logo

International Business´s archives ↓

The International Entrepreneur – Tips for Being an International Distributor

Tips for Being an International Distributor

A Kenyan distributor recently wrote to me asking for advice to build an in-country distributor business. He was interested in representing more products in the Kenyan market and wanted to find the right suppliers for his business. That is a great topic especially given both the opportunities associated with reselling globally-branded products and the risks of working with new supplier partners. Here is my advice:

 

Specialize by Client Profile and Seek Related Products

I remember traveling once in Italy and visiting Pisa with its famous vertically-challenged tower. The sky filled with clouds and all at once a heavy shower drenched every tourist in sight, sending everyone running for cover. The nearby Ethiopian entrepreneurs tucked away their packs of postcards just in time and switched to selling umbrellas covered with images of famous Italian sites. I still have my emergency Pisa umbrella purchased that day. These Ethiopians knew their target market: tourists like me. Our changing needs were their new opportunities.

This is true for business-to-business markets as well. All companies look for resources to help them find smart solutions to their challenges. Whether your clients are hospitals, schools, young tech companies or any other profile, learn what they need through conversations in order to identify the types of products you should be representing. If your company wants to expand to serve more diverse sets of clients, consider adding staff or even teams to address this new market rather than spread resources too thin across a disconnected base.

 

Define Your Geography

Distributors normally cover a specific region. In a large country, this may be a handful of states or provinces or even as small as a metropolitan area if the local product demand is high. But in some areas of the world, a distributor may be able to cover a much larger area because clients are located far from each other. In the case of Africa, a distributor with headquarters in Nairobi may hire employees or contractors in neighboring countries like Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania to help him sell products in those countries. But whatever the size of the distributor?s covered territory, it is vitally important that they are able to support sales throughout the whole area with local language, on-site visits, etc.

 

Focus on Business Relationships Over Transactions

As a reseller for an international product, your business depends on both your relationships with both your suppliers in another country as well as the relationships with your clients. Transaction-based sales assume that you do not care if you do business with this client again. Relationship-based selling includes:

  • Building Trust. It takes time to earn a client or supplier?s trust. One of the most important components of trust-building is consistently delivering on what you say you will do.
  • Building Reputation. Your reputation is how others would describe you and your business. Do they see you as someone who delivers product on time? Do you work hard to find new potential clients? Do you contact target accounts regularly to find out their needs? A good reputation always leads to referrals to new suppliers and clients. It is a key long-term investment.
  • Caring about both suppliers and clients? success. Long-term relationships as a distributor and supplier always should focus on how to help your suppliers and clients succeed. If you serve the hospital market, then how do your clients define success? What keeps them from being more successful in your market? Even if you can?t solve a problem like the need for investors, a lack of qualified medical staff or new government health regulations, it shows great concern and understanding to acknowledge challenges they face and to be looking for ways to help them be successful.

 

Find Suppliers You Can Trust Now? and Later

Start on the right footing by carefully choosing companies and products you want to represent. Have a clear explanation about how each supplier and their products fits with the rest of your product offering to your clients.

Build international supplier networks with those you feel you can trust. Even the best product fit must also be met with a trustworthy staff. Does the supplier take time to talk with you? Do the company employees follow through with what they say and do?

Before signing on as a distributor, be sure to check a company?s reputation in both their country and yours. A third party investigator verify. Also, you can ask to talk with other distributors currently working with the company.

 

International distributors is a popular option for growing companies to reach new markets. It is equally beneficial for those companies in the overseas markets wanting to represent new offerings. As a distributor you will want to focus on a specific client profile and geographic region. Focusing on identifying and building business relationships with overseas suppliers is more important than those early sales. Only work with those you can trust!

The International Entrepreneur – Improving Employee Engagement in Your Global Workforce

Improving Employee Engagement in your Global Workforce

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

 

A Pandemic of Disengaged Zombie Workers

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

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

We don?t want to lose that sense of individual employee contribution and drive to beat the odds.

