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The International Entrepreneur – Revitalizing Global B2B Social Media Strategy

 

Revitalizing Global B2B Social Media Strategy

As many of you know, I recommend incorporating a social media program into almost any business-to-business international marketing plan. Social media allows your staff to directly engage with current customers and targeted prospective clients, as well as intervene in a negative product or service feedback. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter have a global reach to markets companies never thought they would so easily access. Social media (both paid and organic) also significantly boosts a company website’s search engine optimization- a key element to your potential clients finding your site online.

But unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably knew all of that.

Since social media rarely stops at the border, companies are able to engage with some potential business online. But that doesn’t mean that social media will necessarily help you reach your company’s goals. To do that, it takes a more targeted approach to social media in international markets. Here’s a start to reviewing your global social media strategy:

Make Sure You Have Social Media Goals

I am still amazed at how many companies do not have clearly defined goals for their social media program. Or if they do have a goal, it involves something warm and fuzzy like unmeasured brand awareness. Instead, consider both reactive functions like customer service response; as well as proactive goals related to new lead identification and lead nurturing. If you don’t have clear goals, you’ll never connect with your leads!

Cloning Domestic Social Media Plans Will Flop

Social media works effectively when your content and conversations resonate with new and current customers. To be truly effective instead of merely reactive, that means taking on a decentralized social media approach on all platforms. So Facebook company pages, Twitter accounts and Linkedin company profiles should all be written in your target markets’ local languages and localized to the market’s preferred marketing and selling styles. If you don’t decentralize, then you’re only seeing a fraction of the potential from overseas markets.

Know the Market’s Preferred Platforms

I recently worked with a company that decided to expand a U.S.-based Linkedin paid media into Australia and New Zealand. Those of us who focus on B2B markets know that despite Linkedin’s lower global usage rates to larger platforms like Facebook, Twitter & Google+ it can be affective in certain B2B markets. While somewhat stronger in the U.S., Linkedin has not expanded internationally at the same rate as other key platforms. In Australia, for instance, only 9% of the population has an active Linkedin account. That compares with 40% of Aussies using Facebook.

In early 2015, We Are Social released a Global Web Index report on global social media usage. Not only does Canada have almost twice as many Twitter users (23%) over Linkedin (12%), but almost half of Canadians used Facebook in the past month of their study. The French don’t use Twitter or Linkedin nearly as much as Google+ and of course the global giant, Facebook. Japan uses social media much less with top activity going to Twitter with 16%. The bottom line – know your market before investing time and resources.

Global Social Media Strategy

Identify Local Social Media Resources, Then Train on Company Policies

If you are targeting the German market, then it’s time to find a local point person for German social media content creation and online communications. Your company may already be established in Germany and so you have staff or outsourced resources who can perform these functions. BUT, if this is new then consider finding a local marketing firm with social media services. To keep costs low, provide centralized content to be translated and localized.

When several local resources are managing social media, it is critical to have a written set of social media policies that state the boundaries on what a representative of the company can communicate to customers and leads. This includes branding guides, professional conduct code, what constitutes company secrets, etc. I recommend video training to reinforce these policies. Too many companies miss this step and regret retracting and responding to an inappropriate post or tweet!

The Good Guys Win in the End

Developing quality content on company website blogs is one of the cornerstones of any global social media program. One high-quality weekly post always trumps daily gibberish. And engaging social media staff who speak in their own authentic voice will attract far more qualified leads than any silly made-up personas. People can always spot the knock-off brand.

In summary, global social media has great potential to help a B2B company expand into new and existing international markets. To do this, be clear about your program goals. Consider a decentralized approach to content and communication. Pick your platforms carefully based on each market. Choose the right in-country resources, then train them on your company social media policies. And finally, deliver consistent substance and sincere engagement. Then enjoy the fruits of your efforts!
If you company needs a review of your global social media program or help setting up a program, please contact me.

Best of success in your international expansion!

Becky Park

The International Entrepreneur

The International Entrepreneur – How to Globalize Your Business Networking Style

international business networkingSam stood at the back of the room taking stock of the evening’s networking event. As a Business Development Manager from Kansas, this was his first international industry trade show and he wanted to make the most of it. But the more he tried to appear friendly and helpful, the less that people seemed to want to talk with him. Sam had been to dozens of trade shows and meetings in the United States where people generally considered him charismatic and engaging. What was these people’s issue?

It is important to ask the right questions before you can find the answers that you really need. That is often true in international business. Here are a few that Sam might ask to get closer to the right answers:

  • How important is business networking internationally compared with outbound selling and marketing in the U.S.?

  • How might people be interpreting his approach?

  • Is there anything that Sam should change in his international networking approach for better outcomes?

Networking and Connections Are a Necessity

In the United States, when two parties want to do business they sign a negotiated contract legally defining their relationship and obligations to each other. That’s not how the rest of the world works. Instead, the business relationship is based on a professional relationship based on mutual interests and trust. This is why replacing your Latin American sales director can mean losing many clients. The clients follow the person they know, not your company.

