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The International Entrepreneur – Interview with International Business Development Leader, Matthias Leitzmann

Matthias Leitzmann, International Business Development

This week I caught up with Matthias Leitzmann, Director of International Business Development at VXi Corporation, a manufacturer of noise cancelling wireless and unified communication headsets. Matthias is a leader on the front lines of the ever-shifting landscape of international business. He is also a regular contributor to the weekly #GlobalBizTalk Twitter group.


Matthias, how did you originally get into the international business development field? What made it appealing?

I came to the US to attend college when I was 18. On my initial flight over, I knew I wanted to do something with international business – I just didn’t know exactly in what capacity and when. The thought of connecting and leveraging both my European background and my newfound American experiences seemed incredibly exciting to me. It still is today.

As I entered professional life, I always kept an eye on ways how I might be able parlay any of my skills into international business. As I was working as an executive search consultant/headhunter, the opportunity presented itself when one of my clients needed a suitable reseller for his company’s products in Germany. I jumped at the chance and haven’t looked back since.


What approaches work best for you to find & evaluate new international business opportunities?

My approach is a channel-focused model. It is the leanest and most cost effective model. It provides tremendous leverage and scope. When vetting and research show that there is a need for my employer’s service or product in a particular country, then I begin searching for in-country partners (i.e. distributors, integrators, resellers) that see the potential of our market opportunity and want to be part of growing it locally. In other words, I look for partners that want to make my business their business and with whom I have shared interest and trust. My success will depend on finding the right suitable partner and how well I am able to manage and grow the relationship.


As someone who works extensively in both North America & Europe, what are a few of the most important differences in doing business that you think our readers should know?

At the core, I find (business) people are very much the same here and in Europe. The goals of running a profitable and successful enterprise, of building something viable and sustainable, and the desire to earn money are all the same. These basic, universally common goals are buried under a web of cultural differences and experiences. Being able to penetrate, navigate and deconstruct those layers is the challenge. In that, it is less about differences per se than being able to understand and relate to those differences. Empathy in international business is very important. The faster you can begin to relate (if you enjoy the process of learning, respecting and working with the differences), the sooner you will be able to get to the core and speak a “common” language. The better you become at this skill, the more success you will have overseas.


What do you wish you had known about international business development when you started in this role?

Patience and romanticism. More of the former, less of the latter. Developing overseas business takes patience, along with a healthy dose of stamina or thick skin. Furthermore, it is easy to get romantic about the idea of running a global business. The questions that needs to be asked: is it going to be profitable and contribute positively to the overall goals of an enterprise?


Can you give our readers any advice on maximizing the potential of strategic international partnerships?

Besides looking for the obvious in a potential international partner, such as expertise, track record, capacity etc., the factor that can maximize the relationship is a common personal hook. This is something that builds rapport with that partner beyond the mere business relationship. It could be that the person you are dealing with in Europe attended college in the US. Or it could be that you both follow Champion League soccer. Or you could both enjoy reading the same international newspapers and so on. This rapport will contribute to making a long distance relationship seem so much closer and real. The more you can bond on a level beyond business, the more likely the relationship will thrive (and last). Minimally, it will result in both of you enjoying engaging with each other more and calls getting returned faster. On the other spectrum, such a deeper connection may very well contribute to both of you better navigating any potential rough waters that lie ahead. And as with any business endeavor (especially international business) there will be plenty of challenges you and your partner will need to overcome together.


About Matthias Leitzmann

Matthias was born and raised in Munich, Germany. He moved to Rhode Island in the late 1980’s to attend Bryant University’s business school. After a successful career in executive search, including having completed multiple international projects, Matthias began focusing on the sourcing, vetting, recruitment and management of international B2B and B2C channel partners. In his capacity as an executive search consultant and channel development specialist, he has successfully completed assignments for leading high-tech companies, such as Cisco, EMC, MKS Instruments, and Ericsson, and many smaller, venture-backed firms.

He is presently the Director of International Business Development at VXi Corporation, a manufacturer of noise cancelling wireless and unified communication headsets. A frequent international business traveler, and authorized to work both in the EU and the US, Matthias is fluent in English and German. He is currently based out of Boston. I highly recommend following Matthias on Twitter (@MLeitzmann).

The International Entrepreneur – On Global Product Marketing

International Entrepreneur - Global Product Marketing

Global Product Marketing is a rapidly evolving field, yet for many growing B2B technology companies a full-time product marketing manager is not yet a justifiable full-time position. Still, it’s never too early to begin incorporating product marketing into any B2B company’s approach to product development, sales and marketing messaging, and competitive intelligence. This article focuses on core global product marketing functions and how to make smarter business decisions from a fuller set of data and perspectives.

