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The International Entrepreneur – Improving Employee Engagement in Your Global Workforce

Improving Employee Engagement in your Global Workforce

I knew from the way that Pedro in the Mexico City office the phone that something had turned for the worst. Pedro’s voice sounded low and muttled – preoccupied and low energy compared with our recent interactions. Pedro and his colleagues had recently been missing key details in our shared projects. They just seemed… well… disengaged from their tasks. I picked up the phone to call someone I knew from the company’s leadership team.

 

A Pandemic of Disengaged Zombie Workers

Pedro and his colleagues are not the exception. They are unfortunately the norm. Studies by Gallop, Deloitte, Dale Carnegie and others all point to the staggering lack of employee engagement in the United States. These studies all show 70%+ of workers surveyed consider themselves unengaged at work.

As a company breaks through from startup to growth stage, its leaders often discuss how to preserve that “entrepreneurial culture” – its key success factor. Translated:

We don’t want to lose that sense of individual employee contribution and drive to beat the odds.

We’re talking about the essence of employee engagement. According to Dale Carnegie Training, U.S. companies with engaged employees outperform non-engaging companies by 202%.

 

Globally The Disengagement Issue Compounds

Most growth-stage companies eventually start taking global markets seriously, opening overseas offices and hiring local staff. Here is where the employee engagement challenges start to compound. A disappointing 13% of international employees feel engaged in their jobs according to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace.

There are factors to consider to improve global worker engagement, productivity and accountability:

  1. Motivators Vary – Money is often a strong work motivator world wide. If paid what we feel is a fair, market rate for our efforts, then we are likely motivated. But most of us want more than that. We may want opportunities to learn new skills, job stability, and career advancement. Most of us want some work-life balance and a good work environment.
    But beyond that, motivators may be quite different. For instance, in group-oriented cultures where team projects are preferred to individual efforts (Japan). Some cultures expect a relaxed atmosphere (Jamaica) while others want intense work time and a shorter workweek (Germany).
  2. Management Styles Vary – For most Americans, the most energy-draining management style is being closely supervised while also verbally reprimanded in front of peers over seemingly minor mistakes. Yet this is common in India. Indian managers overseeing non-Indian staff learn to modify their style via coaching or negative results.  Likewise, American managers are not always viewed in the same way as they would be in an American-only environment. Engaged employees normally trust their leaders. Building trust changes based on culture. Know what’s expected.
  3. Language and Communication Styles Vary – “Are you sitting in your seat?”, is a curious question at the onset of my colleague’s international team calls. While an interesting way to ask if everyone is ready, there are other linguistic challenges that cause breaches in trust and motivation. One of the bigger challenges in communications is between indirect and direct communicators. Direct (ex. Dutch, Israeli) often say what they are thinking and value sincerity. They find indirect communicators annoying. Indirect (ex. Japan, Ghana) typically avoid saying anything embarrassing to themselves or the other party. They value courtesy and respecting others. They find the direct communicators often rude and untrustworthy. Working with those you can’t trust reduces engagement.

 

Who in the Organization Should Fix This Issue?

Disengagement is often a company-wide issue, affecting operations, financials, customer engagement and other key functions. It needs to be discussed at the executive level. The Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) has a key role to play in offering solutions in terms of hiring criteria, employee onboarding, cross-cultural communications training and conflict resolution. And finally, local office managers need to be coached on global management skills.

 

How to Increase Employee Engagement Worldwide

All is not lost to office zombies! Here are my ideas to re-engage:

  1. Hire the right people overseas. Even within an overseas market, there is always a wide candidate pool variance. If your company values high energy staff or a connection to your mission or customer focus, then search for that match in international hires too.
  2. Ask the right questions and then listen to the answers. When an office or staff member seems out of alignment with the rest of the company, it’s the time to ask: “What do you think about…:?” “Can you see a better way to do…?” “What would help you to feel more engaged in your job?” If it’s possible to fix the situation by conversation, then it saves the company the cost of replacing another employee.
  3. Learn the cultural basics of your global offices. Instead of assuming sameness, find out what the differences are to head off future conflict and energy drains. An easy Internet search will provide basic information on a country’s business culture.
  4. Take input from all locations for company goals and employee reward systems. Part of employee engagement is ownership in the company’s outcomes and processes. Solicit input and credit great ideas from outside of the HQ office.
  5. Explain why decisions are being made and how a decision fits into the long-term strategy. Since business rules change from country to country, it helps to explain that context in which your company leaders make their decisions. Decisions that don’t seem to make sense are a major demotivater.

