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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 -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 – 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 – 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 – Structuring Your Website for International Markets

 

url, international website, international business, international entrepreneurIn today’s business world, a website is your company’s front door. And with few exceptions, effective search engine optimization (SEO) and a well-branded experience are the difference between long-term success and bankruptcy. Managing the transition of a website into international markets can be crucial.

Most companies initially set up their websites in one of two ways. One is to create a website with a generic Top Level Domain (TLD) such as www.company-name.com. The second is to choose a domain and TLD that’s specific to their home market (ex. www.britishcompany.co.uk). But there comes a time in a company’s foray into international markets when decisions about structural changes should be made. Company leaders ask:

Do we ignore differences between markets & leave our website strategy alone?

OR… Develop a sub-domain structure or subdirectory structure within our company site to accommodate for the new foreign markets?

OR…. Localize with TLD Country Codes to create market-specific sites?

As with most international business questions, the answer is, it depends!

 

The Main Website Internationalization Options

  1. Leave the Website Alone

Let’s start with the easiest option, which is essentially to do nothing fundamentally different with the website structure. The typical international fix is include an international contacts page listing local distributors. If I had a company called “Great Idea”, then my company website domain might be www.GreatIdea.com in order to stay geographically neutral.

  1. Develop a Sub-Domain and/or Sub-Directory Structure within Your Website

Some companies choose to manage their websites all within the same TLD. Websites with Sub-Domains are actually considered separate from their parent sites. In the Great Idea Company, a subdomain could be www.french.GreatIdea.com or www.France.GreatIdea.com.

A Sub-Directory Structure would involve a directory structure like: www.GreatIdea.com/France/ or www.GreatIdea.com/french/. What some companies don’t realize is that sub-domains and sub-directories can be used together, if the situation is right.

  1. Localize with TLD Country Codes

In this approach, your company would create separate sites for each market. For Great Idea Company, I would create a site for each of my key markets: www.greatidea.com, www.greatidea.co.uk, www.greatidea.cn, www.greatidea.de, etc. You would also have the option to rebrand your product or subsidiary name locally: www.buenidea.es, www.goedidee.nl, www.brilliantconcept.co.uk , etc.

What are the Trade Offs Between Approaches?

There’s no right answer about which approach is best, only that certain situations call for one approach over another. I have been working with a Canadian services company with a company.ca TLD. As they look to expand into first the American market and then further into European markets, their Canadian country code TLD will become increasingly confusing to their markets. They will need to decide how to move forward. Here are some of the trade offs that this company and all internationalizing organizations should consider:

  • Better In-Country SEO – This is one of the top reasons to add country-specific sites. The SEO for Google.fr, Google.ca, etc. is much higher for TLDs with Country Codes. There is some benefit for the sub-domains and sub-directories. And non-altered sites get very little in-country SEO.
  • Control Over Localized Customer Experience – Customers in other countries may approach the buying process in completely different ways than in your home market. There may be different influencers, a different level of comfort with online sales, and different motivations for buying. With separate sites, and to some extent sub-domains and sub-directories, you can tailor this experience.
  • More Websites to Manage – Additional websites with TLDs varying country codes OR new sub-domains will take more effort to manage than sticking with your original single website. There are staffing time considerations.
  • More Expensive to Register and Maintain – Multiple sites mean more domain registrations. There may even be cyber squatters who have registered your brand’s domain name under other country codes. (This has actually happened to my domain name in Hong Kong and Mainland China.)
  • Local Market Expectations – Do foreign market customers look for your type of product or service mainly in their own language and country code? A recent survey by Smartling found that 9 out of 10 of B2B industry professionals only looked for products and services in their own language.
  • Local Support Expectations – When the website TLD is country specific, there can be an expectation that customer support is local and that support is in the local language.

These are just a few considerations when deciding how to structure your website to support international markets. If your company has not yet chosen an international website approach) keep in mind the future so as to not create extra work developing a domestic-only site without the flexibility to expand into the world.

The International Entrepreneur – 3 Ideas for Building Rapport with International Contacts

international business rapportHave you ever been working with an international partner or client and suddenly found yourself in an unexpected conflict? This often happens in cross-cultural communications. It can lead to awkwardness and strain in the business relationship. This happened to me last year when working with a team of Chinese business professionals. Unfortunately I couldn’t directly ask the group what was wrong, but clearly things had gotten off track. It took a while to realize that what I had requested from the group’s leader was actually impossible to get and caused him to lose face. The entire group dynamic was shot for the day and I worked furiously to get us back to a pre-embarrassment point.