I first encountered global product marketing at a healthcare software company located north of San Francisco, California. It was in response to a business disaster. 150 product development professionals (nearly 100% of programming hours) spent a year developing a new order management system for hospitals. The only problem was that when the software product went live, the company’s healthcare clients hated it. They said they would never be able to use it. The company needed better product direction that was truly aligned with market demand. They hired 3 product marketing managers – 2 registered nurses and 1 technical staff – all with healthcare informatics background. The next try at order management proved to be a greater success, along with additional products and upgrades sold worldwide.

The problem with the California healthcare software company was one of isolation. The software development department was more than two thirds of the company headcount and stacked with PhDs who knew architecture, coding, etc. on every level. But no one thought to ask current clients what they wanted. No one bothered to find out features and functions of competitive products. Build product in a vacuum and you are very unlikely to hit the mark.


What Are Proactive Product Marketing Functions You Can Start Adding NOW?

I still run into CEOs of US$50M companies who have no clue that the value of marketing goes well beyond handing out company-branded swag at a trade show or printing a brochure for sales to leave with prospective clients. Product marketing is just one area, but here’s what you can start doing even before you reach the point where product marketing staff can be hired:

  1. Understand the uses of your product and purchase motivations across all global markets.
  2. Leverage company competitive advantages.
  3. Gather and Analyze international competitive intelligence.
  4. Look at trends and other changes in the competitive, regulatory and industry environments that will affect sales.
  5. Provide key marketing insights into the product development process in the early stages to help define product features and functions that will best serve current and future clients.
  6. Create messaging for sales, marketing, partners, and company executives to stay on point not just at home but in all markets.


Tips for Great Product Marketing

Product Marketing is a field that attracts professionals from technical, marketing, analytical and research backgrounds. Here is my advice to making the most out of any product marketing project:

  • Ask questions, even when you think they may sound stupid. This is particularly key in global markets. We often assume that other markets buy and use our product for the same reasons as the home market. There can be any number of reasons why that would not be the case. Any number of corporate casualties have littered the global business landscape with their failure to adapt.
  • Listen proactively. It is not enough to ask a good question, but the answer may lead to the right follow-up questions. This can sometimes lead to uncovering a new market segment or product use, among other valuable insights.
  • Stay on top of trends affecting your markets. Set aside time each week to know what is happening in your industry. Is a competitor releasing a major product? Does a new regulation in Germany now reduce access to that market? Is the latest economic downturn going to affect market demand for your product? Knowing what’s coming can help your company to prepare.
  • Follow your curiosity into the data and with industry experts. I once uncovered a $24M market for a software company just by noticing a trend in existing company data and making a phone call on a hunch to a professional colleague I know from Twitter. Do ask some dumb questions. Follow those hunches!
  • Form strong relationships with product development staff. Instead of dictating product features, functions and appearance, it is better to partner closely with product development to jointly problem solve on key product definitions.


Product Marketing by its nature is proactive. Instead of waiting for competitors to leap ahead in product development or wondering why competitors are gaining market share or why the sales close rate has fallen, it is time to take control of your company’s destiny and growth path in a more systemic way.

Onward & upward!

Becky Park 
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The International Entrepreneur – 7 Warning Signs of an Undersized Marketing Department

Warning Signs of an Undersized Marketing Department


Marketing has earned a “money-wasting” reputation over the years from many a Gatsby-like marketing leader. But sometimes the pendulum swings too far towards austerity too. There can be a high risk of missed market opportunities when the current team just can’t “balance” it all. Here are a few examples from my experiences:


Marketing as a Dirty Word

Marketing Manager, “Bob” looked almost hobbit-like as the mountains of folders, papers and marketing paraphernalia boxed him into his undersized office. This WAS the marketing department for the mid-sized engineering firm. Maybe this was acceptable, if the firm was retaining clients and gaining new business based on reputation, but the top competitor in the industry had eclipsed Bob’s firm like a Ferrari passing a fiat on an Italian motorway. Bob knew what would turn around the current sales slump, but who was going to listen to one of the few company employees without an engineering degree?


The Never-Ending Marketing Project List

In another B2B technology company a few thousand kilometers away, “Rick” can barely contain his frustrations with the company’s marketing department. Rick asked the marketing department weeks ago for the materials he needed for his presentation in Singapore to a top prospective client. Marketing is always behind on requests as VPs continually rearrange marketing’s priority list, leaving Rick and his colleagues to create their own materials, messaging and presentation. There is always a risk of getting caught going off “brand”, but Rick would rather beg for forgiveness than ask for permission. It’s worth it if he can close the Singapore deal.


The Marketing “Ferrari” That Stalled Out

Still another company thousands of kilometers afield, a B2B enterprise software company with USD$100 million in annual revenue quietly admits that as part of rebuilding the company with new private equity, they currently have no marketing staff among their 1,500 employees worldwide. None. Existing clients remain happy paying their ongoing subscriptions. But market share is dropping as competitors smell blood in the water and investors expect to see returns soon.


