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Managing Common Intercultural Team Flash Points

Multicultural team, international business, international entrepreneurSara sat in her office contemplating the challenges of her new team she’d inherited in Strategic Marketing. With software developers located in various tech hot spots around the global and marketing teams concentrated in Vancouver, Dubai and Luxembourg, Sara needed to navigate both the business challenges facing her company and the cultural differences of her team members.

Cultural Confrontation

Trouble was brewing between Mike, the Development Team Lead in the Vancouver office and Ahmed, Marketing Regional VP in Dubai. On the most recent team call, Ahmed had asked how Mike was doing. Mike tersely replied that he was not doing well because of unrealistic expectations of software enhancements from a Middle Eastern client. The exchange had become heated and defensive for a minute before Sara intervened and asked to take this into a separate conversation.

From then on the rest of the team on the conference call grew increasingly distant and detached from the conversation. What was wrong with these people? And why were they either openly hostile or withdrawn?

Here are some ideas to Sara:

Dig into the Heart of the Issue(s)

What is the reason for Mike and Ahmed’s obvious hostility? Is it Mike’s terse accusation when Ahmed was trying to be open and establish rapport before beginning discussions? Did Ahmed feel personally attacked because the Middle Eastern client falls under his responsibility? Do any of the disengaged team members from Luxembourg know how this team arrived at its current state?

Some issues result from cultural misunderstanding. A little coaching and both sides start to understand each other better. But thanks to human nature, this works only part of the time. Pride can oftentimes be a downfall. Here are some culture clash points to watch for:

  • Direct communicators speaking their mind and being interpreted as rude and disrespectful
  • Indirect communicators not wanting to share what is awkward or embarrassing (this includes anything that is going wrong in the project)
  • Privacy-prizing team members not wanting to share about themselves to get-to-know-you staff
  • Misunderstanding arising from assumptions around status of someone in a higher position than you, so my opinion counts more than yours.
  • The opposite issue where the intern believes he has as much valid input to share as a company executive

Bring it All Back to the Team Mission & Goals

I often recommend dissolving teams that don’t have a clear and critical mission. Let’s assume that Sara’s team mission and goals are worthy of serious attention. Focusing all team communications around that mission and goals can bridge over some of the cultural dissonance especially that which is caused when the team has never met each other in person. (If you can bring the team into the same room, it helps build rapport more than dozens of calls!) Whenever steps away from that main focus, Sara as team leader can help to bring the group back towards productivity.

Hit the Reset Button

The first question Sara could ask is: Are these the right team members to start with? We’ve all experienced a team where we honestly asked ourselves why we needed to be involved in the first place. Are there opportunities to replace team members? This might help re-energize the team. If things have gone beyond the point of any team effectiveness, then dissolving the team completely, creating a new team with a similar mission and new name could help too.

I hope this article was helpful to you. If you need help ironing out cultural or business issues in your multicultural team, please contact me at [email protected].

The International Entrepreneur – Identifying Cultural Issues in Business

Culture, international business, international negotiationsChief Legal Counsel let out a deep sigh when the subject of China came up in conversation. We were seated together in a board meeting for a local university international business think tank. I knew his company had invested heavily in manufacturing operations in southern China and was asking about how things were going. Apparently, not well.

George told me that it had started to fail right from the start. The contract had been carefully negotiated, but was ignored almost immediately by the Chinese partners. When quality assurance tests on factory outputs failed, no one in the management meeting wanted to talk about what was wrong. It was a nightmare. Finally the American manufacturer gave up and took their operations elsewhere.

In international business we know this is a common tale. There are many who pull out of a country based a lack of local cooperation and understanding of our business goals.

But before the Nativists chime in with their chorus of See! I Told You So!, let’s talk about how to identify the cultural issues so that we can decide how to move forward productively and profitably.

Always Do Your Cultural Homework

If George had done a little more research, he would have understood that contracts are viewed very differently in China. George and other company leaders might have invested more time and energy gaining the trust of their Chinese team as a strong foundation of business in Chinese culture. George would have discovered that Chinese managers will never point out embarrassing issues or mistakes in front of the group because it involves losing face, a form of career suicide. Instead George and the other executives might have talked privately with managers with whom they had developed a closer relationship to find out what was really going on.
Sources of cultural information include online articles (from reputable sources), cultural business coaches, government export agencies and in-country trusted partners. The main point is to come prepared so that the simple cultural clashes between team members and partners can be easily avoided.


