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The International Entrepreneur ? 5 False Assumptions That Can Hold You Back from Global Success

international assumptions, international business, international marketing

 

I have been fortunate these past 10 years to mentor a promising international marketing professional. ?Quinn? recently went back to university to complete his international MBA. He just accepted a position in Tennessee where he will be building international channels from the ground up in B2B & B2C markets. It?s an exciting opportunity for anyone in our field of international marketing.

Quinn knew where to start when he was hired last month. He worked with engineering to define the product changes required in order to meet international standards (CE, etc.). He developed a selection criteria to pick the right early international markets where the company would focus resources (UAE, Mexico & Australia). He identified a freight forwarder who will provide the right kinds of logistic support. And he started to identify opportunities to meet the right kinds of in-country partners to facilitate business deals and new client acquisition. Quinn seems to be on the right track towards providing a solid foundation to his international expansion.

But others are often not so fortunate. What is much more common to find are one or more of the following false assumptions underlying early-stage expansion decision making. A failed international expansion can scare a company?s leadership for years away from what should be lucrative international markets.

 

Assumption #1: We are focusing on the right markets.

To get to the heart of where this assumption can steer leaders astray, ask the question ?how did we come to decide on which countries to expand to first?? In Quinn?s case some of the main factors were: one or more hot weather seasons and markets that could serve as a gateway to a larger region. Mexico is a great entry country to Latin America and the Caribbean. The UAE is closely economically linked to the rest of the Middle East. And Australia has New Zealand and Southeast Asia as neighboring trade partners.

Often companies instead choose countries where they have a contact or is a key staff member?s country of origin. Companies might follow a language to markets that really don?t make sense based on a more strategic criteria that focuses on long-term profitability.

 

Assumption #2: Our staff is ready to engage with international clients and partners.

To find out if your staff is ready, start with questions like: ?Who on staff has experience working with international clients?? ?How does staff feel about taking on international clients?? While the international expansion leader may be excited about his role, this does not mean that others share his background or attitudes.

Be sure that staff hear about the importance of the international expansion from company leaders. Informally, the international expansion leader should be having conversations to hear any concerns or questions from colleagues. After all, there is nothing worse than generating international sales leads only to have sales reps quietly leave international calls unreturned.

 

Assumption #3: Business moves at the same speed everywhere.

In my home country, the U.S., we typically create partnerships and close sales deals faster than in other countries. Now before you pat yourselves on the backs about our superior business skills and efficiency, please understand that this does not mean that ours are always well-built deals. In fact, misunderstandings and untrusting partners are far less likely to yield the same long-term profitability.

You can ask yourself, ?Does my entire leadership team understand that the international expansion will move slower than we may be used to in our home market?? ?Am I willing to invest in direct professional relationships including in-person visits to solidify and maintain strong and successful business ties??

 

Assumption #4: The same rules apply? everywhere.

Definitely no. This is one of the biggest challenges in international business. The rules most definitely change based on country and local market. Rules that change include product standards, packaging requirements, forbidden marketing tactics, expectations of ?gifts?, and how local businesspeople conduct themselves.

To prepare for these new rules, definitely do your research before that first contact. There are many sources of culture and legal information available online. There are also consultants who specialize in a particular region or country who can help.

 

Assumption #5: We already have all the answers.

There are international business professionals who spend a great deal of time staying current on how to do business effectively around the world. And they don?t even have all of the answers. What the great ones have is a strong network of resources who specialize in areas of international business and geographic regions.

As a company leader, ask yourself ?what do we need to know in order to be successful and lower our exposure to risk?? ?what areas are we already experiencing challenges?? Again, you can save budget by doing online research with reputable sources or else hire competent international expansion specialists.

Either way, your company will be much better positioned to reach its full global potential!

 

I hope you found this article useful. For more Tips and Tools from Becky DeStigter, The International Entrepreneur, sign up here.

