Today’s post is by Danny Wong, a marketing consultant, sales strategist, and writer. He leads marketing at Tenfold, a seamless click-to-dial solution for high-performance sales teams. Connect with him on Twitter @dannywong1190.
The prospect of an international expansion can be a thrilling and scary time for an organization. With the possibilities for growth in new markets, better economies of scale, foreign partnerships, and more, many business leaders are eager to get the ball rolling on their expansion plans as quickly as possible.
According to a document by the Peterson Institute for International Economics published in June 2016, U.S.-based SMBs play an important role in the world economy, since they make up 98 percent of all exporters in this country. It is no surprise so many organizations look across international borders for growth, and the International Trade Administration reports that companies that expand overseas experience faster growth and are approximately 8.5 percent less likely to go out of business when compared to companies that operate only domestically.
The problem is that you can’t just export an entire sales strategy or team into a new country and expect to succeed just like you always have. Successfully transitioning your sales operation to an international location requires diligent research, help from the ground level, and a detail-oriented mindset. If you enter the process with open eyes and a thorough understanding of the challenges you are going to face, expanding your sales operation internationally can lead to one of the most rewarding and profitable ventures you have ever experienced.
Educate yourself about your new target market
It is almost impossible to conduct too much market research about the country to which you are expanding. You will need to have a detailed understanding of concepts such as: the expected size of the market, who your likely customers are, how you plan to market to them, who the competitors are in that area, etc.
Your first step upon deciding to expand your business internationally should be to start making regular trips to the country and begin building a network. By going to conferences and events within your industry, you can position yourself to make connections that can assist with local lead generation and marketing strategies. You can also utilize online resources such as the Commerce Department’s Export Portal, which can point you toward helpful data on a number of germane topics. You may also want to set up location-specific social media accounts for your company (run by someone who speaks the native language if it is different from your own) that will allow you to share content marketing and assist with lead generation in a new market.
Tap local knowledge and resources
Since so much is at stake when it comes to hiring your international sales team, you will want to use a variety of different methods to identify the right candidates and assemble a group that knows how to sell in the local environment. You will want a proven sales leader from your company to be in charge of the international operation at the start, but they will rely on input from experienced locals who understand how to differentiate your product or service for these new prospects.
There will likely be industry associations specific to the country to which you are expanding, and – by reaching out to the experts in these organizations – you can connect with experienced leaders who have access to some of the most talented sales professionals in the area. Additionally, you may want to contact the leadership teams of other companies in your industry, as they may be interested in pursuing an alliance or partnership. You can also consult LinkedIn and your professional network to find contacts who already live in – or are intimately familiar with – the industry landscape in your new outpost. They may be able to further connect you with on-the-ground experts who can help you form a stellar sales team that will represent your company exceptionally in the new market.
Be wary of culture shock
It is best to assume there are plenty of unknowns about the country in which you are going to be operating. So you must do your due diligence and research every potential roadblock before you make your grand entrance. The old adage, “It is better to ask forgiveness later than permission now,” definitely does not apply in international business. If you or one of your salespeople unknowingly violates a local custom or regulation, you could find yourself having offended a client (at best) or facing criminal charges (at worst).
Consult with local legal representation to ensure you are following all of your host country’s laws and requirements. You also have to remember that not all countries offer the same protections to corporations as the U.S. does, and there may be differences that have a profound effect on your business, such as lackluster intellectual property protection.