logo

new posts of the month´s archives ↓

The International Entrepreneur – Globalization Bashing and other Populist Pastimes

Globalization

 

Globalization and the lowering of trade barriers has been a defining force for more than a generation. Freer trade has meant expanded business opportunities for large and small companies alike and an expansion of wealth that has reach from the richest to some of the poorest people on the planet. From centuries ago when Adam Smith originally explained why bilateral trade benefited both countries involved… to today where exports raise the standard of living for many… the overall effect of globalization is a net positive for human kind.

As a free trade advocate, I feel like I should have seen this latest populist anti-globalization movement coming. Last year when Congress cut funding to the U.S. Export-Import Bank, this was a proverbial “canary in the coalmine” – an omen of bad things to come . There was literally no legitimate policy reason to do this. The ExIm Bank provides services to American exporting companies both large and small. It guarantees some foreign transactions that benefit US business. And it provides loans to bridge the time between shipment and payment from foreign markets. It acts as oil to grease the wheels of trade.

And here we have it… in the U.S. both American major party candidates are vocally protectionist instead of actively looking for ways to expand markets for American products and services abroad. It’s a populist notion without a strong basis in the facts. It plays on people’s real pain of losing jobs and whole factories in parts of the country, then blaming China or Mexico instead of technology gains and shifts in global competition. Instead of looking forward into the future full of evolving technology and market needs, populists of all stripes look to the past for some nostalgic sunny version of a bygone era. They pine to bring back jobs that no longer make sense in today’s technology-filled world. There are no longer rooms in companies filled with secretaries typing letters. There are no longer factories teaming with workers performing repetitive functions. Many other countries are experiencing their own populist backlashes against globalization in favor of protectionism.

 

So how do we prepare ourselves for this future that by all accounts is already here?

  1. Education. Yes, that’s right. We need serious retraining for those most affected by the shifts of globalization. Smart governments provide these programs for free or nearly free. For those still in school: get a college degree of some type, do at least one study abroad program to better understand the world, learn technology, languages and critical thinking skills. We don’t know what jobs will be created tomorrow, but we do know that they all need these skills instead of the ability to manually tread a tire or transcribe dictated business memos.
  2. Look Outward, Not Inward. It’s easy to get focused on one little corner of the world. But globalization compels us to look to other markets for customers. That means understanding culture and languages. The American-only market limitation is passé.
  3. Learn about Big Trends and Keep Focused on the Future. When I meet with a new company, I can usually tell within minutes if they are more focused on their own past history or on the future. Those in the past tend to get stuck in the past. Those looking forward watch for industry and global trends to leverage their company’s strengths to take advantage of trends in their favor (ex. Exchange rate fluctuations or a fast-growing country’s economy) or prepare for a coming threat (ex. Presidential candidates espousing populist rhetoric to buy a few more votes from scared citizens).

 

Before anyone chooses to warm up their keyboard with an angry rebuttal about globalization’s impact on the environment, please let me confirm that globalization is far far from perfect. There are products created and shipping overseas that truly have no value to most people. As a human race, we need to make smarter decisions about what we choose to consume. We need to keep production in many cases closer to consumers to avoid unnecessary ocean and air shipping. No where is this truer than in our global food supply. Working within this imperfect system still allows us to balance politics, economics and the human condition around the world.

With free trade, we allow each country, each company to find their markets and create jobs to support their society. As a wise futurist recently shared with me, technology may eventually mean that there literally aren’t enough jobs to sustain our capitalist-based economic system. He suggests that we may as a world eventually move beyond the need for money, where people will have more leisure time to pursue other non-work interests and projects.

I don’t know if such a world will exist in our lifetime, but I do think that trade helps to improve the standard of living for many. Open trade encourages sustained peace over long periods of time. And it encourages innovation in the face of competition. Let’s be smart and globally move forward.

The International Entrepreneur – Interview with International Business Development Leader, Matthias Leitzmann

Matthias Leitzmann, International Business Development

This week I caught up with Matthias Leitzmann, Director of International Business Development at VXi Corporation, a manufacturer of noise cancelling wireless and unified communication headsets. Matthias is a leader on the front lines of the ever-shifting landscape of international business. He is also a regular contributor to the weekly #GlobalBizTalk Twitter group.

 

Matthias, how did you originally get into the international business development field? What made it appealing?

I came to the US to attend college when I was 18. On my initial flight over, I knew I wanted to do “something” with international business – I just didn’t know exactly in what capacity and when. The thought of connecting and leveraging both my European background and my newfound American experiences seemed incredibly exciting to me. It still is today.

As I entered professional life, I always kept an eye on ways how I might be able parlay any of my skills into international business. As I was working as an executive search consultant/headhunter, the opportunity presented itself when one of my clients needed a suitable reseller for his company’s products in Germany. I jumped at the chance and haven’t looked back since.