The International Entrepreneur- How to Engage the Right International Network Connectors

business networking, international trade, international entrepreneur, International network connections can be the oil that lubricates the international business engine and allows the machine to move efficiently forward. The right overseas introduction at the right time can propel a company forward into a strategic relationship or a high-value client. Without those introductions, you feel like that high school student who never gets asked to the dance ? under appreciated, awkward and never able to live up to your full potential.

The truth is that networking is an inherently messy, disorganized business. Finding the right connections can be quite tricky. Much time can be wasted trying to meet the right potential Brazilian client and British partner. For now business relationships in most parts of the world are built on direct peer-to-peer relationships and trust built those individuals. That is different than in the U.S, Germany, Australia and other business environments where contracts are the foundation of all working partnerships and transactions. Most of Asian, African and Latin American business builds on direct relationships instead.

You have probably observed that some people are just inherently better at networking than others. You may even know a few of these ?super connectors? who seem to know just about everyone. I have seen two types ? the super connectors who trade introductions almost like currency and those who have a larger agenda to promote other services or even the success of their region. A great example of the latter type is super connector is Arlene Marom. Based in Tel Aviv, Arlene is deeply networked in to the Israeli tech community. She also networks in Europe and North America to both find her own clients for marketing services and to connect Israeli companies with international markets.

 

As a company leader, here are some ways that you can engage with the right international connectors:

Reach out and start asking smart questions

I normally ask industry contacts, ?who do you think I should talk to about doing business in Country X?? Sometimes I go through a few referrals before I find that well-connected resource. But even the well connected can have ulterior motives. Be sure to get third party validation that your super connector has a solid reputation. Then keep asking questions to learn how to do business in this new environment and who the right people are to know.

Respect the Networker?s Role & Reputation

When a network connector makes an introduction for you, they are putting their reputation on the line. It is vital to be modest, engaging, quick to respond and highly professional. It is also a good practice to report back on progress with that relationship to your network connector. Now that said, there may be times when you accidently let those introductions languish untouched. If this happens, engage as soon as you can with a sincere apology. It may take time to rebuild trust. But is also might be altogether too late to salvage the introduction. Never ignore the lead entirely for the sake of your relationship with your network connector.

Find a way to make it worth the Networker?s effort

One of the challenges of being the ?connectors? between companies that should be doing business together is the business model. How do you get paid for introductions? No one knows the value of the relationship about to be forged, if it even moves forward at all. Be sure to find a way to make introductions worth the network connector?s time. This could be a commission based off of the increase in revenue. It could be referrals back to this connector for leads to contract for their services. Or it could be a gift. Always be aware of bribery laws, particularly in the case of any government officials, and follow the laws closely.

It?s never too early to start building your own international network

Networking styles vary greatly. Some engage closely with colleagues and others who they interact with frequently. Others are highly social and know hundreds if not thousands of people. Regardless of your style, reach out to new people when possible and keep positive work relationships strong through the years. I also encourage you to find mentors and take on your own prot?g?s. Mentor-prot?g? relationships tend to be some of the strongest.

Remember that to be effective in international business, at least some relationships will likely need to span both your professional and personal circles. You will need to care about what your connections care about: children’s weddings, health, holidays, etc. Get invested in their lives for the long term.

 

As you continue to grow into international markets, the right connections can be absolutely crucial. Even young companies pre-internationalization should consider making connections. Connections won?t be instantaneous ? it takes time to forge new relationships. Invest wisely!

As a thank you to my loyal readers, you can download my International Market Entry Checklist without cost. From time to time I also send out tips and tools to help growing companies become more globally competitive. Click here to sign up and download this Checklist.

The International Entrepreneur – How to Manage Holidays Around the World

business, international, holiday

 

The end of the year is approaching and now is an ideal time to reflect how you and your organization acknowledge important holidays celebrated by your international and domestic clients. In many parts of the world, the year?s passing is marked by its major national, cultural and religious holidays. Most of us have developed ways to reach out to our family and friends to acknowledge the passing of holidays. In business, I would encourage you to embrace the cycle of major cultural and religious holidays, using it to forge deeper connections with customers and partners. In most parts of the world, business relationships are forged between people instead of between companies. Those relationships are the glue that hold your business partnerships together.

