Contemporary digital skills (competencies) – Career and business

From the article, you will learn what modern digital skills (competencies) are and what they mean for career and/or business, especially regarding the European Commission’s digital strategy.

With the development of the e-commerce market worldwide, as well as a more and more intense digitization of companies and businesses, the demand for skills related to the widely understood launch of sales and online presence is also increasing. This applies both to career and business. Digital skills (competencies) are the future, but also already the present of the modern labor market and it is worth preparing for this in terms of working for someone or for yourself.

When Zalando was founded in 2008, the challenge was to find people who were competent enough to build an adequate sales infrastructure, and to manage sales and promotions in a way that generated the required level of revenue. Although Zalando’s founders could not have predicted that over the next few years they would manage to build a powerful fashion brand in the global e-commerce market, they understood from the very beginning that the foundation of potential competitive advantage had to be the right “professionals”.

The relatively quick success of the store (although perhaps not financially) prompted investors from the Rocket Internet group to further replicate the business creation model in various other industries and regions of the world, from which grew such brands as Westwing or HelloFresh. Each project usually started with the creation of a team of competent people who were able to launch the business technically, sales-wise and marketing-wise.

This is, of course, a general rule of business creation, but here it is mostly about the ability to take action in the digital world. While in 2008 these skills were still rare, today it is difficult to imagine the functioning of so-called online businesses without appropriate digital competencies . However, this does not mean that companies and businesses can draw on a huge number of professionals. There are many more of them than 13 years ago, while still the demand exceeds supply. In addition, the quality of the digital competences they possess matters here.

Key digital skills

There is no single definition of digital skills and no single list of key skills for working or doing business in the digital world. However, it is possible to identify how modern online businesses operate (online-only businesses and those that operate in both worlds) and, based on this, define functional needs, i.e. needs related to the ability to execute business activities. Although these will vary slightly depending on the industry and company size, in general we can distinguish three areas of functional needs , without which it is difficult to have an effective online presence:

  1. Technical needs related to the necessity of having an own infrastructure as the foundation of a web presence (online store, website, etc.)
  2. Sales needs related to the construction of sales pages (product), where the offer is available to meet the needs of a specific group of customers, and sales paths associated with the mechanism of e-commerce sales (adding to cart, proceeding to checkout)
  3. Marketing needs related to the necessity of building brand awareness and generating traffic, i.e. directing network users, including above all your own group of recipients, to your direct (products) and indirect (content) sales structure

For most companies and businesses, satisfying basic functional needs is a prerequisite for doing business online (and not only in principle, as it often coincides with business in the real world) and at the same time the foundation for building a long-term competitive advantage . Each sale in the network (e-commerce activity) requires having an appropriate sales infrastructure, on the basis of which the sales system functions with the functionality of the shopping cart, checkout, etc., as well as extensive marketing and promotional activities in order to attract those appropriate users to their sites.

Every business, therefore, requires people who can meet the above basic functional needs and who thus possess key digital competencies :

  1. Technical skills
  2. Sales skills
  3. Marketing skills

Technical skills

Technical competencies are the skills associated with technically setting up a sales or online presence. While previously these competencies mostly belonged to people with a degree in computer science or to programmers, the development of technology in the field of e-commerce has resulted in that anyone is now able to set up an online store, website, etc., as long as they have the appropriate knowledge and just the right skills (know-how). Of course, the key issue here is also what are the specific technical needs, because in order to build innovative and “unique” solutions, higher level knowledge will be necessary, i.e. programming skills. However, in the case of basic functional needs, general technical competence should be sufficient.

Examples of technical competencies would certainly be:

  • ability to choose the right sales infrastructure (SaaS solutions, opensource, etc.)
  • ability to choose the right hosting provider
  • ability to configure a SaaS or opensource online store
  • ability to implement a store or an online service (layout + design)
  • ability to configure tools for launch an online promotional campaign
  • ability to build a landing page for a promotional campaign

This is a list of practical skills that should always result in real actions , i.e. tasks performed for the employer or for their own business. In other words, companies will employ people who, for example, will set up an appropriate online store for them or will configure a promotional campaign in a selected promotion channel. Naturally, these are competencies that require additional knowledge in the field of e-commerce and marketing.

Sales competencies

Sales competence is the ability to set up a sales or online presence (for indirect sales, i.e. image building) from a substantive point of view. First of all, it is about the ability to design sales activities in the web, that is, in practice, the appropriate sales paths. These are, of course, strategic and business activities, so they should be closely related to the process of implementation of the entire business or its optimization.

