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Liam Fox's comments about British businesses being 'too lazy and fat' may have caused outrage over the weekend, but new research from LinkedIn suggest his comments might not be too wide of the mark.

Businesses might not 'fat and lazy', but LinkedIn claims that UK firms are more likely to have their sights firmly focused on the home market compared to their European competitors - the general point made by the international trade secretary.

Its analysis of prospecting activity among sales professionals across Europe found that just 31% of UK online sales activity was focused internationally, compared with 68% in Ireland, 62% in Germany and 41% in Belgium.

The UK actually sits 23rd of the 28 countries analysed when it comes to international prospecting. The data was collected before the EU referendum vote, suggesting that the UK was lagging behind its continental rivals even before Brexit was confirmed.

Josh Graff, UK country manager for LinkedIn, said: “Even before the seismic events of this summer it was clear that we need to be more proactive in our pursuit of commercial opportunities overseas as a nation. UK businesses can ready themselves for the future by focusing on building strong relationships with potential customers overseas via online channels. We want to see UK companies leading the way in ‘social selling’ and delivering a welcome boost to the country’s international trade.”

LinkedIn also found that the 'special relationship' with the US remains with the market being the top prospecting target for UK salespeople, accounting for 36% of all UK activity. France, Germany and the Netherlands sat second, third and fourth respectively. But Australia and the UAE came fifth and sixth.

Martin McTague, policy director at the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “Recent FSB research shows huge potential among small firms to sell their goods and services overseas. Currently, around one in five small firms export and another one in five would consider exporting in the future. The growth of social media, e-commerce markets and other new technologies has made it even easier to find new customers abroad. In the light of the EU referendum result, it’s now more crucial than ever to look for trade opportunities right across the globe. The EU market is an important destination, with 93% of our exporting members trading with the bloc. But other countries are catching up, with more potential exporters looking to emerging markets with high growth opportunities.”