How do you know if Marketing is too small?

Over the years I have seen various versions of undersized marketing teams. In some cases, company leadership ignores the marketing function altogether. These are the companies that seem genuinely perplexed when competitors eclipse their global market share. Here some signs:

1. Marketing staff become order takers for collateral and other marketing tools for sales and other departments.
This is actually a marketing leadership issue as well. A good marketing director, VP or CMO can set the department’s priorities and devise strategies for marketing assets to be easily templated and customizable in various markets. As Canadian international marketing expert Doug Taylor added this week in Twitter: [Undersized marketing teams are] “unable to respond to real requests quickly, scatter gun approach to marketing, lack of research capability”.

2. Online assets like the company website and social media accounts are underperforming and not driving or nurturing leads.
In the cases of all three example companies, their websites yielded poor SEO, few sales leads, or branded positioning as market leaders. All three had no social media or only placeholder accounts that again added no real value to the company.

3. Sales teams trying to do marketing tasks such as defining messaging and creating their own marketing collateral.
A company is strongest when their sales and marketing teams are both fully utilized. The best sales teams focus sales staff directly on sales interactions instead of creative marketing projects.

4. Inconsistent messaging and branding in various sales channels.
Nowhere is there a greater risk of losing control of your brand as in your global markets. An established global marketing team can help rein in renegade staff and partners.

5. Outsourcing long term even the most basic functions and paying contractor rates.
Plenty of marketing firms would be happy to perform even the most mundane marketing tasks for your company. Believe me. But there are two major issues with the Outsource-Your-Marketing Approach. First, your interests and your marketing firms interests may not always align. And second, it’s expensive compared with hiring marketing staff to take care of at least the basics of strategy and program management. Outsourcing limited specialty projects can actually be a great way to expand marketing’s capabilities. 

6. Lagging behind  the industry expansion rate.
I work mainly with software companies in expanding global markets. More than one company in the field has bragged about high growth rates with little marketing efforts. But on closer inspection, it was really a market growing at a fast rate. Their relative market share was less, which may matter later when the company owners want to exit.

7. Any competitive information is basically hearsay from the sales team.
Sales staff actually gain a great deal of competitive insights from their conversations with leads and clients. But relying on 2nd hand anecdotal information as the basis to make company decisions is high risk. A solid marketing team has the capabilities to collect and analyze competitive and industry data for better product development and executive decision making. Dutch Cultural Anthropologist and Business Consultant, Ursula Brinkmann agreed in Twitter this week as well: “@IntlEntreprenr Great question! Marketing team too small? Constant running after facts, fear re missed opportunity, jealousy re: competition.


A Happy Ending

Now Bob, our engineering firm marketing manager, has great news. A new CEO was hired to reverse the firm’s downward revenue spiral. Bob was quickly promoted to a Director level. He was initially given the budget to hire interns from a local college and some contractors to build a new website, develop a social media program, and write digital content. Later he added a few marketing staff who were able to take over the fully-functioning, digital lead-driving website as well as events management and other tasks. The marketing staff and budget increase was not dramatic for the overall size of the firm, but it made all the difference.  At first, the results were small, but then the marketing engine roared into its fuller potential. The last I heard, the firm was not only retaking the top market share position in the industry worldwide, but they were in a position to start acquiring smaller firms in their global markets.
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The International Entrepreneur – Choosing the Right Size for your Global Marketing Team

optimize global marketing team


Leading a company’s marketing team is truly a balancing act. It often feels like we walk a tightrope between budgets and expectations, producing real-time results and planning for the future, building the right structure for today and for a year down the road. What’s more, other department leaders may not even understand marketing basics, meaning that as marketing leader you must educate colleagues in addition to actual work leading to new revenue.

The question of how to optimize global marketing is at the forefront of most discussions I have with company leaders. And if there were some magic formula for maximizing global marketing potential, we would all know it and I would be out of a job. Like in all strategy, the marketing function needs to be responsive to its company, industry. It must leverage any existing talents and assets, and compensate for deficits.

There are many factors to consider when assessing your marketing function’s effectiveness. Here are a few that I have found to be critical:

Overall Growth Rate – There are companies with steady client revenue streams who need very little, if any permanent marketing team. But this is rare. Most companies need to grow in order to give a higher return to their investors. The higher the required growth rate, the more marketing (and sales) resources are needed to retain current clients and acquire new ones.

Competitive Environment – Some industries look more like war zones as marketing/sales teams wage lengthy battles to win new clients against the competition. Other companies claim to be so innovative that they have no competition (that’s never actually true, by the way). Global markets open variances in the competitive landscape. Your home market might require heavy marketing investment to be competitive while a market halfway around the world may be relatively light in competitors.

