Martin Sandmeier – Digital Transformation and eCommerce Consultant

In the dynamic business landscape of Dubai, Martin Sandmeier emerges as a force in the realm of digital transformation and e-commerce. With an extensive career spanning three decades, Martin is the founder of Ignite Digital Consulting. His professional journey encompasses pivotal roles in globally renowned organizations such as Amazon, Etisalat (e&) and

“Your journey involves significant experience in both traditional and digital retail. How has the evolution from traditional to digital channels influenced your approach to business strategy and customer engagement?”

“I consider myself extremely fortunate to have experienced the evolution of retail from physical to omni-channel, phygital and pure-play, and the development of technology and methodologies over that time.

I would say the earliest lesson I learnt, which was very much re-enforced during my time at Amazon, is that nothing stands still or remains the same for long.

Looking back, what really stands out is that Amazon taught me and my colleagues about agility long before “Agile” become a buzzword, and it is perhaps this that has influenced my approach to business strategy and customer engagement over the years.

In any aspect of business now, there is no one-size-fits-all.

Every customer and client has different problems that need solving, different circumstances, wants and needs, and different challenges to overcome.

Treating each client as unique, fully understanding where they want to get to and what is stopping them getting there is critical for successful consulting. Very much like the hyper-personalisation approach that business are attempting to pursue from a customer perspective, understanding each client’s unique situation and adapting my approach as required is so important.

And from a strategy approach, appreciating that the road to a client’s vision will never be perfectly smooth and that there will be many occasions where we need to course-correct or pivot is extremely important. And this can be driven by both internal and external influences, many beyond a client’s control, so one also needs to ensure one is agile enough to navigate curve-balls.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, strategy is nothing without execution. This is why Ignite Digital does not only offer strategic advice and direction, we can also leverage our network to help a client implement that strategy effectively.”

“In Consulting, your emphasis on a hands-on approach rather than relying on fancy presentations is very refreshing. Can you share a specific example where this approach led to a successful outcome for a client?”

“In a sector that is traditionally renowned for a presentation-centric approach, convincing clients that this is not the best value-add for their business has sometimes proven challenging.

Perhaps the best example I have for the question you ask was one of my previous anchor clients, a large and very well-respected supermarket chain in the UAE.

From the very outset, the initial introductory presentation was no more than a few slides, as the focus was more on engaging with the client, listening to their needs and getting them to trust that I was there to help them achieve their aim.

After being selected as their partner in their digital journey, the focus was to spend time with key stakeholders across the core functions of the business: Operations, IT, Marketing, Finance, Supply Chain and Logistics.

But only after being fortunate enough to spend time with both the Chairman and the CEO, so important in understanding the vision from the very top and also getting their buy-in to what I was there to support them with.

After understanding every functions’ strengths and challenges, I then circled back around to help each function understand the wider landscape, the aim being to foster a culture of collaboration so everyone would embark on this journey as an aligned team striving for the same outcomes.

Having regular meetings with the key stakeholders and steering committee leaders to update them and keep them up to speed with progress also encouraged them to retain my services for the implementation phase once the discovery and ideation phases of my scope were almost complete.

This personal, collaborative, client-centric and hands-on approach for sure played a large part in gaining the client’s trust and convincing them the approach we took was the right thing to do in order to achieve success.”

“Your Vice-President role at Etisalat involved significant achievements in digital channel growth and customer satisfaction. What key insights from your time there do you believe are crucial for any business looking to enhance its digital presence and customer experience?

“Building strong foundations being critical to success is definitely the key message I communicate to anyone in the digital domain.

If a business does not build solid digital foundations, it will end up having a fragile digital business which, as it tries to scale, will result in a lot of time and energy spent on fixing issues and trying to keep the ship afloat rather than building great new capabilities to drive sustainable growth over time.

Data is one of the cornerstone of building those strong foundations.

Without clean, rich and large data, you will not be able to gain the insights that allow you to make the right business decisions to enhance areas including the customer experience and scaling your digital business.

Another key foundational building block is the IT side – striking the balance between quality and speed when it comes to dev and releases is so important. Broken code will severely restrict a business as it scales, poor release quality will negatively impact the customer experience, and long sprints will risk you becoming uncompetitive and result in missed opportunities.

Finally, and one could argue the most critical, is people. It would be fair to say that most transformation initiatives fail due to the people element more than any other.