Analyze the Early Points of Friction Between Team Members

I recently ran into a business culture clash of my own. Tension built over the course of three weeks. There were symptoms: stress, aggravation over seemingly simple interactions, and that feeling that we weren’t speaking the same business language. Like many of us, I tried to ignore these symptoms. But culture plays a greater role than we often realize.

In the end, it came down to a culture where process was valued over results. While I think that most of us find a balance between a focus on business processes and producing the expected results, this was a culture where process trumped all talk of results. In fact, it was made clear that I shouldn’t push so hard for results. As a consultant, that’s not a typical expectation. It sounds easy to say this now, but it took quite a bit of analysis to figure out the cultural dissonance. Sometimes it even takes an outside perspective to find the problem. Again, a cultural consultant can help.


Never Underestimate the Power of One-On-One Conversations

The first barrier is often distance. When it’s possible, travel to the source of the cultural conflict. If the factory has issues in Guangdong, then fly there to find out first hand what you can learn. If you are in a country and culture where people meet socially, this can help to bridge the divide and find the source of misunderstanding. Another option is to use a trusted intermediary. This is common in places like Brazil. The intermediary meets with both sides and helps to undercover the issues so that both sides can address it and move on together.

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The International Entrepreneur – What Makes a Great Leader… Anywhere?

Angela Merkel, Germany, International Entrepreneur, International Business

German Chancellor, Angela Merkel

This week I accept the challenge from long-time professional contacts, Sandip Sen and Linda Hughes to write about what I think makes for a great leader. As many of you know, anything I write needs to be as applicable in Buenos Aires as it is in Helsinki. With that in mind, here is my criteria for a great leader:

Great Leaders Build Trust
How people build trust varies between cultures. But one thing is for sure: a leader knows how to most quickly and effectively build trust in their own culture. For instance, a leader in Germany will focus on logic and facts to show his or her expertise. That might help in other places too, but in Mexico a leader builds trust by show his or her ability to show compassion and take care of others. In India a leader is trustworthy by showing how much he cares about outcomes. Whatever the culture, trust is the common characteristic.

To build trust, you also need consistency. Followers need to know that they can count on their leader. How much trust would there be if a leader lost his composure when the company?s key client decides to go elsewhere or when the investor walks minutes from when they were supposed to sign the papers? That’s when the rubber meets the road and you learn exactly what type of leader is in charge.

Great Leaders Drive the Train
Sometimes there is confusion around a leader’s true role. But the bottom line is this: a leader sets the vision and the direction. They decide which track the train is going to ride. They don’t collect the tickets and they don’t fetch coal from the coal car. The leader needs to bring in the right resources to keep train moving towards its destination.

Sometimes it may be hard for a leader to let go of certain functions they’ve grown used to managing. This is especially true for many entrepreneurs. They used to write the code or answer online chats. And now they focus on resources like the next round of investment funds. Even a great leader can slip backwards into tasks they should be delegating. But it’s never to late to focus on the track and arriving at the destination safely and on time!

Great Leaders Communicate the Right Messages to the Right People at the Right Time
That’s actually a very tall order. But great leaders master this art of message and timing. It’s about communicating vision and strategy. But it’s also about communicating hope and the plans in times of crisis. Recently my company decided to walk away from a bad investment deal. It was the right decision, but had serious implications for staff who were counting on increased budgets and additional staff. Our Founder and CEO brought everyone together in a company-wide meeting. He told us the news and then put it into context that we could understand why it was better for the company in the long run. The CEO answered questions about how the news would impact employees and various projects. No one left the company from the news and everyone continued to work hard moving the company forward.

Some rules for this messaging: First, anything written or said must be sincere. People know when they are being misled or else they eventually find out. Communications need to be clear and focused. And there needs to be a way, direct or indirect to find out if the message was received in its intended way. Feedback loops are key and often ignored by most leaders.

I hope you found this article interesting. Please feel free to comment to add to this discussion!

Best wishes in all of your business efforts,

The International Entrepreneur – Interview with International Export Expert, Ed Marsh (Part 2)

Ed Marsh, International Entrepreneur, International Business

Ed Marsh, Consilium Global Business Advisors

Two weeks ago I posted Part 1 of my interview with international B2B sales and marketing expert, Ed Marsh. Today I share the rest of Ed’s insightful answers.

Q3: What’s the biggest mistake you see companies making in their online marketing for global markets?

A3: ?Most US companies make the same fundamental mistake globally that they make domestically. ?Their entire marketing and sales approach is built on who they are, what they do/make?.from their perspective. ?And that?s functionally irelevent to any potential prospect in the world, including at home in the US. ?It makes them ideal 3rd bid participants, but not dynamic growth engines.