Strength of Value Proposition (and Clarity of Messaging) – Some companies market products that actually save lives (ex. Defibrillators). That’s a very strong value proposition with a relatively simple message. I once worked with a bioscience company where it took the CEO and Founder literally 90 minutes to explain the value of his product line. Now if you had a PhD in biology that time dropped to 15 minutes, but needless to say large marketing investment was needed to gain and keep attention while explaining the value.

Relative Strength of the Sales Team – In my experience, marketing and sales are twin functions that both need to be high functioning to catapult a company into serious growth rates. No matter how great the sales force, they will never make up for poor marketing. And no matter how smart the CMO and his/her team, they can’t take the place of sales. Focus on shoring up weakness on either side.

Marketing Leadership Capabilities– Many companies throw money at marketing and receive poor results when marketing’s leadership does not have talent. Signs that this may be happening in your company include: high marketing staff turnover, several major changes in brand in a short time period, lots of excuses about why marketing results are not measurable, and a reactionary-driven project list. Fix the leadership at the top before investing any more into a poorly functioning department.

Upfront Investment vs. Long-Term Growth – While there are some companies with large reserves of cash from private equity or retained earnings, most firms are a bit more cash strapped. What’s more, adding marketing staff and other resources rarely break even as investments until much later. Organic growth requires a slower hiring plan. Hiring too fast can potentially jeopardize the company’s ability to stay solvent.


Given these factors, here are questions to help assess your global marketing team’s relative size compared with their effectiveness:

  1. Is your current marketing function driving qualified new leads into your sales process at rates that will help the company reach its growth goals?
  2. Would an additional hire in some area of the marketing team directly impact the ability to retain current clients or find and nurture new prospects?
  3. Does the marketing team provide valuable competitive and business environment insights to help drive future product design and market entry choices?
  4. Is your marketing leader able to communicate a clear vision of their team’s roles and expected outcomes, including budget compared with outcomes?
  5. Is the company brand not only well represented in the marketplace, but consistent across all interactions with the company?
  6. Does the marketing team take advantage of marketing industry insights and present-day tools to further lead creation, inbound marketing, lead nurturing, and establishing a clear market position?
  7. Does everyone in the marketing team have clearly defined roles that directly relate to revenue growth?
  8. Is the current marketing team able to effectively manage marketing branding and outreach in all of its current global markets?


For the next few weeks I will be writing about optimizing global marketing functions. Please stay tuned for more stories and insights!


Best wishes in all of your international business efforts,

Becky Park 

The International Entrepreneur – How to Create International B2B Buyer Personas

International Entrepreneur - How to create international B2B Buyer Personas

“We’re going to want to expand into some new international markets next year as part of our growth strategy. Will the marketing team be ready for that?” asks your company CEO.

“Absolutely”, you quickly reply. As Chief Marketing Officer, you deserve part of the credit for your company’s successful revenue rise. You have built a strong engagement marketing program, attracting and nurturing leads. And really, how hard can it be to translate the website into a handful of key languages?

Using the Right Marketing Measuring Stick

The Truth: Translation and even website localization only scratch the surface of foreign market penetration. Every country and region around the world operates on a different set of business rules. This includes both regulations as well as cultural rules that can come in the form of assumptions, beliefs, expectations or values.

Put another way…if someone markets to you in English, do they automatically understand your buyer motivations?

The Right Measure: The only true marketing measures are quantitative results. Does your marketing program yield cost-effective results that are at or above levels needed to grow your company to stakeholder expectations? Are you able to deliver qualified leads into your sales process?

Today’s marketers are expected to deliver these outcomes. Gone are the days of unaccountable marketing expenditures for advertising, PR, and other low-return channels. That brings us to Buyer Personas. 

Buyer personas serve as a focal point for marketing messaging and content development. I use a buyer persona (Bob, the American mid-market CMO) to focus my writing towards one specific (imaginary) person who represents an important market segment for my consulting practice. It helps those who discover your product to self-select as to whether they belong in your target market. In contrast, choosing NOT to develop market-specific buyer personas gives your local competition a distinct competitive advantage.

Types of Motivators That Can Differ

Here are some areas that may be different than in your well-known home market. All of these factors should influence the development of your marketing team’s buyer personas.

Decision Makers/Influencers – Knowing who actually makes the decisions and who influences those decisions is key in marketing. For example, large purchase decisions are more likely group decisions in Sweden compared with France where the leader makes the decisions. Gatekeepers who keep sales and marketing contact away from their bosses may be more selective in Malaysia than in Canada.

Logic and Emotional Appeals – Marketing normally uses persuasion. But which appeals are the most effective? Again, it varies by culture. The Germans want mainly logic (strategy) to justify decisions. Australians tend to focus heavily on financial justification over all else. Parts of Latin America can rely on a mix that includes emotion-based decision-making.

