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The International Entrepreneur ? 9 Signs You Need International Resource Backup

international trade, international entrepreneur,

The reality is this: No one knows everything there is to know about international trade. There are 180+ sovereign countries, 3,000+ languages, local regulations and business practices, and countless other details that affect doing business.

We may not know it all, but we can strengthen our knowledge, positioning and outcomes by shoring up weaknesses in international operations and focusing on our core competencies.

For international operations, here are clear signs that it?s time to bring in outside resources to advise or outsource specific functions:

  1. When your company has many international sales leads, but no plan for how to enter high-demand markets or serve those markets. Lots of leads means you likely have opportunities to grow into new markets. The time to plan is now.
    What you need: an International Strategy Advisor. Unlike a Country Specialist, who focuses on a single foreign market, you?re looking for someone who focuses on strategy and is geographically agnostic.
  2. When you don?t know enough about overseas markets to make sound business decisions. How big are your international markets? What?s the competition? What would it cost to enter these markets? If you don?t know, then your leadership team is operating in the dark.
    What you need: International Market Researchers. A Generalist can help point in the right directions. But to drill down to actionable data, Country Specialists are going to need to research for you in country.
  3. When your sales team can?t seem to negotiate favorable terms in their international agreements. No more playing the blame game about how the other side didn?t negotiate fairly. The reality is that few North American sales or business development professionals fully prepare for international negotiations. But you can put the odds back in your favor.
    What you need: International Negotiations Coach. Learn the real rules of the game before stepping on to the court. And look forward to not only better terms in your agreements, but strong long-term relationships with clients and partners.
  4. When your company website and other key marketing tools are not available in your major markets? languages. This may seem like an obvious situation to fix, but unfortunately translation/localization often lags behind market demand. Or if the website does have translated pages, they are done so poorly that it undermines company branding.
    What you need: Local Marketing Outsourcing Firms. If your company is getting 30% of its leads from Poland, then it?s time to hire a local Polish marketing firm to localize your online presence and create a local strategy that fits how business is done locally. Never short change translation/localization in important markets. You?re just shooting yourself in the foot.
  5. When your new overseas operations start off with great intentions but quickly dissolve into a mess. You?ll know that you need a third party to intervene when distrust starts to grow between the remote foreign operation and headquarters staff.
    What you need:?Cross-Cultural Trainer and Troubleshooter. An outside resource can often cut through the issues quickly to find root causes. So often the issues are culturally based, leading to clashing expectations on roles, outcomes and communication styles. Get help quickly. Really.
  6. When you?ve entered international markets, but have not registered your trademarks internationally. If your company is guilty of this oversight, please understand that it is tantamount to playing Russian Roulette. If you register with WIPO and China fees are trivial compared with the costs and headaches of wrestling back your trademark from IP pirates later.
    What you need: International Intellectual Property Attorney. A good law firm with international capabilities is critical.
  7. When local taxation is costing your company profit margins. Local governments want their share of your company?s success. But there are smart ways to plan to minimize your company?s international tax burden.
    What you need: International Tax Accountant. Larger accounting firms all have international tax specialists. Make sure that your firm?s international tax department is giving advice to lower your taxable income in high rate regions. They?ll also ensure that your company is fully compliant and not exposed to future penalties.
  8. When your shipping department is spending lots of time on international shipments, but logistics is still eating up profit margins. If your shipping department specializes in international documentation and logistics, then it?s a competitive advantage. But for most companies, outsourcing international shipping can save a great deal of money AND headaches.
    What you need: a Freight Forwarder. There are other types of international logistics firms, but freight forwarders are one of the most common. Find one familiar with your type of product, has a strong reputation, and is the right size to serve your company.
  9. When you are losing opportunities from lack of in-country connections. If no one wants to talk with your business development executives or sales manager, it may mean that you need some well-placed introductions. In many countries, it?s not a nice-to-have. It?s a necessity.
    What you need: In-Country Intermediaries. It usually works best to find paid intermediaries through your local embassy, chamber of commerce, or industry association. In places like Brazil, U.A.E. and Thailand, an intermediary can save months of time trying to do it yourself.

I hope this list is helpful to you. If you need any referrals for specific resources, please let me know.

If you need an International Strategy Advisor, International Negotiations Coach or an International Cross-Cultural Trainer and Troubleshooter- I offer a 30-minute complimentary consultation.

