20/07/2020 18:13

A conversation with Elle Hill on digital transformation

When Elle Hill walks into a room, even if it is, like in in my case, a virtual room, you can immediately sense how she radiates a level of energy that would probably be sufficient to power the small rural town in North Yorkshire where she lives with her acclaimed author-husband Justin and their four children. From “the middle of nowhere, cows to the left of me, chickens to the right”, Elle steers her consultancy firm Hill & Company, Diamond, Gemstone, Jewelry Launch & Growth Experts, guiding a wide variety of diamond and jewelry companies - anything between A-list brands and start-ups - on business strategy. With her team of experts, located in various parts of the world, Hill & C° helps businesses from zero to market, tackles rebranding and facilitates digital transformation. Especially in regard to the latter, Elle has seen a whopping 70% increase in clients seeking her help.

By Karen Rentmeesters, Editor-in-Chief The Diamond Loupe

“A door-to-door sales girl who wanted to be successful”

Elle Hill wasn’t born and bred in the industry and neither is she the kind of person that “loved to dress up and adored all things bling from an early age on”. Her roots are in Scotland, but she grew up in the United States “My parents, both children of coal mine workers, were the last “American dream” generation. They packed up their belongings, crossed the ocean and built a life from scratch. My father worked two jobs to pay the bills, and I was the first person in my “clan” to get a university degree. All I wanted to do, is to do was make them proud, after all they’d sacrificed for me, to be successful.” And Elle did just that, she worked hard, got noticed and climbed her way up. She discovered she had a knack for sales and continued to raise the bar for herself. In barely two decades, she accumulated a wealth of experience. Being one of the first people to recognize the growth potential of Asia and China in particular she brought a top-tier diamond company into profitability for the first time in ten years, she beat giants like Chow Tai Fook with an award-winning jewelry company that pioneered the online space, and increased the bottom line of numerous diamond and jewelry businesses. She lived and worked all across the globe and landed back in England, North Yorkshire a couple of years ago, where she figured she could turn all that experience into a business model, and so Hill & Company was born. In short, there’s a good reason why Hill should be on your radar, especially in times like these, when the need for businesses to reinvent themselves and adapt has never been greater.

“The need for digital transformation was there long before COVID-19. Things were just accelerated”

In the first of a series of webinars “Let’s Get Digital”, set up by the Antwerp World Diamond Centre, whirlwind Elle easily filled 90 minutes on the basics of having a digital identity or footprint and why that is so important. (If you missed the webinar, you can watch it here)
“I only do me, what you see is who I am, passionate about making people understand they should harness the power of the internet. In a B2B environment, 70% of the buying journey is spent online, and 63% of your buyers are millennials. Those are huge numbers.” But it’s not just about reaching new clients. Especially today, as pretty much all real-life moments to physically meet people are off the table, having a digital identity is a crucial first step in deepening your relationship with your existing clients too. “If people can’t find you because you are simply not out there, or what they find doesn’t support the three components around which business revolves today – ‘know’, ‘like’ & ‘trust’ -, you are missing out on a huge chunk of business. Make no mistake, if you are not there, they will go and find someone else.”

Elle Hill is on a mission, preaching the gospel of digital transformation and it is hard to miss her daily video’s and posts on LinkedIn (if you aren’t on LinkedIn yet, you better get on it fast, she says, “it is the virtual trade show of today”). In her bite-sized chunks of information, Elle tackles digital transformation do’s and don’ts and answers questions all the while putting her own mantra into practice. “People do business with people, when you host a cocktail party (an analogy Hill refers to often), of course you make sure your house is ready to welcome your guests, you pick a date, you get the food – read: you have a website that reflects the profile, values and selling proposition of your company – but you are also the host of the party, people are there to see you, you are the face of the company.” And that doesn’t sound strange for an industry where personal relationships and trust have always been key ingredients. In fact, Elle frequently points out the online world is not that different from real life. “As a business you already know what you are selling, how to talk to your clients and how you are uniquely positioned to help them solve a problem, by either doing it better, faster or cheaper than your competitors. The easiest way to think about starting your digital journey is to think about the things you have been doing offline so well (hopefully) and translate those things into an online version.”

“A Digital Strategy does not equal getting into e-commerce”

Does this mean that we should only focus on the online world and all hop on the e-commerce wagon? “Probably one of the most common mistakes people make when they hear about digital transformation is that they think they need to start an e-commerce business. But it is about so much more than e-commerce, in fact, the “buying” doesn’t have to have anything to do with online, especially in a B2B environment. It is about the 70% of the consumer’s time that he or she spends on the internet, gathering information about you and your company.”

Yes, the diamond industry is lagging behind 20 years in terms of harnessing the power of digital technology compared to for example cosmetics and fashion, but it is not too late, Elle believes. “The pandemic has created a momentum, underscoring the relevance of having a digital strategy. Things will never return to the way they were, regardless of the pandemic, and even if they would, you can’t afford to miss out. Companies that were already leaning into digital are now reaping the benefits and developing their strategies further, so you risk falling hopelessly behind. Those who do not start now, will likely be out of the game in five years’ time.”

Fair warning though, for those that are starting from scratch; “Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Start with baby steps and make sure you can manage your online presence properly. Going overboard with digital tools that are not updated and monitored because you don’t have the time, the people or the money to do so can even be damaging, because they are a bad experience for your (potential) customer”, Hill explained in the Let’s Get Digital webinar.

The digital revolution, accelerated by COVID-19, doesn’t mean that the in real-life (IRL) world is a thing of the past either. “Things like trade shows, networking events, face-to-face meetings are not obsolete and will continue to have added value, but we need to rethink them, find ways to make them better.”

“The tip of the iceberg”

Having a digital footprint is just the tip of the iceberg, Hill explains. “It is the foundation of a strategy that will enable you to know who and where you customers are, so can “show up” where they are and interact with them in a way that is meaningful for them.” A digital strategy based on advanced analytics ultimately is how companies can gain even more competitive edge, but even a low-cost implementation – a solid website, a robust LinkedIn profile with regular posting and e-mail marketing, can yield amazing results in just a short amount of time.

Hill is as ambitious as she was when she was in her twenties, desperate to move out of the couch of her friend’s Brooklyn apartment. “It took me some time to fully realize that I am actually pretty good at this, and that there’s no hubris in letting the world know that I can make their business more successful.”

And if that’s not enough, you can also join her 1-hour per week fitness class (offline, for now?), aptly dubbed “Hell with Elle”, as she also is a certified fitness instructor. For now, I’ll stick to the Let’s Get Digital webinars and Elle’s updates on LinkedIn, that's plenty workout for my brain.

You can revisit past webinars and register for AWDC’s upcoming Let’s Get Digital Webinars via www.awdc.be/webinars.

Elle Hill is an award-winning entrepreneur and the founder & CEO of Hill & Co. Diamond, Gemstone, Jewelry Launch & Growth Experts. During her 25 years’ experience in diamonds, jewelry and gemstones, Elle has amassed an unparalleled array of international business-driving expertise, omnichannel marketing savvy and a stable of A list clients served by her and her team of industry experts who sing their praises.
From rebooting a legacy brand, to launching a new one, or identifying exactly where focus is required to see rapid results; Elle moves businesses from zero to market swiftly and increases profit innovatively for mid-sized to $1B+ businesses.