 

Often executives of growing companies assume that global offices and employees are all from the same home culture. Few international employees will speak up when they feel that internal culture clash for fear of losing their jobs. Instead, disengagement sets in. Instead of accepting zombie employees as an inevitable byproduct of company growth and success, it’s time to use knowledge and communications to engage and inspire throughout your organization.

 

Onward and upward,

Becky DeStigter

 

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The International Entrepreneur – How to accelerate global expansion

accelerate global expansion, international entrepreneur, international business

It’s ironic. Anyone who has spent time and energy expanding their company into international markets can tell you that the process is anything but fast. Global expansions are notoriously slow, especially when compared to what American and Canadian companies are used to as their domestic time to establish a new business. Registering a new business in some American states can take 30 minutes online and US$50. In contrast, some business registrations overseas can take over 2 years and cost US$20,000+.

In North America, we build our business processes and expectations around speed. Speed to market. Speed up the sales cycle. Speed in product development. Anything that slows us down is the target of constant complaint. Ask anyone who has been through a U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval process.

Despite frustrations, there are many compelling reasons why a company would still choose to expand internationally. There are new markets and customers overseas. The market may be global and market share requires doing business internationally. Global markets may balance out seasonal or economic cycles to keep the company’s revenue and growth on a steadier path. There may be strategic advantages for global talent, cost savings or a whole host of other reasons to go global.

 

REALITY CHECK: No matter how compelling the reasons to keep expanding into new global markets, you still need to expend the necessary time and resources to bring success. If you can’t commit to at least 2 years’ worth of work to get a new market off the ground, then I recommend that you don’t take your company global.

 

Here’s my advice for speeding up the international expansion process:

  1. Consistent Commitment. Nothing (and I mean nothing) will slow down your company’s global expansion more than the mixed messages of wavering leadership and financial support.
    This happened earlier this month to an international expansion director in the southwest United States. He had made all of the arrangements to meet with potential Middle East partners on a crucial trip. His company’s Board of Directors froze all travel and other international expenses for a short-term gain.  Now when this director can finally return to this high-potential market, he won’t find the same level of welcome or interest in doing business.
  1. Travel to Your Markets. If you truly want to expand quickly, then put your company leaders and expansion staff on planes to your chosen target markets. Face to face meetings with potential partners, clients and other influential stakeholders in country dramatically speed up the time taken to form these key relationships.
  2. Consider Strategic Partnerships or Mergers & Acquisitions. While partnerships and M&A take substantial time up front to establish the relationship and agreement terms, they can expedite market entry where they already have established client base. So for instance, let’s say my company wanted to enter the Thai market. I don’t speak Thai or know this culture which is quite different from my own. But if there were a compatible partner company, I could reach potential Thai customers by piggybacking on the partner’s products or services as a point of entry. I could learn from my Thai partner about the market and the best ways to sell my offering.
    On the M&A side, buying or merging with a company in a key market means that you buy their assets and also their internal processes and market knowledge. This, of course, is also dependent on keeping existing staff happy post-M&A so that the knowledge stays with the company. Obviously M&A requires support from your current and future financial resources.
  1. Laser Focus Normally Beats the Shotgun Approach to Market Entry. Many companies take the reactionary approach to international markets – they wait for foreign clients to find the company online and approach them with business. I am not saying that this is necessarily a bad starting point, but at some stage serving customers in 13 countries is less efficient than focusing on the 3 best markets and doing it at higher revenue and profit margins.
  2. Practice Agile Processes in Your International Expansion. Instead of starting and stopping every time there is a new challenge in a global market, I recommend using an agile process. Agile is a leading approach in software development where changes are made to code frequently to constantly improve the quality of the product. Marketing adopted agile because it allows for incremental performance evaluations and changes instead of annual reviews. I think this applies just as well to global expansion, where incremental changes can vastly improve results and speed up the process rather than waiting for a review from a large country roll-out.

While international expansion is an investment for companies with a longer investment time frame, there are definitely steps that can speed up the process. Consistency in support is a required foundation. Armchair expansion is much slower than sending staff into the field to meet and develop relationships with key in-country contacts. Focusing on key markets and partners is faster than waiting to see what drops in your lap. And always be ready to make changes based on the new insights you pick up during the new market entry.