Best of success in all of your international business!
Becky DeStigter, MBA, MS
The International?Entrepreneur

The International Entrepreneur ? My 2015 Top International Business Blog List

international trade, top blogs, international strategyHere are some of the best international business-focused blogs I?ve read this year:

Beyond Brazil Blog from Sunny Sky Solutions ? editor & author: Gabriela Castro-Fontuora. Gaby has moved back from the north of England to her native Uruguay. She writes about all kinds of international trade and practice advice for doing business in Latin America.

Consilium Global Business Advisors ? editor & primary author: Ed Marsh. Ed focuses on B2B international sales and marketing particularly for manufacturing and financial sectors. Ed cuts right to great practical information.

The Culture Mastery ? editor & author: Christian Hoeferle. Christian does an excellent job bringing cross-cultural communications to the surface. His blog includes both articles and podcasts. Originally from southern Germany and now living in Tennessee U.S.A., Christian navigates effortlessly between many cultures.

GlobalEdge ? editor: Michigan State University. MSU?s GlobalEdge program has been generating quality global business blogs on a variety of topics for many years. A search will find you almost anything.

Professor Michael Czinkota?s Blog. Dr. Czinkota is an international business professor at Georgetown University. A prolific writer, he has a strong focus on strategy. Dr. Czinkota is that rare academic who has a keen understanding of the business world.

Shipping Solutions International Trade Blog ? editor: David Noah. David has assembled a great group of international trade experts, with special focus on trade logistics and finance. Pay particular attention to articles from Mr. Noah and also Roy Becker.

Trade Ready ? editor: FITT marketing team. The Forum for International Trade Training based in Ottawa, Canada is quickly gaining its own international foothold in international trade certification and training. This blog has assembled a savvy group of international trade experts.

Tradeology ? editor: International Trade Administration. If you?re an American doing business internationally, the ITA has a great site particularly for updated trade agreement information and opportunities. Use the search function to find your industry.

Now it?s your turn. If you feel that my list has missed an important blog that is worthy of mention, please tell us in a comment below. My only rule is that you cannot recommend your own blog (if it?s a good one, then others should be recommending it for you anyway). Happy reading!

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

Growth, Multinational Companies, International Trade

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

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

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

Reward Risk

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

Investigate New Geographic Markets

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

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

Hire Talent with Entrepreneurial Skills

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

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

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

 

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

Wishing you all the best in your international efforts,

Becky DeStigter

The International Entrepreneur

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

IMG_2196For Immediate Release

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

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

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

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

 

About Becky DeStigter, FIBP

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

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

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

The International Entrepreneur ? Interview with FITT CEO, Caroline Tompkins

Caroline Tompkins, FITT, International TradeThis week it is my honor to interview Caroline Tompkins, President & CEO of the Forum for International Trade Training (FITT). For anyone unfamiliar with FITT, this organization is growing into a world standard of international trade training and certification. In a business discipline like ours that is rapidly evolving, FITT works closely with practitioners in the field to stay current and most relevant in our changing environment. Caroline is a pioneer in the movement to develop a strong global professional standard. Here was our conversation:

The International Entrepreneur (TIE): Can you briefly describe the role FITT plays in international trade

Caroline Tompkins (CT): Since 1992 FITT has been focused on the human resource element of international trade talent. We build international trade competency primarily among those working for small-and-medium-sized enterprises that rely on global business as a growth accelerator. FITT does this by providing a hands-on, practical approach to international trade training. Our content is designed by business, for business. And from that foundation we have created the world?s first professional certification for international trade practitioners: the CITP/FIBP designation.

TIE: You certainly have an important position in the world of international trade training. I?m curious – how did you come lead FITT as its President and CEO?

CT: I was hired by FITT in 1996 on a 9-month program development project. In coming to the end of my assignment, I was asked to stay on full-time. And in August 1997 was offered the role of President.

TIE: Caroline, what changes have you seen in the market for international trade training and certification since you joined FITT almost 20 years ago?

CT: In the early 1990s, you would be hard pressed to find practical training in international business. Today, it would be very challenging for any business program in a post-secondary institution not to incorporate global business as part of the curriculum. But perhaps the most significant change is how international trade is now becoming a profession ? a field of practice.

TIE: Why did FITT create the CITP/FIBP professional certification for international trade practitioners?

CT: The CITP/FIBP is more than a professional credential ? it is about defining and supporting the creation of a new profession for those who practice in global business. It is in the best interest of all countries that rely on international trade to find ways to enhance the recognition and professionalism of the individuals who are making trade happen. Trade doesn?t occur between countries ? or even between companies. It happens one transaction at a time by trade experts.

