CMOs: These Are the Digital Commerce Trends to Know for Long-Term Growth

January 24, 2022

Contributor: Jordan Turner

Use findings from the 2021 Gartner Digital Commerce Survey to understand the current landscape and make informed decisions to improve digital commerce maturity and performance.

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically altered customer buying behaviors, skyrocketing digital commerce up the priority list. Gartner conducted an inaugural 2021 Digital Commerce Survey to better gauge how marketing leaders view their digital commerce performance, capability maturity and strategic priorities. 

The response? Most CMOs report that they met or exceeded digital commerce revenue and profitability targets last year. 

Download now: The State of Digital Commerce

“This creates a challenging outlook for CMOs,” says Ant Duffin, Gartner Senior Director Analyst. “There will be pressure to sustain performance and deliver incremental results, even as customer preferences and behaviors continue to evolve in the direction of a ‘hybrid’ mix of digital self-service and in-person experiences.”

Eighty-six percent of surveyed leaders reported that digital commerce will be the most important route to market in the next two years. The following trends and suggested actions can help propel your digital commerce go-to-market strategy and investment plans to drive growth.

Three digital commerce trends for 2022

Trend No. 1: Expectations are high, but the outlook will be challenging

Seventy-seven percent of leaders agree that the COVID-19 pandemic forced their organizations to set up an online presence and launch digital commerce quickly. Taking quick action to launch new channels and meet (or exceed) consumer expectations resulted in the vast majority of digital marketing leaders surpassing their 2021 revenue and profitability goals. 

And while it’s safe to assume that these new consumer purchasing habits will outlast the pandemic, there will also be an eagerness to return to a “hybrid” mode of engaging with brands. This means both B2C and B2B organizations need to future-proof their digital commerce capabilities to account for the transformational aspect of digital commerce. 

Our suggested actions: To close the gap between high expectations and future performance, socialize the challenging commercial outlook with other senior leaders, jointly set expectations through robust scenario planning and create a roadmap to evolve digital commerce capabilities.

Read more: The Executive Guide to Digital Marketing Strategy

Trend No. 2: Increasing digital commerce maturity is a must

It’s clear that the organizations with the highest levels of digital commerce maturity were those that hit or exceeded their targets in 2020-21. Advanced digital commerce organizations are able to scale up or set up new routes to market when the landscape changes. Data shows that B2B organizations are lagging in comparison to their B2C counterparts. While 41% of leaders at B2C organizations agree they have the talent and performance to drive and deliver on their digital commerce strategy, only 27% of leaders at B2B organizations say the same.

Regardless of the business model, all CMOs recognize the positive link between maturity and performance. This is a wakeup call and catalyst for change for organizations with a lower level of maturity.

Trend No. 3: Aggressive investing to deliver sustainable revenue growth

No matter their organization's maturity level, 90% of surveyed leaders say they are investing in additional capabilities to drive digital commerce growth. Many are prioritizing CX as a short-term goal to meet immediate expectations for a seamless experience. Looking further ahead, leaders are investing in digital commerce products and services to be distributed through new digital business models.

The balancing act between short-term and long-term investments ties directly to the digital commerce maturity level of the organization. For example, “CMOs in less mature digital commerce organizations may need to focus on short-term tactics as a proof of concept to drive performance and secure additional investments," says Duffin. "CMOs of advanced digital commerce organizations need to carefully select opportunities and set expectations with stakeholders that these investments are necessary for future growth."

Digital commerce leaders are investing in a range of initiatives to drive business.

Lessons to learn from successful digital commerce organizations

  • Adopt a test and learn culture: CMOs face the challenge of balancing an organization’s risk appetite and its willingness to further disrupt the status quo. To address this, establish a test and learn approach to increase the organization’s belief in digital commerce. To do this, you must be visible not only in celebrating successes but also sharing failures and lessons as a way to encourage curiosity and courage to try new things.
  • Address talent challenges: Retaining top digital commerce talent is a major challenge for leaders, especially when the level of competition is incredibly high. Focus on nurturing and developing talent to keep them engaged, challenged, compensated and rewarded accordingly.

In short:

  • Rapid acceleration of digital commerce growth in 2021 has made it a near-universally recognized priority for 2022.
  • Results from the 2021 Gartner Digital Commerce Survey indicate that organizations with advanced digital commerce maturity are better equipped to drive sustainable, long-term growth.
  • Although the outlook appears challenging for all organizations, CMOs recognize the need to evolve digital commerce capabilities with aggressive investments.

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