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The International Entrepreneur – Damage Control for a Cross-Cultural Team Disaster

cross-cultural team disaster, international business

Susan let out a deep, anguished sigh as he looked at the competitive intelligence report generated by her global intelligence-gathering team. It wasn’t what she was expecting to read and certainly not what an International Marketing VP would want to pass on to the company CEO and the Board of Directors. Instead, it read like something a college sophomore would write before heading to the bar to drink with his buddies. It was poorly written, with only some superficial competitive analysis and no strategic insights from the team members based in different offices around the world. Susan had handpicked this team from her most promising marketing stars from the various offices. She had assigned leadership to her right-hand man, Derek. Now Susan needed to find out what went so wrong on such an important company initiative.

Derek was clearly uncomfortable as Susan knocked on his office door holding the CI report in hand. As the company’s Director of Business Insights, Derek had such a strong command of data collection and statistical analysis. But this project had gotten out of control. The team members had given it little more than a passing concern. They didn’t provide any information that Derek couldn’t have collected from some basic website searches. Derek wanted to collect data from across the entire global operations to better understand where sales were losing to competitors. But no information was searchable by any commonly defined fields in the company’s CRM or product development software.

Derek was at a loss to why he was unable to motivate this team to help him. Susan realized that she should have been paying closer attention to the details of this project and its progress updates over time. It was easy to get lose in the day-to-day operational issues and constant changes within the company. Here are some issues that were uncovered and how Susan might address them:

Important Projects Need a Clear Executive Mandate

Many international companies today rely on matrix organizational structures to geographically manage people and functionally manage projects. This can get confusing especially when the team member feels most accountable to their local boss rather than for the results of a company-wide project. A project as important as Competitive Intelligence needs the International Marketing VP’s sponsorship. Susan should reach back out to the teams members and their country managers to reaffirm her interest and expectations of the project. This leads Susan to another key issue:

International Teams Need Clear (& Realistic) Project Objectives and Scope

Derek may not necessarily be the right person to lead this group. Data analysis is valuable when data can be uniformly collected from across the company and the market. Now many companies have invested heavily to align internal systems across all of their international operations. And there are normally industry analysis reports available for purchase. Derek might also be able to outsource the CI work to a firm specializing in this type of data collection.

But like most companies this one is hoping for at least some organically-based CI collection. Then CI team members need very clear and realistic project expectations, including the types of information they should collect and how they should collect it. For instance, CI can come from asking new clients about the other competitors that lost the business to your company. CI includes environmental shifts in the market. What are the in-country trends in key markets and even peripheral markets? The company doesn’t need widely available information already published in the media. It needs actionable information that keeps the company ahead of the competition.

Shine the Spotlight on the Local Team as a Reward for Great Insights

One of Derek’s challenges has been that his CI team has never actually met in person. They not only don’t know the rest of the team well, but don’t feel loyalty to its leader. They associate instead with their local team and its success and failures. Susan and Derek can use this affiliation preference to their advantage.

CI insights can come from a variety of sources and it works best when everyone is on the look out for the next important clue to the local market and competitors. The local team member may not want to be highlighted as different from their colleagues (especially in parts of Asia). Instead, a local team might be recognized by company headquarters for their superior collection of CI and share their best practices company wide.

I hope you found this article helpful. Tune regularly for new articles on how to help your internationally expanding company. If you need help with your global expansion, please contact me.

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The International Entrepreneur – What You Need to Know for Smarter Multi-Lingual Business Expansion

Amsterdam, International Entrepreneur, International Business

I was recently pondering a question as I sat in a cafe drinking a cup of hot tea next to the Prinsengracht in Amsterdam: What’s the best advice for a company that is considering expanding into new language markets?

Amsterdam often brings home this question for me. Walking among the crowds and down any central street in this old capital fills your ears with several languages. The Dutch shop owners seem to effortlessly switch between their own language and a multitude of others.

I find many companies are resistant to any expansion that takes them away from the safety of the home language. Even when there is evidence of a great market or group of markets in Spanish, German or Chinese, having company representatives conducting business in other languages takes away some of the control over day-to-day operations. And that is scary for many company leaders. In its extreme version, there’s even a term for fear of foreign languages: xenoglossophobia. Now that’s a word no kid wants to have on his or her spelling test!