Examples of sales competencies would be:

  • knowledge of basic e-commerce concepts (e.g. business model, Unique Selling Offer)
  • ability to select a target group and a product to sell online
  • ability to implement a sales system, e.g. an online store
  • ability to design a primary structure (direct sales) and a secondary structure (indirect sales) within the sales system
  • ability to select an appropriate partner, e.g. for online payment processing
  • knowledge of formal and legal requirements for online sales

As in the case of technical competence, these are practical skills , so the market demand is for people who can actually design and implement an appropriate sales structure for a given business. Since sales enablement is really a marketing activity in a broad sense, sales competencies are also linked to marketing knowledge, e.g. user experience and strategic positioning (SEO). If we additionally have technical competence, our “functional value” is of course much higher.

Marketing competence

Marketing competence is the ability to take real marketing and promotional action for a specific business. It concerns both general building of brand awareness in the network through, for example, social media activities and specific initiatives in the form of paid promotional campaigns. In both cases, what matters is the ability to design an offer addressed to a specific group of recipients. In addition, analytical activities aimed at assessing the effectiveness of marketing and promotional activities undertaken in various places are also important.

Examples of marketing competencies would be:

  • knowledge of basic marketing concepts (e.g. market segmentation, targeting)
  • ability to translate marketing strategy into digital needs
  • ability to target an online audience
  • ability to optimize web presence (online store, website) for basic marketing and promotional purposes (including UX activities)
  • ability to implement content marketing strategy
  • ability to design and execute online promotional campaigns

And here the most important are practical skills , which will result in concrete results, e.g. new content marketing, new landing pages, increased traffic on the website, results of promotional campaigns (clicks on ads, etc.). Having the right technical competence will also be a definite advantage.

Competencies in larger and smaller companies

Identification of key digital skills is possible in relation to a specific business situation and to the specific conditions of business implementation.

If we work in a large corporation with an extensive marketing department, sales department, IT department, etc., then we can enjoy the benefit of broader employment and specialize in selected skills. Teams of employees work on sales, marketing and technical projects and delegation of specific tasks is the order of the day. In such a situation, e.g. the design of the sales path is primarily a conceptual activity, while the implementation and optimization are already handled by other people from the department or company. The financial and budgetary possibilities are also different, so other marketing and promotional activities are undertaken. Often external companies are used to do the analysis, implementation, monitoring etc. for us.

In case of a smaller company having a lot of key digital skills is much more important, because very often sales, marketing and technical activities are concentrated in the hands of individuals. The same is true for your own business, especially if you are starting out as a sole proprietor. Only then the perspective changes, when instead of a big team and a big budget we have only our own skills and finances at our disposal. Undoubtedly, a person with broad digital competencies has a greater competitive advantage, although developing your own business will also involve the need to delegate tasks.

Summary

If we look through current job openings in the e-commerce industry (and beyond), we find numerous offers aimed at professionals with specific sales, marketing and technical skills. We can define them as key digital skills to work or run a business in the digital world. However, depending on the size of the company we have to take into account different interpretation of “practicality” of these competences. Certainly in smaller companies e.g. a marketing person must have much more real marketing and promotional skills to undertake specific actions than in case of bigger companies. In practice, these competencies are naturally the same, as they meet the same functional needs of companies and businesses regardless of their size (although there are differences in perspective and in the scope of possible actions to be taken).

The list of digital skills (competencies) will continue to expand as technology, the e-commerce industry and available marketing and promotional options evolve. Anyone who is trying on a digital profession should keep developing these types of skills on an ongoing basis to increase their professional competitiveness and be able to choose from an ever-increasing number of job opportunities. Acquired digital competencies are of course also transferable to one’s own business, which should further increase the motivation to educate and develop in this area.

dr Przemysław Jóskowiak
dr Przemysław Jóskowiak
Founder of EECOM (European Institute for E-commerce), owner of Stratego24, a practitioner with many years of experience, author of know-how courses "E-business in practice", "E-marketing in practice", "Business & Management", "E-commerce in practice", "Promotional campaign on the web", "Social media in e-commerce", "WordPress in e-commerce" and know-how manuals for companies and businesses on building a professional presence on the web, lecturer at the University of Warsaw and UO UW, expert at the Incubator of the University of Warsaw
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