The American Business Reputation

Actually, my countrymen have earned a business reputation that is wide and varied. Some places love us just because we are American, while others revile us for the same reason. Most are someone in the middle. Watch for body language to know if there’s a significant Country of Origin Effect.

Americans are considered a friendly business culture: leading with smiles, eye contact and handshakes for everyone. That doesn’t always match up with other cultures’ expectations. In Russia, the smiling person is considered to be an idiot. In Germany it can be seen as insincere, arousing suspicion. In the Middle East and India, a man should never extend a handshake to a woman. It is considered aggressive. That is not to say that we shouldn’t act within our cultural norms, but we should also be aware of any signals we give off that can be counterproductive.

American also typically make grandiose offers help to others while networking. This is in part because we want to build trusting relationships as quickly as possible. Others may grow suspicious of so much offered after just having met each other. It seems just too good to be true!

Tips for Better International Networking

Getting back to Sam from Kansas – what can he do to improve his effectiveness in this high-opportunity room?

  1. Research the Attendees. You should always know who you want to meet and have a plan to meet them. For instance, if you want to meet a major distributor in Latin America then learn about this contact as well as those who could introduce you to him. In the English-speaking world you should look on Linkedin for contacts’ profiles. Also, read translated pages from their company websites.
  2. Don’t Rush the Conversations. Accept the slower pace of business relationship building that is standard in most of the world. That means that you should take cues in the conversation from your counterpart. Wait for them to bring up specific business questions. Instead, they may just want to socialize. That’s progress too.
  3. For God Sake, Follow Up! After an event, the smart professional follows up with each contact to say that it was nice to meet them and that you would like to stay in touch. It’s standard best practices and yet many people don’t do this simple step. What’s worse is if you made any promises of introductions or other business favors and don’t follow through. People will remember if you are reliable to your word.
  4. Know the Basics of Cross-Cultural Communications. If you have a specific cultural audience (Germans, Chinese, Brazilians, etc.) then do deeper research. But here are a few basics that everyone should know:
  • Showing the soles of your shoes is highly offensive to Middle Easterners.
  • Don’t cross your legs and point a foot at a Malaysian.
  • Chinese will compliment you during a conversation. You need to NOT say “thank you” but instead politely reject the compliment and immediately find some way to return a sincere compliment (“I like your tie.” “Your English is very good.”, etc)
  • Don’t make sports references like from baseball or American football.
  • Generally men should wait for a woman to extend her hand to shake.
  • Some cultures like to stand close when talking. Whatever you do, DON’T take a step back.
  • Avoid sarcasm. It can often get lost in translation.
  • PLEASE don’t drink excessively, even if other people are bringing you drinks or pouring them. Stay in control at all times.

Now Sam can get back to doing the networking he needs to help him be successful. With a few minor adjustments he can find connections that could eventually become business partners.

If your staff struggles to make the right types of connections in international markets to move your company forward, consider cross-cultural training. It is normally a small investment that opens many doors to international opportunities!

If you are ready for a 30-minute complimentary consultation, please contact me.

Best wishes,
Becky Park 
The International Entrpreneur

The International Entrepreneur – 5 International Strategy Traps to Avoid

Wrong Way, nternational Strategy , International Entrepreneur, InternationalAs an International Business Consultant, part of my job is to detect patterns and trends. Is a foreign market going to expand or contract? Can we go viral with a referral marketing program? What are the buyer personas in a new market?

But there are more than a few patterns between unsuccessful international expansions. Some of these mistakes can jeopardize success in an overseas market. Others can destroy a company. Here are 5 classic international strategy traps everyone needs to prevent:

1. Slow Organic Growth into Competitive Markets
This may sound obvious, but international expansion costs money. Some companies are fortunate enough to have a steady stream of bountiful earnings to then fuel their international expansion. Others raise cash from either equity investors or on credit. But many expand very slowly into new markets, spending funds as they become available.

This raises two sizable issues: First, organically funded expansions are rarely consistent. Instead they trickle marketing and other operations. There’s no show of real commitment to would-be clients or partners. It’s difficult for the new market to take your company seriously.

The second and more ominous problem is the local competition. Instead of using a well-funded market launch to establish a clear foothold in the country, a slow entry gives the competition plenty of time to figure out ways to ensure your failure from taking their market share.

2. No Rainy Day Plans
International expansion is usually a sunny day activity. Business is good and opportunities are abound. The exchange rate is favorable and trade barriers are low. So now what happens when something shifts back and the rain begins to fall? Companies need to always be prepared for a range of possible international changes.

Canadians, this is especially important right now for you as the Canadian Loonie is low to the American Buck. While offering Canadian-level prices might seem like a great way to expand your American client base, eventually the exchange rate pendulum will swing the other way. When that happens, your margins will get squeezed. It’s better to prepare for both exchange rate scenarios and prepare for the long run.

