From digital-capable to digital-first

How a new mindset can improve efficiency, save money, and enhance client satisfaction

Key takeaways

  • Nearly 90% of mid-size firms are adopting digital tools and strategies.
  • Digitization can let you build closer relationships with customers as greater data visibility provides insights about customer purchases and preferences.
  • Using social media effectively can help you compete with larger players.

For medium-size companies, adopting a “digital first” mindset has become critical to business success. Vendors, customers and employees expect frictionless digital interactions with companies. Companies that can’t make that transition are at risk of falling behind.


That’s why many medium-size businesses are boosting investments in digital transformation, according to the 2023 Mid-Sized Business Owner (MSBO) Report, a study conducted by Bank of America and Ipsos. Their research found that 90% of mid-size businesses have adopted digital strategies to optimize their business and operations over the past 12 months. Using digital tools can help you save time, increase customer satisfaction, manage cash flow and more.


Digitization can be daunting, particularly for businesses with annual revenues of $50 million or less. Yet, most business owners have adopted digital strategies to modernize their businesses. Is this something you want to explore in the next year? Such an endeavor can involve interconnected technologies and capabilities that include digital payments, cash-flow monitoring, data analytics, social media and search engine optimization (SEO). To be successful, these digital assets must be seamlessly integrated across the company.


At the same time, a digital-first business model can level the playing field for companies that lack the enormous resources or large, highly trained staff of a big enterprise. While these benefits can be gamechangers, companies needn’t rush into a business-wide digitization initiative. It’s best to start slow, test and learn from experience, and build momentum. “It requires a crawl, walk, run approach,” said Joe Corriero, Senior Digital Marketing executive for Business at Bank of America. “You should go slowly, try a lot of things based on your knowledge of the business and your customers and test to see what works.” Here are key areas to focus on:

Digitizing payments

A logical starting point for many companies is digitization of cashflow. As the popularity of digital wallets and cashless payments grows, payment platforms that accommodate them have become a critical business requirement. Many consumers and even B2B customers expect that they can use their phone in lieu of cash or physical credit cards, so it’s critical that all of the channels in which your customers interact with you are properly formatted for mobile devices.


Another key benefit of digital payments is that it allows you to generate detailed transactional data that can be analyzed to better understand your customer, create new products and help generate more accurate financial planning. Put simply, if your competitors offer frictionless digital payments and you don’t, you’re relinquishing competitive advantage.


Once in place, digital payment systems can be integrated with solutions for accounts payable and receivable. This will allow you to use electronic invoicing, schedule payments, and automatically integrate electronic transactions into bookkeeping applications. Digital payments can also drive cash-flow efficiencies that free up employees for higher value work.


Enhancing forecasting and cash reporting are a priority for financial executives at many companies. But these strategic tasks are often labor intensive and time consuming. What’s needed is an automated forecasting solution that can help businesses save time and money and improve the accuracy of their financial planning. 

Supporting sales

Digitization isn’t about replacing the human workforce. Rather, it aims to boost the efficiency and knowledge of workers by automating manual tasks and putting critical business data at their fingertips quickly. The result? A salesforce that is empowered by data-driven insights into clients’ preferences and buying patterns, which can result in sales tailored to a client’s need. What’s more, digitization can drive operational efficiencies that allow a business to redeploy human workers to higher-value tasks, such as performing financial modeling and forecasting or preparing financial proposals for prospective clients. 

Building awareness

Social media can be harnessed to proactively tell your company’s story. But social media’s “superpower” is lead generation, says Chris Smith, Enterprise Social Media executive at Bank of America. You can, for example, post a thought leadership paper on one of the social platforms that requires an email address for access. “This gives businesses leads on new customers and can help inform product development,” Smith says.


Digitization also brings scalability—and a bit of stealth—to small and mid-size businesses. “No one knows how big or small a business is online,” said Justin Wong, Digital Banking executive at Bank of America. “Digital truly levels the playing field because it empowers you to get your message — and your brand — out there in a more impactful way than you could in a non-digital world,” Wong said.

digital first tips

Helping customers find you

Since so many commercial interactions start with search, search engine optimization (SEO) for your website and its content, as well as social media, is an essential tool. SEO just means formatting your website, social media, and content so it has the best chance to rank highly in searches. One way to do that is to employ keywords that are both relevant to your business and reflect the different ways people search for companies like yours or the products or services you offer. To take the most basic example, if you owned a shop that sold jumbo sandwiches, you might be sure to include keywords like subs, hoagies, grinder, poor boy, fast delivery, and fresh ingredients, to make your shop findable across a variety of searches.


