Many businesses are finding that the world is their oyster when targeting new customers and growing revenue. In fact, a recent study by the KPMG Global Enterprise Institute found international expansion has become an increasing priority for executives and an integral part of their growth strategy and revenue stream.
Whilst great oysters are fantastic, get a bad one and it will put you off ever trying another again. Similarly, businesses need to take stock and ensure global expansion is right for them.
For the sake of this article, let’s assume you’ve decided now is the time to go. Your product or service has proven successful in your market, and you’ve got the appetite, bandwidth, and money in the bank to expand into another country. Congratulations! Here are three areas you need to prioritise when embarking on this new phase of your company’s growth:
The decision to hire locally or relocate existing staff is often debated. Do you send someone with insights, company and product experience, and whom you trust? Or do you hire for local knowledge and relationships?
Both options have their merits and their risks. However, in my experience, local knowledge typically trumps product knowledge. The ideal is to budget for a senior member of your team to be based – or spend a significant period of time – in the new market over a three month period. This provides essential insights into the key dynamics and influencers within the new market, but also allows time for your critical first hire to be made. Don’t rush; as the first hire needs to be your Michael Jordan of the team – someone you can build a team around. Having someone based “on the ground” increases your chances of finding the best person for that role.
Once employed, allow your new hire to spend significant time at HQ, so they can learn about your company and products, but – more importantly – so they can live and breathe your company’s culture. During the first few months, senior members of your team should be rotating and visiting your new hire weekly. This means more in-market support and on-the-job training, whilst ensuring your Jordan remains motivated and engaged – and has the right support to be a top-performer ongoing.
Building your Network
Even if your business currently operates in one country, your network of peers, suppliers, and customers will have contacts across multiple markets globally. Make sure you leverage this. Get into your new market months before you plan to establish a presence and start building a network of locally based connections. This may seem obvious, but amongst the myriad competing priorities you must deal with as you expand into new markets, it’s essential you don’t cut corners on network-building.
Plan to take the time to:
‚óè Attend relevant conferences. People don’t do enough of this. Even if not every person at the event is a potential customer or client, you will learn something, extend your local network, and build your personal brand. Your personal brand and business brand are intrinsically linked during start-up stage. In fact, they are one and the same.
‚óè Participate in LinkedIN groups. LinkedIN is fast becoming a content destination for relevant articles, and a great place to share information and thoughts with respected peers globally.
‚óè Contribute to local trade press. Even if you’re not comfortable writing yourself, get to know journalists that are interested in your industry. These guys and gals know everyone and might ultimately promote your product and services when you launch.
‚óè Learn local sports and pick a team to support. Finding common ground with people is critical and sport is often a great entry point. In addition, if you are attending conferences, and groups are talking, you want to make sure you can keep up with the conversation.
‚óè Join an expat community. This is less about your specific industry, and more about having a balanced life. Make sure moving your business doesn’t become the only thing you do in the new country. Force yourself to meet new folk, and appreciate the culture, people, and city where you live.
A lot of cold calling, networking, and hard work is necessary to confirm initial meetings, but it also requires some strategic thinking. Prospective clients want relevant case studies, experience, and “on the ground” support – all the things you can’t invest heavily in until you have your first clients and partners. Here are a few tips to help you overcome these challenges:
‚óè Your competitors’ clients are your #1 prospects. Build your pipeline based on who is spending across similar products and offerings. Cold-calling a client with your unknown product or brand is hard enough, let alone trying to sell them on a new solution they need to wrap their head around.
‚óè Build a client advisory board. By asking a client to be part of your board, you demonstrate how much you value them. The relationship also moves beyond a transactional level to become a trusted partnership.
‚óè Build competitive advantage for early adopters. Provide access to audiences in a new way. Offer pricing incentives. Cooperate on marketing efforts. Promote your customer’s brand or leadership during your launch PR. Offer category or product exclusivity (just ensure it’s for a limited time, so you can grow your business). There are many ways you can turn your newness in the market into an asset for winning new business.
Whatever you do, act! Make decisions and be prepared to make mistakes. However, be wary of the two most common mistakes: analysis paralysis; and the big blind bet. On the one hand, many businesses fear making mistakes and try to remove all risks before making a decision. That means that when they do finally make a decision, the market has moved on and someone has taken the opportunity.
The other extreme is when expanding companies commit huge resources to a single strategy/approach, without any market knowledge. The trick is to ensure the early bets in a new market don't commit you to a single course of action. Treat early investments in a market like your own money and make a few modest bets as you enter the market. Once you get confident an approach is working, it is a lot easier to ramp efforts quickly – with a lot less risk.
If you’re seeking advice on how to make the move, email firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below. Or if you have experience growing a business globally, please share your key learnings and successes.
Peter Davies, chief revenue officer at ROKT
 KPMG Global Enterprise Institute, Global Rewards Within Reach, http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/us-mid-sized-companies-more-focused-on-global-expansion-despite-economy-to-propel-growth-profits-kpmg-survey-finds-165569596.html