3. Requiring Short-Term Gratification (a.k.a. The Toddler Syndrome)
Now normally this trap ensnares either newly public companies or internationally-inexperienced leaders. After an Initial Public Offering, the pressure is turned up by quarterly reporting requirements. It becomes vital to reassure current and future investors of the company’s financial health. International expansion does not run on a quarterly system. It’s decidedly messy as it grows and matures into steadier income streams – a bit like my teenage son’s room. Guiding an internationally growing company takes a steady hand, discipline… and definitely patience.

4. The Ugly Market Exit
When sales and profits are flowing, it’s easy to be the good partner or vendor. But when an expansion goes badly, many companies will cut their losses during the market exit. They may leave a trail of debts, broken promises, contract breaches and spoiled relationships. This is bad “rainy day planning”. By saving a few dollars in the short run, this fleeing company burns bridges. But it’s more than just that. A reputation in that market and neighboring markets grows. Should the company ever decide later to go after international potential, they will find their reputation precedes them and doors will remain closed.

5. Decision-Making Based on Assumptions Instead of Research
It is truly staggering how often companies base major expansion decisions based on relatively arbitrary assumptions or shallow relationships. Staggering. There are two main assumptions that steer decision makers off course. First is the assumption of sameness. We often assume that the new market will behave like ours: same sales motivations, same sales cycles, same budget expectations, same legal structure, etc. But even countries with many similarities (U.S./Canada, Indonesia/Malaysia, Belgium/Netherlands, etc.) have plenty of differences too. Without understanding the differences there is no way to avoid costly mistakes.

The type of assumption is that which is based on stereotypes. While this trap is widespread, I see it often in the U.S. when talking about China. “The Chinese don’t respect the contract.” “The Chinese will steal your trademarks.” These stereotypes are based on many companies’ experiences, but completely miss the point of how to effectively do business with what will soon be the largest market in the world. Assumptions often take the place of both solid market research and utilizing outside international advisors. Advisors can help a company navigate what is real and what isn’t, as well as provide more concrete information on which to make smarter decisions.

All of these traps are common and detrimental to an international expansion. If your company is experiencing the challenges of international expansion and needs assistance, please contact me. I offer a 30-minute complimentary consultation to companies looking to expand or improve their international operations.  Best wishes to all!

Onwards and Upwards,

Becky Park

The International Entrepreneur -Building a Stronger International Strategy

Today’s reality: most companies don’t strategically plan their international expansion. Or if there is a plan, it’s often broad and filed in some file drawer collecting dust. Instead, it sort of just happens and employees are along for the ride. If you are wondering if this is true in your organization, here are some signs of absence of a solid international strategy:

  • Knee-jerk reacting to international opportunities. Throwing resources at the newest market or big international prospective client can put untold strain on company operations trying to cover what amounts to chasing your tail.
  • Unsolicited partnerships are the backbone of your expansion. If you don’t understand motivations, the wrong resellers & other partners can steal your intellectual property or otherwise spoil your international brand.
  • Financial surprises plague profits. When issues like Italy’s profit repatriation rules, Indian labor laws or a Brazilian lawsuit keep catching your company off guard, it’s a sign of lack of research & planning.
  • Flimsy market entry justification. My favorite in this category is breaking into markets with the highest GDP growth. Since a country can have high growth one year & sink the next, it leaves no room to build a market long-term. A boat that constantly changes course will never to reach goals or a final destination.
  • Pulling out of markets based on this quarter’s earnings. Exiting an international market not only burns bridges but also often leaves many local financial obligations and works against long-term efforts.

building international strategy, international business, international marketing

A Better International Strategic Framework

The good news is that there is a better way. The tail chasing can stop and your staff can productively work together towards the right goals. Here’s where I normally begin an international strategy assessment:

  1. What’s your company’s exit strategy?
    What’s your company owners’ exit strategy? Are you planning an IPO, equity buy out or acquisition? Or do you plan to pass on this company to future generations? What kind of company will your leaders be passing to its next owners? Knowing the window of time to exit helps to determine which opportunities make the most sense to maximize outcomes.
  1. What are the goals of the international expansion?
    Many companies measure international success based on the Return on Investment (ROI). If this is your situation, then your strategy needs to reflect the required Internal Rate of Return. But many companies choose to reflect multiple value-creation objectives. These can include building a global brand, increasing global market share, developing an international supply chain, and reducing dependency on a single market or currency. By defining the goals up front, you know exactly what port you’re sailing to before you leave shore.
  1. Do you know your real opportunities and costs?
    It is a rare company that takes the time to research the true potential of their markets and then the associated costs to gain market share. But those who do are typically the market leaders (no surprise, really). It takes internal staff or international consultants asking the right questions to truly unearth the new business environment BEFORE investing more resources.
  1. What are your company’s risk tolerance and comfort with foreignness?
    Inherently some international projects are riskier than others. Safe may be doing business between the U.S. and Canada, or between Germany and Austria. There are similar business environments, language, culture, etc. But at some point, success will bring opportunities that are further afield and rich in potential. When those potential clients call, is your company ready to do business in Mongolia or Mali? I recently spent time working with a software company where some of the front line staff quietly avoided following up on international leads. Needless to say, the close rates for international leads were incredibly low. The company CEO touted his global company, but there was serious resistance in the ranks.
  1. What are your financial resources for expansion?
    The best-laid plans in the world are reduced to dust when there is no money to pay for the international expansion. I am amazed at how many companies actually try the no-cash approach. In my experience it’s never successful. Ever. Most small and medium-sized technology and services companies finance their expansions slowly through retained earnings. This can be effective if it aligns to your end game plan. Some companies rely on either bank loans or equity investment to finance their expansion. This works well for a well researched, contemplated and executed plan. A fourth option that should always be considered is to look into your own government’s export promotion programs. There may be grants, low-interest loans or other incentives to expand while creating jobs in your own country.

