What’s sometimes been called the “Second Industrial Revolution” is less than a quarter-century old, but it is rapidly changing the way business is conducted worldwide.
Barely 20 years ago, Sergey Brin and Larry Page registered the domain name “google.com,” and only 10 years have passed since Steve Jobs walked onto a stage in San Francisco and introduced the iPhone.
Yet in this short time frame, digital technologies have upended the world and continue to spread fast. There are more mobile connections than people on the planet, and a greater number of people have access to a mobile phone than to indoor plumbing.
Where We've Been …
While digital technologies continue to grow, some countries are advancing, while others lag or are falling behind in the race to stake their claim in the new digital economy.
For example, according to a 2015 report summarized in the Harvard Business Review, most Western and Northern European countries – as well as Australia – were lagging behind the U.S., Ireland, Singapore and others in transitioning to a global digital economy. Australian social selling expert Doyle Buehler went so far as to refer to his nation as a “lazy laggard within the worldwide digital economy.”
The measures used to rank countries were: internet access and infrastructure, consumer demand for digital technologies, government policies/laws and resources, and investments in research and development and digital startups.
The 2015 report said the counties – identified as “stalling out” during 2014 needed to jump-start their recoveries by following the lead of so-called “Stand Out” countries by renewing their commitment to innovation while continuing to pursue markets beyond their own borders.
In addition, the report said, “Stalled Out” countries also faced an “aging” challenge and needed to attract talented, young immigrants can help revive innovation – and quickly.
Where We Are Today …
Fast forward three years, and it’s clear that the playing field has clearly changed and many nations have improved their standings, while some have stagnated. Worldwide internet penetration is now at nearly 50 percent making the global digital economy a place of great opportunity.
In a similar fashion, both business and consumer transactions and interactions are increasingly becoming heavily reliant on nations and individuals being connected. Digitalization is now driving globalization.
The United Kingdom (UK) is a good example of this change. Hovering between “Stand Out” and “Stall Out” in 2014, in the 2017 report the UK is a solid “Stand Out” and their digital footprint could be leverage in ongoing Brexit negotiations with their EU counterparts.
“If one considers the digital economy alone, the EU would be losing a genuine star,” the Digital Planet 2017 report says, adding that the UK’s digital momentum is stronger than its EU peers.
“The UK continues to show high levels of digital development, and remains on an upward trajectory,” the report said. “For example, London is now home to Europe’s fintech stars, producing creative new business models in finance, with the big established banks being on hand to offer expertise and backing for startups.”
“This is an essential consideration, since the digital sector is one of the most dynamic and innovative elements of the economies of the UK and the EU, and of countries anywhere; in the UK alone, the digital sector accounts for 16 percent of domestic output, 10 percent of employment, and 24 percent of exports.”
“The report’s DEI Chart shows the rate of change in the Digital Evolution Index over 2008-15 and how the UK performs in comparison to Germany, France, Spain, Italy, and the Nordic countries. This is an indicator of the momentum of the digital economy overall and leaves little doubt that the UK is a digital powerhouse,” the report concludes.
The UK continues to show high levels of digital development, and remains on an upward trajectory.
-The Digital Evolution Index
As for the bulk of Western Europe, many of the nations were digital stalwarts in 2015, but have since slipped back into the “Stall Out” zone. Overall, EU investment levels in R&D are lower than R&D levels in the U.S. and Japan, but the EU nations do have a strong record of public-private partnerships that could help spur momentum.
Two of the world’s most significant economies, the U.S. and Germany, are at the border of “Stand Out” and “Stall Out”, and are encouraged by the report’s authors to “recognize the risks of plateauing and look to the smaller, higher-momentum countries to explore how policy interventions could be effective in pushing a country into a zone of greater competitiveness.”
How the World Logs On
Another interesting phenomenon is how people worldwide access the Internet. While desktop PCs still account for more web traffic than smartphones in the UK and US, the reverse is true in countries like China where smartphones are the clear leader. Because of this trend, world mobile internet usage outstripped desktops for the first time in 2016.
The 1.5 billion new internet users added in the past five years had their first brush with the internet on a mobile device.
– Dr. Bhaskar Chakravorti
“The US and UK were introduced to the internet through desktops and laptops, but the 1.5 billion new internet users added in the past five years had their first brush with the internet on a mobile device,” explains Dr. Bhaskar Chakravorti, senior associate dean of International Business and Finance at The Fletcher School at Tufts University.