Organization and Personal Motivations – While it is impossible to predict what will motivate a specific person, there are some cultural influences that can have strong effects. For instance, Chinese companies often have a long time horizon for strategic initiatives compared especially with American companies. On the personal side, the English often choose to keep professional and personal lives separate. In Mexico, the feeling is the opposite. Personal and professional lives are often overlapped.

Developing International Buyer Personas

If foreign markets are important to your company’s growth plan, then every market needs to have its own set of buyer personas representing, all key players in the buying process. The sets often include personas for a leader, technical expert, business expert, and the initial gatekeeper (leader’s assistant). The more complex and expensive the product, then usually the more people involved in its selection process. Most companies name their personas (Mr. Wang, Maria, Sven, etc.).

Step 1: Ask questions from local industry contacts to gain perspective.

We are looking specifically for what might be different between your home country’s approach and the approach needed in each target market. Two great sources are (1) any in-country representatives you may be working with and (2) in-country industry association contacts. Ask questions to help flush out information that contradicts your own cultural assumptions.
“Who are the normal decision makers and influencers in this type of sale”? “How does someone in this country search for information on products in this industry?” “What role does each person play in selection?” If anything said contradicts your assumptions, follow up with additional questions to better understand.

Step 2: Create Named Personas for Each Player in the Buying Process

Most B2B personas I have seen and/or developed for clients can be described in one page. It tells about this fictional person’s likely general background (education, work experience, age, etc.). It describes their role in relation to the rest of the company. Personas include the person’s motivations in their professional life including any possible fears (ex. fear of failure or embarrassment) or aspirations (ex. future promotions based on success). It should include the persona’s likely familiarity with your company’s product category and experience level in working with foreign companies like yours. If your company does business in France, India and Mexico, you should create persona sets for buying processes in all three countries.

Step 3: Buyer Persona Validation and Improvement

Once you have created your foreign market buyer personas, each set should be reviewed by a trusted source who has worked extensively in that market. Make adjustments accordingly. Over time, new information from experiences in market should help to continually refine your buyer personas.

I hope this helps your marketing team to create more effective global marketing programs!

Onward & upward,


Becky Park 

The International Entrepreneur

The International Entrepreneur – Maximizing the Potential of a Global Strategic Partnership

Global Strategic Partnership


I glanced up from the conference phone positioned in the middle of the table to catch the expression of quiet resignation in Hector, my client’s new Strategic Partnership Director. Hector’s Sales VP was talking on speaker phone to a potential strategic partner’s sales and partnership team. I realized in that moment that Hector knew what was going to happen.

Hector’s Sales VP was ignoring all of the research and analysis on how to make the most of the fortuitous opportunity to partner globally with a company expanding into the same markets that was in no way a direct competitor. The opportunities for these two companies to leverage each other’s strengths made for an extensive list – a list that was literally on the table in front of Hector’s Sales VP. But that’s not what was being discussed.

Instead, we had a one-way discussion about how the potential partner could fit neatly into my client’s international channel distributor program. No matter how Hector, the other company’s team or I tried to steer the conversation towards other strategic collaboration points, the Sales VP veered back to his single-minded agenda. The potential partner was far from impressed and the conversation soon ended with a few token follow-up tasks. Hector and I glanced again at each other. We both knew that the opportunity had passed.

The Sales VP seemed genuinely proud of himself in showing us how these partnership conversations should happen. Now I understood Hector’s expression more completely. This company’s leadership didn’t understand what strategic partners were. Until they figured it out (or listened to any number of sources) they were doomed to cripple their partnership potential.

International Distribution Partners are NOT the same as International Strategic Partners

This is far from an isolated situation. We see it all of the time, companies that underestimate the value they can get and receive from partnering for further international expansion. Since strategic partnerships normally fall somewhere either under sales or marketing functions in most companies, they tend to stay close to the known well-trodden paths such as channel distributorships. 

Strategic partnerships should never fit into one specific model. Instead, they should fill in the weak spots where the partner has strengths. Here are examples:

  • Partner B has excess capacity in their overseas production facility. They rent out their facilities to Partner A for a reasonable compensation (monetary or perhaps a trade of some kind).
  • Partner A will be exhibiting at a key international trade show. It’s a sizable investment. Partner B only needs to meet with a few key prospects at the show. Partner A gives an exhibitor pass to B’s Sales VP to have access to those prospects.
  • Partner A has access to a government grant in their country that supports research and development. Partner B sends a key engineer to work for 6 months in Partner A’s overseas facility. The technology is used in both companies selling into their own respective markets.
  • Partner A has a strong presence in Europe while Partner B has built up the Asian market. Since they sell different products to the same market, they agree to help each other make key introductions to potential clients in their strong markets.

