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The International Entrepreneur ? Interview with FITT CEO, Caroline Tompkins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The International Entrepreneur ? Revitalizing Global B2B Social Media Strategy


Revitalizing Global B2B Social Media Strategy

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

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

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

Make Sure You Have Social Media Goals

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

Cloning Domestic Social Media Plans Will Flop

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

Know the Market?s Preferred Platforms

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

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

Global Social Media Strategy

Identify Local Social Media Resources, Then Train on Company Policies

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

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

The Good Guys Win in the End

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

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

Best of success in your international expansion!

Becky DeStigter

The International Entrepreneur

The International Entrepreneur – How to Globalize Your Business Networking Style

international business networkingSam stood at the back of the room taking stock of the evening’s networking event. As a Business Development Manager from Kansas, was his first international industry trade show and he wanted to make the most of it. But the more he tried to appear friendly and helpful, the less that people seemed to want to talk with him. Sam had been to dozens of trade shows and meetings in the United States where people generally considered him charismatic and engaging. What was these people’s issue?

It is important to ask the right questions before you can find the answers that you really need. That is often true in international business. Here are a few that Sam might ask to get closer to the right answers:

  • How important is business networking internationally compared with outbound selling and marketing in the U.S.?

  • How might people be interpreting his approach?

  • Is there anything that Sam should change in his international networking approach for better outcomes?

Networking and Connections Are a Necessity

In the United States, when two parties want to do business they sign a negotiated contract legally defining their relationship and obligations to each other. That’s not how the rest of the world works. Instead, the business relationship is based on a professional relationship based on mutual interests and trust. This is why replacing your Latin American sales director can mean losing many clients. The clients follow the person they know, not your company.

The American Business Reputation

Actually, my countrymen have earned a business reputation that is wide and varied. Some places love us just because we are American, while others revile us for the same reason. Most are someone in the middle. Watch for body language to know if there’s a significant Country of Origin Effect.

Americans are considered a friendly business culture: leading with smiles, eye contact and handshakes for everyone. That doesn’t always match up with other cultures’ expectations. In Russia, the smiling person is considered to be an idiot. In Germany it can be seen as insincere, arousing suspicion. In the Middle East and India, a man should never extend a handshake to a woman. It is considered aggressive. That is not to say that we shouldn’t act within our cultural norms, but we should also be aware of any signals we give off that can be counterproductive.

American also typically make grandiose offers help to others while networking. This is in part because we want to build trusting relationships as quickly as possible. Others may grow suspicious of so much offered after just having met each other. It seems just too good to be true!

Tips for Better International Networking

Getting back to Sam from Kansas – what can he do to improve his effectiveness in this high-opportunity room?

  1. Research the Attendees. You should always know who you want to meet and have a plan to meet them. For instance, if you want to meet a major distributor in Latin America then learn about this contact as well as those who could introduce you to him. In the English-speaking world you should Linkedin for contacts’ profiles. Also, read translated pages from their company websites.
  2. Don’t Rush the Conversations. Accept the slower pace of business relationship building that is standard in most of the world. That means that you should take cues in the conversation from your counterpart. Wait for them to bring up specific business questions. Instead, they may just want to socialize. That’s progress too.
  3. For God Sake, Follow Up! After an event, the smart professional follows up with each contact to say that it was nice to meet them and that you would like to stay in touch. It’s standard best practices and yet many people don’t do this simple step. What’s worse is if you made any promises of introductions or other business favors and don’t follow through. People will remember if you are reliable to your word.
  4. Know the Basics of Cross-Cultural Communications. If you have a specific cultural audience (Germans, Chinese, Brazilians, etc.) then do deeper research. But here are a few basics that everyone should know:
  • Showing the soles of your shoes is highly offensive to Middle Easterners.
  • Don’t cross your legs and point a foot at a Malaysian.
  • Chinese will compliment you during a conversation. You need to NOT say “thank you” but instead politely reject the compliment and immediately find some way to return a sincere compliment (“I like your tie.” “Your English is very good.”, etc)
  • Don’t make sports references like from baseball or American football.
  • Generally men should wait for a woman to extend her hand to shake.
  • Some cultures like to stand close when talking. Whatever you do, DON’T take a step back.
  • Avoid sarcasm. It can often get lost in translation.
  • PLEASE don’t drink excessively, even if other people are bringing you drinks or pouring them. Stay in control at all times.

Now Sam can get back to doing the networking he needs to help him be successful. With a few minor adjustments he can find connections that could eventually become business partners.

If your staff struggles to make the right types of connections in international markets to move your company forward, consider cross-cultural training. It is normally a small investment that opens many doors to international opportunities!

If you are ready for a 30-minute complimentary consultation, please contact me.

Best wishes,
Becky DeStigter
The International Entrpreneur

The International Entrepreneur – 5 International Strategy Traps to Avoid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Becky DeStigter
The International Entrepreneur

The International Entrepreneur ? Building a Stronger International Strategy

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

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

building international strategy, international business, international marketing

A Better International Strategic Framework

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

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

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

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


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

The International Entrepreneur

The International Entrepreneur – How To Hire International-Ready Employees

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

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

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


Setting up for Failure

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

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

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

Why Do International Skills Matter?

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

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

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


Hiring for Today’s Target Markets

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


Hiring for Future Worldwide Expansion

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


Final Tips

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

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

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

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

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

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

international strategy, international business, international marketing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best of success in all of your international markets,

Becky DeStigter

The International Entrepreneur

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

cross-cultural team disaster, international business

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

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

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

Important Projects Need a Clear Executive Mandate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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