 

What approaches work best for you to find & evaluate new international business opportunities?

My approach is a channel-focused model. It is the leanest and most cost effective model. It provides tremendous leverage and scope. When vetting and research show that there is a need for my employer’s service or product in a particular country, then I begin searching for in-country partners (i.e. distributors, integrators, resellers) that see the potential of our market opportunity and want to be part of growing it locally. In other words, I look for partners that want to make my business their business and with whom I have shared interest and trust. My success will depend on finding the right suitable partner and how well I am able to manage and grow the relationship.

 

As someone who works extensively in both North America & Europe, what are a few of the most important differences in doing business that you think our readers should know?

At the core, I find (business) people are very much the same here and in Europe. The goals of running a profitable and successful enterprise, of building something viable and sustainable, and the desire to earn money are all the same. These basic, universally common goals are “buried” under a web of cultural differences and experiences. Being able to penetrate, navigate and deconstruct those layers is the challenge. In that, it is less about differences per se than being able to understand and relate to those differences. Empathy in international business is very important. The faster you can begin to relate (if you enjoy the process of learning, respecting and working with the differences), the sooner you will be able to get to the core and speak a “common” language. The better you become at this skill, the more success you will have overseas.

 

What do you wish you had known about international business development when you started in this role?

Patience and romanticism. More of the former, less of the latter. Developing overseas business takes patience, along with a healthy dose of stamina or thick skin. Furthermore, it is easy to get romantic about the idea of running a “global business”. The questions that needs to be asked: is it going to be profitable and contribute positively to the overall goals of an enterprise?

 

Can you give our readers any advice on maximizing the potential of strategic international partnerships?

Besides looking for the obvious in a potential international partner, such as expertise, track record, capacity etc., the factor that can maximize the relationship is a common personal “hook”. This is something that builds rapport with that partner beyond the mere business relationship. It could be that the person you are dealing with in Europe attended college in the US. Or it could be that you both follow Champion League soccer. Or you could both enjoy reading the same international newspapers and so on. This rapport will contribute to making a “long distance” relationship seem so much closer and real. The more you can bond on a level beyond business, the more likely the relationship will thrive (and last). Minimally, it will result in both of you enjoying engaging with each other more and calls getting returned faster. On the other spectrum, such a deeper connection may very well contribute to both of you better navigating any potential rough waters that lie ahead. And as with any business endeavor (especially international business)  there will be plenty of challenges you and your partner will need to overcome together.

 

About Matthias Leitzmann

Matthias was born and raised in Munich, Germany. He moved to Rhode Island in the late 1980’s to attend Bryant University’s business school. After a successful career in executive search, including having completed multiple international projects, Matthias began focusing on the sourcing, vetting, recruitment and management of international B2B and B2C channel partners. In his capacity as an executive search consultant and channel development specialist, he has successfully completed assignments for leading high-tech companies, such as Cisco, EMC, MKS Instruments, and Ericsson, and many smaller, venture-backed firms.

He is presently the Director of International Business Development at VXi Corporation, a manufacturer of noise cancelling wireless and unified communication headsets. A frequent international business traveler, and authorized to work both in the EU and the US, Matthias speaks fluently English and German. He is currently based out of Boston. I highly recommend following Matthias on Twitter (@MLeitzmann).

The International Entrepreneur – Keeping that Entrepreneurial Spirit in Growth Stage Companies

The International Entrepreneur discusses how to keep that entrepreneurial spirit alive in a growth stage comapny

 

If you have ever worked in a startup company, then you know…

  • Entrepreneurs are normally in a constant fight for the survival of their fledgling venture. They offer high risk with the potential for high reward if the company succeeds.
  • Entrepreneurs are always stretching the boundaries of what is possible – in terms of innovation, business practices and often sanity.
  • Early partners and employees are bound to have a variety of offbeat and somewhat awkward bonding experiences.
  • While for many professionals, this sounds like a stressful and uncertain work style, entrepreneurs tend to thrive on this combination urgency, risk, and constant string of problem solving.

The good news for workers at more established companies is that every successful mid-sized and large company has survived its initial startup stage. Sure, larger companies can still fail (and they do), but finances are much more stable because larger companies have much more access to capital for financing growth and weathering economic downturns.

Entrepreneurial energy and engagement often gets lost in that transition to growth stage. It can happen when a charismatic founder leaves the company as part of a negotiated investment deal. Maybe it’s when the pressure to “make payroll” is no longer a driving motivator for high productivity. Or it could be the hiring of new employees who just weren’t part of the earlier struggle. But something happens between the nearly full engagement required to get a startup company off the ground and the low employee engagement that dominates larger companies. Gallup’s annual report shows that consistently 33% of American workers and 13% of workers worldwide consider themselves engaged in their jobs.

