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Vala Afshar
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Vala Afshar is the Chief Digital Evangelist for Salesforce. Afshar is the author of The Pursuit of Social Business Excellence. Twitter: @ValaAfshar

Entries by Vala Afshar

High Performing CMO's Outpace Direct Competitors by 96X

(0) Comments | Posted May 18, 2016 | 5:08 PM

New marketing research from Salesforce shows that high performing marketing organizations are 96X more likely to rate the performance of their business stronger than their direct competition.

The report analyzed responses from 4,000 marketers from around the globe, from a number of business...

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How To Improve Business Performance With Account-Based Marketing

(0) Comments | Posted May 17, 2016 | 11:02 AM

According to Gartner's 2016 CMO spend survey, converting leads to sales ranked second to innovation as the top area where senior management's expectations of marketing responsibility increased over 2015. Per Gartner, "account-based marketing" is emerging as a hot trend.

Account-based marketing builds on a foundation of robust...
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6 Stages of Digital Transformation [Research]

(0) Comments | Posted May 2, 2016 | 2:29 PM

Definition: Digital Transformation

The realignment of, or new investment in technology, business models, and processes to drive new value for customers and employees to effectively compete in an ever-changing digital economy. -- Brian Solis, Altimeter Group

Brian Solis is principle analyst at Altimeter, a Prophet company. Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and futurist. Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. He is an award-winning author and avid keynote speaker who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation and innovation.

Solis' definition of digital transformation noted above is from Altimeter Group's first maturity model for digital transformation, co-authored by Jaimy Szymanski, and in his new report, "The Race Against Digital Darwinism: Six Stages of Digital Transformation," and it differs from other technology-first approaches.

Solis notes that although digital transformation is one of the most important trends in business, shaping how companies work, market and innovate. Solis identifies the six stages of digital transformation and a maturity model that was developed using extensive collaboration with some of the world's leading brands.

The six stage of digital business transformation include:


  1. Business as Usual: Organizations operate with a familiar legacy perspective of customers, processes, metrics, business models, and technology, believing that it remains the solution to digital relevance.

  2. Present and Active: Pockets of experimentation are driving digital literacy and creativity, albeit disparately, throughout the organization while aiming to improve and amplify specific touchpoints and processes.

  3. Formalized: Experimentation becomes intentional while executing at more promising and capable levels. Initiatives become bolder, and, as a result, change agents seek executive support for new resources and technology.

  4. Strategic: Individual groups recognize the strength in collaboration as their research, work, and shared insights contribute to new strategic roadmaps that plan for digital transformation ownership, efforts, and investments.

  5. Converged: A dedicated digital transformation team forms to guide strategy and operations based on business and customer- centric goals. The new infrastructure of the organization takes shape as roles, expertise, models, processes, and systems to support transformation are solidified.

  6. Innovative and Adaptive: Digital transformation becomes a way of business as executives and strategists recognize that change is constant. A new ecosystem is established to identify and act upon technology and market trends in pilot and, eventually, at scale.

2016-05-02-1462213576-7279715-sixstagesofdigitaltransformation.png
Figure 1: The 6 Stages of Digital Business Transformation

Collectively, these phases serve as a digital maturity blueprint to guide purposeful and advantageous digital transformation. Our research of digital transformation is centered on the digital customer experience (DCX) and thus reflects one of many paths toward change. We found that DCX was an important catalyst in driving the evolution of business, in addition to technology and other market factors. -- Brian Solis.

The research emphasizes that digital maturity requires multi-disciplinary involvement, including:

  • Governance and leadership - an infrastructure that is driven by leadership philosophies that determine the fate of the business evolution.
  • People and operations - who is involved Who is involved in Digital Transformation (DT), the roles they play, the responsibilities and account-abilities they carry, and how a company enacts change and manages transformation, including its roles, processes, systems, and supporting models.
  • Customer experience - The processes and strategies aimed at improving touch points along the entire customer journey.
  • Data and anaytics - How a company tracks data, measures initiatives, extracts insights, and introduces
  • them into the organization.
  • Technology integration - Implementing technology that unites groups, functions, and processes to support a holistic CX.
  • Digital literacy - ways in which expertise is introduce into the organization.
According to the research, understanding the six stage of digital transformation maturity will lead to the following business benefits:


