaluation. When we have the numbers down and an initial idea (let's say it's a webshop for after-sales services) we can evaluate the business objective also in regards of digital feasibility.

Digital feasibility of a business goal – is it an actual nail?

Evaluating the digital feasibility of a business goal based on an initial solution idea is a process that needs the expertise and experience of a professional. This is the point where the value of an external strategist or a consultant should be delivered. To evaluate the digital feasibility of a goal we need to have several different levels of insight available:

What kind of digital solutions exist to contribute to the business goal at hand? How have they usually performed? ‌‌What kind of investments are these solutions? ‌‌What kind of internal and external resources do they require?

If the strategist can provide information on the solutions available and the business owner can evaluate the monetary impact and resources, they can together cut out the solutions that are too expensive/risky, or not likely to create enough impact.

This is the point where you try to figure out which nails are too twisted, big, small or otherwise unfit for that great digital hammering action. And some business goals are not nails at all. Choosing the wrong stuff to hit with your digital hammer will make you spend your time, energy, and money in a way that does not create the desired impact.

Mapping business objectives based on impact and feasibility - map of nails to pound.

To facilitate this evaluation process I like to use a fourfold chart like this:

This process usually leads to better understanding in regards of what are the issues that can affected with digital solutions realistically (Nails! Hit them.) and what goals should be approached with other tools (Other stuff, don't hit them.). For example "increasing sales hit rate" or "increase revenue" are typical goals that are listed as possible digital strategy objectives but usually need to be addressed with more fundamental changes in the business. "Customer experience" is another great example: building a great digital platform will only have a limited impact if other touchpoints (often much more important) are ignored.

In the end, the digital strategist and the business owner should be able to agree on a very limited number of goals that are chosen for the digital strategy. The actual nails that need to be hit.

To facilitate this evaluation process I suggest a few preliminary questions in written format and a discussion of 2-3 hours with each business area representative.

What happens next?

After researching, discussing, and evaluating the business objectives you should be left with few selected and clearly defined objectives for the digital strategy.

The next step is to describe the solutions in more detail, their relation to each other and a roadmap for execution. (To stick with our analogy: what kind of special hammer tech should we use to hit the nails and what is the optimal order for hitting them?)

More on those matters in next posts.


I hope this evaluation framework (and questionable analogy with hammer and nails) gave you some food for thought. What do you think are the biggest pitfalls in digital strategy work? What's your approach?