I wish you all the best of success in all of your markets.

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The International Entrepreneur – The Growing War for Global Talent

global talent, global HR, international trade

I see it expanding every day…

  • Engineering teams sent to implement a project on the other side of the world.
  • A medical student from a developing country applying for residency after graduation to ensure a higher quality of life for herself and her family.
  • A multinational company offering a rising star employee the chance for an overseas assignment to gain key experience
  • Governments trying to either slow their “brain drain” effect or recruit talented foreign workers

Never before in the history of the world have so many people decided to live and work outside of their country of origin. This means that talented professionals can move to where the best jobs are. But at the same time, there’s a trend to search the world for the best talent and then employ locally – essentially moving the job to the talent. A quick view of heavy-hitting multinational, IBM’s career website shows this in full view. IBM and many of its peers are opening up to the wider talent pool by offering extraordinary numbers of remote-based positions.

It’s challenging to get worldwide numbers on immigration. But here’s an example: In the U.S. alone, immigration has reached 41.3 million people representing over 13% of U.S. residents. [source]  On a global level, the Economist reports the highest countries in 2014 losing talent aka the “Brain Drain” to immigration were:

1) Myanmar

2) Bulgaria, Serbia & Venezuela

5) Moldova & Yemen

7) Burundi

8) Croatia

9) Haiti & Kyrgyzstan

11) Algeria, Lebanon, Mauritania & Ukraine

15) Chad & Slovakia

 

Those doing best at keeping their talent home?

1) Switzerland & Qatar

3) United States

4) Finland & Norway

6) UAE

7) Hong Kong

8) Singapore

9) Germany & Malaysia

11) Luxembourg & United Kingdom

13) Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Netherlands and Sweden

 

All of this comes back to one basic question:

 

How do we come out on the winning side of this war for global talent?

 

I’m going to break it down to three levels: country, company and individual.

 

For countries…

Examples to follow:   If you want to win the war for global talent, first focus on your own citizenry. What will they need to compete with the world’s best minds? They’ll need a strong education foundation.

They’ll also need infrastructure like broadband, transportation and other foundations upon which to build new companies as entrepreneurs. Speaking of which, the 24 highest-rated countries for entrepreneurial activity – none of them are on the brain drain list. That’s no coincidence, especially some of their neighboring countries are hemorrhaging talent. Cultivating entrepreneurship can engage many smart homegrown talent. For the record, the U.S. doesn’t crack the top entrepreneurial activity list either.

Examples to avoid:     One of the worst mistakes to make is restricting smart, talented people from immigrating to your country. The United States, for instance, is a university destination for thousands of bright talent from around the globe. But instead of trying to engage those graduates to stay on and take jobs (or create startups) in our country, we often promote their return to their home countries. Australia and Canada are not making that mistake.

 

For companies…

Examples to follow: In the past few years smaller, agile companies can access talent from anywhere just like their larger competitors. Free communication and low-cost collaboration tools make virtual teams a common fixture in business.

Now SMEs can take it a step further and hire employees regardless of national boundaries. There is a new service called GEO – Global Employment Outsourcing that allows a service provider to be a company’s Employer of Record in country. This means that you pay to have your employee hired in Finland and that employee is paid in local currency, complies with all local employment laws and practices, and is billed back to you. It’s a game changer because it doesn’t require having a local subsidiary set up in Finland.

Examples to avoid: Those company leaders who assume that the best talent is locally grown will lose the global talent war. Xenophobia and closed market options tend to lead to a more limited geographic market too.

 

For individuals…

Examples to follow: To be a part of the global talent pool, you just need to keep options open. Nowadays you can search job listing sites for remote-based positions and jobs on the other side of the world. Jobs that directly involve trade and global markets tend to on average 10% more than jobs that are domestic only. And experience with international roles can pave the way to career advancement. We live in exciting times and you can be a part of it (if you’re not already).

Examples to avoid: If you want to work on the sidelines of the war for global talent, don’t update your skills to match what international employers need. Don’t network and for gosh sakes don’t learn any cross-cultural skills or languages.

 

We live in times of great global changes. Countries, companies and individual workers all have choices to embrace the shifts in world economic dynamics or resist them. I hope you’ll choose to see this as a tremendous opportunity for all!

