In his 10 years as Google’s Country Director for Belgium and Luxembourg, Thierry Geerts has seen an explosion in tools that help owners of businesses large and small to run and expand their businesses — tools that he could only dream of at his previous position, where starting in the late ’90s he directed the digitalization efforts at a major Belgian media group.
“Today you open your computer and in a few minutes you’ve got your email address, your business info is updated, you’ve got cloud servers taking care of your website, hosting, security, everything… And it’s relatively inexpensive! Doing digital really well still might not be easy, but the difference compared with 20 years ago is that all the tools are available to anybody.”
Thanks to the widespread availability of these tools, the past several years have given Thierry an opportunity to work on what he sees as the true key to helping business owners grow healthy companies: changing people’s attitudes toward digital technology. He’s done that both by writing books — Digitalis: How to Reinvent the World (2018) and Homo Digitalis: How Digitalisation is Making us More Human (2022) — and by speaking with business owners who are learning how to best digitize their companies.
His position has given him an up-close look at the distrust that many people feel with regards to how the digital age is progressing, particularly in terms of social media and its impact on democracies and younger generations. But he’s found that often it only takes a good conversation to show people that while those are important problems, the digital world also offers excellent tools that unequivocally make people’s lives better, whether they’re customers or business owners.
“People are always afraid of things that they don’t understand, but it’s not impossible to explain it to them. In an hour’s time, I’ve seen so many people change their perspective. You have to get beyond the headlines about the evils of technology, cyberattacks, spending hours a day on social media — and those are all real risks that you need to guard against! But then you show them how their lives and businesses can be improved with digital tools, they’re very open to change.”
This is particularly true in the B2B world, where the past decade has been fueled by an ever-lengthening, ever-improving list of products that make doing business easier. Far beyond technologies that change the form of information exchange, such as occurred in the shift from the phone to the fax machine, digital tools open new avenues that were never previously available.
“Companies slowly started doing some things digitally — they got email, they put up a website. But they didn’t necessarily go much further. The thing today, though, is that the more you implement digital tools, the further you’ll go in terms of using tools, and you’ll start to add them faster and faster.”
Doing that creates a world where multi-nationals aren’t the only ones who can do business anywhere on the planet. And it’s not just a question of having an online presence that people from all around the world can see; it’s about having the right digital infrastructure to support your SMB’s ordering, payments, logistics, customer support and more.
That means digitalization isn’t just about saving time; it’s about opening up a whole wide world of opportunity:
“If a Japanese company is looking for, say, wood pallets, they don’t just go down the street to a local supplier anymore. They open their computer, look online and can order from whoever has the best offer. If that’s a supplier in Belgium, that’s who they’ll buy from. It means that millions of businesses out there can be ‘international’ businesses, whereas 30 years ago, that was quite literally impossible.”
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Thierry will be discussing digitalization at OrderCast’s next Wholesaler Conference, being held on October 20 in Brussels. If you’re a wholesaler who would like to participate in an upcoming conference, let us know here.