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

 

Globally The Disengagement Issue Compounds

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

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

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

 

Who in the Organization Should Fix This Issue?

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

 

How to Increase Employee Engagement Worldwide

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

  1. Hire the right people overseas. Even within an overseas market, there is always a wide candidate pool variance. If your company values high energy staff or a connection to your mission or customer focus, then search for that match in international hires too.
  2. Ask the right questions and then listen to the answers. When an office or staff member seems out of alignment with the rest of the company, it?s the time to ask: ?What do you think about…:?? ?Can you see a better way to do??? ?What would help you to feel more engaged in your job?? If it?s possible to fix the situation by conversation, then it saves the company the cost of replacing another employee.
  3. Learn the cultural basics of your global offices. Instead of assuming sameness, find out what the differences are to head off future conflict and energy drains. An easy Internet search will provide basic information on a country?s business culture.
  4. Take input from all locations for company goals and employee reward systems. Part of employee engagement is ownership in the company?s outcomes and processes. Solicit input and credit great ideas from outside of the HQ office.
  5. Explain why decisions are being made and how a decision fits into the long-term strategy. Since business rules change from country to country, it helps to explain that context in which your company leaders make their decisions. Decisions that don?t seem to make sense are a major demotivater.

 

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

 

Onward and upward,

Becky DeStigter

 

For more information about growing and supporting your international company, join the International Trade Tribe:

Sign Up for TIps & Tools

The International Entrepreneur – Setting up Your International Distributor Program for Success

international distributor partner representative

 

Your company may use a partner, channel, distributor or representative (rep). They all may follow slightly different selling structures. But call them what you want. If they are bringing in new profitable clients, then you love them.

I?ve talked with many young, growing firms who manage an international distributor program as a way to quickly expand into new international markets. There is a strong case to be made for this approach. The costs are low – much lower than setting up a local subsidiary, hiring staff, making local connections and managing local compliance and tax regulations. Distributors already have local network connections. They know how to sell into their local market. It can be a great early-stage market entry approach to help rapidly expand your company?s global footprint.

Now that was the Disneyland Version of international partners. For most companies, their distributor outcomes are more mixed with some partners performing beyond expectations, others selling literally nothing, and some requiring high levels of staff support that eat through any profits they may have produced. While I cannot guarantee your success with all partners, here is my advice to improve your partner success rate:

1. Proactively recruit your international representatives.?

Once a company signals that they are doing business internationally, foreign agents of many types will want to be your exclusive distributor to their home country or region. But just because a Brazilian agent approaches you does not mean that they are qualified, connected or otherwise the best representation available.

It make take a little more work upfront, but it is definitely worth the time and energy to proactively seek out Brazilian rep options. Then it is just as important to properly vet these potential partners for their reputation, connections, legal standing, etc. As I’m sure you all know from your own experiences,?partner turnover is costly.

 

2. Develop a close relationship with your partners.

This may sound counterintuitive to some. After all, the less time spent with a rep means less support costs. But that?s the Accountant?s Approach to international expansion and a self defeating one at that. Strong channels mean much higher sales potential, which normally outweigh the costs by many fold.

Instead, try to arrange to visit each rep at least once a year in their home market. This will set you apart from the majority of other companies your distributor represents. A rep likely represents a few dozen to a few hundred products. You want to make sure that your products are top of mind when he or she is talking with potential clients.

It also helps greatly if your business relationship with a rep grows in complexity and integration between your companies. If the relationship is basic and remote, then when either side falls on tough times or the first sign of challenges, they will leave the arrangement. It is much better to have reasons to stay and strengthen your channels.

 

3. Work together to decide on the right in-country messaging and supporting materials.
International representatives have every reason to help you figure out the best way to communicate with local potential buyers. It is not unusual for buying and selling patterns to shift significantly from market to market.