How do you hold on to that entrepreneurial sense of engagement after the company succeeds?

First, I wouldn’t wish a lifetime of startup entrepreneurship on anyone. Yes, it’s a thrilling ride. Yet it can be utterly exhausting and often requires untold sacrifices born not only by employees, but their loved ones. Some entrepreneurs love the adrenaline rush that comes from beating the odds. If that is your personality type, then I wish you well in all your endeavors. But for the rest of us, there is some relief in finally making it the company’s growth stage. Even dropping down a few notches in effort is still a far cry from the unengaged masses.

Now here is my advice on how to keep that entrepreneurial spirit while moving forward as a company:

Hire Engaged Employees

Everyone is enthusiastic in their job interviews. No one is going to tell you that they spent the final six months of their last job surfing the Internet or playing Candy Crush. Ask interview questions about someone’s final project with their last employer. An engaged employee normally gets challenging projects. Staff that have “checked out early” are often given routine, reactive assignments. Ask for examples of how the candidate proactively improved their company’s outcomes. And also consider hiring former entrepreneurs. They know how to work hard, are proactive and are excellent creative problem solvers.

Share the Vision and the Greater Context

Many companies create some kind of a vision statement, but then file it away somewhere to rarely be mentioned again. One of the reasons why entrepreneurial ventures are so engaging is that everyone on the team knows exactly what the company is trying to accomplish and what part their own efforts play in serving that vision. It’s powerful. Every employee in your organization of any size needs to know that the company vision is worthy of pursuit and that their efforts help move the whole organization towards that vision.

Set High Individual and Team Goals

While not the same motivation as surviving another month as a entrepreneur team, higher productivity comes when goals are set high enough for employees to stretch to reach them. Encourage creative problem solving and initiative as core traits you want from your staff. Then support your staff with resources to help them achieve their individual as well as the team’s goals.

Ideally you want to leverage the positive aspects of those startup months, but settle them into a longer, more sustainable employee engagement strategy. Leaders who spend time and efforts to cultivate an effective work culture will always outperform their competitors in the global marketplace.

The International Entrepreneur – On Global Product Marketing

International Entrepreneur - Global Product Marketing

Global Product Marketing is a rapidly evolving field, yet for many growing B2B technology companies a full-time product marketing manager is not yet justifiable full-time position. Still, it’s never too early to begin incorporating product marketing into any B2B company’s approach to product development, sales and marketing messaging, and competitive intelligence. This article focuses on core global product marketing functions and how to make smarter business decisions from a fuller set of data and perspectives.

I first encountered global product marketing at a healthcare software company located north of San Francisco, California. It was in response to a business disaster. 150 product development professionals (nearly 100% of programming hours) spent a year developing a new order management system for hospitals. The only problem was that when the software product went live, the company’s healthcare clients hated it. They said they would never be able to use it. The company needed better product direction that was truly aligned with market demand. They hired 3 product marketing managers – 2 registered nurses and 1 technical staff – all with healthcare informatics background. The next try at order management proved to be a greater success, along with additional products and upgrades sold worldwide.

The problem with the California healthcare software company was one of isolation. The software development department was more than two thirds of the company headcount and stacked with PhDs who knew architecture, coding, etc. on every level. But no one thought to ask current clients what they wanted. No one bothered to find out features and functions of competitive products. Build product in a vacuum and you are very unlikely to hit the mark.

 

What Are Proactive Product Marketing Functions You Can Start Adding NOW?

I still run into CEOs of US$50M companies who have no clue that the value of marketing goes well beyond handing out company-branded swag at a trade show or printing a brochure for sales to leave with prospective clients. Product marketing is just one area, but here’s what you can start doing even before you reach the point where product marketing staff can be hired:

  1. Understanding the uses of your product and purchase motivations across all global markets.
  2. Leveraging company competitive advantages.
  3. Gathering and Analyzing international competitive intelligence.
  4. Looking at trends and other changes in the competitive, regulatory and industry environments that will affect sales.
  5. Providing key marketing insights into the product development process in the early stages to help define product features and functions that will best serve current and future clients.
  6. Creating messaging for sales, marketing, partners, and company executives to stay on point not just at home but in all markets.