The possibilities are endless so long as there is benefit to both partners and the risks are manageable. Strategic partnerships work best when both partners are dependent on each other and breaking up would be painful.

Here’s an approach to maximizing the potential of your partnerships:

  1. Spend time up front to develop a trusted connection with partner’s key staff. This is critical to long-term success. There has to be trust between company leaders or the partnership will quickly fall apart. This means spending time together preferably in person or at least in video conferencing. There may need to be cultural adjustments in this process depending where your target strategic partner is based.
  2. Ask open-ended questions about the other side’s goals, capabilities, challenges, etc. You’re looking for opportunities and challenges here. What is happening in their business that would also help your company? Is it best practices? Specific expertise? Access to capital? Client base? Key connections? Successful marketing channels? What are the challenges that they face in terms of internal limitations or external threats? The more you know, the better you can position your negotiations.
  3. Inventory what your side can offer in exchange. In looking for what your company has to offer, think of what would be easy to give. Space in a trade show booth is a great example. So are some introductions to some of your client accounts where it makes the most sense. But look further into areas like production, talent, finance and logistics for opportunities to build off of excess capacity.
  4. Look for creative trades that benefit both sides. In international expansion, one company may already have a foothold in the market, creating the opportunity to share knowledge and initial connections. If both companies want to enter the same new market, there is an opportunity to collaborate on research, saving time and staff resources.
  5. Continue to evaluate and renegotiate over time. In any partnership, it is smart to periodically revisit the projects or programs that are still benefiting both parties and those that should be discontinued because they have become ineffective or irrelevant due to changing circumstances. This is also the time to see if new collaboration opportunities have surfaced.

For growing companies, global strategic partnerships are a way to acquire new competitive advantages in most cases faster than developing those same assets your own. It does require company leaders to put egos and fears aside to talk about what would truly propel the company forward towards long-term goals. As for Hector’s company, leadership has yet to get past their own internal roadblocks, but Hector remains hopeful that they will. 
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The International Entrepreneur – What’s Missing Globally in the Connection Economy?

International Entrepreneur Global Connection Economy

A few years ago, Seth Godin famously introduced the Connection Economy into our lexicon to describe how connecting people, companies and resources was a source of increasing value creation in our world.

Since you’re reading this article, that means that you are part of this global technology revolution and probably interact with it frequently. Here are just a few of my own examples of engaging this Connection Economy from this past week:

  • I collaborated via email with my client’s Malaysian country manager to reach her target leads using calls, emails and social media.
  • I took a call from a company in New York looking for an Uruguayan business culture expert. They found my website through Google. I referred them to an Uruguayan contact whom I have never met face to face, but regularly network with in social media.
  • I Skyped to mentor a Canadian rising star in the international marketing field, who is building a consulting practice.

On a personal level:

  • I sent my teenage son, Nathan on a foreign exchange with AFS Intercultural Programs. That means that he will stay with a host family in Italy for 5 weeks whom we have never met before, but were vetted locally by AFS.
  • My Brazilian exchange student, Matheus came home safely from a gathering with friends via a ride from an Uber driver.
  • I took a few daydreaming moments and surfed AirBNB for a nice house rental near the beach in San Diego for Labor Day Weekend in September.


When Seth Godin originally described the Connection Economy, he said that it required four pillars:

  1. Coordination. This may be coordinating between people as in the case of Uber. It could coordinate the exchange of money as is the case of crowdfunding. And often it’s the coordination and exchange of information.
  2. Trust. The parties involved need to have a reason to trust each other. Trust is normally built on a foundation of consistent words and actions by people and companies. Now we are trusting partners and vendors whom we may have never actually met before in person.
  3. Permission. In the Connection Economy, we voluntarily surrender our information, but only after trust is established.
  4. Exchange of Ideas. This blog (and everyone else’s blog) are part of that exchange of ideas. So is a review site that tells me what current and past employees think about working for a company I’m considering as a partner.


Without these pillars, companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook, and countless other Connection companies including my own would not exist. But let’s get out of the American-only point of view and expand to…


Bringing a Global Context into the Connection Economy

This may seem confusing to some. After all, isn’t the Connection Economy by its very nature borderless, allowing for seamless access to markets and resources from anywhere in the world? Ideally – yes, but in reality – no. Here’s some context:


Access to Connectivity is Far from Universal

 As of 2019, 4.4 billion people in the world had access to the internet.  This still leaves  almost half of the world population still without access.  There are some sizable barriers to improving access to conduits of information and opportunities that include education, disposable income to buy the necessary tools and services, and even interest.


Language and Culture Create Information Silos

The Connection Economy had the perfect solution to bridging language gaps and reaching new markets: Google Translate and other translation widgets that could quickly convert English content effortlessly into dozens of other languages. How clever! Those who tried it soon learned that language is much more nuanced and complex than first thought. Literal translations yield some major mistakes that have cost companies dearly.