The place to start is with your company?s current marketing assets. What can be used without any alterations? Is there anything that can be easily created by you or your country rep to suit their selling process? It may be something as simple as a localized phone script or a few slides changed in the sales slide deck. Try to keep any localization changes simple at this stage and plan for more involved marketing if your company eventually sets up a foreign subsidiary.

 

4. Find individual (and group) motivational tools.
As business leaders, we already know that our employees are each motivated by different triggers. Joe, your customer service manager, ?may want an extra week of vacation time instead of its equivalent cash bonus OR he may prefer a paid executive coach to mentor his career as reward for professional success. Partner-specific motivation?is an area of channel management where creativity pays off.

You may have two competing distributors – one in Sydney and the other in Melbourne – who have a cultivated rivalry. Buy an obnoxiously large trophy and offer the trophy plus bragging rights to the distributor who sells the most of your products by the end of the fiscal year.

Your rep may be motivated by title promotion. Honestly, I would call a rep a Chief Selling Officer of Thailand if they doubled their Thai sales this year. It?s relatively easy to change and costs nothing. This may be useful in combination with other incentives.

Sales departments have been using the ?President?s Club? motivator for years. Those who exceed quota are invited often with spouses to a luxury trip paid for by the company. There may be some creative version of this concept that could work for high performance channel partners.

 

Regardless of your approaches to building your international selling team, I hope that you find some of these ideas useful. It?s best to just keep an open mind and an eye towards creative solutions. A strong network of international sales will help propel your company towards greater growth and profitability.

 

For more information about growing and supporting your international company, join the International Trade Tribe:

Sign Up for TIps & Tools

The International Entrepreneur ? The Globalization of American High Tech

international trade, information technology, globalization, international entrepreneur

This week I wrapped up a 3-week project researching American IT companies that expanded into international markets. Normally my clients hire me to focus on markets outside the U.S., so it was interesting to study?the industry I serve.

Honestly, I thought I knew all about the American IT industry. I have spent the better part of the last 22 years working for American IT companies as an employee and contractor. What?I learned about my home market and industry surprised me and I wanted to share it with my readers.

 

Market Insights from Studying American IT Firms

I identified?200 American IT companies that had?less than 1,000 employees worldwide and were actively internationalizing into new foreign markets. Most of the companies picked for my study were recruiting staff both in the U.S. and in overseas offices. I did not choose any companies that were clearly locked in?a 2-country model for outsourcing or similar purposes, with no plans for global domination. I did not target specific states or metro areas. I understand that this is not a study with full academic rigor, but still it was hard to ignore the trends.

Here?s what I discovered:

  1. Not all American IT industry clusters are producing internationalizing companies. Almost HALF of the internationalizing IT companies were based in 2 metro areas: Silicon Valley/Bay Area (68) and Boston (26).
    Then came Tier 2 Clusters of internationalizing tech companies: Los Angeles/San Diego (18), New York City (16), Seattle (8), and Chicago (6).
    What was just as interesting were?the metro areas considered to be strong in IT companies that are disproportionately low in internationalization: Denver/Boulder, Phoenix, Portland (Oregon), Philadelphia, North Carolina, Twin Cities and Washington DC.
    Two notable additional bright spots were Manchester, NH and Salt Lake City, UT both coming in with 4 internationalizing IT companies apiece. Here is a map showing where the U.S. high-tech markets are. Clearly the internationalizing clusters are a subset of the whole.

  2. Internationalization seems to take place between 100 and 200 employee counts across a wide variety of IT markets. This includes companies doing everything from developing gaming platforms to offering SaaS business processes to security networks to storage technologies. There are 2 noteworthy exceptions: healthcare IT and B2G (business-to-government) industries. After reviewing dozens of both types of companies, neither internationalize until much later in their product cycles. It?s a shame, really, since both government and healthcare technologies are bought and sold all over the world.
  3. IT services offshoring companies rarely made the list of 200 companies even though their entire business model is based on globalization. The truth is that these companies may have Indian or Mexican operations, but they don?t sell into any market except the U.S. Opportunities are being missed.
  4. There is no standard international expansion market pattern. Companies literally had a patchwork of offices and operations around the world. While there are definitely popular overseas office locations: London, Singapore, Toronto, Sydney, Amsterdam; companies seem to be weighing options in various markets instead of following a predetermined step-by-step rollout. In my option, that?s proactive and positive.