When I joined Etisalat, I was fortunate enough to inherit an incredibly switched-on, dedicated and committed team.

However, they were digitally naive and as a result were looking at the wrong things, through no fault of their own.

My primary focus was therefore to guide them, coach them and help them become digitally native, as without the right people doing the right things, success in the digital domain is highly unlikely.

Coupled with that, prioritisation is crucial. Teams are constantly juggling so many balls in the digital domain, especially in transformation initiatives. Being able to identify must-haves vs nice—to-haves, and being able to cut through all the noise to identify what is truly important is crucial.”

“As the founder of your previous consulting company – Adjuvo Consulting, you provided support for major UAE businesses developing their e-commerce strategy. What challenges do businesses commonly face in this area, and how do you approach providing practical solutions?”

“There have been two common themes I regularly come across in this respect:

  1. A strong desire but a lack of knowledge or expertise about how to approach digital and e-commerce and how to make the right decisions to improve the chances of success.
  2. Being distracted by bright shiny things in terms of the latest tech trends, often resulting in an over-spend on the wrong solutions, or choosing good tech but not knowing how to leverage it and extract the maximum value.

Simply put, Ignite Digital Consulting and our network of specialist partners help in these two areas.

When it comes to finding solutions to client problems, relevance is key.

When recommending solutions, it is imperative to take into account a client’s capabilities, and to remain focussed on the problems we are trying to solve.

In addition, experience has found that both traditional consulting and managed-service providers do not generally offer knowledge-transfer as part of their offerings, for reasons that should be fairly obvious.

At Ignite Digital, we take a different approach – our ultimate aim is for our clients to not need us anymore.

Digital is non-stop and ever-changing, and without a business getting to a level where digital is part of its DNA, it is unlikely to succeed.

It also risks getting into a spiral of relying on external partners forever and not truly understanding what is going in with its e-commerce business.

That is not to say that we simply disappear once our scope is done.

We are more than happy to return at regular intervals to audit how a client is getting on and course-correct if needed.

But fundamentally our objective is to help businesses get to a stage where they can go it alone in the realms of digital and e-commerce.”

“As a coach and advisor, you have empowered teams for independent digital navigation. How do you balance providing guidance while fostering a culture of innovation and independent problem-solving within a team?”

“Fear of failure is perhaps the biggest barrier to innovation and independent problem-solving.

Therefore removing that fear is vital.

Legacy is another barrier that one often encounters.

How does one overcome those?

Again, there is no one-size-fits-all, drag-and-drop solution, but changing mindsets is the key.

To help with this there are a number of areas a business should look at:

– Does it have a blame culture, as this will very much foster a conservative and safe approach within your teams?

– How does a business take mitigated risks to allow its teams to try new things that, should they not work, do not negatively those teams or the business as a whole?

Does the business utilise POCs or allow for experimentation, does it have independent squads, task forces or an Innovation Centre that are ’safe places’ for trying things out?

– Is there a program to up-skill teams and allow them to learn, thereby helping remove the fear of the unknown in digital?

– Are teams empowered to make decisions in any way of form, or does the business take a top-down decision-making and task-driven approach?

– Does the business need to consider injecting some fresh talent from outside to help with adopting a new approach? And if it chooses to, how to ensure they are given the room implement new ways of thinking?

Finding answers to the above is never easy, but there are steps to help a business move towards a culture that focussed more on empowerment, innovation and agility.”

“With over 30 years of experience, including diverse roles and industries, what piece of advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs and professionals looking to make a mark in the ever-evolving landscape of digital transformation and e-commerce?”

“That is a great question, with so many possible pieces of advice to give!

So I will highlight the following:

  • Make sure you have identified how can you add value to the sector you are looking to enter into or are already in. What customer or business problems are you looking to solve?
  • Do not be afraid to fail, but fail fast and learn fast. I often hear the term fail fast, but it means little if you do not also learn fast.
  • To help overcome fear, try to identify bite-size use cases to at least get started.
  • Never forget to build strong foundations. It will help you build a solid platform that will support long-term sustainable growth.
  • Try not to get distracted by bright shiny things – understand what is relevant to your business and matches your capabilities.

– And finally, enjoy what you do! Digital and e-commerce is a roller-coaster that never ends, so get on and and enjoy the ride but never be afraid to ask for help if it gets too scary!”

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