There’s no doubt that for many North American based companies, expanding into Europe is an attractive option. Sections of the European market (and particularly the UK) have often been enthusiastic early adopters of new or innovative technologies. There are similar - often greater - opportunities for UK and European companies entering the North American market.
When planned and implemented effectively, entering new geographies can provide the impetus for a significant acceleration in global revenue and market share growth - and of course delaying the process can run the risk of opening the door to competition.
If your solution lends itself to simple remotely conducted on-line sales, the barriers to entry are relatively trivial. But if your typical sales cycle is more complex - and particularly if it involves multiple prospect interactions and a lengthy buying decision process - then there can often be significant barriers to successful market entry.
At best, these barriers may have the effect of delaying the revenue uplift that you have projected as a consequence of your expansion into a new geography. But at worst, they can serve to critically compromise the whole initiative - and leave unprepared or unsuccessful organisations to retreat and lick their wounds.
The decisions organisations make at the start of an expansion initiative often have a profound impact on the outcome. Here are just a few of the most common mistakes:
– Hiring people who turn out to be unsuited to the task
– Not doing enough to build pipeline in the territory
– Failing to secure the all-important early market wins
– Failing to implement a scalable, repeatable and predictable sales process
Let’s look at each of these in turn:
The people challenge
Whilst hiring the right local leader is critical, your other hiring decisions also have a significant impact on your chances of success. Being successful in an early-stage outpost requires character traits that are unlikely to be present in people that haven’t demonstrated an ability to perform in this sort of environment before.
Even more than you would at headquarters, you are looking for people who are self-motivated, eager and quick to learn, resilient and tolerant of a certain amount of tolerance for the inevitable early-stage ambiguity. Hiring people who have only previously succeeded in an established, big-brand environment with lots of infrastructure to back them up almost inevitably leads to failure.
If you’re working with a head-hunter or recruiter, you need to ensure that they both understand the local market and can demonstrate a track record of success in helping their clients build successful teams in early-stage environments.
The pipeline challenge
Having the right people in place is just part of the challenge. Having a process for building high-quality pipeline is another critical factor for both short- and long-term success. Without enough pipeline - or without a clear sense of what an “ideal prospect” looks like - your sales team will inevitably get frustrated chasing too few low-quality opportunities.
You may be fortunate to have a number of promising leads already from your existing marketing efforts. But if you are to lay the foundations for sustained success, one of your early priorities must be to invest in an effective and sustained pipeline-building programme.
If - like many technology-based businesses - efficient pipeline building requires effective audience targeting and the ability to conduct high-level conversations with potential sponsors and decision-makers, a combination of targeted email and constructive conversations is one of the most effective approaches.
Telephone and conversational skills are likely to be key: rigid scripts are unlikely to be effective - you need people who are confident conversationalists, good listeners and succinct summarisers.
The early-win challenge
Securing early wins is important for many different reasons - not just justifying the investment in opening up the new operation but also building confidence and a sense of momentum in your local team.
That’s why chasing every opportunity - no matter how hopeless - is an utterly dysfunctional strategy. The sooner you can build quality pipeline and identify a group of well-qualified, highly promising opportunities, the better.
The early wins are likely to come from a combination of effective qualification plus excellent sales execution. As a new player in the local market, you need to anticipate and prepare for more than the usual share of questions about your organisation’s credentials and your product’s capabilities.
Generic sales kills and good product knowledge are obviously important: but you also need to share whatever you have learned to date about what an ideal prospect looks like, what really matters to them, and how and why they make buying decisions - the sort of insights that are unique to your organisation.
The scalable sales process challenge
If - by following the above advice - you manage to get the early market traction you have been hoping for, then your attention will turn to shortening the sales cycle and scaling up the operation. You’ll still want to be rigorous in your recruitment, and to continue to build quality pipeline - but now implementing a truly scalable sales process is necessary to drive continued success.
This is a matter of taking everything that you’ve learned about what makes the local market tick - the common characteristics of your ideal prospects, the issues that are most important to the local market, and the way in which buying decisions are made - into a scalable, repeatable and predictable local sales process.
This will, in all likelihood, reflect many of the winning behaviours that you have already observed in your home market. But it’s also likely that there will be a certain amount of adaption to reflect what you’ve learned about local market conditions.
Winning Globally by Selling Locally
The idea of “Winning Globally by Selling Locally” is a particularly relevant mantra for companies that are in the all-important international expansion phase. With the right people on board, effective pipeline building programmes under way, a handful of high-quality early wins under your belt, and the basis of a scalable, reputable and predictable sales process in place, there should be nothing to stop you realising your potential.