 

Tips for Great Product Marketing

Product Marketing is a field that attracts professionals from technical, marketing, analytical and research backgrounds. Here is my advice to making the most out of any product marketing project:

  • Ask questions, even when you think they may sound stupid. This is particularly key in global markets. We often assume that other markets buy and use our product for the same reasons as the home market. There can be any number of reasons why that would not be the case. Any number of corporate casualties have littered the global business landscape with their failure to adapt.
  • Listen proactively. It is not enough to ask a good question, but the answer may lead to the right follow-up questions. This can sometimes lead to uncovering a new market segment or product use, among other valuable insights.
  • Stay on top of trends affecting your markets. Set aside time each week to know what is happening in your industry. Is a competitor releasing a major product? Does a new regulation in Germany now reduce access to that market? Is the latest economic downturn going to affect market demand for your product? Knowing what’s coming can help your company to prepare.
  • Follow your curiosity into the data and with industry experts. I once uncovered a $24M market for a software company just by noticing a trend in existing company data and making a phone call on a hunch to a professional colleague I know from Twitter. To ask some dumb questions. Follow those hunches!
  • Form strong relationships with product development staff. Instead of dictating product features, functions and appearance, it is better to partner closely with product development to jointly problem solve on key product definitions.

 

Product Marketing by its nature is proactive. Instead of waiting for competitors to leap ahead in product development or wondering why competitors are gaining market share or why the sales close rate has fallen, it is time to take control of your company’s destiny and growth path in a more systemic way.

Onward & upward!
Becky
For more information about growing and supporting your international company, join the International Trade Tribe:

Sign Up for Tips & Tools

The International Entrepreneur – 7 Warning Signs of an Undersized Marketing Department

Warning Signs of an Undersized Marketing Department

 

Marketing has earned a “money-wasting” reputation over the years from many a Gatsby-like marketing leader. But sometimes the pendulum swings too far towards austerity too. There can be a high risk of missed market opportunities or that the current team just can’t “balance” it all. Here are a few examples from my experiences:

 

Marketing as a Dirty Word

Marketing Manager, “Bob” looked almost hobbit-like as the mountains of folders, papers and marketing paraphernalia boxed him into his undersized office. This WAS the marketing department for the mid-sized engineering firm. Maybe this was acceptable if the firm was retaining clients and gaining new business based on reputation, but the top competitor in the industry had eclipsed Bob’s firm like a Ferrari passing a fiat on an Italian motorway. Bob knew what would turn around the current sales slump, but who was going to listen to one of the few company employees without an engineering degree?

 

The Never-Ending Marketing Project List

In another B2B technology company a few thousand kilometers away, “Rick” can barely contain his frustrations with the company’s marketing department. Rick asked the marketing department weeks ago for the materials he needed his presentation in Singapore to a top prospective client. Marketing is always behind on requests as VPs continually rearrange marketing’s priority list, leaving Rick and his colleagues to create their own materials, messaging and presentation. There is always a risk of getting caught going off “brand”, but Rick would rather “beg for forgiveness than ask for permission”. It’s worth it if he can close the Singapore deal.

 

The Marketing “Ferrari” That Stalled Out

Still another company thousands of kilometers afield, a B2B enterprise software company with USD$100 million in annual revenue quietly admits that as part of rebuilding the company with new private equity, they currently have no marketing staff among their 1,500 employees worldwide. None. Existing clients remain happy paying their ongoing subscriptions. But market share is dropping as competitors smell blood in the water and investors expect to see returns soon.

 

How do you know if Marketing is too small?

Over the years I have seen various versions of undersized marketing teams. In some cases, company leadership ignore the marketing function altogether. These are the companies that seem genuinely perplexed when competitors eclipse their global market share. Here some signs:

1. Marketing staff become order takers for collateral and other marketing tools for sales and other departments.
This is actually a marketing leadership issue as well. A good marketing director, VP or CMO can set the department’s priorities and devise strategies for marketing assets to be easily templated and customizable in various markets. As Canadian international marketing expert Doug Taylor added this week in Twitter: [Undersized marketing teams are] “unable to respond to real requests quickly, scatter gun approach to marketing, lack of research capability”.

2. Online assets like the company website and social media accounts are underperforming and not driving or nurturing leads.
In the cases of all three example companies, their websites yielded poor SEO, few sales leads, or branded positioning as market leaders. All three had no social media or only placeholder accounts that again had no real value to the company.

3. Sales team trying to do marketing tasks such as defining messaging and creating their own marketing collateral.
A company is strongest when their sales and marketing teams are both fully utilized. The best sales teams focus sales staff directly on sales interactions instead of creative marketing projects.

4. Inconsistent messaging and branding in various sales channels.
No where is there greater risk of losing control of your brand as in your global markets. An established global marketing team can help rein in renegade staff and partners.

5. Outsourcing long term even the most basic functions and paying contractor rates.
Plenty of marketing firms would be happy to perform even the most mundane marketing tasks for your company. Believe me. But there are two major issues with the Outsource-Your-Marketing Approach. First, your interests and your marketing firms interests may not always align. And second, it’s expensive compared with hiring marketing staff to take care of at least the basics of strategy and program management. Outsourcing limited specialty projects can actually be a great way to expand marketing’s capabilities.  