Culture is even more complicated. It underpins what determines whether a company or person is worthy of Pillar #2: Trust. Cultural rules run deep and when someone unwittingly violates these rules, the business relationship might never resume. Think of it another way. For all of the interactions you have had over the years with international contacts where you thought the other side was being unreasonable and disagreeable – 90%+ of those negative reactions were probably cultural misunderstandings. The solution is to hire a culture coach to help navigate the norms in key markets and relationships.


Regulations Often Protect Entrenched and Local Interests

The Connection Economy has displaced more than a few cab drivers and telephone book printers. It has upended whole industries. In many places around the globe, those who profit from keeping things as they are have invested in supporting laws that protect their interests. Before doing business in a new country, be sure to consult with country specialists who can advise you of any problematic restrictions.


Expect the Next Great Connecting Concepts to Come from Anywhere in the World

While we tend to see many Connection companies rise out of industry clusters like Silicon Valley, London, Boston, Santiago, Mumbai and Tel Aviv, ideas can come from anywhere. As part of the exchange of ideas, we need to encourage and support new startups with great concepts with our patronage and investment capital – regardless of location.


As the beneficiaries of the Connection Economy, it’s important to keep in mind that there is no global standard. We need to increase overall access to the Internet worldwide, providing new opportunities to billions of people. It’s important not to mistake your home market’s perspective, language and cultural rules as the world’s norm. Be prepared for reactions to change in various corners of the world. And watch for the next great advancements in our technology revolution.

Onward & upward

Becky Park 
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The International Entrepreneur – Trump and other Branding Issues in International Business


International Entrepreneur, Branding Issues in International Business

Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom, President Barack Obama, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Jos? Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, and others watch the overtime shootout of the Chelsea vs. Bayern Munich Champions League final (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

I was waiting on the platform for the train from Bedford to London Heathrow. It was October 2004 and I struck up a conversation with a local businessman (staying true to my American stereotype of perpetual friendliness). After a few minutes, the gentleman asked me what was really on his mind.

What could Americans be thinking to not only have elected President George W. Bush once, but to be poised to reelect him for a second term?? To most Brits, it seemed ridiculous.

I remember standing on the platform trying to explain how our media had splintered into audience segments where an American could hear and read literally only the point of view that they already held. That the United States was politically split in half – sometimes leaving friends or family members on the other side of the opinion divide. My new British acquaintance seemed generally satisfied with that answer. But I was left to ponder about the effect that my country’s leader was having on American business in overseas markets.

Four years later, I was in Beijing and was surprised by the adulation the Chinese openly felt for Barack Obama. I see the same widespread enthusiasm for leaders like Canadian PM, Justin Trudeau and Pope Francis. It’s the type of branding that helps to open doors to new diplomatic relationships and in the case of the pope, new ideas.

This country “branding” issue/opportunity is not universal. Larger countries garner more regional and international attention than their smaller neighbors. Every country has local and regional issues, whether they be fishing rights or an upcoming presidential election. As Americans traveling internationally, we notice that our presidential elections receive press coverage literally all over the world. When a candidate like Donald Trump says something controversial meant to keep him as the top news story in the U.S., it is heard around the world and interpreted in many ways.


If all of this sounds like a distraction to most international business – it is.


Most of us avoid talking about politics, religion, and certainly any hot button issues when doing business abroad. We want to achieve our business goals. And alienating potential clients or partners with strongly-held contrary opinions is a recipe for disaster on any continent.


Here is advice on how to manage country branding in business:

  1. Most important: Do no harm. Don’t bring up controversial topics that need not be breached. No conversations about the refugee crisis with Europeans. No conversations with Brazilians about their recession. No AIDS talks with Africans. The list goes on, but this is where controversy stays in personal conversations rather than in business talks.
  2. Don’t take offense where none was intended. The temptation to react to statements about your country’s leaders or issues is understandable. It’s much more personal to a German to talk about Angela Merkel than for me to bring her up into conversation. Your German counterparts likely had a vote for or against her party’s election. When you would normally react, stop and first gauge the intention of the offender.
  3. Ask about the filters that color someone’s opinion. When an entire business dinner in Jordan stops talking and eating to hear your opinion of gun violence in the U.S., you can answer with the universal truth – it’s complicated. Then immediately start asking questions to learn what your fellow guests have heard and what they think about the issue. This will help you to carefully frame your answers to stay true to yourself and diplomatic to your fellow guests. If this sounds like too much hassle compared with a direct answer, remember that media, culture and personal experiences frame all of our perspectives. Do I know what a Jordanian thinks about this issue? Not until I ask.
  4. Always learn a country’s basic information before travel and doing business. This includes the country’s leader, their economic and social topics, and hot button issues. This takes the pressure off of your own country’s branding (if it’s negative) because you can ask questions about topics that your hosts should appreciate. It also is a signal that you have a basic respect for places where you do business (for more on showing local respect, please read my articles on Respect and also Social Corporate Responsibility).
  5. Pull the conversation back to how the subject impacts business and trade. As business professionals, this is usually a common area and one with less friction. And most leaders and topics can usually be tied back to it. For example, Are new immigrants helping the U.S.? Immigrants represent a significant number of working adults in our economy. Most are bilingual with the capability to serve multiple markets. While there are adjustment issues, the U.S. has always absorbed immigrant populations successfully. So I would answer yes. It’s a business answer to a question that has social, political and cultural implications. If the topic is a tricky one, then this business focused answer is a helpful bridge into another business topic that furthers building the business relationship.