What is internationalization?

For quick reference, here?s my practical definition of company internationalization:

  • A company that is PROACTIVELY entering new foreign markets to sell products and services. This also applies to the supply management side ? sourcing materials and services from around the world.
  • A company that is actively engaged in understanding the market potential in various parts of the world.
  • While many companies begin their international expansion using in-country local representatives or distributors, I think true internationalization is when companies begin to expand directly to new markets with new offices and hiring in-country staff.

Why is internationalization important?

Globalization is a defining force of our time. Its momentum rides right along with the other primary drivers ? technology and entrepreneurship ? as changes that will affect our grandchildren?s grandchildren.

For companies, internationalization is a game changer. It means:

  • Having the choice to expand?into international markets (?internationalize?) at much earlier stage than ever before.
  • Increasing?your overall market size by somewhere between 100-500%.
  • Learning industry advances and operational efficiencies in one market that can be applied to the rest of the company?s markets (called “arbitrage”).
  • Access to investment funds and other resources not necessarily available in your home market.
  • Country portfolio risk reduction ? not all markets go through downturns and upturns at the same time. Multiple markets balance?out the risks.
  • Access to the global talent pool to help drive smarter decision making and better leadership and management.

As I often discuss with?IT company leaders, internationalization is like your planet developing “warp drive technology” on the TV/movie series ?Star Trek?. Pre-warp-drive planets have a single planet view of what is possible. But once the planet?s scientists and engineers develop this high-speed capacity for travel, Star Trek sends an envoy to meet your leaders and welcome you into the larger intergalactic realm. Internationalization in a similar way opens up the business environment to the other 95% of our planet?s population.

So if you are an IT company leader or someone invested in a local IT cluster?s success, what does all of this mean for you?

  • It means that clusters like Silicon Valley and Boston have investors/VCs who expect internationalization as a company?s ?Warp Drive? when they reach their growth stage. These industry clusters cultivate available resources to help make that happen. This can be developed in other markets as well.
  • It means that if your company has a headcount of 200+ and you don?t yet have international operations in at least 2 foreign markets, you may be late to internationalization and should actively be researching the advantages and risks involved. To expedite this, hire outside international business expansion consultants.
  • It means there is no one best way to expand internationally. Use your own competitive advantages and market research to optimize this process.

Now, in the immortal words of Star Trek?s Mr. Spock: Live long and prosper!

Becky DeStigter, The International Entrepreneur

Sign Up for TIps & Tools

The International Entrepreneur ? The Growing War for Global Talent

global talent, global HR, international trade

I see it expanding every day?

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

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

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

1) Myanmar

2) Bulgaria, Serbia & Venezuela

5) Moldova & Yemen

7) Burundi

8) Croatia

9) Haiti & Kyrgyzstan

11) Algeria, Lebanon, Mauritania & Ukraine

15) Chad & Slovakia

 

Those doing best at keeping their talent home?

1) Switzerland & Qatar

3) United States

4) Finland & Norway

6) UAE

7) Hong Kong

8) Singapore

9) Germany & Malaysia

11) Luxembourg & United Kingdom

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

 

All of this comes back to one basic question:

 

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

 

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

 

For countries?

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

They?ll also need infrastructure like broadband, transportation and other foundations upon which to build new companies as entrepreneurs. Speaking of which, the 24 highest-rated countries for entrepreneurial activity ? none of them are on the brain drain list. That?s no coincidence, especially some of their neighboring countries are hemorrhaging talent. Cultivating entrepreneurship can engage many smart homegrown talent. For the record, the U.S. doesn?t crack the top entrepreneurial activity list either.