6. Lagging behind the industry expansion rate.
I work mainly with software companies in expanding global markets. More than one company in the field has bragged about high growth rates with little marketing efforts. But on closer inspection, it was really a market growing at a fast rate. Their relative market share was less, which may matter later when the company owners want to exit.

7. Any competitive information is basically hearsay from the sales team.
Sales staff actually gain a great deal of competitive insights from their conversations with leads and clients. But relying on 2nd hand anecdotal information as the basis to make company decisions is high risk. A solid marketing team has the capabilities to collect and analyze competitive and industry data for better product development and executive decision making. Dutch Cultural Anthropologist and  Business Consultant, Ursula Brinkmann agreed in Twitter this week as well: “@IntlEntreprenr Great question! Marketing team too small? Constant running after facts, fear re missed opportunity, jealousy re: competition.

 

A Happy Ending

Now Bob, our engineering firm marketing manager, has great news. A new CEO was hired to reverse the firm’s downward revenue spiral. Bob was quickly promoted to a Director level. He was initially given budget to hire interns from a local college and some contractors to build a new website, develop a social media program, and write digital content. Later he added a few marketing staff who were able to take over the fully-functioning, digital lead-driving website as well as events management and other tasks. The marketing staff and budget increase was not dramatic for the overall size of the firm, but it made all the difference. At first, the results were small, but then the marketing engine roared into its fuller potential. The last I heard, the firm was not only retaking the top market share position in the industry worldwide, but they were in a position to start acquiring smaller firms in their global markets.
For more information about growing and supporting your international company, join the International Trade Tribe:

Sign Up for Tips & Tools

The International Entrepreneur – Choosing the Right Size for your Global Marketing Team

optimize global marketing team

 

Leading a company’s marketing team is truly a balancing act. It often feels like we walk a tightrope between budgets and expectations, producing real-time results and planning for the future, building the right structure for today and for a year down the road. What’s more other department leaders may not even understand marketing basics, meaning that as marketing leader you must educate colleagues in addition to actual work leading to new revenue.

The question of how to optimize global marketing is at the forefront of most discussions I have with company leaders. And if there were some magic formula for maximizing global marketing potential, we would all know it and I would be out of a job. Like in all strategy, the marketing function needs to be responsive to its company, industry, and leverage any existing talents and assets, compensating for deficits.

There are many factors to consider when assessing your marketing function’s effectiveness. Here are a few that I have found to be critical:

Overall Growth Rate – There are companies with steady client revenue streams who need very little, if any permanent marketing team. But this is rare. Most companies need to grow in order to give a higher return to their investors. The higher the required growth rate, the more marketing (and sales) resources are needed to retain current clients and acquire new ones.

Competitive Environment – Some industries look more like war zones as marketing/sales teams wage lengthy battles to win new clients against the competition. Other companies claim to be so innovative that they have no competition (that’s never actually true, by the way). Global markets open variances in the competitive landscape. Your home market might require heavy marketing investment to be competitive while a market halfway around the world may be relatively light in competitors.

Strength of Value Proposition (and Clarity of Messaging) – Some companies market products that actually save lives (ex. Defibrillators). That’s a very strong value proposition with a relatively simple message. I onced worked with a bioscience company where it took the CEO and Founder literally 90 minutes to explain the value of his product line. Now if you had a PhD in biology that time dropped to 15 minutes, but needless to say large marketing investment was needed to gain and keep attention while explaining the value.

Relative Strength of Sales Team – In my experience, marketing and sales are twin functions that both need to be high functioning to catapult a company into serious growth rates. No matter how great the sales force, they will never make up for poor marketing. And no matter how smart the CMO and his/her team, they can’t take the place of sales. Focus on shoring up weakness on either side.

Marketing Leadership Capabilities – Many companies throw money at marketing and receive poor results when marketing’s leadership does not have talent. Signs that this may be happening in your company include: high marketing staff turnover, several major changes in brand in a short time period, lots of excuses about why marketing results are not measureable, and a reactionary-driven project list. Fix the leadership at the top before investing any more into a poorly functioning department.

Upfront Investment vs. Long-Term Growth – While there are some companies with large reserves of cash from private equity or retained earnings, most firms are a bit more cash strapped. What’s more, adding marketing staff and other resources rarely break even as investments until much later. Organic growth requires a slower hiring plan. Hiring too fast can potentially jeopardize the company’s ability to stay solvent.