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The International Entrepreneur – International Business Lessons from Mark Zuckerberg

Like most professionals in technology fields, I’m a bit fascinated by Mark Zuckerberg. Really, who could have predicted the meteoric rise of Facebook twelve years ago when it was just started? He’s not one to build the same wisdom-drenched following like Richard Branson or Guy Kawasaki. But the day he put his newly acquired Mandarin Chinese on display at Tsinghua University in Beijing, he had my full attention.

China doesn’t even allow Facebook access for its citizens. And here was one of the titans of American technology industries not only speaking Chinese, but using all of the Chinese cultural savviness of a well-coached leader. As I watched this video for the first time, I thought of three things:

  1. I had clearly underestimated Mark Zuckerberg as a world-class business leader.
  2. Facebook would eventually enter the Chinese market, breaking down communication barriers on its way.
  3. I needed to double up my efforts to master Mandarin Chinese.

Impressive as this interview may be, China still doesn’t open its doors wide to Facebook or other social media platforms that aren’t easily censored. It’s a political issue and one that is difficult for most Westerners to understand. Why would Chinese citizens allow this censorship to continue? Why would they allow themselves to be ruled by a small group of unelected party officials? There are several reasons, but the main one is rooted in Chinese culture: harmony. But I digress away from our topic.

Speaking of difficult to understand… just this past week, Mark Zuckerberg was speaking at the Mobile World Congress and he told about Facebook’s recent ruling in India’s courts. Facebook wanted to offer free Internet to Indian citizens. But the courts saw it differently. Facebook was not allowed to charge different pricing for services, even if one of those prices was nothing. The Indians felt that there was a price – preferential access to Facebook and their partners’ sites. It became a net neutrality issue.

Mark Zuckerberg, India, International Trade,

Image Source: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/Business Insider

If you’ve ever read my blog before, you know that I give what I hope is helpful advice to small and medium-sized companies expanding into global markets. My focus is on providing tips and tools to help companies avoid the most common and costly mistakes. Facebook is by anyone’s definition a massive company with extensive financial resources beyond 99% of all companies.

Here are the International Business Lessons for the rest of us:

  1. “Every Country is Different”. That’s actually Mr. Zuckerberg’s exact quote about the Indian court ruling. That may sound incredibly obvious, but every week I talk with at least one company leader who finds this basic fact incredulous. Recently a sales VP I talked with couldn’t imagine that since various countries negotiate differently that he should raise his prices in markets where locals would expect to negotiate a larger price discount. International business is a pattern of learn, adapt and move forward.
  2. When it’s important, take the long view. Facebook will never give up trying to access the Chinese market. That said, they will also never hopefully give up their stance on freedom from censorship.
  3. Creative problem solving is a core international business skill. If at first you don’t succeed, it’s time to stop, regroup, figure out what went wrong, and then figure out another way. That’s what Facebook is doing in India and in China. That’s what successful companies of all sizes do to win new global customers and grow to their full potential in world markets.
  4. Cultural understanding matters. In the video of Mr. Zuckerberg’s interview, the reaction is clear – his Chinese audience is both surprised and delighted. I’m sure he would have had a great interview had he delivered it in English. They would have even appreciated his answers had he not been coached in Chinese cultural etiquette. But in one interview, he captured a nation’s attention for all the right reasons. This goodwill will shorten the time it takes to enter this market. Few of us have time to learn Mandarin. But we can learn a few basic phrases in any language. We can either research or hire a coach to show our cultural respect to our future customers.

I look forward to seeing what Mark Zuckerberg and his Facebook team do next to continue to influence culture and technology. And I look forward to the continuing evolution of international markets for the rest of us. Onward & upward.

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The International Entrepreneur – The Promise and Pitfalls of International Digital Marketing

 

international digital marketing, global marketing, international entrepreeur

Long gone are the days of fluffy feel-good marketing, where brand awareness was the focus and sales was normally the first company contact.

I give the rise of Digital Marketing majority credit for this accountability revolution in our professional discipline. In 2004 I attended an American Marketing Association conference on Strategic Marketing in Chicago. A large international survey had been conducted on marketing and advertising effectiveness. The survey reported that the average marketing/advertising campaign yielded a 3-5% ROI (return on investment). I can’t imagine a marketing department leader today going to his company CEO and not being sacked for delivering such a flagrant failure.