These questions are a starting point for building a better international expansion strategy. But to truly leverage your company’s competitive advantages and global potential, you should engage with business resources who can help your company plot the course to success.

If you would like to review your company’s international expansion strategy and plans, I offer a 30-minute complimentary conference call to learn about your opportunities and challenges. To schedule this call, please email me at [email protected].

 

Best of success in all of your international business dealings!
Becky Park, MS, MBA

The International Entrepreneur

The International Entrepreneur – 5 Tech Firm Strategy Myths that Need Busting

Have you ever wondered why international expansion results often are underwhelming and unimpressive? A tech company realizes that many international clients are proactively seeking out their products & services. They decide that it’s time to expand into new markets. I think it’s time to bust some myths in international business strategy that have plagued tech industries for far too long.

international strategy, international business, international marketing

Myth 1 – If the international markets don’t succeed in a year, we can just pull out.

First, international expansion takes at least two years to fully take hold in the first international market (if you’ve done it right). Expansion takes company-wide commitment to long-term growth and profits. Second, companies that come in and then pull back out often burn the bridges of partnership and government relationships that they would need again if they tried expansion at a later time. Not a smart plan.

Myth 2 – We can lower our risks by using local market reps to sell internationally for us.

In the right circumstances using international representatives or distributors can substitute for a company knowing how to directly sell in a foreign market. The local rep can also help with product information translations and use their existing networks to accelerate sales.

But here are the risks: First, anyone with detailed product information can also turn around and sell that information to your local competitors. For technology companies, that can be a huge business risk. Second, local reps want to represent your product if it produces a lot of revenue with little effort. If it’s a more challenging market introduction, they will likely put your product on the back shelf, thereby wasting precious time in the market with few results. And third, local reps may be more open to bribing officials or companies to get the sale. This is a direct risk to a company where corruption laws are stricter and hold the parent company responsible for any unlawful payments.

Myth 3 – We can sell technology using the same sales process as we do at home.

Sales expectations vary greatly from country to country. In a place like Australia, return on investment is often measured carefully. In Egypt, buyers expect to be able to negotiate a deal with a much lower price. Some countries use contracts as the foundation of the sale while for others the contract is a mere formality. In each new market entry, the sales process needs to be carefully reviewed for local expectations.

Myth 4 – We can just translate a webpage for each new language and that will give us access to the markets speaking that language.

Keep dreaming. In reality, markets look first to their local country TLD (top level domain) such as .de, .au, etc. And then they may search in their language too. Unless you have a marketing program that focuses on building brand recognition in that language, the one-page language is a mere footnote to your site. It will not inspire confidence that you know how to do business in the places that speak that language.

Myth 5 – Ignore the advice of your local staff or other in-country marketing resources

This one seems silly and I wouldn’t include it except that I’ve actually seen several tech companies miss the wisdom from their own local resources. Local staff and marketing agencies should be giving you advice on how to better tailor your product, processes, website, etc. to work better locally. A great way to make sure that the staff is right: A/B Test the change to see if traffic, conversion and sales improve.

International strategy is critical to the long-term success of a multi-national company of any size. If you have questions about any aspect of this framework, or would like assistance in assessing your current and future international capabilities,please contact mefor a free 30-minute consultation over the phone or Skype.

Best of success in all of your international markets,

Becky Park 

The International Entrepreneur

The International Entrepreneur – When Is English Just Not Enough?

International Entrepreneur, international business, marketing, technologyThere’s an international travel blogger I know who makes his living by paid presentations to tourism boards around the world and reviewing cruise ships, resorts and other travel services. Not a bad life for an ex-tech entrepreneur!

But one thing I always find interesting is that middle-aged Midwestern friend never learned to speak another language beyond a couple of words of high school German. That means that all of his presentations, business transactions, and travel is done in English only.

I’m sure there have been times when Fred wished that he understood key languages like Arabic, Spanish or Chinese. Then again maybe the non-English-speaking Yemeni taxi driver taking him to God-knows-where was just part of the adventure. But his is also a business that needs to be sustainable. Could he reach a wider audience with his services and articles? Would it help to be able to negotiate a better price or get the local inside scoop on a hidden travel treasures?