 

Given these factors, here are questions to help assess your global marketing team’s relative size compared with their effectiveness:

  1. Is your current marketing function driving qualified new leads into your sales process at rates that will help the company reach its growth goals?
  2. Would an additional hire in some area of the marketing team directly impact the ability to retain current clients or find and nurture new prospects?
  3. Does the marketing team provide valuable competitive and business environment insights to help drive future product design and market entry choices?
  4. Is your marketing leader able to communicate a clear vision of their team’s roles and expected outcomes, including budget compared with outcomes?
  5. Is the company brand not only well represented in the marketplace, but consistent across all interactions with the company?
  6. Does the marketing team take advantage of marketing industry insights and present-day tools to further lead creation, inbound marketing, lead nurturing, and establishing a clear market position?
  7. Does everyone in the marketing team have clearly defined roles that directly relate to revenue growth?
  8. Is the current marketing team able to effectively manage marketing branding and outreach in all of its current global markets?

 

For the next few weeks I will be writing about optimizing global marketing functions. Please stay tuned for more stories and insights!

 

Best wishes in all of your international business efforts,

Becky DeStigter

The International Entrepreneur

The International Entrepreneur – How to Create International B2B Buyer Personas

International Entrepreneur - How to create international B2B Buyer Personas

“We’re going to want to expand into some new international markets next year as part of our growth strategy. Will the marketing team be ready for that?” asks your company CEO.

“Absolutely”, you quickly reply. As Chief Marketing Officer, you deserve part of the credit for your company’s successful revenue rise. You have built a strong engagement marketing program, attracting and nurturing leads. And really, how hard can it be to translate the website into a handful of key languages?

 

Using the Right Marketing Measuring Stick

The Truth: Translation and even website localization only scratch the surface of foreign market penetration. Every country and region around the world operates on a different set of business rules. This includes both regulations as well as cultural rules that can come in the form of assumptions, beliefs, expectations or values.

Put another way…if someone markets to you in English, do they automatically understand your buyer motivations?

 

The Right Measure: The only true marketing measures are quantitative results. Does your marketing program yield cost-effective results that are at or above levels needed to grow your company to stakeholder expectations? Are you able to deliver qualified leads into your sales process?

Today’s marketers are expected to deliver these outcomes. Gone are the days of unaccountable marketing expenditures for advertising, PR, and other low-return channels. That brings us to Buyer Personas…

Buyer personas serve as a focal point for marketing messaging and content development. I use a buyer persona (Bob, the American mid-market CMO) to focus my writing towards one specific (imaginary) person who represents an important market segment for my consulting practice. It helps those who discover your product to self-select as to whether they belong in your target market. In contrast, choosing NOT to develop market-specific buyer personas gives your local competition a distinct competitive advantage.

 

Types of Motivators That Can Differ

Here are some areas that may be different than in your well-known home market. All of these factors should influence the development of your marketing team’s buyer personas.

 

Decision Makers/Influencers – Knowing who actually makes the decisions and who influences those decisions is key in marketing. For example, large purchase decisions are more likely group decisions in Sweden compared with France where the leader makes the decisions. Gatekeepers who keep sales and marketing contact away from their bosses may be more selective in Malaysia than in Canada.

 

Logic and Emotional Appeals – Marketing normally uses persuasion. But which appeals are the most effective? Again, it varies by culture. The Germans want mainly logic (strategy) to justify decisions. Australians tend to focus heavily on financial justification over all else. Parts of Latin America can rely on a mix that includes emotion-based decision-making.

 

Organization and Personal Motivations – While it is impossible to predict what will motivate a specific person, there are some cultural influences that can have strong effects. For instance, Chinese companies often have a long time horizon for strategic initiatives compared especially with American companies. On the personal side, the English often choose to keep professional and personal lives separate. In Mexico, the feeling is the opposite. Personal and professional lives are often overlapped.

 

Developing International Buyer Personas

If foreign markets are important to your company’s growth plan, then every market needs to have its own set of buyer personas representing  all key players in the buying process. The sets often include personas for a leader, technical expert, business expert, and the initial gatekeeper (leader’s assistant). The more complex and expensive the product, then usually the more people involved in its selection process. Most companies name their personas (Mr. Wang, Maria, Sven, etc.).

 

Step 1: Ask questions from local industry contacts to gain perspective.

We are looking specifically for what might be different between your home country’s approach and the approach needed in each target market. Two great sources are (1) any in-country representatives you may be working with and (2) in-country industry association contacts. Ask questions to help flush out information that contradicts your own cultural assumptions. “Who are the normal decision makers and influencers in this type of sale?” “How does someone in this country search for information on products in this industry?” “What role does each person play in selection?” If anything said contradicts your assumptions, follow up with additional questions to better understand.

 

Step 2: Create Named Personas for Each Player in the Buying Process

Most B2B personas I have seen and/or developed for clients can be described in one page. It tells about this fictional person’s likely general background (education, work experience, age, etc.). It describes their role in relation to the rest of the company. Personas include the person’s motivations in their professional life including any possible fears (ex. fear of failure or embarrassment) or aspirations (ex. future promotions based on success). If should include the persona’s likely familiarity with your company’s product category and experience level in working with foreign companies like yours. If your company does business in France, India and Mexico, you should persona sets for buying processes in all three countries.