  • Customization the maturity model to inform specific roadmap development

  • Peer company bench-marking

  • Executive alignment and buy-in

  • Bolster sense of urgency

  • Future marketing trend insights

  • Prioritize digital transformation initiatives

  • Set a new vision, course, and platform for leadership

  • Develop new models, processes, and a purpose for technology and the future of work

"Though the maturity model is presented in a linear format, research shows that companies may span multiple stages at once depending on their goals, resources, and overlapping initiatives," said Solis

By following this model, all aspects of business evolve, including management perspectives, roles and responsibilities, operations, work, and, ultimately, culture.

The model also helps executives:


  • More effectively compete against existing and emerging competitors.

  • Accelerate "go-to-market" initiatives in ways that are more relevant and rewarding.

  • Evolve business mindsets, models, and operations to outpace competitors.

  • Develop innovative products and services that stave off disruption.

  • Deliver meaningful and valuable customer (and employee) experiences.

The Altimeter research includes several company case studies to further valid the model and the six stage definitions of digital transformation. The Slideshare presentation produced by Jim MacLeod, one of the top digital and creative visual marketers, is a high level summary of the six stages of digital transformation with key...

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Top 100 Most Social CIOs on Twitter 2016

(1) Comments | Posted April 23, 2016 | 5:15 PM

2016-04-23-1461444919-6279096-social2016cioimage.png

There is no better time than now to be a chief information officer (CIO). 2016 is the year of the connected customer and an opportunity for CIOs to help their companies learn more about and engage with their customers in a...

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10 Characteristics of Extraordinary CIOs

(1) Comments | Posted April 12, 2016 | 12:00 PM

The importance of digital business transformation has created a real opportunity for CIOs to win CEO jobs. The role of the CIO and IT leaders has significantly changed and the demand for digital-savvy IT leaders who are able to execute the CEO's digital agenda is greater than ever...

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Top 10 IT Issues in Higher Education - CIO Point of View

(0) Comments | Posted April 10, 2016 | 1:07 PM

Recently Educause, with help from IT Issues Panel and a representative sample of IT leaders in the community, published its top 10 priority list for CIOs. Educause notes that the people, processes and culture of higher education is not fully prepared to support new and developing...

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2016 State of Marketing -- 55 Important Business Findings

(0) Comments | Posted March 30, 2016 | 8:04 AM

"The CMO's currency is the customer - customer voice, customer value, valence, and often, the experience itself." - Jake Sorofman, Gartner Vice President. Sorofman notes that CMOs are finally getting respect in business, pointing to CMO tenures which have doubled to 48 months over the past decade. Sorofman...

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2016 STATE of IT - 20 CIO Budget, Technology and Digital Business Findings

(0) Comments | Posted February 28, 2016 | 1:40 PM

Gartner recently advised CIOs to consider 10 New Year's resolutions for 2016 including improving relationships with CMO and board members, exploiting crowdsourcing and shifting IT thinking from "how, and what skills" to "why, and which competencies". There is no doubt that in the connected economy, where customers -...

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Disrupt Yourself - 7 Steps To Achieve Mastery And Success

(1) Comments | Posted February 9, 2016 | 2:45 PM

The best way to predict the future is to create it. ― Peter Drucker

Companies do not disrupt, people do. You drive corporate innovation and disruption through personal innovation and disruption. So how do you disrupt yourself? In order to answer this question, I had the great privilege to speak...

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How the Super Bowl Resembles the Technology Landscape

(0) Comments | Posted February 2, 2016 | 7:47 AM

The Super Bowl is 50 years old but the technology behind the biggest sporting event in America is nothing but the newest representation of leading-edge technology. From 360-degree perspective high resolution playbacks on the field, to vast amounts of mobile and social networking coverage of the game, this...

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2016 Research: 6 Benchmarks for Small Businesses Growth

(0) Comments | Posted January 28, 2016 | 11:13 PM

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 50% of small businesses fail in the first four years. Today, over a third of the U.S. working population is employed at business with less than 100 employees. Our economy is driven by small, private businesses - only...