There is so much to say on this subject. By the time I would be done, my tea would be cold and all of the tour boats on the Amsterdam canals would have anchored for the night. But let me hit some of the more important points:

 

Take Stock of Your Company’s Current Cultural & Linguistic Skills

You may be further along in multi-lingual capabilities than you realize. There may be an Arabic speaker in accounting and a Russian speaker in marketing. Staff members’ past experiences and upbringing can be the source of hidden talent. Now that said, not all language experience is created equal. Someone may be able to speak to his grandmother in German but still not be very helpful initially in business transactions. Also, reading and listening are passive language activities. They tend to be more advanced than active tasks like writing or speaking. Definitely get the details on staff language skills and international work experiences.

When checking internally for language skills, also ask outside key resources like your accounting firm and primary law firm for an inventory of their international capabilities. Going international often shifts a company?s professional resources from local firms to mid-to-large firms with international competencies and offices.

 

Consider Language when Choosing your Entry Mode

The easiest answer to selling in foreign language markets is to use local representatives. The local rep speaks the local language and understands how to do business in that environment. The rep then converses solely in your language for reporting, materials, support, etc. It’s perfect, right?

If your international markets are not much more than a passing concern, then this approach. Another shortcut method is where you take orders for foreign clients IF they find you through your English-only website and are willing to do business in English only. BUT if your company truly wants to globally dominate your market and maximize its potential, then you’ll need to plan for a more hands-on approach to your international markets that may include setting up sales offices and other operations overseas, developing joint ventures or buying local competitors and yes, interfacing with other languages and business cultures.

 

Expand on Core Competencies & Competitive Advantages

Over time, your company should have developed some strong core competencies. It may be a set of product features. It could be your staff?s talent in customer support. It could be fierce defense of company intellectual property. It could be your traffic-driving high-ranking website. Whatever your core competencies are as a company, you should strive to make them consistently strong in all markets and languages where you do business. This way, your company’s competitive advantages including your brand reputation can consistently build worldwide.

 

Invest in a Company-Wide Global Mindset

I see it in almost every company I have worked for or with the company leadership understands the global potential of expansion and see the value of incoming international leads. But workers carrying day-to-day operations complain about odd phone numbers and hard-to-pronounce names. It’s awkward and challenging for staff compared to an English-only client base. What’s more, leads aren’t followed up with the same level of diligence and customers with issues are prioritized lower. A attitude of US vs. THEM grows.

The short-term answer to this issue is outward shows of leadership commitment to international markets AND cross-cultural training. There are great trainers in this growing field and I highly recommend having any front-facing staff take the training.

The long-term answer is to strategically hire new staff who already come with a global mindset and hopefully relevant language skills. When enough employees embrace global opportunities, then the company tips toward one more competitive advantage, a truly global workforce.

Back in Amsterdam I enjoy the rest of my tea and get ready for the next international business challenge. Hint: Try the Dutch stroopwafels. They’re delicious!

 

I hope you enjoyed this article. In addition to writing articles on international business for growing technology and professional services companies, I provide training on international business topics and present at industry and Export Council conferences. I can be reached at [email protected].

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 never learned to speak another language beyond a couple of words of high school German. That means that all of his presentations, business transactions well, 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 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 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 irelevent 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 transcreated, 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 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 and 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 – Localizing Websites for International Markets

international website, international strategy, international business, international entrepreneur“SmartCodeSoftware” Company was like many other firms that evolved into international markets. They started with a few international clients that found the company through industry trade shows and online. Then international representatives offered their services to the company. The company created a distributor network. When the company started to uncover its international market potential, they started opening up foreign sales offices and operations.

So how does the company’s website keep up with this evolving international expansion?

My Advice: Match Website Approach to Your International Strategy

You’d be surprised how often website development is relegated to either IT or Marketing without thought to the company’s overall business strategy. Here are some strategic considerations:

Level of Localization– If you sell scientific equipment there is minimal localization. Marketing can even be similar, using the same online sales process, same type of decision makers, one call to action, coordinating with the same set of marketing channels.

But certain business process automation products can be radically different from market to market. Ask yourself: how different are the buying processes between our markets? Would a separate country-specific website help you to tailor to separate sales processes and other market-specific traits?

Country of Origin Effects –How is your home country perceived in your industry? For instance, if “SmartCodeSoftware” Company is based in Silicon Valley, there is a perceived advantage in innovation and industry connections. But what happens when the company is based in a small city in Bolivia? The location of a company’s headquarters can be an advantage or disadvantage. This can be played up or downplayed online depending on whether location helps.