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

 

For companies?

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

Now SMEs can take it a step further and hire employees regardless of national boundaries. There is a new service called GEO ? Global Employment Outsourcing that allows a service provider to be a company?s Employer of Record in country. This means that you pay to have your employee hired in Finland and that employee is paid in local currency, complies with all local employment laws and practices, and is billed back to you. It?s a game changer because it doesn?t require having a local subsidiary set up in Finland.

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

 

For individuals?

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

Examples to avoid: If you want to work on the sidelines of the war for global talent, don?t update your skills to match what international employers need. Don?t network and for gosh sakes don?t learn any cross-cultural skills or languages.

 

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

For more Tips and Tools on International Business, join the International Trade Tribe.

The International Entrepreneur ? International Business Lessons from Mark Zuckerberg

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

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

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

Impressive as this interview may be, China still doesn?t open its doors wide to Facebook or other social media platforms that aren?t easily censored. It?s a political issue and one that is difficult for most Westerners to understand. Why would Chinese citizens allow this censorship to continue? Why would they allow themselves to be ruled by a small group of unelected party officials? There are several reasons, but the main one is rooted in Chinese culture: harmony. But I digress away from our topic.

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

Mark Zuckerberg, India, International Trade,

Image Source: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/Business Insider

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

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

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

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

For more Tips and Tools on International Business, you can join the International Trade Tribe.

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

 

international digital marketing, global marketing, international entrepreeur

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

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

Accelerating the digital marketing revolution further is small & medium-sized companies? access to content management, social media, marketing automation, data analytics and other online tools. Thanks to digitally-enabling products from Google, Hubspot, Infusionsoft, Constant Contact, Twitter, Facebook, WordPress and many others, even the smallest company can reach markets faster and more effectively than ever before. Look out, Fortune 1000 ? your size advantage won?t save you from competing against the next generation of rising companies!

More effective tools mean greater accountability for marketing results

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

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

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

 

Now onto the international digital marketing pitfalls ?

International business relationship building will never be fully replaced. To all of the introverts out there, I?m sorry. Business relationships with international distributors, strategic partners and large-scale clients require trust building. The best digital marketing in the world can?t close a multimillion dollar enterprise sale or create a high-value strategic partnership.

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

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

Non-localized digital marketing distorts information about international markets. Many companies assume that the leads from their website represent a country?s market demand. For instance, if Germany represents only 1% of leads, then that the demand for my products or services in that market. Unless you conducted market research and translated/localized for Germany, your market is likely much larger. My general rule of thumb for initial estimation is to take untranslated/unlocalized leads and then multiply it by 9. That said, you don?t know until you research in country. But in my experience, no technology or professional services company (even in the U.S.) has a domestic market over 50% of their total world market. Usually it?s more like 5-20%.

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

 

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

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

The International Entrepreneur ? Selecting the Right International Trade Shows

international, trade show, B2B marketing

Image courtesy of wikipedia & Taiwan World Trade Center

I was talking recently with the Vice President of Marketing at one of these B2B technology Silicon-Valley-wanna-be companies. If you have spent time in any tech industries, I think you might know the type ? lots of curious employee perks and silly team-building games, reinventing core business functions in some unique way that doesn?t conform to how the rest of the world does it, and of course a workspace that any teenager would aspire to work in.

The VP and I were talking about marketing channels for B2B enterprise software markets. But when I brought up the time-tested international marketing channel of trade shows, he balked at my old-fashioned notion. Instead, the VP wanted to double his investment in paid media. Here?s my perspective:

B2B marketing and sales all basically boil down to having the right conversations with the right people at the right time. These conversations can be with one of your commission-based channel partners, with a current client, with one of your marketing staff on a social media platform, or in a sales call. The higher the price and commitment of your product or service, then the higher the level of trust needs to be to complete the sale. That is even more true for international markets, where NOTHING happens without an existing trusted business relationship.