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How Video Marketing Will Change the Game for Marketers in 2016

(0) Comments | Posted January 12, 2016 | 11:59 PM

2015 was another pivotal year in the world of digital marketing. The rise of the connected customer has lead to countless innovations in mobile, social and engagement marketing strategies. The use of marketing automation platforms has surged, and the most successful businesses are now embracing real-time analytics to optimize how...

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2016 - The Year of Connected Customer

(4) Comments | Posted December 17, 2015 | 8:08 PM

We are at the beginning of the connected customer revolution. The rise of the connected customer is driven by revolutions in technology - cloud, mobile, social, data science and the Internet of Things.. According to Pew Research, one-fifth of Americans report going online 'almost constantly'. By 2016, Gartner...

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10 Design Experience X-Factors

(1) Comments | Posted November 30, 2015 | 11:41 AM

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. - Albert Einstein

"An organizational focus on design offers unique opportunities for humanizing technology and for developing emotionally resonant products and services," said Jon Kolko is the vice president of design at Blackboard. Kolko recognizes a shift in large organizations where design is closer to the center of how we work, how we build and go-to-market.

A set of principles collectively known as design thinking--empathy with users, a discipline of prototyping, and tolerance for failure chief among them--is the best tool we have for creating those kinds of interactions and developing a responsive, flexible organizational culture. - Jon Kolko

Successful companies like Facebook have developed business design principles for crafting elegant tools, aimed at improving the customer experience. The 4 key principles include: 1. help people grow, 2. balance efficiency and effectiveness, 3. bring clarity to complexity, and 4. be accurate and predictable. The magical effect of beautiful design extend beyond tools and development processes. As John Maeda reminds us with 10 laws and 3 keys for simplicity, design must be at the center of everything that we do - this type of discipline requires an architecture. Maeda reminds us that good design is about clarity over style, and accountability over ego.

Design is a way of anchoring meaning in an uncertain world through marrying form with content, and content with context. --@johnmaeda

The elegant intersection of design and business can help companies deliver the experience X-factor. So what is the X-factor and how can companies create this magical experience?

Brian Solis is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in business innovation. As a digital analyst, anthropologist, and futurist, he studies disruptive technology and its impact on business and society. I highly recommend that you follow Brian on Twitter at @briansolis. His beautifully designed new book is titled "X-The Experience When Business Meets Design" and it is an incredible collection of case studies and research pointing to the relevance of design in business success.

Solis describes the X factors as:

Close your eyes for a moment and think about the last time you truly had a great experience with a company as a consumer, an experience that captured your heart, mind and spirit. What about it was special?

Let's call it "X" -- that Je Ne Sais Quoi that makes something so special.

This book is about X, creating such memorable moments for your customers through every encounter they have with your brand - all day, every day.

In his book, Solis emphasizes that no amount of advertising and marketing can override the effects of poor experience with your people or products. "Rather than spending so much on advertising, it's time to truly invest in the experience architecture," said Solis.

Good experiences grab customers
  • 40% of customers began purchasing from a competitive brand because of its reputation for good customer service
  • 55% of customers are willing to recommend a company due to outstanding service, more so than product or price
  • 85% of customers would pay up to 25% more to ensure a superior customer service experience

Bad experiences push customers away

  • 82% of customers have stopped doing business with a company due to a bad experience
  • 95% of customers have taken action as a result of a bad experience
  • 79% have told others about their bad experience

Solis notes that technology tweaking is not experience architecture. He clarifies what a good customer experience is not: it's not: a campaign, a click path, a feature set, a tagline, packaging, or use of colors on a page. Good customer experience is implicit and explicit design, conveyance, reinforcement, and shaping of meaningful and shareable experiences - all day, every day.

Solis strongly emphasis the mobile revolution by noting that 2 billion plus consumers are online and only 28% prefer to resolve service issues via the phone. The point where business meets design is where you create incredible experiences that are:

  • Imaginative
  • Game-changing
  • Unforgettable
  • Functional
  • Meaningful
  • Shareable
  • Actionable
  • Intuitive to the user, the device, and the screen
  • Contextually relevant to the consumers in their state of mind and intention on whatever screen they're using in that moment.

