Insider vs. Outsider: Who Should Lead Your Digital Transformation?

The Digital Transformation Leader

Harvard Business Review recently published a fascinating article called “Don’t Put A Digital Expert In Charge of your Digital Transformation.” It’s the story of two companies: one that hired a digital expert from Amazon to run their new ecommerce channel, and one that tapped an insider who had no experience in digital.

The outcomes of these two stories are truly counterintuitive. (Go read the article for the full picture.) Basically, the initiative led by the ex-Amazon guru was a disaster, while the insider with no digital experience launched a successful ecommerce channel at his company.

While that’s just one anecdote, HBR studied 50 such cases and concluded: “Insiders with little digital experience who are placed at the head of digital initiatives succeeded about 80% of the time.”

What does this mean for manufacturers launching ecommerce? Should you hire a digital expert to lead the initiative, or tap someone from within the company? 

The answer to this question will look different at every organization. However, we can look at the pros and cons of each path through the lens of 4 key knowledge sets:  

1. Knowledge of your business

The Insider:

With years of experience at your company, most likely in several different roles, the insider knows your business. This is a significant advantage, as the insider can make digital transformation serve your business, rather than the other way around.  

The Digital Guru:

Coming in from another job as an ecommerce leader, the digital guru won’t know the ins and outs of your business. They can learn, but they must be willing to learn–and they must not silo the ecommerce initiative from the rest of the organization. (See that HBR article for more.) 

That said, the Digital Guru does have an advantage here. With fresh eyes, they’re more likely to spot inefficiencies and problems which long-time team members have accepted as a way of life. When the Digital Guru asks, “Why is XYZ so complicated?”, it can be a painful question—but a healthy one, too.

2. Knowledge of your customers

The Insider:

With years of experience at your company, the Insider knows what makes your customers tick:

  • Their unique pain points
  • Why they keep coming back
  • What might stop them from coming back
  • What other options they have (your competition)

When it comes to ecommerce, deep knowledge of your customers is a significant advantage. Why? Because your customers may have their own unique needs that the Digital Guru won’t know about. And as we explained in this post, the ecommerce leader must act as the #1 customer advocate within your organization. 

The Digital Guru:

The Digital Guru will need time to learn what makes your customers tick. If they’re willing to say, “I don’t know what I don’t know,” and if they’re ready to learn, the Digital Guru can work just fine as a customer advocate. But they’ll need time to ramp up. 

Yet the Digital Guru has an advantage here, too. Because they’re a fresh voice, they may be more likely to spot problems in your buying experience which are causing friction for your customers. That insight is crucial to constructing your ecommerce initiative.

3. Knowledge of your company culture

The Insider:

Having spent several years at your company, possibly in more than one role, the Insider knows your company culture. They’ll have a good sense of how to craft communications around your digital transformation plan to make it appealing across the company. Since the Insider has established relationships across the organization, they come into the situation with a positive balance of “political capital”–i.e. trust and goodwill from other members of the team. That’s a huge asset. 

The Digital Guru:

The Digital Guru will need some time to learn the ins and outs of your company culture. It’s a good idea for the Digital Guru to hold off on making huge changes right away, since they may not have acquired the “political capital” yet which they’ll need to inspire willing change in longstanding members of the team. 

Whether you choose an Insider or a Digital Guru to lead ecommerce, check out this article for more: Curating Culture Change Across Your Digital Transformation.

4. Knowledge of ecommerce

The Insider:

If you haven’t done ecommerce before, the Insider has to play catchup here. They’ll have to learn the ins and outs of ecommerce. However, as the HBR article suggests, the Insider’s lack of experience in ecommerce may actually be an advantage. They’re in a prime position to make ecommerce serve your business, not the other way around. 

Keep in mind that you don’t have to be ecommerce experts to launch ecommerce. In fact, that’s why Corevist exists–to give you not only the platform, but the implementation, support, and ongoing growth consulting. Read more here: The Corevist Difference

The Digital Guru:

In contrast, the Digital Guru already knows ecommerce. The technology won’t be a hurdle for them. That experience will be invaluable to your organization–as long as the Digital Guru is willing to gain experiential knowledge of your business, your customers, and your company culture to help craft their ecommerce plan.  

Working with a trusted advisor

Whichever route you go, it’s worth asking yourself how much of ecommerce you want to own in-house. Unless you already have a dedicated ecommerce team (or you have the resources to hire), you’ll most likely need a partner who can handle the complexity of ecommerce, from implementation/integration, to support, to growth. Hint: Corevist provides all that in addition to our platform, Corevist Commerce

Moving forward: FREE case study

Want to see healthy ecommerce in real life? Download this case study on LORD Corporation. You’ll learn how LORD’s existing leadership transformed their web channel by replatforming onto Corevist Commerce while keeping SAP at the core.

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About Author

George Anderson

George serves as Director of Digital Marketing. A blogger and journalist with a passion for B2B ecommerce, he has written for the Magento blog, Digitalcommerce360, Supply & Demand Chain Executive, ERPgenie, and others.