Accelerating the digital marketing revolution further is small & medium-sized companies’ access to content management, social media, marketing automation, data analytics and other online tools. Thanks to digitally-enabling products from Google, Hubspot, Infusionsoft, Constant Contact, Twitter, Facebook, WordPress and many others, even the smallest company can reach markets faster and more effectively than ever before. Look out, Fortune 1000 – your size advantage won’t save you from competing against the next generation of rising companies!

More effective tools mean greater accountability for marketing results

I was reminded this week yet again of just how challenging our marketing role can be. I was working with a new partner to develop new website keywords. To those outside marketing, keywords may seem like a minor consideration. It should be easy to list the search engine words that will lead the right audience to our site.

The puzzle we were trying to solve: how to define keywords for a global BPO innovation when no one yet knows that your product or service category even exists? I have literally been thinking of this day and night because this morning I woke up relieved finally figuring out the answer to our riddle. Some marketing challenges take months to solve. But those of us in marketing know how sometimes seemingly small details can make all the difference in outcomes.

My fellow international business expert, Ed Marsh has written extensively about digital marketing and international expansion for B2B companies. His site is also worth reading on this subject.

 

Now onto the international digital marketing pitfalls …

International business relationship building will never be fully replaced. To all of the introverts out there, I’m sorry. Business relationships with international distributors, strategic partners and large-scale clients require trust building. The best digital marketing in the world can’t close a multimillion dollar enterprise sale or create a high-value strategic partnership.

To bridge cultural communications is to risk occasional embarrassment and misunderstandings on the learning curve. This cannot be done through social media contact, your website or any email campaign. So, marketers, please don’t lose your people skills. You still need them.

Localization to new markets cannot (yet) be fully automated. Today I see many companies disregarding localization as they extend unaltered paid media and other digital channels into same-language markets. Recently a B2B software company I know was paying for Linkedin sponsored links and ads to New Zealand with no real market research. It’s like fumbling in the dark. Motivations, buying patterns and a host of other factors vary greatly by country.

Non-localized digital marketing distorts information about international markets. Many companies assume that the leads from their website represent a country’s market demand. For instance, if Germany represents only 1% of leads, then that the demand for my products or services in that market. Unless you conducted market research and translated/localized for Germany, your market is likely much larger. My general rule of thumb for initial estimation is to take untranslated/unlocalized leads and then multiply it by 9. That said, you don’t know until you research in country. But in my experience, no technology or professional services company (even in the U.S.) has a domestic market over 50% of their total world market. Usually it’s more like 5-20%.

Digital marketing does not replace the need for any of your marketing talent or other resources. Instead, digital marketing often requires repurposing marketing skills. Instead of designing and writing copy for printed brochures, staff often design and write for digital assets and campaigns. Events management now goes beyond trade shows to include webinars and podcasts. Marketers continue to experiment with the best ways to develop conversations in social media and then drive those leads to the right calls to action. And there is always management needed for all external
marketing agencies around the globe. Even with digital tools, it is still a great deal of effort and coordination across channels and geography.

 

In the end, there just is no magic button to push that creates effective international digital marketing. There are great new tools for all company sizes. But it still requires creative problem solving, strong international knowledge and perspective, and a lot of effort and discipline from your marketing team.

I hope you found this article to be helpful. For more Tips and Tools from The International Entrepreneur, I invite you to join our International Business Tribe.

The International Entrepreneur – Are Your Outsourcing Resources Ready for International?

The International Entrepreneur Asks Are Your Outsourcing Resources Ready for International?
Today’s companies tend to be leaner and more agile than those in years past. They often have to be in order to grow at a rate fast enough to secure the next round of funding or attract the right acquiring firm. How we do business has fundamentally changed to where many company functions like legal, accounting, HR and marketing can be outsourced to a large degree. But what happens when a company decides to enter international markets? Are these BPOs ready to join you on your international business expansion?

Here are some questions to ask your company’s law firm, accounting firm, marketing agency, bank, payroll service and any other business process outsourcing (BPO) providers:

  • Do you have any offices or partners in the markets we are planning to enter?
    If your home market is small like Singapore or Luxembourg, then likely any outside resources are well connected to the rest of the world. They have to be. For larger markets like the U.S. or Brazil, your local bank may not have the international connections or in-house expertise international currency and finance that you’ll need.
  • Are you able to serve staff based overseas with sound advice and similar services in international markets?
    Payroll is a great example of where this applies. Most payroll outsourcing companies choose to serve only their home market. But there are a handful of international payroll companies that handle the complexities of payroll around the world to help keep your company in compliance.
  • Do the contacts that you work with have international experience?
    Sometimes a law firm or accounting firm has the ability to extend to other parts of the world through sister offices or partner firms. But often when a company shifts from one market to global markets, the staff who serve the company may need to change to the more internationally experienced resources.