“This has created a new ecosystem, where part of the world is sitting on legacy systems that were set up for a desktop-centric population, but another part is starting with a full-blown mobile-centric approach.”
Social Selling Differences
A 2017 white paper from C-Suite bestselling author, Lee Bartlett examined the Impact of Social Selling on the landscape of the UK vs USA. Among other things, the study found that tangible cultural differences exist between selling in the UK and the US. As customers have differing buying habits and regional sales models, hiring policy and the respective depth of engagement expected from sales professionals support these differences.
In addition, the contracting vendor landscape is driving a deepening of customer relationships and greater emphasis on customer retention. Social selling strategies are proving to be successful on both sides of the pond, yet more so in the US, and customers in both the UK and US are forcing legacy companies to alter their business model and pricing strategies, shifting from selling products, to solving their customers’ business-critical problems.
“Customer buying habits have changed more in the past two years than the previous 20 years, and companies are re-engineering their sales processes to match the changing customer journey,” the report concludes.
A New Sales Dialogue: Social Selling in EU vs USA
The sales dialogue needs to shift from “What can I sell you?” to “How can I help you?” and this is regardless of whether you do business in North America or the EU.
“What can I sell you?” says: ‘I care about your money. What else can I sell you? Thank you for your business’, but “How can I help you?” says: ‘I care about you and your business. How else can I add value? Thank you for helping us do business better.’
The above dialogue is part of the social selling methodology that I have been training companies and individuals on across North America and the EU for many years now. This methodology is important whether you are doing business in the US, Canada, UK or anywhere in the EU.
Although I have definitely noticed that in countries within the EU this is especially important as consumers there do not respond to a salesy approach.
“Plan to be creative – With everyone aware of the impact social selling has on any organization, it has become the norm for companies to have a strategy around being social,” says James Macintyre, Senior Digital Solutions Manager of BMC Software in Ireland. “That said, the best interactions are always the ones with personal impact. You need to know your target! The reason anyone engages is you are different from the rest.”
“A social media strategy is crucial to every organization,” says, Tim Hughes, CEO and Co-Founder of Digital Leadership Associates. “Organizations that have a social media strategy and fully socialize are in a much better position to engage the huge population present and gain a significant advantage over their competitors.”
How can I help you? says: I care about you and your business. How else can I add value? Thank you for helping us do business better.
– Melonie Dodaro, Top Dog Social Media
What Needs to be Done Next …
The 2017 report concludes that digital innovators need to recognize the importance of a nation’s public policy in the success of the digital economy. Countries with high-performing digital sectors, such as those in the EU, typically have had strong government/policy involvement in shaping the digital economies, as do many of the so-called “Break Out” countries.
At the other end of the spectrum, the U.S. runs the risk of falling into the “Stall Out” zone and one of the reasons is a “missing political debate” in the U.S. over the digital economy, despite that fact that American digital companies and innovations are pre-dominant worldwide.
To rebuild momentum in the US, they suggest the country adopt policies for public-private partnerships on digital innovations; better integration of automation, data, and new technologies into the legacy economy; investments in reskilling workers and teaching students in schools the skills and thinking needed to thrive in a digital world and thinking beyond traditional manufacturing and trade of physical goods and services.
Secondly, those working to accelerate their country’s digital momentum should focus on specifics: identifying and amplifying the country’s unique drivers of digital momentum. The least digitally advanced countries must allocate limited resources wisely. Enabling internet access on the mobile phone provides the biggest bang for the buck.
In conclusion, the report adds, the world’s digital economy stands at a threshold where opportunity and risk stand in balance. Even in the short period since the previous edition of the Digital Evolution Index was published (in 2015), much has changed in the journey to the digital planet, but there are speed bumps along the way.
“Creating the right climate for innovation is key to breaking out of the Stall Out zone,” the report says, adding that the process “involves many factors: empowering the private sector; retooling existing talent and attracting new talent; enabling a favorable entrepreneurial and investment environment; creating conditions, culture, and incentives for greater risk-taking: these are all crucial to regaining momentum.”
“Adoption, the quality of digital infrastructure and institutions, and innovation collectively shape a country’s digital competitiveness, but governments also play a key role,” Chakravorti adds. “The report also found that consumers’ trust in digital technologies correlates with digital competitiveness.”