For the rest of us: Is there a greater value from expanding your business beyond your native language?

As almost always in international business, the answer is,it depends.

Now fast-forward to all of the rapidly expanding American technology companies that are all trying to find the magic incantation to yield predictable, sustainable revenue growth. There’s pressure from investors to show increased market share and progress towards greater profits. Global market potential can be an escape valve from the pressure cooker of stakeholder expectations. After all, the U.S. may be a large country but it only accounts for 5% of world population and an ever-shrinking percentage of world technology consumers.

But really, in today’s global business environment, isn’t English the language of business? Companies get incoming inquiries all the time from international leads. And couldn’t interested readers just hit the Google Translate button to read a blog post in their native language? Do we really need to change our product’s language, along with every other function to be able to reach non-English speakers?

Many American tech companies side step this whole issue by focusing on expansion to English-speaking Canada, The United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. If these are truly the most profitable time investments for the company, then why not use English as the expansion criteria?

But the truth is, most companies don’t do the research to find out. Ignorance isn’t quite bliss when your expansion is financed by investors or retained earnings. Honestly, Canada is normally a safe bet because of market similarities and NAFTA. But sometimes there are surprising markets that are more profitable and less competitive than native English markets. Take for example Tadley, Inc., which develops management software for private secondary schools. With over 3,000 education clients, their strong markets (no surprise) are in Asia and centered around China. Or take a less tech example, ladies’ handbags. A Japanese women is used to paying sometimes twice as much for the same designer handbag as in the U.S. It wouldn’t make sense for either Tadley or a handbag designer to stick with English-speaking markets.

Based on the Smartling[i] survey, we can estimate that for every international lead we get there are 9 others who only searched for our product or service in their native language. That’s a quick finger in the air to know which way the wind is blowing for your international market demand.

Only through market research can you know the projected Return on Investment based on market potential and the associated costs (including translation and localization) for your company’s products and services. Armed with this information, you can go forth with more confidence in your expansion planning.

Next week’s article will be about the nuts and bolts of gathering the right types of actionable information to make smarter decisions for international expansion. Until then, best of success in all of your business efforts!

[i] https://www.smartling.com/pr/the-global-need-for-multilingual-content/

The International Entrepreneur – What Makes a Great Leader… Anywhere?

Angela Merkel, Germany, International Entrepreneur, International Business

German Chancellor, Angela Merkel

This week I accept the challenge from long-time professional contacts, Sandip Sen and Linda Hughes to write about what I think makes for a great leader. As many of you know, anything I write needs to be as applicable in Buenos Aires as it is in Helsinki. With that in mind, here is my criteria for a great leader:

Great Leaders Build Trust
How people build trust varies between cultures. But one thing is for sure: a leader knows how to most quickly and effectively build trust in their own culture. For instance, a leader in Germany will focus on logic and facts to show his or her expertise. That might help in other places too, but in Mexico a leader builds trust by showing his or her ability to show compassion and take care of others. In India a leader is trustworthy by showing how much he cares about outcomes. Whatever the culture, trust is the common characteristic.

To build trust, you also need consistency. Followers need to know that they can count on their leader. How much trust would there be if a leader lost his composure when the company’s key client decides to go elsewhere or when the investor walks minutes from when they were supposed to sign the papers? That’s when the rubber meets the road and you learn exactly what type of leader is in charge.

Great Leaders Drive the Train
Sometimes there is confusion around a leader’s true role. But the bottom line is this: a leader sets the vision and the direction. They decide which track the train is going to ride. They don’t collect the tickets and they don’t fetch coal from the coal car. The leader needs to bring in the right resources to keep train moving towards its destination.

Sometimes it may be hard for a leader to let go of certain functions they’ve grown used to managing. This is especially true for many entrepreneurs. They used to write the code or answer online chats. And now they focus on resources like the next round of investment funds. Even a great leader can slip backwards into tasks they should be delegating. But it’s never too late to focus on the track and arriving at the destination safely and on time!

Great Leaders Communicate the Right Messages to the Right People at the Right Time
That’s actually a very tall order. But great leaders master this art of message and timing. It’s about communicating vision and strategy. But it’s also about communicating hope and the plans in times of crisis. Recently my company decided to walk away from a bad investment deal. It was the right decision, but had serious implications for staff who were counting on increased budgets and additional staff. Our Founder and CEO brought everyone together in a company-wide meeting. He told us the news and then put it into context that we could understand why it was better for the company in the long run. The CEO answered questions about how the news would impact employees and various projects. No one left the company from the news and everyone continued to work hard moving the company forward.

Some rules for this messaging: First, anything written or said must be sincere. People know when they are being misled or else they eventually find out. Communications need to be clear and focused. And there needs to be a way, direct or indirect to find out if the message was received in its intended way. Feedback loops are key and often ignored by most leaders.