Here are some suggestions:

Find out who celebrates which key holidays

In today’s multicultural workforce, it is sometimes difficult to know if an individual celebrates the major holidays associated with a country’s culture or religion. For instance, normally people of the Islamic faith celebrate Eid Al-Fitr to mark the end of Ramadan, the Islamic month of reflection and fasting. But not all celebrate this holiday. For instance, I know a Muslim woman from Lebanon who does not participate in the rituals related Ramadan, but does actually celebrate the gift-giving ritual of Christmas. The best way to find out is to ask your key contacts which major holidays they celebrate.

National holidays can sometimes be just as important as religion-based holidays. It is often a day where businesses are closed. In some countries like China, people return to ancestral homes and are out of the office for more than a week. A simple acknowledgement of national holidays is enough.

Most holidays are cyclical, falling on the same day each year. But some like Ramadan are based on the lunar calendar. Also be aware that some countries have similar holidays, but celebrate on different days or even with vastly different traditions. For instance, Canada and the U.S. both celebrate a holiday called Thanksgiving, but they fall in different months.

Sometimes holidays are built into a company’s culture. To find out if a company is expecting employees to celebrate a holiday, ask if there are days that the company will be closed for celebration. If you are doing business in a part of the world that traditionally celebrates Christmas, Ramadan/Eid, Jewish high holidays, or Hindu holidays, ask about this a few weeks before the upcoming holiday. This information can easily be stored in the company customer-relationship management (CRM) system and tracked by customer-facing staff in your company.

 

the-lantern-festival-977259_1920

 

Recognize the holiday in a sincere way

A card is one of the best ways to show respect for someone’s holidays. It’s simple but takes a little effort. Cards can be ordered online, particularly if a holiday is not regularly celebrated in your part of the world. If your business relationship is not as critical, consider sending an email wishing your customer or partner well. But be careful to understand what a specific holiday celebrates. Yom Kippur is the holiest day in the Jewish holiday. This year a friend of mine wished her Israeli partners, “Happy Yom Kippur.” This was met with amusement since Yom Kippur means “Day of Atonement.” My friend plans to adjust her greeting when this holiday comes around next year.

The question that often comes up is gift giving. This is a tricky issue as some cultures will expect a gift to mark a holiday. First, check both home laws and in-country laws to know the limits on what is considered a gift and what crosses the line to bribery. Rules definitely vary around the world. An alternative to gift giving is giving a donation of time or other resources to charity in the client?s name to show honor and respect.

 

Be Ready for the Impact of a Major Holiday on Sales and Shipping

If you’ve ever tried to ship your product into the Middle East during Ramadan, you know how hard it is to get anything processed and sent forward to your client. Business grinds to a glacial pace during that month. Likewise, in many countries that widely celebrate Christmas business can slow down dramatically around the end of December as many employees take vacation days to be with their families. In order to keep business cash flow from drying up at a potentially critical point, you may want to time marketing, lead generation and sales cycles to wrap up before a major holiday. There is no reason to be caught unaware when holidays can be known well in advance.

I hope this article helps you in navigating your international business relationships through the holidays. For more information about doing international business, sign up for The International Entrepreneur Mailing List.

Becky DeStigter, The International Entrepreneur

The International Entrepreneur ? 9 Ways to Improve Your International Presentations

international presentation, audience, international trade

Your big prospective international partner has agreed to let you present your company?s ideas on how to work together. Everyone goes through the formalities of introductions. Now it?s time for your presentation. But as you start to go through your standard presentation, the executives look increasingly disinterested. Some even look a bit agitated. You can feel the heat rising in the room. After the presentation, the audience seems much less engaged in the partnership idea. What has gone wrong?