For all of your company’s business functions directly affected by the international expansion, you can decide between two approaches: Centralized and Decentralized Outsourcing.

Centralized Outsourcing is when your BPO resource has an extensive network of staff or trusted partners in all of your markets. The largest accounting firms fall into this category. And it helps to have one cohesive approach to accounting that leverages the specialized knowledge that these firms typically have in areas like international taxation.

Decentralized Outsourcing makes sense when in-country resources have the best perspective. This is often the case with marketing agencies. If I’m going to concentrate on the German market because I know that German businesses desperately want and need my product, then I should hire a marketing agency based in Germany to spearhead my marketing program there.

Some additional advice:

  • Be sure to ask specific questions of your service providers to learn their fuller international capabilities.
  • Don’t contort around a business relationship to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. Yes, the company founder’s best friend may have done the accounting for the last five years, but unless his firm can handle all of your transactions, currencies and tax reporting, it’s time to move to a fuller service firm.
  • Generally, companies keep all processes tied to their value chain in-house rather than outsourcing them. With keeping that in mind, some companies also choose to redefine their value chain altogether to fit what they actually do best. That’s at least food for thought!

I hope you found this article helpful. If you would like to receive additional tools and tips starting with a Market Entry Checklist, please click here.

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 protégés. Mentor-protégé 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 – Turning Foreign Currency Risk into Profits

currency, international trade, international business

 

A few months ago I was talking with the leaders of a small, innovative Canadian manufacturing firm. The company had grown from its successes in design, production, customer service and marketing… and now they were looking at how to proactively expand into their largest potential market: their neighbor to the south.

When I researched the company, I noted that they kept their prices in Canadian dollars for both sides of the border. I assumed that they wanted the simplicity of a single-currency business. As many of you know – currently Canadian companies have a foreign exchange advantage by charging in U.S. dollars because the Loonie is historically low to the American Buck.

But what the company leaders told me left me at a loss for words. (Those who know me understand that this is a rare occurrence.) They said that they would not charge a different price to the American market because it would be unethical.

Now there are indeed pricing methods that are unethical and oftentimes illegal – collusion, predatory pricing, kickbacks, etc. But international trade is actually built on the assumption that prices of materials and labor inputs, as well as final products are dissimilar in different markets. If all prices were the same, there would be no real reason to trade at all. Vietnam has a large supply of inexpensive labor that lends well to textile production. Saudi Arabian women put a higher value on beauty products (particularly perfume) than most other markets. And we all know that real estate value for the same building is radically different if it is located in downtown Tokyo vs. Omaha, Nebraska.

Currencies all fluctuate on world markets. What started as a profitable market can quickly turn to a loss as the Euro or Yen loses value. So how can a company take this risk and turn it into profits?

 

Understand that the pendulum swings both ways

Currency exchanges can fluctuate widely. That’s why it is important not to base business performance projections on today’s exchange rate only. I normally give a range of possible projections, knowing that over time the exchange rate will sometimes be favorable to sell product in a market and sometimes less or not at all.

This is why it is important for the Canadian manufacturer to sell their products in American dollars in the American market. Customers would pay the full price because of the value received. And the additional profits from producing products with Canadian materials and labor mean that when the American Buck drops to the Canadian Loonie, there will be some padding to cushion the profit squeeze.

 

Use the Lean Times to Build Operational Efficiencies

When your currency is too strong in international markets, profit margins will get pinched. This is an excellent opportunity to look closely at internal operations. Are there ways to gain efficiencies in production? Are all marketing channels delivering a strong return on investment? We do the same during an economic downturn. Periods when our currency is strong relative to our international markets can drive efficiencies that improve profits even more when the currency weakens again.

 

Consider Supply Chain Costs Too

A strong currency means that your company can buy materials at a lower price from weaker currency markets. It may make sense to keep several suppliers and increase the order size to those suppliers whose currency is currently weaker. This works best for materials that are similar quality between suppliers.

 

I hope you found this article helpful. For more advice and tips on international trade, please sign up here.

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