I hope you found this article interesting. Please feel free to comment to add to this discussion!

Best wishes in all of your business efforts,
Becky

The International Entrepreneur – Interview with International Export Expert, Ed Marsh (Part 2)

Ed Marsh, International Entrepreneur, International Business

Ed Marsh, Consilium Global Business Advisors

Two weeks ago I posted Part 1 of my interview with international B2B sales and marketing expert, Ed Marsh. Today I share the rest of Ed’s insightful answers.

Q3: What’s the biggest mistake you see companies making in their online marketing for global markets?

A3: Most US companies make the same fundamental mistake globally that they make domestically. Their entire marketing and sales approach is built on who they are, what they do/make from their perspective. And that’s functionally irrelevant to any potential prospect in the world, including at home in the US. It makes them ideal 3rd bid participants, but not dynamic growth engines.

The solution is to really understand their buyers – and often assumptions are so firmly embedded in a company that outside assistance is critical to really understanding buyers’ challenges, perspectives, goals, etc. Buyer personas must be rigorously built, and then a complex “3D buyers journey” constructed. That’s the foundation for successful market development domestically which is, in turn, the foundation for global success.

But that’s also where trouble arises, because companies proceed to use that same foundation globally. Partially because it’s a lot of work to build it properly in each case, and partially because it takes deep market familiarity and extensive interviews to construct – it doesn’t get built for target markets. Then they compound that with translation.

Effective global content isn’t translated, or even localized. It’s trans-created, or created in the local language based on the local persona and optimized around the native and intuitive keywords which describe the market specific business challenges prospects there face.

So exporters need to think of digital marketing as a process of continuous improvement and innovation – instead of a website. They need to really nail their domestic program first. Then they can incrementally internationalize what they have – experimenting and adjusting based on metrics each step of the way.

Q4: What are you recommending to U.S. clients worried about the strong dollar affecting their export potential?

A4: Interestingly I don’t hear many concerns expressed about the strength of the USD. Certainly today’s cross is less favorable than the rates over the past several years, but I don’t have the sense that it’s impacting projects…at least yet.

But I suspect that specific concern may be implied in uncertainty around the bigger topics of foreign exchange and payments. Those are perennial areas of considerable worry to US companies. Often the resources to whom they naturally turn for advice, their accountant and commercial banker, are unfamiliar themselves. That creates a real barrier to export success.

So in general I recommend that they find other resources/advisors/service providers for that expertise, and further that:

  1. They embrace hedging – it’s neither some whizz kid MBA complicated thing, nor some dastardly Enron approach. It’s simply agreeing today to buy currency at some point in the future for a given price. Companies can easily and inexpensively lock in today’s margin on a deal and let the FX market do as it will. A good currency trading resource will be inexpensive, responsive and proactive with business recommendations. And international customers will appreciate your flexibility to work in their currency.
  2. They secure foreign receivables insurance – not every deal can get done with cash in advance. Banks push clients into L/Cs which can be appropriate, but are expensive, complicated, often have gaps…and ultimately are more in the bank’s interest than the clients’. Insuring foreign receivables (details vary by policy) not only protects the seller against buyer default and other risks such as non-convertibility of currency, but it also allows companies to use a higher portion of receivables in the asset base upon which their borrowing capacity is calculated.

Q5: Any last advice you’d like to share with growing B2B companies currently expanding in international markets?

A5: Four things. The first is a small, simple one. The way to grow exports is to look for profitable customers to add. It needn’t be some huge, expensive, protracted project with an ephemeral payoff years down the road. Make it easy for the right buyers to find you, work through the transactional details, and start making money globally.

The second is a bigger, more strategic topic. A huge percentage of US SMBs are owned & managed by baby boomers. They’ve grown accustomed to a sellers’ M&A market over the past few years. But research shows that a majority plan a transition over the next five to ten years – and when they simultaneously move in that direction, suddenly the inertia will shift and it will be a buyers’ market. That means that companies need to move proactively to achieve key strategic positioning steps which will help to competitively distinguish their company from many others in a crowded market. That’s where global diversification is key. Not only should their global sales contribute rising revenue and profits (key to valuation, particularly among competitors with stagnant or anemic earnings) but also the diversification itself will create value – perhaps even enough to position a company as a strategic acquisition target for acquirers seeking further global diversification themselves.

The third is practical. Current US debt levels will almost certainly result in increased tax burdens on SMBs, particularly on pass-through entities commonly used by privately held SMBs. That means that tax reduction strategies should be at least part of business planning – and exports could be hugely beneficial through the IC-DISC structure that’s been around for years and was recently made permanent. It offers companies nearly 16% savings on profits from export sales. That’s probably appealing just based on today’s rates – but almost certainly will be more so as rates are likely to rise.