Solis defines a fresh approach to architect design principles into your business models will require:

  • In our ethos
  • In our brand essence
  • In our products
  • In our product ecosystem
  • In our marketing
  • In the click path
  • In our service
  • In our rewards
  • In our perspective about our digital customers

So how do business begin experience architecting? Solis references a successful customer use case with 4 building block recommendations:

1. Create an aligned and high-performance organization
2. Establish high-impact and customer centric processes
3. Assign actionable information
4. Enable technology to get the job done

Solis defines each of these steps with great detail and use case examples in his book.


To design experiences you must experience the journey yourself. - @briansolis

Solis notes that elite companies tend to pursue three imperatives to architect an impactful and meaningful customer experience:

  1. The design the right offers and experiences for the right customers
  2. They deliver these propositions by focusing the entire company on them with an emphasis on cross-functional collaboration
  3. They develop their capabilities to please customers again and again - by such means as revamping the planning process, training people in how to create new customer propositions, and establishing direct accountability for the customer experience.
What people seek is not the meaning of life but the experience of being alive. - Joseph Campbell

Solis reminds us that experiences are human and experiences are also more than products or designs. It's more than just serving people, but rather helping people change for the better. To achieve human-centric design with empathy and meaning, Solis points to factors that must always be taken into account:

  • Story - the narrative of the product, how it relates to the brand, and the consumer's role in the overall journey.
  • Design - the intended styling and aesthetics of the product and how it appeals to the consumers sense of touch, smell, sight, sound and taste.
  • Capability - providing customers with the ability to do something they hoped to accomplish - or didn't know they could do until your product.
  • Sensation - the architecture of how a brand and product should make customers feel
  • Expression - how the product aligns with the personal or professional lifestyle of the customer
A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimension. -- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

My mind was stretched by reading Solis' new book. Solis masterfully shared a narrative around the stunning importance and tangible positive effects on experience when business meets design. I highly recommend this book to sales, marketing, customer service, product engineering, and research and development (R&D) line-of-business executives. I leave you with a final thought from Solis:

Sometimes the simplest moments are the most meaningful and defining, becoming unforgettable experiences that forever remind of who we are and what we love. - @briansolis

This post was co-authored, Jim MacLeod (twitter

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2015 State of Analytics - 20 Key Business Findings

(1) Comments | Posted November 20, 2015 | 11:45 AM

A 2015 PwC survey of 1,300 CEOs in 77 countries, ranked data mining and analytics as the second most strategically important digital technology and organization capability, only behind mobile technologies for customer engagement. CEOs also believe that data and analytics is the most important capability for delivering a...

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Leasing the Future

(0) Comments | Posted October 23, 2015 | 1:18 PM

More and more it's becoming apparent that to be modern, to be contemporary, to be cutting edge, buying and owning things is a bug not a feature. -- Ben Pring, Vice President - Cognizant

An Uber investor said the reason behind Uber's success is that

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Smart Cities Start With Smart IT

(1) Comments | Posted October 19, 2015 | 2:33 PM

Gartner estimates that smart homes will have nearly 300 million connected things in use by 2015. That is a staggering number but what about connected neighborhoods, towns, cities and states? Gartner estimates that 1.1 billion connected things will be in use by smart cities in 2015,...

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50 Important Customer Experience Stats for Business Leaders

(4) Comments | Posted October 15, 2015 | 11:54 AM

Customer experience is the last source of sustainable differentiation and the new competitive battleground. -- Tiffani Bova, Gartner Vice President and Distinguished Analyst

I completely agree with Bova's thesis, but do all business leaders fully recognize and understand the importance of customer experience? Most recent...

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Need More Women in Technology? Enough Talk, Do Something About IT!

(2) Comments | Posted October 9, 2015 | 3:19 PM

In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders. ― Sheryl Sandberg

As chief digital evangelist for Salesforce.com, and prior role as chief marketing officer for a technology company, I have the privilege to collaborate with chief information officers (CIO) across all...

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13 CEO Lessons of a Unicorn Company

(0) Comments | Posted September 23, 2015 | 12:29 PM

Todd McKinnon is the CEO and co-founder of Okta. Okta is an integrated identity management and mobility management service that securely and simply connects people to their applications from any device, anywhere, at anytime. Okta's valuation is currently at $1.2 billion, making Okta the latest addition...

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