International business talent development is one of the most critical building blocks of a complete export solution and growth strategy. FITT wants to continue to support businesses and governments by cultivating the competencies and professional status of those practicing international business.

TIE: How do your staff and advisors ensure FITT?s training content is reflective of the needs of business?

Here at FITT, we continuously undertake research with businesses to identify what knowledge, skills, and abilities are most needed to support successful international trade programs. Our approach is to design and develop content specifically to meet the current and future needs of business. We work directly with professionals that make trade transactions happen. Everything we create is designed by business, for business.

TIE: How would you like to see FITT play a part in standardizing global business and reducing some business risks?

CT: International trade is still a challenging aspect of overall growth for many companies. To succeed globally, company owners and their staff need a broad skillset to undertake the multitude of tasks at hand. FITT?s job is to broaden their international business intelligence ? their international business savvy ? so that it is easier to support the company?s export growth.

Going forward, we want to expand globally developing talent to streamline trade. We want to continue doing what we are doing ? evolving trade competencies as the world around us changes, and up skilling employees and training new entrants in the field. And, we want to ensure those practicing in international business are recognized in their field of expertise.

In business, knowledge is power. In international trade, knowledge is survival. And while the decision to trade or not to trade involves many complex factors, to get involved in exporting and importing businesses need competent staff. Companies need people with talent who can recognize international trade opportunities, and who know how to act on them while mitigating the company?s risk. We at FITT want to support the capacity of SMEs to go global ? by making trade easier.

About Caroline Tompkins, CITP|FIBP, CAE,?President & CEO, Forum for International Trade Training

Caroline?s experience in the educational sector began more than 25 years ago at Simon Fraser University?s Public Policy Programs division in the Continuing Education department. Over the years she has honed her understanding and passion of cross-cultural environments through her work and travels, including working for the United Nations in Bosnia-Herzegovina during 1994 to 1995.

?Working with individuals from different backgrounds and regions of the world is one of the aspects I enjoy most about my role at FITT,? she says. ?I?ve found that success in international trade really depends upon taking the time to learn how to communicate effectively and respectfully with those around you.?

Caroline has been with FITT for nearly two decades. She is steadfast in her commitment to its continued growth as a thriving organization for international trade professionals, and has cultivated relationships with the many industry and government partners fundamental to its success.

Caroline serves as a Director for the Trade Facilitation Office of Canada (TFO) and the National Association of International Trade Educators (NASBITE) in the United States. Caroline has been a member of TEC Canada (Vistage International) since 2013. In 2012 she was presented the Queen Elizabeth 11 Diamond Jubilee Medal for her outstanding contribution to Canada?s trade community.

The International Entrepreneur ? Revitalizing Global B2B Social Media Strategy

 

Revitalizing Global B2B Social Media Strategy

As many of you know, I recommend incorporating a social media program into almost any business-to-business international marketing plan. Social media allows your staff to directly engage with current customers and targeted prospective clients, as well as intervene in a negative product or service feedback. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter have a global reach to markets companies never thought they would so easily access. Social media (both paid and organic) also significantly boosts a company website?s search engine optimization ? a key element to your potential clients finding your site online.

But unless you?ve been living under a rock, you probably knew all of that.

Since social media rarely stops at the border, companies are able to engage with some potential business online. But that doesn?t mean that social media will necessarily help you reach your company?s goals. To do that, it takes a more targeted approach to social media in international markets. Here?s a start to reviewing your global social media strategy:

Make Sure You Have Social Media Goals

I am still amazed at how many companies do not have clearly defined goals for their social media program. Or if they do have a goal, it involves something warm and fuzzy like unmeasured brand awareness. Instead, consider both reactive functions like customer service response; as well as proactive goals related to new lead identification and lead nurturing. If you don?t have clear goals, you?ll never connect with your leads!

Cloning Domestic Social Media Plans Will Flop

Social media works effectively when your content and conversations resonate with new and current customers. To be truly effective instead of merely reactive, that means taking on a decentralized social media approach on all platforms. So Facebook company pages, Twitter accounts and Linkedin company profiles should all be written in your target markets? local languages and localized to the market?s preferred marketing and selling styles. If you don?t decentralize, then you?re only seeing a fraction of the potential from overseas markets.