The solution is to really understand their buyers – and often assumptions are so firmly embedded in a company that outside assistance is critical to really understanding buyers challenges, perspectives, goals, etc. ?Buyer personas must be rigorously built, and then a complex ?3D buyers journey? constructed. ?That?s the foundation for successful market development domestically which is, in turn, the foundation for global success.

But that?s also where trouble arises?..because companies proceed to use that same foundation globally. ?Partially because it?s a lot of work to build it properly in each case, and partially because it takes deep market familiarity and extensive interviews to construct – it doesn?t get built for target markets. ?Then they compound that with translation.

Effective global content isn?t translated, or even localized. ?It?s transcreated, or created in the local language based on the local persona and optimized around the native and intuitive keywords which describe the market specific business challenges prospects there face.

So exporters need to think of digital marketing as a process of continuous improvement and innovation – instead of a website. ?They need to really nail their domestic program first. ?Then they can incrementally internationalize what they have – experimenting and adjusting based on metrics each step of the way.

Q4: What are you recommending to U.S. clients worried about the strong dollar affecting their export potential?

A4: ?Interestingly I don?t hear many concerns expressed about the strength of the USD. ?Certainly today?s cross is less favorable than the rates over the past several years, but I don?t have the sense that it?s impacting projects…at least yet.

But I suspect that specific concern may be implied in uncertainty around the bigger topics of foreign exchange and payments. ?Those are perennial areas of considerable worry to US companies. ?Often the resources to whom they naturally turn for advice, their accountant and commercial banker, are unfamiliar themselves. ?That creates a real barrier to export success.

So in general I recommend that they find other resources/advisors/service providers for that expertise, and further that:

  1. They embrace hedging – it?s neither some whizz kid MBA complicated thing, nor some dastardly Enron approach. ?It?s simply agreeing today to buy currency at some point in the future for a given price. ?Companies can easily and inexpensively lock in today?s margin on a deal and let the FX market do as it will. ?A good currency trading resource will be inexpensive, responsive and proactive with business recommendations. ?And international customers will appreciate your flexibility to work in their currency.
  2. They secure foreign receivables insurance – not every deal can get done with cash in advance. ?Banks push clients into L/Cs which can be appropriate, but are expensive, complicated, often have gaps…and ultimately are more in the bank?s interest than the clients?. ?Insuring foreign receivables (details vary by policy) not only protects the seller against buyer default and other risks such as non-convertibility of currency, but it also allows companies to use a higher portion of receivables in the asset base upon which their borrowing capacity is calculated.

Q5: Any last advice you’d like to share with growing B2B companies currently expanding in international markets?

A5: ?Four things. ?The first is a small, simple one. ?The way to grow exports is to look for profitable customers to add. ?It needn?t be some huge, expensive, protracted project with an ephemeral payoff years down the road. ?Make it easy for the right buyers to find you, work through the transactional details, and start making money globally.

The second is a bigger, more strategic topic. ?A huge percentage of US SMBs are owned & managed by baby boomers. ?They?ve grown accustomed to a sellers? M&A market over the past few years. ?But research shows that a majority plan a transition over the next five to ten years – and when they simultaneously move in that direction, suddenly the inertia will shift and it will be a buyers? market. ?That means that companies need to move proactively to achieve key strategic positioning steps which will help to competitively distinguish their company from many others in a crowded market. ?That?s where global diversification is key. ?Not only should their global sales ?contribute ?rising revenue and profits (key to valuation, particularly among competitors with stagnant or anemic earnings) but also the diversification itself will create value – perhaps even enough to position a company as a strategic acquisition target for acquirers seeking further global diversification themselves.

The third is practical. ?Current US debt levels will almost certainly result in increased tax burdens on SMBs, particularly on pass-through entities commonly used by privately held SMBs. ??That means that tax reduction strategies should be at least part of business planning – and exports could be hugely beneficial through the IC-DISC structure that?s been around for years and was recently made permanent. ?It offers companies nearly 16% savings on profits from export sales. ?That?s probably appealing just based on today?s rates – but almost certainly will be more so as rates are likely to rise.

Finally is the value of lessons learned. ?1:2 babies born in the US today is Latino. ?But there is no monolithic Latino culture – rather it?s a diverse group of cultures and languages from throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. ?There?s no better way to learn how to successfully market and sell to those US consumers than to dive deeply into the markets from which they come. ?And there are many other product, service and application lessons which can be learned in foreign markets which will spawn R&D and successful new product offerings for the domestic market.