Let?s go back to the preparations you made before the big presentation. An international presentation requires some key adjustments to be successful. Here are 9 ways to improve your presentations to international audiences:

Know your audience. Are you talking with a German industrial company where technical details are more important than any emotional appeals? Or is this a Brazilian services company where emotional appeal is actually more critical? Should it be fast paced for Americans or slower for an Indian audience? Should I show higher modesty levels for East Asian or Latin American listeners or should I show more confidence for the Lebanese? Cultural and industry variances are important to your content if you want to be in harmony with your audience.

Slow down and simplify language. Those of us who are English speakers need to slow our rate of delivery down for presentations. This is not because our audience is in any way less intelligent than us, but that listening in another language takes concentration away from formulating analysis about your content as well as any questions audience members may have.

No idioms, slang, humor, or other cultural references. These things just don?t translate well. Americans, that means no baseball references like ?hitting it out of the ballpark? or ?pinch hitting?. Humor varies enough from one country to another that it?s better to avoid the risk of the joke falling flat altogether.

Know the color and symbol references. A few examples: In China, red and yellow are generally positive colors. Green is associated with Islam in many Muslim countries. But don?t show an image of someone with their thumbs up in Turkey ? it?s considered vulgar.

Use examples from the natural world. I read this suggestion a while ago and if I knew the source I would credit them. Great suggestion. The entire world understands concepts like predator and prey, animals knowing in advance of a natural disaster, etc. If there is a chance to use examples to make your point from nature, it is likely to be understood and remembered.

Know if there is a status order. In many cultures, the highest-ranking leader in the group gets deferential treatment. That means that you acknowledge their importance in the room and focus your presentation on their attention. This would be true in places like Thailand, Egypt, Argentina and Kuwait. In some countries the opposite is true ? everyone gets the same treatment and respect. This includes places like Canada, Australia and Sweden.

Presentation slides should be written out in full sentences for non-English audiences. Many non-native English speakers learned to read and write more than listen and speak. This is especially true in many parts of Asia. Your audience may get much more from reading your slides than from what you say.

Leave behind full-color handouts of your presentation. If this presentation is critical to your company, then by all means have the materials also translated into the local language. This will help you to stand out from your competition!

BE PREPARED. This may sound obvious, but reviewing and practicing before the presentation will help you to stay more engaged with your audience. If possible, do a rehearsal of your presentation with an in-country contact who can give you feedback on how your presentation will be received.

Presentations can help build a key business partnership or accelerate a sales process with an important client. But done poorly, it can cause you to stumble and lose credibility. I hope this article was helpful. If you need help as your company moves into new international markets, please feel free to contact me for advice. I offer a 30-minute complimentary session to talk about your plans and challenges.

 

Onward & upward,

Becky DeStigter

The International Entrepreneur

The International Entrepreneur ? Wanted: Higher Revenue Growth in Multinational Companies

Growth, Multinational Companies, International Trade

Have you ever started your own company? Many of us learned that to be successful in getting that fledgling firm to take flight we had to pour copious amounts of time, energy and resources into building its wings. We likely had to keep tweaking the wing design until we finally figured out the right business model and market niche. Many entrepreneurs experience failure in that process. Nothing teaches the lessons of mistakes quite as much as a fiery crash and failure.

When I talk with growth-stage and multinational companies, their operational risks have been minimized, but so have their revenue growth rates. It?s harder to produce double-digit growth in maturing markets and difficult to cultivate an innovative competitive edge with larger companies. Employees just get a little too comfortable with those steady automatic-deposit paychecks to risk it all on a crazy new product idea. Which all leads to the question:

What can be done to spur higher growth rates in maturing companies?

Reward Risk

A maturing company should establish programs and policies to encourage innovation and greater revenue creation. This probably sounds obvious. But then it needs to go steps further to specifically allow for failure without penalty. Some larger companies have already started. IBM and Apple are great examples of company culture being redefined to help the best ideas to take flight.