 

Step 3: Buyer Persona Validation and Improvement

Once you have created your foreign market buyer personas, each set should be reviewed by a trusted source who has worked extensively in that market. Make adjustments accordingly. Over time, new information from experiences in market should help to continually refine your buyer personas.

 

I hope this helps your marketing team to create more effective global marketing programs!

 

Onward & upward,

 

Becky DeStigter

The International Entrepreneur

The International Entrepreneur – Why Globalization Needs to Survive and Thrive

International Entrepreneur - Why Globalization

This is the year when Globalization Backlash is reaching a fevered pitch. It’s been building for decades as whole groups of workers are excluded from the windfall profits of trade. As a Midwestern girl, I have seen my region of the United States come to known as the “Rust Belt” for all of the abandoned factories and displaced low-tech manufacturing jobs sent overseas to lower-paid workers.

All this while, company CEO compensation has increased on the whole to obscene levels and Wall Street barely skipped a beat during the Financial Crisis of their own making. Income disparity is now at levels not seen since the Robber Barons in the early 20th Century. American culture demands some level of fairness and access to opportunity. Politically we see the wave of anger fueling Brexit, Donald Trump’s candidacy and the backlash against trade agreements.

 

Dont’ Write an Obituary for Globalization Yet…

Business Insider reporter, Ben Moshinsky, recently wrote an article: Globalization is slowing dying. Trade has been part of commerce for centuries. There have been other time periods when trading has shrunk. Protectionism and rising tariffs are normally associated with troubled times. When U.S. leaders heeded the calls for protectionism in the early 1930’s, they helped to deepen what in the U.S. is called the Great Depression.  Eventually cooler heads prevail back towards more open trade. Now globalization is fueled by technology, communications and capitalism. We won’t see globalization die except in an extreme scenario, like a zombie apocalypse

 

Time to Speak Up for Trade

Never has it been more important for business professionals around the world to speak up for the net positive benefits of trade AND to fight for fairness and to assist those who globalization leaves behind.

  • Opportunities for Companies of All Sizes The reality is that the U.S. enjoys relatively high employment rates and that is part due to globalization. Selling goods and services to customers in other countries means jobs back at home. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, over 90% of American exporters are small businesses. Trade agreements and globalization mean that companies of all sizes have access to world markets.
  • Globalization is NOT a Zero-Sum Equation Many populist politicians today treat trade like it’s zero sum. That means that for you to gain, I have to lose the same amount. The reason why globalization is such a powerful force is that the net gain is positive for all. I sell you my tomatoes and you sell me your radios and we both again something we want and don’t otherwise have. This production specialization is the foundation of globalization.
  • World Economic and Political Stability is Not a Trivial Matter The world has not experienced a global-scale military conflict since 1945. One factor in this relatively peaceful period in history is globalization. There is greater motivation to work through conflicts when countries would lose trade. It also gives us a greater interest in working together on economic issues. Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook are actively working to increase global access to the Internet for billions of people. Those people could become Facebook users and also consumers of a variety of online products and services.
  • Going Backward is Not an Option A few years ago, there was a big “Buy American” movement. I think they largely gave up and realized that consumers and businesses were less interested in where a product was made and more interested in the value received compared to relative cost. For all of those interested in “bringing jobs home”, it would come at a tremendous price and still not achieve what you want. Those jobs are gone. The good news is that there are new quality jobs in their place for those willing to learn new skills. I don’t mean to trivialize this – it’s a daunting task to radically change your career. But it can be done (I know because I need to do this).
  • Globalization Allows for Sharing of Knowledge and Ideas By doing business in other countries, companies gain new perspectives on how to approach a challenge or opportunity. Sometimes smaller strategic partners will share technology and resources in order to go after larger deals. There are of course risks in sharing, but also gains and insights to be had.

 

A Final Few Thoughts on Fairness…

The negative effects of globalization need to be much better managed than they are today. Displaced workers need training for new in-demand jobs. The environment has paid a heavy price for our increased consumption, leading to many damaging and potentially irreversible effects. I think that a carbon tax on goods (based on the energy and other resources needed to produce them) is a step in the right direction. And finally, executive pay needs to better align with the rest of the company. Capping compensation on the top side of the company as a reasonable multiple of the lowest pay rate may be a good place to start. With some smarter policies, globalization’s negative effects can be tempered.

 

A Manifesto to International Entrepreneurs Everywhere:

I encourage you to continue to go forth to: 
Invent new ways to make the world a better place
To find opportunities wherever they may be in the world
To build strong, ethical companies to support your families and the families of your employees
And to learn from new people and places things in order to gain insights and wisdom.