About Ed Marsh

Ed was going to be an architect because he loved the nexus of engineering and design. ?That was before was going to be an engineer; before he graduated from Johns Hopkins; before he was an Army Infantry Officer (Airborne Ranger); before he set B2B industrial sales records; before he was partners with a German capital equipment manufacturer; before he founded a distribution/rep company for industrial products in India; until he decided that managing a business and employees wasn?t what he enjoyed. ?Now that Ed?s got all of that out of his system he runs a consultancy that helps US manufacturing companies grow by applying process excellence to business development ? completing the full circle back to an engineering & design combination. ?His practice is built on a unique methodology which combines powerful digital marketing methodologies (a HubSpot partner) with his extensive international biz dev experience. Ed is also Export Advisor to American Express

About Consilium Global Business Advisors: ?Consilium assists American manufacturers in applying process excellence to their business development. ?In other words we help lean, well managed companies with rock solid bottom lines effectively and consistently grow their top lines to match. ?We work primarily with mid size industrial manufacturing companies, guiding them through a journey of designing and executing business grade B2B inbound marketing and focused, profitable global market expansion.

The International Entrepreneur – Interview with International Export Expert, Ed Marsh (Part 1)

Ed Marsh, International Entrepreneur, International Business

Ed Marsh, Consilium Global Business Advisors

This week I have the pleasure?of interviewing one of the top independent experts in the international business consulting field, Ed Marsh?from Boston. If you need expertise particularly in B2B manufacturing markets, Ed is a tremendous resource. His articles are an excellent read too. Here are?Ed’s answers to my questions:

Q1: What are some of the changes you’ve seen in global markets over the past few years? Any important trends?

A1: I?ve seen three major changes shift the global sales growth environment. First, the concept of ?emerging markets? is now a bit outdated. Most markets have emerged and are now developing. There are a few comparatively ?green field? markets remaining in Africa, but most of the others, including many that most US companies consider too different, are actually fairly well developed. Chinese, German and other exporters are often already active, and so the growth play is no longer to ?seize a beachhead? but rather to leverage the favorable ?Made in USA? cachet as domestic consumer demand grows.

Second, nearly every country is undertaking export promotion efforts – from large, developed and wealthy nations down to recently emerged. And nearly every company is actively importing and even if they?re not yet exporting. That means that global trade is far more fluid. It no longer takes a large company infrastructure to manage the process. Logistics, payments, communications & travel are now essentially ubiquitous. In other words, it?s more feasible for small companies to export now, than ever. And therefore the barriers are more commonly internal (e.g. mindset) than external. And it?s also increasing competition in every market – including at home. So many companies can leverage export to overcome stagnating domestic sales.

Third, the internet. Ten years ago a company that wanted to export faced a lengthy, expensive and laborious journey that started with extensive research; then an educated guess (or gamble) on a market; then a long process of establishing a presence and building relationships, credibility and awareness. In contrast, today, with smart phones leapfrogging internet access into areas still lacking hard wire telephone, companies are growing rapidly – and any one of those rapidly growing companies is a prospect for US exporters (as well as Chinese, German, Indian, etc.) That creates a huge shift from a cumbersome market based approach to an ideal (profitable, long-term) prospect approach. In essence companies today can build a business by helping profitable buyers find them, regardless of passport or country code (almost) – rather than the herculean task of ?building markets.?

Q2: Where do you think manufacturers are missing opportunities in key international markets?

A2: They?re not accounting for demographics. Most companies select target markets based on news headlines reciting population and GDP statistics. And companies that build their export growth on inbound results, or helping profitable buyers find them, will often develop concentrations in today?s most dynamic markets. But once a global sales capability has been developed within a company, then it?s appropriate to supplement initial activity with strategically selected market development. Diversification against regional concentration risk, and political and currency risk is built on a deliberate process of market analysis and selection. And that selection needs to anticipate the future – which is largely demographics driven.

Many of today?s active markets have demographic trends which point to substantially diminished future significance. That doesn?t mean that there won?t be profitable sales originating in those markets – but if a company plans to invest in a market anticipating success in ten years, that market should be one which demographics indicate will be growing and vibrant.