Investigate New Geographic Markets

Many younger companies are ?accidental? exporters. They have international clients who found their website or booth at an industry trade show, researched the product, sold themselves on the product, and then came prepared with a sales order. Maybe the company even found their way into a neighboring same-language market.

But to spur serious growth, it may make sense to carefully investigate previously overlooked markets. For an example, I look to the beer industry. The U.S. beer market has been flat for years. At the same time the Chinese market has been growing at 20% market growth for decades. While the market is radically different, it?s still worth doing the calculations to see if there are profits to be made in quenching the thirst of the most populous market in the world.

Hire Talent with Entrepreneurial Skills

Company founders and early-stage employees have to be incredibly resourceful and dedicated. What?s more, the focus in young companies has to be on results over process or else the company won?t survive. That?s why the entrepreneurial skills can be so valuable.

I don?t mean that process isn?t important. I actually spend a fair amount of time in growing companies figuring which processes will streamline repeated operations. But at a recent growing company, I found that the motions of going through the process had taken 8 weeks to publish a single blog post instead of what should have taken under 2 weeks. Process steps became bureaucratic and filled staff?s hours instead of focusing on results. That sometimes means moving forward without perfect information or that fifth copy check.

Entrepreneurs can never lose sight of that end goals of the pipeline growth, product release, national account sale, and other make-or-break company or department milestones. Results can be best encouraged and measured in all employees through performance metrics.

 

These are just a few ideas. There are many more ways to get out of the multinational routine and spurn new growth. To find out what your growth accelerators might be to leverage your company?s assets and specific to your industry, contact me for a 30-minute consultation.

Wishing you all the best in your international efforts,

Becky DeStigter

The International Entrepreneur

The International Entrepreneur – Becky DeStigter receives Certified International Trade Professional Designation from FITT

IMG_2196For Immediate Release

Wednesday, November 25, 2015 (Scottsdale, USA) ? Becky DeStigter, MBA, MS, has just been fully certified by the Forum for International Trade Training (FITT) as a FITT?International Business?Professional (FIBP?). Becky chose to complete this certification on FITT?s Executive Path, using her 10 years of international trade experience and graduate education to form the basis of her application to be permitted to take the FITT Professional Exam?and submit for final approval.

?I chose the FITT program certification because I wanted to join the growing global standard in international trade. There are many charlatans working in the industry who are not able to deliver substantive or reliable international business advice or outcomes. By earning this accreditation I join a group of well-trained professionals with a growing global footprint.

Working in a such a rapidly evolving field, I needed to know that my certifying organization had periodic content reviews to ensure that the international trade strategies and tactics reflected today and not ten or even two years ago. FITT stays on top of the international trade industry with frequent reviews,? said Becky.

FITT is a non-profit international trade training and professional certification organization based in Ottawa, Canada. The network of CITP?|FIBP? certified international trade professionals continues to grow and expand its influence. FITT is?endorsed by the World Trade Centers Association.

 

About Becky DeStigter, FIBP

Becky and her company, The International Entrepreneur, helps business-to-business technology and professional services companies to realize?their overseas potential. ?To do this,?she?provides research insights on overseas markets, as well as ways to mitigate exposure to international trade risks.?Becky works with companies from all over the world. She speaks English, Dutch, Spanish, German?and is working on Mandarin Chinese.

Becky has an MBA, an MS in International Business and a graduate-level Certificate in Entrepreneurship?from the University of Colorado Denver. The University of Colorado Denver is one of only 30 universities in the US and the only university in Colorado to receive the prestigious CIBER grant for international business research & education.?Becky spent two years working under top international entrepreneurship scholar, Dr. Manuel Serapio.

For six years?Becky owned a successful strategic marketing company. She served twice?as Chief Operating Officer of start-up Software-as-a-Service technology companies, once as COO of a stem cell testing company and also spent 4 years working in various marketing and sales support roles in the healthcare software industry in growth-stage companies.