Industry trade shows are a great venue to meet in person many potential clients within a short time. Face-to-face conversations GREATLY speed up the trust-building process and deepen the chances of a long, fruitful business relationship. In international markets, marketing messaging and other communications can easily be misinterpreted. In person conversations allow you to gauge the reaction of the listener. You can clear up any misunderstandings immediately and in many cases just continue on towards success.

Those of us who have made a career in marketing know that trade shows are not necessarily the most budget-friendly channel. So here are my tips on how to not only pick the right trade shows, but to ensure that they fit your budget:

  • Find trade shows in markets where you want to target. This may sound obvious, but many companies get caught up in the expectations of going to certain tradeshows. If you have no prospects in your home state or country, you don?t have to show your local ties. If you see great potential in the Indian market, search for Indian events. It may sound obvious, but on a limited marketing budget every show has to generate results ? leads, partners, etc.
  • Choose events where the primary audience are your key decision makers. Nothing is more frustrating than doing a great job of cultivating a relationship with a potential client only to find out that their role has nothing to do with your product or service purchase. Everyone loves a product champion in an account, but a decision-making champion signs the contract and authorizes payments.
  • Do your homework on the conferences. Conferences and conventions are BIG BUSINESS. As such, they market heavily to both potential attendees and exhibitors. Definitely talk with others in your industry to find out how well the event is run and any hidden charges. Anecdotal evidence should support the statistics provided by the event organizers.
  • Size your event investment on the show?s potential (and your budget). I once worked with a software company that literally could trace 30% of their revenue to the HIMSS conference. With this knowledge, they would rent a large exhibiting booth space, sponsor a dinner for clients and prospects, a meeting suite, and other investments to capitalize on this large healthcare informatics event. At least in the beginning, the investments are likely smaller ? a smaller booth, or even a few attendee tickets for key company staff to meet potential clients.
  • Use local language/cultural resources. If your company already has a local presence in the form of local reps or staff, you should try to include them in the trade show staff. This helps with the language issue as well as any local cultural nuances as most attendees come from the region around the event location. If this country is new to you, consider hiring a pair of professional interpreters. This will allow your staff to build rapport faster crossing language boundaries.
  • Don’t forget to meet the press!?Most of event preparations focus on leads, clients and partners. But trade shows normally have a contingency of journalists writing for industry media. Even smaller exhibitors can often take advantage of this with the right media messages and interviews. Plan accordingly.
  • Prepare a game plan, schedule meetings and for gosh sakes ? send the right people. Trade show time is expensive and fleeting, so have a plan on what your staff is going to do there. Are they able to attend conference sessions and meet people in other rooms? Can meetings be scheduled with key prospects? Ideally you are sending your best networkers ? the staff who can talk with anyone and build instant rapport. The worst are the booths manned by a junior staffer consumed by his mobile phone while potential clients walk by ignored. Setting expectations is a key part of preparations.

 

As far as the trade-show-avoiding VP of Marketing goes, I hope that he and others trying to automate away face-to-face interaction always work for the competition. For the rest of us, a well-planned international trade show marketing program has the potential to accelerate our entry and potential in new B2B international markets!

For more Tips and Tools from The International Entrepreneur, please join our International Trade Tribe here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some additional advice:

  • Be sure to ask specific questions of your service providers to learn their fuller international capabilities.
  • Don?t contort around a business relationship to avoid hurting someone?s feelings. Yes, the company founder?s best friend may have done the accounting for the last five years, but unless his firm can handle all of your transactions, currencies and tax reporting, it?s time to move to a fuller service firm.
  • Generally, companies keep all processes tied to their value chain in-house rather than outsourcing them. With keeping that in mind, some companies also choose to redefine their value chain altogether to fit what they actually do best. That?s at least food for thought!

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

Page 2 of 11:« 1 2 3 4 5 »Last »