international business meetingThe last in-house career job I held was sixteen years ago. I was an eager young marketing professional at a growing healthcare software company based in the San Francisco Bay area. The head of our department was a charismatic and experienced Sales and Marketing Vice President we’ll call “Joe”.

Top leadership at the company changed and Joe couldn’t go along with less-than-ethical orders. When he stood up for what he felt was right, he was “reassigned” to the role of International Sales.

Now Joe was actually excited about the prospect of building an international sales operation for the company. There was great potential for the company’s products in international markets. He quickly began building a sale pipeline with hospitals and health systems around the world. But before the sales potential could be realized, the company leadership gave Joe his termination notice. The newly formed International Sales Department quickly died away, along with that untapped potential.

The takeaway from Joe’s tale: without management commitment, you might as well skip the internationalization effort all together. International markets require dedication and a long-term strategy of revenue growth and expansion. If management cannot see that growth potential, it will be undermined at the first convenient time to fire a vice president who is out of favor or to cut costs before leadership performance is measured.

How do you know if you have management commitment?

1. International operations are integrated into the whole company

There are many tales of an enterprising young professional who asks for permission to pursue an international sales opportunity and uncovers a huge overseas market.  What usually happens next is that the company’s leaders say “yes” to the sales opportunity and even to future international sales. It’s a short-term gain, so why not?

Now it’s a few years later and that enterprising young professional has grown this market segment into 20 or 30% of the company’s overall business. What a great international business success story, right?

Here’s where the problem bubbles up: As the business segment grows, the young marketer asks for additional internal resources to keep pace with the growing opportunity. But management still sees the international efforts as a side project to their core market. They don’t incorporate the internationalization into their overall strategy and operations. Eventually the talented young marketer leaves the company in frustration and takes a better job somewhere else. The international business quickly fades away, along with the long-term potential for revenue and profits.

2. Top Company Leaders Are Engaged in International Responsibilities

When new markets are being opened around the world, the President/CEO should be traveling to the new markets and meeting key partners, government officials and potential clients. This is especially true in markets where a position’s title is everything. By not going, the head of the company is telling the market that their commitment is questionable – which actually is very likely. If your company president cannot travel to India, China or Canada because of preconceived notions of what he will find, he will be unlikely to support you later when more complex business issues arise.

3. Planning for a Long-Term Return on Investment

International markets are a long-term growth accelerator. But it takes a great deal of time to make the right connections, learn about the market and the new potential customers, and control costs. Rarely are international markets profitable in their first year. Now by Year Five, these markets could very well be the driver of your business. But a company leader who consistently brings up ROI as a point of failure when the expansion has just started… This is a manager whose commitment is waning. Beware.

I hope you found this article useful. For more information about doing business internationally, please read more of The International Entrepreneur Articles.

Best of success to you in all of your business ventures,

Becky DeStigter

The International Entrepreneur