 

Onward & upward,

Becky DeStigter,

The International Entrepreneur

The International Entrepreneur – Maximizing the Potential of a Global Strategic Partnership

Global Strategic Partnership

 

I glanced up from the conference phone positioned in the middle of the table to catch the expression of quiet resignation in Hector, my client’s new Strategic Partnership Director. Hector’s Sales VP was talking on speaker phone to a potential strategic partner’s sales and partnership team. I realized in that moment that Hector knew what was going to happen.

Hector’s Sales VP was ignoring all of the research and analysis on how to make the most of the fortuitous opportunity to partner globally with a company expanding into the same markets that was in no way a direct competitor. The opportunities for these two companies to leverage each other’s strengths made for an extensive list – a list that was literally on the table in front of Hector’s Sales VP. But that’s not what was being discussed.

Instead, we had a one-way discussion about how the potential partner could fit neatly into my client’s international channel distributor program. No matter how Hector, the other company’s team or I tried to steer the conversation towards other strategic collaboration points, the Sales VP veered back to his single-minded agenda. The potential partner was far from impressed and the conversation soon ended with a few token follow-up tasks. Hector and I glanced again at each other. We both knew that the opportunity had passed.

The Sales VP seemed genuinely proud of himself in showing us how these partnership conversations should happen. Now I understood Hector’s expression more completely. This company’s leadership didn’t understand what strategic partners were. Until they figured it out (or listened to any number of sources) they were doomed to cripple their partnership potential.

 

International Distribution Partners are NOT the same as International Strategic Partners

This is far from an isolated situation. We see it all of the time… companies that underestimate the value they can get and receive from partnering for further international expansion. Since strategic partnerships normally fall somewhere either under sales or marketing functions in most companies, they tend to stay close to the known well-trodden paths such as channel distributorships.  

Strategic partnerships should never fit into one specific model. Instead, they should filling in the weak spots where the partner has strengths. Here are examples:

  • Partner B has excess capacity in their overseas production facility. They rent out their facilities to Partner A for a reasonable compensation (monetary or perhaps a trade of some kind).
  • Partner A will be exhibiting at a key international trade show. It’s a sizable investment. Partner B only needs to meet with a few key prospects at the show. Partner A gives an exhibitor pass to B’s Sales VP to have access to those prospects.
  • Partner A has access to a government grant in their country that supports research and development. Partner B sends a key engineer to work for 6 months in Partner A’s overseas facility. The technology is used in both companies selling into their own respective markets.
  • Partner A has a strong presence in Europe while Partner B has built up the Asian market. Since they sell different products to the same market, they agree to help each other make key introductions to potential clients in their strong markets.

The possibilities are endless so long as there is benefit to both partners and the risks are manageable. Strategic partnerships work best when both partners are dependent on each other and breaking up would be painful.

 

Here’s an approach to maximizing the potential of your partnerships:

  1. Spend time up front to develop a trusted connection with partner’s key staff. This is critical to long-term success. There has to be trust between company leaders or the partnership will quickly fall apart. This means spending time together preferably in person or at least in video conferencing. There may need to be cultural adjustments in this process depending where your target strategic partner is based.
  2. Ask open-ended questions about the other side’s goals, capabilities, challenges, etc. You’re looking for opportunities and challenges here. What is happening in their business that would also help your company? Is it best practices? Specific expertise? Access to capital? Client base? Key connections? Successful marketing channels? What are the challenges that they face in terms of internal limitations or external threats? The more you know, the better you can position your negotiations.
  3. Inventory what your side can offer in exchange. In looking for what your company has to offer, think of what would be easy to give. Space in a trade show booth is a great example. So are some introductions to some of your client accounts where it makes the most sense. But look further into areas like production, talent, finance and logistics for opportunities to build off of excess capacity.
  4. Look for creative trades that benefit both sides. In international expansion, one company may already have a foothold in the market, creating the opportunity to share knowledge and initial connections. If both companies want to enter the same new market, there is an opportunity to collaborate on research, saving time and staff resources.
  5. Continue to evaluate and renegotiate over time. In any partnership it is smart to periodically revisit the projects or programs that are still benefiting both parties and those that should be discontinued because they have become ineffective or irrelevant due to changing circumstances. This is also the time to see if new collaboration opportunities have surfaced.

 

For growing companies, global strategic partnerships are a way to acquire new competitive advantage in most cases faster than developing those same assets your own. It does require company leaders to put egos and fears aside to talk about what would truly propel the company forward towards long-term goals. As for Hector’s company, leadership has yet to get past their own internal roadblocks, but Hector remains hopeful that they will. 
For more information about growing and supporting your international company, join the International Trade Tribe:

Sign Up for Tips & Tools

Page 1 of 8:1 2 3 4 »Last »