Know the Market?s Preferred Platforms

I recently worked with a company that decided to expand a U.S.-based Linkedin paid media into Australia and New Zealand. Those of us who focus on B2B markets know that despite Linkedin?s lower global usage rates to larger platforms like Facebook, Twitter & Google+ it can be affective in certain B2B markets. While somewhat stronger in the U.S., Linkedin has not expanded internationally at the same rate as other key platforms. In Australia, for instance, only 9% of the population has an active Linkedin account. That compares with 40% of Aussies using Facebook.

In early 2015, We Are Social released a Global Web Index report on global social media usage. Not only does Canada have almost twice as many Twitter users (23%) over Linkedin (12%), but almost half of Canadians used Facebook in the past month of their study. The French don?t use Twitter or Linkedin nearly as much as Google+ and of course the global giant, Facebook. Japan uses social media much less with top activity going to Twitter with 16%. The bottom line – your market before investing time and resources.

Global Social Media Strategy

Identify Local Social Media Resources, Then Train on Company Policies

If you are targeting the German market, then it?s time to find a local point person for German social media content creation and online communications. Your company may already be established in Germany and so you have staff or outsourced resources who can perform these functions. BUT, if this is new then consider finding a local marketing firm with social media services. To keep costs low, provide centralized content to be translated and localized.

When several local resources are managing social media, it is critical to have a written set of social media policies that state the boundaries on what a representative of the company can communicate to customers and leads. This includes branding guides, professional conduct code, what constitutes company secrets, etc. I recommend video training to reinforce these policies. Too many companies miss this step and regret retracting and responding to an inappropriate post or tweet!

The Good Guys Win in the End

Developing quality content on company website blogs is one of the cornerstones of any global social media program. One high-quality weekly post always trumps daily gibberish. And engaging social media staff who speak in their own authentic voice will attract far more qualified leads than any silly made-up personas. People can always spot the knock-off brand.

In summary, global social media has great potential to help a B2B company expand into new and existing international markets. To do this, be clear about your program goals. Consider a decentralized approach to content and communication. Pick your platforms carefully based on each market. Choose the right in-country resources, then train them on your company social media policies. And finally, deliver consistent substance and sincere engagement. Then enjoy the fruits of your efforts!
If you company needs a review of your global social media program or help setting up a program, please contact me.

Best of success in your international expansion!

Becky DeStigter

The International Entrepreneur

The International Entrepreneur – 5 International Strategy Traps to Avoid

Wrong Way, nternational Strategy , International Entrepreneur, InternationalAs an International Business Consultant, part of my job is to detect patterns and trends. Is a foreign market going to expand or contract? Can we go viral with a referral marketing program? What are the buyer personas in a new market?

But there are more than a few patterns between unsuccessful international expansions. Some of these mistakes can jeopardize success in an overseas market. Others can destroy a company. Here are 5 classic international strategy traps everyone needs to prevent:

1. Slow Organic Growth into Competitive Markets
This may sound obvious, but international expansion costs money. Some companies are fortunate enough to have a steady stream of bountiful earnings to then fuel their international expansion. Others raise cash from either equity investors or on credit. But many expand very slowly into new markets, spending funds as they become available.

This raises two sizable issues: First, organically funded expansions are rarely consistent. Instead they trickle marketing and other operations. There’s no show of real commitment to would-be clients or partners. It’s difficult for the new market to take your company seriously.

The second and more ominous problem is the local competition. Instead of using a well-funded market launch to establish a clear foothold in the country, a slow entry gives the competition plenty of time to figure out ways to ensure your failure from taking their market share.

2. No Rainy Day Plans
International expansion is usually a sunny day activity. Business is good and opportunities are abound. The exchange rate is favorable and trade barriers are low. So now what happens when something shifts back and the rain begins to fall? Companies need to always be prepared for a range of possible international changes.

Canadians, this is especially important right now for you as the Canadian Loonie is low to the American Buck. While offering Canadian-level prices might seem like a great way to expand your American client base, eventually the exchange rate pendulum will swing the other way. When that happens, your margins will get squeezed. It’s better to prepare for both exchange rate scenarios and prepare for the long run.

3. Requiring Short-Term Gratification (a.k.a. The Toddler Syndrome)
Now normally this trap ensnares either newly public companies or internationally-inexperienced leaders. After an Initial Public Offering, the pressure is turned up by quarterly reporting requirements. It becomes vital to reassure current and future investors of the company’s financial health. International expansion does not run on a quarterly system. It’s decidedly messy as it grows and matures into steadier income streams – a bit like my teenage son’s room. Guiding an internationally growing company takes a steady hand, discipline… and definitely patience.

