The COVID-19 pandemic has forced millions of people to work from home, making them ever more dependent on the digital technology that has long enabled them to handle both personal and professional tasks from their smartphones, laptops, and personal computers.
Joël Le Bon has been paying particularly close attention to these developments. The Johns Hopkins Carey Business School associate professor specializes in the commercial applications of digital technology, including its use in sales, marketing, and management. COVID-19’s impact on the digital sphere, he notes, has been extraordinary.
“I used to say that with modern digital sales capabilities, sales changed more in the past five years than in the past 50 years. I should say now that sales changed more in the past five months than in the past five years,” he says.
With Carey Professor Andrew Ching, Le Bon established the business school’s Digital Business Development Initiative, months before the pandemic emerged. The coronavirus has added urgency to the work and mission of the initiative, says Le Bon.
“Advancing the research, education, and practice of digital business development as organizations shift their strategic, marketing, and sales activities makes the Digital Business Development Initiative even more critical for the future of sales, leadership, and work,” he says.
In the following Q&A, Le Bon offers his views on some of the ways the pandemic has affected the world of digital business.
QUESTION: The Digital Business Development Initiative states the goal of showing business organizations how to thrive in a digital economy. How has this goal, or the means of achieving it, been affected by the pandemic?
JOËL LE BON: The initiative’s mission is to advance the research, education, and practice aspects of digital business development, offer a leading network to address the profound impact of digital transformation, and open new paths of opportunity for the future of work in the digital economy. The pandemic has made our mission and goal even more relevant by changing organizations’ perspectives on work, leadership, and business interactions with their customers with a radical shift to digital capabilities.
From an organizational standpoint, working and leading from home requires the leverage of digital capabilities, thus raising significant new challenges such as redefining interpersonal engagement, communication, developing people, and sustaining and measuring individuals’ and teams’ productivity. Interestingly, from a go-to-market standpoint, similar challenges apply in terms of redefining interpersonal engagement, communication, developing relationships with clients, and sustaining and measuring value-creating growth for customers.
Although several technologies already exist to support organizations’ digital shift regarding work, leadership, and business interactions, the offering is quite complex and will grow substantially. For example, for the marketing and sales functions, digital capabilities in areas such as virtual offices, video conferencing, messaging and chat, project management, collaborative design, and sales and customer engagements and analytics can truly facilitate collaborative endeavors to engage and serve the customers. Yet, this implies that organizations profoundly rethink their culture, structure, process, and competency models for better digital engagements and with diverse stakeholders.