They also often overlook important opportunities in smaller markets, or metro concentrations (vs. pan national efforts.) For US companies with a domestic market of 330MM pax, markets like Colombia (48MM), Vietnam (93MM), Turkey (74MM) and Lagos (21MM) in the latter category not only punch above their weight economically, but represent substantial incremental market opportunity (15%, 30%,23% & 7% respectively.) And I recommend comparing that to US markets that they might have eagerly worked long and hard to enter. Charlotte (2.3MM), Seattle (3.6MM) and Dallas (7MM) for example. So companies looking to exports for revenue growth opportunities should not reflexively chase the BRICs. There are compelling markets with much lower barriers to entry.

Tune in next week for the rest of Ed Marsh’s interview!

About Ed Marsh

Ed was going to be an architect because he loved the nexus of engineering and design. ?That was before was going to be an engineer; before he graduated from Johns Hopkins; before he was an Army Infantry Officer (Airborne Ranger); before he set B2B industrial sales records; before he was partners with a German capital equipment manufacturer; before he founded a distribution/rep company for industrial products in India; until he decided that managing a business and employees wasn?t what he enjoyed. ?Now that Ed?s got all of that out of his system he runs a consultancy that helps US manufacturing companies grow by applying process excellence to business development ? completing the full circle back to an engineering & design combination. ?His practice is built on a unique methodology which combines powerful digital marketing methodologies (a HubSpot partner) with his extensive international biz dev experience. Ed is also Export Advisor to American Express

About Consilium Global Business Advisors: ?Consilium assists American manufacturers in applying process excellence to their business development. ?In other words we help lean, well managed companies with rock solid bottom lines effectively and consistently grow their top lines to match. ?We work primarily with mid size industrial manufacturing companies, guiding them through a journey of designing and executing business grade B2B inbound marketing and focused, profitable global market expansion.

The International Entrepreneur- An Interview with Global Talent & Leadership Expert, Joanne Flynn

Joanne, Flynn, Phoenix, Strategic PerformanceToday I have the honor of interviewing Joanne Flynn of Phoenix Strategic Performance. Joanne is a thought leader in the areas of strategic organizational alignment, organizational agility, business resilience, human capital gap analysis, leadership challenges for the new workplace and change management. Here is what Joanne had to share:
Q1: What are the biggest mistakes you see companies making in terms of global talent management??

Over the decades the same, obvious mistake continues to happen. ?We don’t take into account the cultural nuances of the international business culture we are either doing business in or with. ?From an American perspective, we continue to think that other cultures will naturally adapt to our American business culture and we stumble every time. ?We must understand and then acknowledge the differences, teach them and then incorporate them into the business operating style, mentality and practice of every person responsible for interacting on a global level. ?If employees can’t make that leap – they should not be allowed to play on the global playing field.


Q2: What are the traits you look for in a successful global corporate leader?

I look for global citizen with global business acumen, cultural business acumen and the ability to adapt leadership style and practices to the local cultural needs. If an organization is committed to global growth, it needs to develop a bench of global leaders before there is a specific need. A crash course in working globally doesn?t necessarily create the true multidimensional global / cultural mindset that a true global leader needs.?? The worst scenario takes place when an organization has a global post that needs to be assigned. The leader assigned is a home office SME but has never worked internationally. This person is ?immersed? in everything local in the 2 weeks prior to being reassigned, and we consider that person ?fit for purpose?.?? Consider that an emergency measure ? not a long-term global strategy.


Q3: How important is cultural competency in international business hiring/promotion decisions?

Cultural competency is a fundamental strategic and operating skill. If that skill is missing, then the strategic business impact can be both damaging and derailing. ?I have seen instances where lack of cultural competency sidelined an organization?s growth for 5 years. ?Can we afford those types of mistakes in a highly competitive global marketplace? ?I don’t think so!


Q4: In your opinion, which works better: moving expats into key overseas positions or hiring local?

If your operation is a start-up, you should begin with moving culturally sensitive, well-versed expats into the new organization. They bring with them corporate knowledge and the network to get things done quickly. However, you need to immediately plan to onboard local talent as quickly as possible.

If your operation is sustainable business, then hiring local talent should be the goal ? only using expats when necessary and for the short term.


Q5: What advice can you give a growing company about hiring locals for positions in foreign subsidiaries?

If you can find local talent who can understand your organization?s goals ? it is best to hire locally. However, you must bring that person into your central operating hub so the local hire has the advantage of learning about your organization first had and understanding your operating culture. I have seen examples of when the local person is hired in and then left to figure things out. That normally does not end well.

If you cannot immediately find local talent, then you must send a non-local employee to start the process but immediately construct a plan to find and develop local talent. Be sure that whoever the non-local employee is, they have the ability to work in a local and global environment.