4. The Ugly Market Exit
When sales and profits are flowing, it’s easy to be the good partner or vendor. But when an expansion goes badly, many companies will cut their losses during the market exit. They may leave a trail of debts, broken promises, contract breaches and spoiled relationships. This is bad “rainy day planning”. By saving a few dollars in the short run, this fleeing company burns bridges. But it’s more than just that. A reputation in that market and neighboring markets grows. Should the company ever decide later to go after international potential, they will find their reputation precedes them and doors will remain closed.

5. Decision-Making Based on Assumptions Instead of Research
It is truly staggering how often companies base major expansion decisions based on relatively arbitrary assumptions or shallow relationships. Staggering. There are two main assumptions that steer decision makers off course. First is the assumption of sameness. We often assume that the new market will behave like ours: same sales motivations, same sales cycles, same budget expectations, same legal structure, etc. But even countries with many similarities (U.S./Canada, Indonesia/Malaysia, Belgium/Netherlands, etc.) have plenty of differences too. Without understanding the differences there is no way to avoid costly mistakes.

The type of assumption is that which is based on stereotypes. While this trap is widespread, I see it often in the U.S. when talking about China. “The Chinese don?t respect the contract.” “The Chinese will steal your trademarks.” These stereotypes are based on many companies’ experiences, but completely miss the point of how to effectively do business with what will soon be the largest market in the world. Assumptions often take the place of both solid market research and utilizing outside international advisors. Advisors can help a company navigate what is real and what isn’t, as well as provide more concrete information on which to make smarter decisions.

All of these traps are common and detrimental to an international expansion. If your company is experiencing the challenges of international expansion and needs assistance, please contact me. I offer a 30-minute complimentary consultation to companies looking to expand or improve their international operations.  Best wishes to all!

Becky DeStigter
The International Entrepreneur

The International Entrepreneur ? Building a Stronger International Strategy

Today?s reality: most companies don?t strategically plan their international expansion. Or if there is a plan, it?s often broad and filed in some file drawer collecting dust. Instead, it sort of just happens and employees are along for the ride. If you are wondering if this is true in your organization, here are some signs of absence of a solid international strategy:

  • Knee-jerk reacting to international opportunities. Throwing resources at the newest market or big international prospective client can put untold strain on company operations trying to cover what amounts to chasing your tail.
  • Unsolicited partnerships are the backbone of your expansion. If you don?t understand motivations, the wrong resellers & other partners can steal your intellectual property or otherwise spoil your international brand.
  • Financial surprises plague profits. When issues like Italy?s profit repatriation rules, Indian labor laws or a Brazilian lawsuit keep catching your company off guard, it?s a sign of lack of research & planning.
  • Flimsy market entry justification. My favorite in this category is breaking into markets with the highest GDP growth. Since a country can have high growth one year & sink the next, it leaves no room to build a market long-term. A boat that constantly changes course will never to reach goals or a final destination.
  • Pulling out of markets based on this quarter?s earnings. Exiting an international market not only burns bridges but also often leaves many local financial obligations and works against long-term efforts.

building international strategy, international business, international marketing

A Better International Strategic Framework

The good news is that there is a better way. The tail chasing can stop and your staff can productively work together towards the right goals. Here?s where I normally begin an international strategy assessment:

  1. What?s your company?s exit strategy?
    What?s your company owners? exit strategy? Are you planning an IPO, equity buy out or acquisition? Or do you plan to pass on this company to future generations? What kind of company will your leaders be passing to its next owners? Knowing the window of time to exit helps to determine which opportunities make the most sense to maximize outcomes.
  1. What are the goals of the international expansion?
    Many companies measure international success based on the Return on Investment (ROI). If this is your situation, then your strategy needs to reflect the required Internal Rate of Return. But many companies choose to reflect multiple value-creation objectives. These can include building a global brand, increasing global market share, developing an international supply chain, and reducing dependency on a single market or currency. By defining the goals up front, you know exactly what port you?re sailing to before you leave shore.
  1. Do you know your real opportunities and costs?
    It is a rare company that takes the time to research the true potential of their markets and then the associated costs to gain market share. But those who do are typically the market leaders (no surprise, really). It takes internal staff or international consultants asking the right questions to truly unearth the new business environment BEFORE investing more resources.
  1. What are your company?s risk tolerance and comfort with foreignness?
    Inherently some international projects are riskier than others. Safe may be doing business between the U.S. and Canada, or between Germany and Austria. There are similar business environments, language, culture, etc. But at some point, success will bring opportunities that are further afield and rich in potential. When those potential clients call, is your company ready to do business in Mongolia or Mali?I recently spent time working with a software company where some of the front line staff quietly avoided following up on international leads. Needless to say, the close rates for international leads were incredibly low. The company CEO touted his global company, but there was serious resistance in the ranks.
  1. What are your financial resources for expansion?
    The best-laid plans in the world are reduced to dust when there is no money to pay for the international expansion. I am amazed at how many companies actually try the no-cash approach. In my experience it?s never successful. Ever.Most small and medium-sized technology and services companies finance their expansions slowly through retained earnings. This can be effective if it aligns to your end game plan. Some companies rely on either bank loans or equity investment to finance their expansion. This works well for a well researched, contemplated and executed plan. A fourth option that should always be considered is to look into your own government?s export promotion programs. There may be grants, low-interest loans or other incentives to expand while creating jobs in your own country.