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 – 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 DeStigter

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, 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 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 DeStigter
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 DeStigter, MS, MBA

The International Entrepreneur

The International Entrepreneur – How To Hire International-Ready Employees

Hiring International, International Business, International MarketingEmily sat at her desk and cringed as she opened the latest email from her Asian office general manager. She knew it would be about the latest online marketing campaign and that he wouldn’t be happy with the approach that headquarters was taking. Honestly, she just wished that her company would pass over these international markets and focus on the American market. It would make her job so much simpler and straightforward.

Last year Emily was hired as a Senior Content Marketing Manager by a Seattle-based mid-sized software company. She was an experienced marketing professional. She came highly recommended by trusted sources in the local American Marketing Association chapter. She had studied for a semester of college in Spain, so Emily and her boss both assumed that the international side of her job wouldn’t be a problem. Emily came in with such enthusiasm for the job. But when it came to the international markets that her predecessor had supported so well, Emily just seems to clash with many of the international teams.

Since Emily took over, conversion from international markets had dropped. The Vice President of Marketing couldn’t say that this was all related to Emily, but her attitude towards the international teams didn’t help. When asked, Emily said that she just didn’t understand what some of the international offices wanted from her or why they needed such trivial and costly changes to her team’s campaigns.

 

Setting up for Failure

Visit any of the major job search sites – Indeed, Monster, Linkedin, etc. and read mid-level job postings from international companies. What you find is that fewer than 5% of these postings for jobs working with international operations or markets require or even recommend cross-cultural skills or experience. This is even the case for many positions with International or Global in the job title! Unbelievable.

And then we wonder why an otherwise capable employee flounders in the face of complex cross-cultural communications or localized marketing variances?

In the case of Emily from Marketing, she is clearly not prepared for the international aspects of her job. What’s more, she is avoiding opportunities to grow the skills needed to be successful. The bottom line is that the Senior Content Marketing Manager needs to be an internationally competent professional.

Why Do International Skills Matter?

Savvy companies today know that international markets not only hold large number of potential customers, but new innovative ideas and global talent pools. When your staff knows how to effectively communicate and serve these markets, they can:

  • Increase the speed to market and reduce sales cycles
  • Avoid costly mistakes from misunderstandings
  • Run operations more smoothly and profitably

All of this makes for a stronger, better-functioning organization that is positioned for greater growth.

 

Hiring for Today’s Target Markets

Your company may already know that Canada and Mexico are both key markets. You have local sales teams in key metropolitan areas like Vancouver and Monterey. It makes sense to seek future hires at headquarters to have in depth experience with these markets, as well as French and Spanish language skills. Consider offering promotions from the local country teams into your headquarters and visa versa. The better the working relationships and market understanding for key markets, the more successful your company will be.

 

Hiring for Future Worldwide Expansion

To be a truly global company it starts with a global work culture. It may sound simple, but I think that starts with hiring employees who are naturally curious about the world. International markets are complex and cross-cultural communications even more multifaceted. Effective internationally-oriented employees ask the critical questions of Why? and What if? especially when expectations don’t match to the reaction of foreign colleagues or market outcomes.

 

Final Tips

Here is additional advice on how to build the best workforce for your international company:

  1. Shake up your typical interview process with some unconventional questions or scenarios. This could also include adding international team members to the selection team.
  2. Look for flexible candidates – those who have a varied professional background and have moved around to different locations.
  3. Consider candidates who have already shown their success through full cultural immersion experiences. This includes full-year exchange students, Peace Corps experience, and any bi-cultural experience you can legally ask in the course of interviewing.
  4. Most professionals in North America at some point study a foreign language. But those who have picked up an additional language typically have a strong aptitude for not only language but culture.
  5. Even open-minded, naturally curious staff need training to be truly effective in cross-cultural communications. Include training and international research trips into your company budget.

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To truly grow into your company’s international potential, you need great staff who are ready to approach challenges and opportunities with cultural competencies. Here is wishing your company all the success in its international endeavors!

I hope you found this article helpful to growing your company.
Becky DeStigter

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