No matter your political, cultural, social or economic views, managing key conversations helps further your international business dealings. Remember to (1) do no harm, (2) avoid taking offense, (3) ask for others’ opinions to understand their perspective, (4) know a country’s basic information and (5) pull conversations back to business topics as needed.

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The International Entrepreneur – Tips for Being an International Distributor

Tips for Being an International Distributor

A Kenyan distributor recently wrote to me asking for advice to build an in-country distributor business. He was interested in representing more products in the Kenyan market and wanted to find the right suppliers for his business. That is a great topic especially given both the opportunities associated with reselling globally-branded products and the risks of working with new supplier partners. Here is my advice:


Specialize by Client Profile and Seek Related Products

I remember traveling once in Italy and visiting Pisa with its famous vertically-challenged tower. The sky filled with clouds and all at once a heavy shower drenched every tourist in sight, sending everyone running for cover. The nearby Ethiopian entrepreneurs tucked away their packs of postcards just in time and switched to selling umbrellas covered with images of famous Italian sites. I still have my emergency Pisa umbrella purchased that day. These Ethiopians knew their target market: tourists like me. Our changing needs were their new opportunities.

This is true for business-to-business markets as well. All companies look for resources to help them find smart solutions to their challenges. Whether your clients are hospitals, schools, young tech companies or any other profile, learn what they need through conversations in order to identify the types of products you should be representing. If your company wants to expand to serve more diverse sets of clients, consider adding staff or even teams to address this new market rather than spread resources too thin across a disconnected base.


Define Your Geography

Distributors normally cover a specific region. In a large country, this may be a handful of states or provinces or even as small as a metropolitan area if the local product demand is high. But in some areas of the world, a distributor may be able to cover a much larger area because clients are located far from each other. In the case of Africa, a distributor with headquarters in Nairobi may hire employees or contractors in neighboring countries like Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania to help him sell products in those countries. But whatever the size of the distributor’s covered territory, it is vitally important that they are able to support sales throughout the whole area with local language, on-site visits, etc.


Focus on Business Relationships Over Transactions

As a reseller for an international product, your business depends on both your relationships with both your suppliers in another country as well as the relationships with your clients. Transaction-based sales assume that you do not care if you do business with this client again. Relationship-based selling includes:

  • Building Trust. It takes time to earn a client or supplier’s trust. One of the most important components of trust-building is consistently delivering on what you say you will do.
  • Building Reputation. Your reputation is how others would describe you and your business. Do they see you as someone who delivers product on time? Do you work hard to find new potential clients? Do you contact target accounts regularly to find out their needs? A good reputation always leads to referrals to new suppliers and clients. It is a key long-term investment.
  • Caring about both suppliers and clients’ success. Long-term relationships as a distributor and supplier always should focus on how to help your suppliers and clients succeed. If you serve the hospital market, then how do your clients define success? What keeps them from being more successful in your market? Even if you can’t solve a problem like the need for investors, a lack of qualified medical staff or new government health regulations, it shows great concern and understanding to acknowledge challenges they face and to be looking for ways to help them be successful.


Find Suppliers You Can Trust Now and Later

Start on the right footing by carefully choosing companies and products you want to represent. Have a clear explanation about how each supplier and their products fits with the rest of your product offering to your clients.

Build international supplier networks with those you feel you can trust. Even the best product fit must also be met with a trustworthy staff. Does the supplier take time to talk with you? Do the company employees follow through with what they say and do?

Before signing on as a distributor, be sure to check a company’s reputation in both their country and yours. A third party investigator can verify this for you. Also, you can ask to talk with other distributors currently working with the company.


International distributors is a popular option for growing companies to reach new markets. It is equally beneficial for those companies in the overseas markets wanting to represent new offerings. As a distributor you will want to focus on a specific client profile and geographic region. Focusing on identifying and building business relationships with overseas suppliers is more important than those early sales. Only work with those you can trust!

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