Digital expertise in your management team is no longer desirable, it’s essential

We recently attended the Internet Retailing Conference in London. Here we met with other digital professionals and listened to insights from some of the world’s leading online brands. Today we reflect on another theme: digital leadership.

This is the second post in our eCommerce Success 2015 series.

Every company owner, manager and director knows that digital has changed how we do business. Fifteen years ago this meant introducing some relatively simple changes in a business, perhaps setting up a website and starting to introduce email as a communications technology.

Today digital is more complicated but also more significant in the impact it can have on a business. The way consumers research and buy products has shifted online, not just to desktop machines but to tablets and mobile devices. Today’s connected consumer expects more than ever before, so the challenge and opportunities for companies is to maximise the potential of this new reality.

Digital change requires a change in leadership

It’s no surprise to hear that many companies, large and small, have struggled to fully grasp the gravity of this change and have been slow to implement the transformation required to fully take advantage of the extent of these new opportunities.

At the Internet Retailing Conference we heard from a number of senior leaders in some of the UK’s largest digital businesses talking about their approach to digital leadership.

Here are just a selection of insights from the day:

Peter Williams, Chair,

'You need a digital person on the board - not just someone who talks about the website once a quarter'

Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, Member of the Board & Executive Director, Marketing & International, Marks and Spencer

'You have to have a culture of change… We have a very digitally savvy board - this enables transformation'

Andrew Towers, Head of Mobile, eBay

'As a digital player we should be leading - if we don't then who else will?'

Martijn Bertisen, Director, Retail, Google UK

'The challenge is to be present and deliver the service innovation to stay ahead'

Digital transformation isn't just for big brands

Clearly these views represent those from the largest digital companies in the world, yet the same challenges exist for smaller companies in order to really take advantage of the digital economy.

The way your potential and existing customers want to access your products, services and information is different to how they did a decade ago. They want to use their devices and access services at a time to suit them. So shifting your company’s ethos and culture to reflect this is a win-win opportunity.

Firstly, you’ll be able to better serve your customers and possibly incorporate efficiencies at the same time which could reduce your costs. This provides a great opportunity to develop brand loyalty and happy customers who’ll return and recommend you to others.

Secondly, there’s the potential to acquire a real competitive advantage because despite this massive shift in how customers access information and services via digital, most companies still haven’t really changed. And the reality is that it may be some time before they do. This provides you with a great opportunity to forge ahead, to become a brand leader and to obtain market share by being the innovator in your space.

The business case for investing in digital leadership

To change how you do business, and to lead with digital, will require a shift in your existing mindset. You’ll need to think digital first and put the customer at the centre of everything you do. You’ll need information on the range of technologies needed and which are best for your business, not just today but tomorrow too.

There’s no doubt that digital brings opportunities but also challenges. Many businesses don’t innovate fast enough because of the fear of these challenges - the worry of making the wrong decision. However, the solution is not to keep deferring digital transformation, but to bring the right knowledge to the table.

Leading companies like M&S, eBay and Google have all publicly highlighted that digital expertise has to be at the heart of the management team. The same principal applies to smaller businesses too. Bring in digital expertise, either by developing your own in-house team or hiring in specialist partners like Statement, and you can truly leverage the opportunities that digital can bring to your business.

So at your next management meeting, add digital to your agenda. Talk openly with your team about the opportunities and the challenges. By starting the conversation and imagining the possibilities, you could take the first step to really leverage the business opportunities available in today’s connected world.

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