About Joanne Flynn

Joanne Flynn is the Managing Director of Phoenix Strategic Performance, a strategic human capital advisory firm. She focuses on human capital relative to strategic initiatives, business growth, value creation and business development. Since 1989, Joanne has headed up the consulting practice of Phoenix Group International. Previously, from 1980 ? 1989, Joanne was Vice President of Global Learning & Development for Goldman Sachs, Inc.

Joanne is experienced in all aspects of organizational development and training on a global level. Her consulting engagements have included the design and delivery of training and development programs on the topics of strategic leadership, business development, client account management, strategic selling, management development, and executive coaching. Her consulting clients range from global investment banks, small private equity / venture capital firms to small to mid-sized companies.

Joanne holds a Master of Arts degree in Business Management from the University of Oklahoma. In addition, she graduated summa cum laude and holds a double degree major in History and German from the College of St. Elizabeth in New Jersey. She also holds certificates from a variety of leading professional training and development organizations.

The International Entrepreneur – Localizing Websites for International Markets

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

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

My Advice: Match Website Approach to Your International Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Onward & upward
Becky DeStigter

The International Entrepreneur – Structuring Your Website for International Markets


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

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

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

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

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

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


The Main Website Internationalization Options

  1. Leave the Website Alone

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

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

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

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

  1. Localize with TLD Country Codes

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

What are the Trade Offs Between Approaches?

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

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

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

The International Entrepreneur – Getting Started with Internationalizing Your Website

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

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

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

Balance Website Costs with Long-term Opportunities

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

Don’t Use Translator Widgets

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

Choose International Content Wisely

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

Lastly, Learn the SEO Rules for Internationalization

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

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

The International Entrepreneur – Startup Stage Planning for International Expansion

International Business ExpansionRecently I presented and mentored at the Phoenix Startup Week, where I met many technology entrepreneurs. While most companies start expanding into international markets as part of their growth stage, there are many reasons why even the earliest startup stage company should begin planning for international as early as possible.

Start With the End in Mind
As with all entrepreneurial ventures, it’s important to start with the end game. Do you plan to sell your company to private equity investors in five years? Do you want to have an Initial Public Offering? Or do you plan to keep building this company until your retirement and then pass it on to your children? Each exit leads to a separate set of international expansion decisions.

Start by asking:
What role(s) would international expansion play in the company’s growth?
International expansion could be a growth accelerator building company for the long term. Expansion could also mean lowering risks of depending on one market even in economic downturns. And international markets often expose a company’s leaders to new product ideas and business practices that can improve overall company success.

Can the profits be maximized before the exit?
Alternatively, international operations may not be fully profitable by the time the company gets acquired and therefore counterproductive. Again, it’s all about the exit strategy!

What do you want as future positioning against your competition?

Especially in some niche industries, being the world industry leader is key to stronger branding and better negotiation positions with suppliers. I have also seen many companies expand internationally by acquiring their former competitors in other countries.

Preparations Start Now
It is hard to imagine this future global company when the current challenges are issues like being able to write payroll checks at the end of the month or getting the new product release to market. But if these early stage efforts are successful, international clients will come knocking on your door very soon. Here are some simple, proactive steps you can take now to be a little more ready:

1. Outside Resources Should Be Internationally Scalable. Can your accounting firm handle international transactions and overseas reporting? If it’s a firm with an expanded international presence, they can. If you use someone that is lower cost and local, then it’s fine for now. But be ready to switch when the time comes. That’s true for legal counsel, IT, marketing services and suppliers.

2. Talent Management Needs to Include Global Competency. As your company begins to add staff, be sure to seek talent that has international experience or at least interest in building a global company. Few job descriptions in the startup and even growth stage companies even consider cross-cultural skills and experience.

3. Prepare Products and Services for Expansion. Sometimes it’s something simple like using Metric System in product design instead of the American-centric English Measurement System. But it can also include product sizing and packaging sizing. As products are packed into shipping containers, it helps when they all fit efficiently into those spaces. This is usually an afterthought.

Most technology startup companies I know began their international expansion as a reaction to an overseas client approaching them to purchase products or services. Then a second client comes in. After several of these international clients discover the company’s offering, the company’s leadership team starts to wonder if there are more international markets.

When the international clients begin to find you, it’s time to get serious about international expansion planning. When you are ready for this next step, please contact me if I can be of assistance in market research, expansion planning, or finding the right in-country introductions.

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