Market Entry Mode – Entry mode is key to international strategy and your website should reflect the mode you’ve chosen. Entry modes vary from indirect exporting such as using representatives to wholly-owned subsidiaries. Other entry modes include: direct exporting, licensing, franchising, local sales offices, joint ventures, foreign mergers and acquisitions.

On the low risk side, there is a laser engraving company based in Colorado that has a highly developed network of 60+ local distributors. They have built their entire company around optimizing this network. Their website reflects that approach by supporting that network and quickly referring clients on to the local reps.

Near the other end of the Entry Mode spectrum of options is Mergers and Acquisitions. After acquiring a local competitor, it may make sense to keep the new subsidiary’s website. Locally they understand the buying process, language, etc. It helps to reevaluate branding and core messaging. Changes can enhance what is already on the site rather than automatically replacing it.

Risk Tolerance – Managing multiple websites in various languages represents additional risks. Additional resources are spent to figure what is needed to serve new markets. Then company staff must maintain or pay for others to maintain the localized structure and content. The company leaders must reconcile:

  • What happens if we make mistakes?
  • Are we staying consistent to our strategy and branding?

Company leaders need to ask themselves about their company’s cultural comfort with getting into overseas markets. Oftentimes the best-laid plans are undermined by those in the company tasked with implementing changes to the company’s website(s) for international markets.

Website redesigns take significant effort. It’s so important to start first with strategy and then decide on website structural, content and design choices that will optimize the company’s results in all markets!

Onward & upward
Becky DeStigter

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 – Getting Started with Internationalizing Your Website

Website Internationalization, Mistranslated SignsTaking your company international is often a business milestone. To do it right, it takes research and planning. It often is a long-term growth accelerator. But skip the planning; you could be either wasting resources or worse – damaging your company’s brands and bottom line.

As part of international, it’s time to plan out your website internationalization. Some companies assume that adding a list of international distributors makes their site international enough to reach a global audience. To put this into perspective, Smartling (a website localization automation company) surveyed B2B companies around the world. Their study found that 9 out of 10 B2B professionals look for resources to solve their business challenges online only in their own native language. That means that those companies without a translated and localized site could be missing out on 90% of their international markets.

Here’s some advice to help your company to get started in internationalizing your website:

Balance Website Costs with Long-term Opportunities

When done right any website internationalization can be costly, so have a strategy that is sustainable and scalable in terms of staff time and expenses. And while the average global company increased their online supported languages from 12 in 2005 to 29 in 2014, that doesn’t mean that these companies launched with all languages at one time. Consider adding one language at a time based on the overall priority of the group of countries where each language is spoken. So for instance, Colombia may be a smaller potential market than Brazil. But add in the opportunities in all Spanish-speaking markets and Spanish may rise towards the top of the priority list!

Don’t Use Translator Widgets

I have met with more companies than I’d like to admit who have added a translator widget to their site and assume that their website is now international. Nothing could be further from the truth! In fact, on several occasions I see it often causing harm. Companies using these widgets look like amateurs, with damage done to their brand in the other language thanks to poor translations and no localization.

Choose International Content Wisely

Since it is costly to translate and localize website pages, you can choose to focus on key pages instead of the whole site. For instance, the product pages might be important to all. Therefore it’s worth the investment to have those pages translated/localized. But there may be other pages, which are less crucial. These might not be included in, say the German or Chinese versions. Also consider content marketing. Will you translate each new blog post into multiple languages? You could do this, but it would get very expensive very quickly. Instead, choose the most important blog posts to translate instead of all of them. As part of the editorial calendar, consider which topics would apply better to your best international markets.

Lastly, Learn the SEO Rules for Internationalization

Google has specific ways that they want site owners to structure their multi-lingual sites. If you set up the structure in one of a few ways, you’ll boost SEO in your international markets. This structure allows for choosing both language AND country for every specific market targeting. For instance, pt-BR means Portuguese in the Brazilian market. But pt-PT would be the Portuguese spoken in Portugal. In the end, it allows the customer to choose the language and country of their choice!

I hope you found this article interesting. I encourage you to read more from The International Entrepreneur Blog.

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 DeStigter, The International Entrepreneur

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