The good news is that when you spend time to cultivate strong bonds, many smaller conflicts and misunderstandings can be cleared up based on built-up goodwill. Likewise, some misunderstandings never come to pass because communication lines are more open. In the long run, building rapport saves time and money with faster deal making and more effective conflict resolution.

Here are ideas for building rapport that are proven to work:

  1. Consistent Contacts

When I say consistent, I’m talking about both periodic visits to meet with the contacts face to face AND keeping the same people connected to the relationship. I see many tech companies missing both components. Video conferencing, phone calls and emails can never take the place of building rapport in country. And when there is a major problem, it helps greatly to travel to the source of the issue to help resolve it. It shows great commitment to the partners, clients and suppliers involved.

The second critical piece is keeping the same company staff connected to key accounts or suppliers. Even when Joe gets a promotion from sales manager to VP Sales, he should take an active role with accounts he cultivated. Otherwise, the rapport building starts over. In most of the world, relationships are between individuals, not companies.

  1. Learn the Cultural Rules

This may seem like a given, but you’d be surprised how much today’s execs don’t necessarily know about their international counterparts. Last year I spoke with an American CEO who was baffled by the English. He had been spending time south of London with a company they were acquiring and stumbling through simple cultural differences. For example, don’t ask an Englishman about his life outside of business. It’s considered none of your business.

  1. Never Underestimate Shared Experiences

Share experiences can take on many different forms depending on the cultures involved. Some prefer to build rapport outside of work. For instance, the Chinese like to take their special guests on tourist trips to get to know the area. The Japanese like to go out drinking (the Russians as well). Businesswomen all over Latin America often watch Mexican Telenovelas. Others focus on joint business activities. German counterparts may like to do some sales calls together. Regardless of the activity, getting to know your contacts will serve you well during any challenging times!

The International Entrepreneur – International Expansion: Organic or Acquisition?

You may be asking yourself if your approach to international expansion is the right one. Should you grow organically by the strength of expanded international sales? Or would the right company acquisition in the local market be a shortcut that provides instant market access?

As with most questions in international business, the answer is:it depends.

Why (or Why Not) Grow Organically?

The International Entrepreneur ?International Expansion: Organic or Acquisition?

Shanghai – old & new

There are two main reasons why you would want to grow organically. First, it usually requires less upfront capital investment than buying a local company. Since many growing companies are low on unused capital and may have limited access to debt financing, organic growth could be the better fit. Second, going it alone allows your company to control everything: brand, client relationships, finances, processes and your company culture. For some industries, control is paramount to manageing competitive advantages like intellectual property or internal efficiencies that lower cost structure.

Motivations for NOT growing organically include slower growth. For companies that need aggressive growth as part of their exit strategy (ex. acquisition or merger), then organic growth might not be assertive enough. Also, the organic growth path has a higher chance of making cultural or market-related mistakes. The company may not understand the market’s buying patterns or time frame. A local company would already understand how business is conducted & avoid this risk altogether.

 

Why (or Why Not) Acquire a Local Company?

Acquiring a local company gives you immediate access to local markets, revenue streams and likely to required local connections to government and business resources. The local company already understands business cultures, language, etc. And not every company is strapped for cash. Post-IPO or after an investment round a company may have need to put capital to work as soon as possible. Acquisition may be a strategic shortcut for companies like these.

I see two main challenges for your company doing foreign acquisitions. First, there’s a sizable risk of being oversold on the local company’s value. Other countries valuate differently. Plus as a company is sold key players might leave, creating a hole in client relationship management or other vital functions. This is also a point where a departing employee may take intellectual property outside of the company, thereby reducing company value.

The second main risk I see is one of integration with the new company. Many companies choose to have the local acquired company operate independently of the parent firm in order to avoid integration issues. But there are still likely to be numerous cultural misunderstandings and reduced productivity over integration issues.