Finally is the value of lessons learned. 1:2 babies born in the US today is Latino. But there is no monolithic Latino culture – rather it’s a diverse group of cultures and languages from throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. There’s no better way to learn how to successfully market and sell to those US consumers than to dive deeply into the markets from which they come. And there are many other product, service and application lessons which can be learned in foreign markets which will spawn R&D and successful new product offerings for the domestic market.

About Ed Marsh

Ed was going to be an architect because he loved the nexus of engineering and design. That was before he was going to be an engineer; before he graduated from Johns Hopkins; before he was an Army Infantry Officer (Airborne Ranger); before he set B2B industrial sales records; before he was partners with a German capital equipment manufacturer; before he founded a distribution/rep company for industrial products in India; until he decided that managing a business and employees wasn’t what he enjoyed. Now that Ed’s got all of that out of his system he runs a consultancy that helps US manufacturing companies grow by applying process excellence to business development,  completing the full circle back to an engineering & design combination. His practice is built on a unique methodology which combines powerful digital marketing methodologies (a HubSpot partner) with his extensive international biz dev experience. Ed is also Export Advisor to American Express

About Consilium Global Business Advisors: Consilium assists American manufacturers in applying process excellence to their business development. In other words we help lean, well managed companies with rock solid bottom lines effectively and consistently grow their top lines to match. We work primarily with mid size industrial manufacturing companies, guiding them through a journey of designing and executing business grade B2B inbound marketing and focused, profitable global market expansion.

The International Entrepreneur – Interview with International Export Expert, Ed Marsh (Part 1)

Ed Marsh, International Entrepreneur, International Business

Ed Marsh, Consilium Global Business Advisors

This week I have the pleasure of interviewing one of the top independent experts in the international business consulting field, Ed Marsh, from Boston. If you need expertise particularly in B2B manufacturing markets, Ed is a tremendous resource. His articles are an excellent read too. Here are Ed’s answers to my questions:

Q1: What are some of the changes you’ve seen in global markets over the past few years? Any important trends?

A1: I’ve seen three major changes shift the global sales growth environment. First, the concept of emerging markets is now a bit outdated. Most markets have emerged and are now developing. There are a few comparatively “green field” markets remaining in Africa, but most of the others, including many that most US companies consider too different, are actually fairly well developed. Chinese, German and other exporters are often already active, and so the growth play is no longer to seize a beachhead but rather to leverage the favorable “Made in USA” cachet as domestic consumer demand grows.

Second, nearly every country is undertaking export promotion efforts – from large, developed and wealthy nations down to recently emerged. And nearly every company is actively importing, even if they’re not yet exporting. That means that global trade is far more fluid. It no longer takes a large company infrastructure to manage the process. Logistics, payments, communications & travel are now essentially ubiquitous. In other words, it’s more feasible for small companies to export now, than ever. And therefore the barriers are more commonly internal (e.g. mindset) than external. And it’s also increasing competition in every market – including at home. So many companies can leverage export to overcome stagnating domestic sales.

Third, the internet. Ten years ago a company that wanted to export faced a lengthy, expensive and laborious journey that started with extensive research; then an educated guess (or gamble) on a market; then a long process of establishing a presence and building relationships, credibility and awareness. In contrast, today, with smart phones leapfrogging internet access into areas still lacking hard wire telephone, companies are growing rapidly – and any one of those rapidly growing companies is a prospect for US exporters (as well as Chinese, German, Indian, etc.) That creates a huge shift from a cumbersome market based approach to an ideal (profitable, long-term) prospect approach. In essence companies today can build a business by helping profitable buyers find them, regardless of passport or country code (almost) – rather than the herculean task of building markets.

Q2: Where do you think manufacturers are missing opportunities in key international markets?

A2: They’re not accounting for demographics. Most companies select target markets based on news headlines reciting population and GDP statistics. And companies that build their export growth on inbound results, or helping profitable buyers find them, will often develop concentrations in today’s most dynamic markets. But once a global sales capability has been developed within a company, then it’s appropriate to supplement initial activity with strategically selected market development. Diversification against regional concentration risk, and political and currency risk is built on a deliberate process of market analysis and selection. And that selection needs to anticipate the future – which is largely demographics driven.

Many of today’s active markets have demographic trends which point to substantially diminished future significance. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be profitable sales originating in those markets – but if a company plans to invest in a market anticipating success in ten years, that market should be one which demographics indicate will be growing and vibrant.

They also often overlook important opportunities in smaller markets, or metro concentrations (vs. pan national efforts.) For US companies with a domestic market of 330MM pax, markets like Colombia (48MM), Vietnam (93MM), Turkey (74MM) and Lagos (21MM) in the latter category not only punch above their weight economically, but represent substantial incremental market opportunity (15%, 30%,23% & 7% respectively.) And I recommend comparing that to US markets that they might have eagerly worked long and hard to enter. Charlotte (2.3MM), Seattle (3.6MM) and Dallas (7MM) for example. So companies looking to exports for revenue growth opportunities should not reflexively chase the BRICs. There are compelling markets with much lower barriers to entry.

Tune in next week for the rest of Ed Marsh’s interview!