These questions are a starting point for building a better international expansion strategy. But to truly leverage your company?s competitive advantages and global potential, you should engage with business resources who can help your company plot the course to success.

If you would like to review your company?s international expansion strategy and plans, I offer a 30-minute complimentary conference call to learn about your opportunities and challenges. To schedule this call, please email me at [email protected].

 

Best of success in all of your international business dealings!
Becky DeStigter, MS, MBA

The International Entrepreneur

The International Entrepreneur – How To Hire International-Ready Employees

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

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

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

 

Setting up for Failure

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

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

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

Why Do International Skills Matter?

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

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

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

 

Hiring for Today’s Target Markets

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

 

Hiring for Future Worldwide Expansion

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

 

Final Tips

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

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

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

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

The International Entrepreneur – 5 Tech Firm Strategy Myths that Need Busting

Have you ever wondered why international expansion results often are underwhelming and unimpressive? A tech company realizes that many international clients are proactively seeking out their products & services. They decide that it’s time to expand into new markets I think it’s time to bust some myths in international business strategy that have plagued tech industries for far too long.

international strategy, international business, international marketing

Myth 1 – If the international markets don’t succeed in a year, we can just pull out.

First, international expansion takes at least two years to fully take hold in the first international market (if you’ve done it right). Expansion takes company-wide commitment to long-term growth and profits. Second, companies that come in and then pull back out often burn the bridges of partnership and government relationships that they would need again if they tried expansion at a later time. Not a smart plan.

Myth 2 – We can lower our risks by using local market reps to sell internationally for us.

In the right circumstances using international representatives or distributors can substitute for a company knowing how to directly sell in a foreign market. The local rep can also help with product information translations and use their existing networks to accelerate sales.

But here are the risks: First, anyone with detailed product information can also turn around and sell that information to your local competitors. For technology companies, that can be a huge business risk. Second, local reps want to represent your product if it produces a lot of revenue with little effort. If it’s a more challenging market introduction, they will likely put your product on the back shelf, thereby wasting precious time in the market with few results. And third, local reps may be more open to bribing officials or companies to get the sale. This is a direct risk to a company where corruption laws are stricter and hold the parent company responsible for any unlawful payments.

Myth 3 – We can sell technology using the same sales process as we do at home.

Sales expectations vary greatly from country to country. In a place like Australia, return on investment is often measured carefully. In Egypt, buyers expect to be able to negotiate a deal with a much lower price. Some countries use contracts as the foundation of the sale while for others the contract is a mere formality. In each new market entry, the sales process needs to be carefully reviewed for local expectations.

Myth 4 – We can just translate a webpage for each new language and that will give us access to the markets speaking that language.

Keep dreaming. In reality, markets look first to their local country TLD (top level domain) such as .de, .au, etc. And then they may search in their language too. Unless you have a marketing program that focuses on building brand recognition in that language, the one-page language is a mere footnote to your site. It will not inspire confidence that you know how to do business in the places that speak that language.

Myth 5 – Ignore the advice of your local staff or other in-country marketing resources

This one seems silly and I wouldn’t include it except that I’ve actually seen several tech companies miss the wisdom from their own local resources. Local staff and marketing agencies should be giving you advice on how to better tailor your product, processes, website, etc. to work better locally. A great way to make sure that the staff is right: A/B Test the change to see if traffic, conversion and sales improve.

International strategy is critical to the long-term success of a multi-national company of any size. If you have questions about any aspect of this framework, or would like assistance in assessing your current and future international capabilities,please contact mefor a free 30-minute consultation over the phone or Skype.

Best of success in all of your international markets,

Becky DeStigter

The International Entrepreneur

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