For Either Approach, How to Mitigate Some Big Risks

Market Research

It is critical to extensively research your foreign target before market entry. This includes both analyzing secondary data collected by government and industry sources, as well as primary research conducted in country. If international market research is a company forte, then you should do it internally. If not, then outsource this critical step to a qualified international advisor. Intimate market knowledge will make organic market entry and acquisitions much more successful.

Set Aside Additional Budget

No matter how much a company expects to invest into market expansion, it is wise to set aside additional funds for the unexpected (and there is almost always several unanticipated expenses).

Troubleshoot In Country

In any market or subsidiary there will be issues that arise. This is even truer in international markets. The distances may be challenging financially or logistically, but going to visit in person often can clear up issues quicker than a phone call. It’s easier to see a problem and to understand it in context. Again, if you or your team members can’t travel consider sending an experienced international business advisor to investigate and recommend solutions.

A Third (Middle) Option for Expansion

Another option between organic and acquisition would be to seek out a strategic partnership with a local company. While such a relationship needs to be defined and cultivated with great care, it eliminates some of the disadvantages of both organic growth and acquisition. First, there’s no large upfront capital outlay like in an acquisition. The right partner would have both the immediate cultural and market knowledge to help speed product acceptance and avoid the organic method’s slow growth and cultural missteps. And when the partnership is no longer needed, there is no need to dispose of assets.

To explore potential strategic partnerships, consult with your local government export office, industry organizations or an international business advisor for referrals and advice in how to proceed.

As an international business advisor to B2B technology and professional services companies, I can help your company with any of the following:

  • International market research
  • Troubleshooting international operations or marketing/sales issues
  • Searching for potential strategic partners and developing an action plan

I can be reached at: Contact – The International Entrepreneur

Best of success to you in all of your international business efforts!

 

– Becky Park, The International Entrepreneur

The International Entrepreneur – Advertising and Other B2B Marketing Dinosaurs

embarrassedWorking with technology companies requires developing a strong marketing program that both integrates all marketing channels together and delivers a high value for the investment. But once in a while I still find remnants from a bygone marketing era that just won’t die a natural death. Here are a few dinosaurs that are worth cleaning out of your marketing plan:

Traditional Advertising (and even Non-Traditional)

While it is widely known and accepted in B2B markets that advertising’s influence has been declining for decades, there are some companies that hang on to advertising as one of their channels. It might be in a trade journal or search-word-driven on-line ads. The days of vanity advertising, creating and running ads just to feel good about the company’s image, are long gone. If your B2B company still runs ads in any form, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What’s your return on investment for your advertising budget? How many qualified leads are coming in from the ads? What’s the average value of a qualified lead multiplied by the number of leads? Now divide by the cost of advertising to find your return.
  • Is there additional value that you are receiving from that ad? For instance, some trade publications offer to write articles about their advertisers. If the value of the “free” public relations yields more qualified leads than your ads, then definitely consider that as you are calculating ROI.

Segregated Marketing and Sales Functions

Gone are the days where marketing and sales were completely separate roles. In small companies, this may even be the same person (hopefully not with a split personality!). Yet, there are still B2B companies out there with entrenched lines of demarcation between what should be highly integrated functions. Every trip a sales rep takes to another city should be reflected in marketing’s content and communications. Every key marketing message should be used by sales reps. Many companies already have tightly connected marketing and sales functions. But for those of you who have this issue, take your counterpart out to lunch and start planning for a more successful future.

Costs + Mark-Up Pricing Strategy

Gone are the days where pricing was a mark-up from the cost structure. Today, B2B companies need to find out the expected pricing from potential customers. What are your competitors charging? If you don’t have competitors, then what’s the alternative to your product or service? If the true market price is higher than what you charge, then enjoy a higher profit margin. If your true market price is lower, then it’s time to improve your cost structure with lower-cost inputs or more efficient operations.

Marketing Strategy That Changes with the Wind

And finally, while outdated and underperforming marketing channels should be retired, your marketing strategy should remain steadfast. What’s worse than having a bad marketing strategy is having one that changes month to month depending on the latest developments in the market place. And the absolute worst flip-flopping strategies are one that copy various competitors. Your competitors build their strategies based on their own strengths, not yours. It’s better to put more thought into a marketing strategy up front and then commit to it.

I hope this helps you and your colleagues to build better, stronger B2B companies. If you need help developing strategy or a plan that involves multiple geographic markets, please contact me.

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