About Ed Marsh

Ed was going to be an architect because he loved the nexus of engineering and design. That was before was going to be an engineer; before he graduated from Johns Hopkins; before he was an Army Infantry Officer (Airborne Ranger); before he set B2B industrial sales records; before he was partners with a German capital equipment manufacturer; before he founded a distribution/rep company for industrial products in India; until he decided that managing a business and employees wasn’t what he enjoyed. Now that Ed’s got all of that out of his system he runs a consultancy that helps US manufacturing companies grow by applying process excellence to business development, completing the full circle back to an engineering & design combination. His practice is built on a unique methodology which combines powerful digital marketing methodologies (a HubSpot partner) with his extensive international biz dev experience. Ed is also Export Advisor to American Express

About Consilium Global Business Advisors: Consilium assists American manufacturers in applying process excellence to their business development. In other words we help lean, well managed companies with rock solid bottom lines effectively and consistently grow their top lines to match. We work primarily with mid size industrial manufacturing companies, guiding them through a journey of designing and executing business grade B2B inbound marketing and focused, profitable global market expansion.

The International Entrepreneur- An Interview with Global Talent & Leadership Expert, Joanne Flynn

Joanne, Flynn, Phoenix, Strategic PerformanceToday I have the honor of interviewing Joanne Flynn of Phoenix Strategic Performance. Joanne is a thought leader in the areas of strategic organizational alignment, organizational agility, business resilience, human capital gap analysis, leadership challenges for the new workplace and change management. Here is what Joanne had to share:
Q1: What are the biggest mistakes you see companies making in terms of global talent management?

Over the decades the same, obvious mistake continues to happen. We don’t take into account the cultural nuances of the international business culture we are either doing business in or with. From an American perspective, we continue to think that other cultures will naturally adapt to our American business culture and we stumble every time. We must understand and then acknowledge the differences, teach them and then incorporate them into the business operating style, mentality and practice of every person responsible for interacting on a global level. If employees can’t make that leap – they should not be allowed to play on the global playing field.

 

Q2: What are the traits you look for in a successful global corporate leader?

I look for a global citizen with global business acumen, cultural business acumen and the ability to adapt leadership style and practices to the local cultural needs. If an organization is committed to global growth, it needs to develop a bench of global leaders before there is a specific need. A crash course in working globally doesn’t necessarily create the true multidimensional global / cultural mindset that a true global leader needs. The worst scenario takes place when an organization has a global post that needs to be assigned. The leader assigned is a home office SME but has never worked internationally. This person is “immersed” in everything local in the 2 weeks prior to being reassigned, and we consider that person fit for purpose? Consider that an emergency measure, not a long-term global strategy.

 

Q3: How important is cultural competency in international business hiring/promotion decisions?

Cultural competency is a fundamental strategic and operating skill. If that skill is missing, then the strategic business impact can be both damaging and derailing. I have seen instances where lack of cultural competency sidelined an organization’s growth for 5 years. Can we afford those types of mistakes in a highly competitive global marketplace? I don’t think so!

 

Q4: In your opinion, which works better: moving expats into key overseas positions or hiring local?

If your operation is a start-up, you should begin with moving culturally sensitive, well-versed expats into the new organization. They bring with them corporate knowledge and the network to get things done quickly. However, you need to immediately plan to onboard local talent as quickly as possible.

If your operation is sustainable business, then hiring local talent should be the goal, only using expats when necessary and for the short term.

 

Q5: What advice can you give a growing company about hiring locals for positions in foreign subsidiaries?

If you can find local talent who can understand your organization’s goals, it is best to hire locally. However, you must bring that person into your central operating hub so the local hire has the advantage of learning about your organization first hand and understanding your operating culture. I have seen examples of when the local person is hired in and then left to figure things out. That normally does not end well.

If you cannot immediately find local talent, then you must send a non-local employee to start the process but immediately construct a plan to find and develop local talent. Be sure that whoever the non-local employee is, they have the ability to work in a local and global environment.

 

About Joanne Flynn

Joanne Flynn is the Managing Director of Phoenix Strategic Performance, a strategic human capital advisory firm. She focuses on human capital relative to strategic initiatives, business growth, value creation and business development. Since 1989, Joanne has headed up the consulting practice of Phoenix Group International. Previously, from 1980 to 1989, Joanne was Vice President of Global Learning & Development for Goldman Sachs, Inc.

Joanne is experienced in all aspects of organizational development and training on a global level. Her consulting engagements have included the design and delivery of training and development programs on the topics of strategic leadership, business development, client account management, strategic selling, management development, and executive coaching. Her consulting clients range from global investment banks, small private equity / venture capital firms to small to mid-sized companies.

Joanne holds a Master of Arts degree in Business Management from the University of Oklahoma. In addition, she graduated summa cum laude and holds a double degree major in History and German from the College of St. Elizabeth in New Jersey. She also holds certificates from a variety of leading professional training and development organizations.