The good news is that implementing a digital-first business model need not break your budget. “You can start with $50,” said Smith. “You want to know what makes your audience click, what makes the phone ring, and what produces five-star reviews. That can be done with hundreds of dollars, not thousands, of dollars.”


In addition, there are many free resources available. Reading reviews on platforms like Google, Yelp and Reddit can help you understand what factors catalyze a good review and how to tailor your content to yield five-star reviews. You can also gain insights by joining social media groups on Facebook, aka Meta, and LinkedIn. These groups often offer tools designed for small and medium-size businesses. Meta, for instance, offers a Meta Business Suite tool that lets companies monitor performance by type of post. 

Finding the right partners

Part of achieving a digital-first operating model is working with partners who understand the shifting technological landscape and the impact it might have on business. Your financial partner, for instance, should have experience implementing digital tools and cultivating their own digital-first business model and mindset.


A good place to start with your banking partner would be to improve the efficiency of your payment processing operations. A platform to help you do so should include tools that are simple to use, such as a customizable digital dashboard that is data-driven and can generate at-a-glance visualizations of cash flow across the business. You should seek solutions for automating business-critical tasks. In particular, cash-flow management tools are important to CFOs and treasurers. In addition to the basic functionality, this kind of technology provides insights and allows companies to plan beyond the day-to-day business.


Any partner in your digitization efforts should proactively listen to users of its platforms. “Ideally, your partners should collaborate with you to develop new products and update existing ones,” says Jennifer Sanctis, a CashPro® product executive at Bank of America. “They can use collaboration forums to help understand what digital tools businesses need to be successful. The goal is to make the customer experience better and easier, as defined by the customers themselves,” Sanctis says. 

The growing cyber threat

Finally, data security and privacy are paramount for all businesses. In fact, 88% of medium-size companies say that cybersecurity threats are affecting their business. To help protect against these risks, 65% of survey respondents said they are investing in digital security systems.


With good reason: Research shows that cybersecurity threat actors target small and midsize companies more frequently large businesses. In fact, small businesses are three times more likely to be targeted by cybercriminals than larger companies.1


Ransomware is a top security threat for businesses of all sizes. In the typical ransomware incident, threat actors encrypt the data on your computer and demand ransom to release the files. These intrusions continue to escalate, creating risks to business operations and reputation.


Finally, all businesses should have a documented and tested cybersecurity incident response plan to help address cyber incidents or attempts. Employees should know their role in incident mitigation and be trained in basic cybersecurity measures, which can help prevent phishing and other social-engineering attempts.


A relationship with a bank that prioritizes cybersecurity can offer security that seamlessly integrates into company workflows, strengthens the whole ecosystem.  “A business should look for a financial partner that helps its clients securely optimize their operations to enhance data security in ways that are seamless, efficient and cost effective.”


One of the best ways to help ensure the safety of small and mid-size companies is by teaming with a financial business partner that implements cybersecurity best practices using cutting-edge technologies and processes, as well as helping with up-to-date employee training. Effective cybersecurity requires proactive monitoring and alerts for detected cyberthreats and vulnerabilities.


While some of these initiatives and steps may sound daunting, the most important thing is for business owners to begin the digital-first journey as soon as possible. Find the easiest solutions to implement and do them first before moving on to the more complicated measures. Your business will begin to benefit almost immediately with higher satisfaction among clients and employees.


Disclaimer additional:

Neither Bank of America nor its affiliates provide information security or information technology (IT) consulting services. This material is provided “as is,” with no guarantee of completeness, accuracy, timeliness or of the results obtained from the use of this material, and without warranty of any kind, express or implied, including, but not limited to warranties of performance, quality and fitness for a particular purpose. This material should be regarded as general information on information security and IT considerations and is not intended to provide specific information security or IT advice nor is it any substitute for your own independent investigations. If you have questions regarding your particular IT system or information security concerns, please contact your IT or information security advisor.

1Barracuda, “Spear Phishing: Top Threats and Trends,” March 22, 2022.