To Expand Into Global Markets or Not, That is The Question?

January 26, 2021

Sales Teams Practice New Sales Techniques to Connect with Clients Amid COVID-19

Is Initiating a Global Sales Strategy Your Saving Grace?

It is without question that we already live in a digital world. Unless a person or company specifically blocks traffic from some areas of the world via IP addresses, anyone from any country can access any website worldwide (China excluded.) Depending on the nature of a company’s product or service, they may or may not require human resources on the ground in a particular country for conducting business development initiatives. Most start-ups and digital companies have a simple HQ where the corporate staff is based, if anything, which is more about camaraderie and having strategy sessions for decision making. Otherwise, there is a high likelihood that renting a gigantic office space that locks you into a long-term lease with furniture and additive bills each month for phone services and internet access is unnecessary. There is simply no need any longer. Think of all the cost savings you gain when you give up excessive office locations. COVID-19 has proven that many companies had never allowed remote staff to operate successfully under the work from home guidelines. Many employees performed with greater efficiency sans the water cooler distractions. When it comes to the sales department, it appears the experience was somewhat opposite.  

Unless you are a Gen-Z’s, it should come as no surprise that many companies, some among the largest in the US, still rely on an actual salesforce that visits existing clients and is responsible for most business development initiatives, many times for the entire company. These are the revenue generators. They are paying the whole staff salaries and bonuses in typical years. Many salespeople have spent years on the road; their careers and livelihoods have depended on it. Enter COVID-19, and these salespeople are grounded, no travel, no visiting clients, no going to the office to pick the brains of anyone who might be able to assist them with their proverbial rug pulled from under them. The apparent result is that revenue drops put quite a few out of business and many more into bankruptcy. We see many notable brands in the US struggling to the point of shutting down entirely, closing stores, releasing employees, not to mention how this is contributing to skyrocketing unemployment and the need for trillion-dollar payroll stimulus programs.

Is It Time To Reassess to Find Success or Use This Downturn as an Opportunity to Invest Abroad?

At this point, company leadership teams have to make a decision. Do they hire a firm such as Sidehill Group to come in and help them identify where their weaknesses might be, where they are currently selling, and are these the right markets at the right margins at the correct times? Is their go-to-market strategy aligned with the company’s overall goals, and how they measure this for accuracy? How do they train their salespeople to be effective selling via Zoom or Google meetings and sound authentic? How to do their jobs differently, which of their existing skillsets should be enhanced or modified to make them effective remote sellers, perhaps at higher closing rates than before the virus reared its ugly head?

At this point, even if a company has a management team that launched their careers during a different time of management styles, it is safe to assume they have an essential website. The website can act as a temporary sales force until an international business foundation is built and launched with a formal human sales team. Suppose you feel you can’t reach new revenue sources from the pool of 300 million Americans, your existing clients, and potential new business opportunities. In that case, one option is to suit up and take your business international. Digital sales could begin to give your brand exposure in new markets while you focus on putting the formalities in place abroad. 

Work Better or Work Smarter?

Executive teams are desperate to find new revenue generation opportunities. They need to figure out how to increase sales cost-effectively; in the reality of COVID-19, that may get worse before it gets better. If you’ve read our recent blogs, you might be aware that many old school professionals still believe in the tools and resources of yesteryear, unaware of the rich data available by investing in digital programs and services that will help them and their sales teams work not only work better but also work smarter.  Where the young bucks can’t pull enough out of their websites or put additional value into their website to find further growth, many old-timers are looking for more bodies with whom to sell.  There are pros and cons to rationalizing any scenario to take your business cross-border. Still, there are many strategic considerations, many factors to assess before jumping headfirst into the pond. You can read all the information you want on website after website. Still, this information isn’t going to provide insights into your company, brand, products, growth potential, target customer profile, whether the company is likely to succeed at the local level, or any local marketing challenges or considerations that will need to be supported. 

If Going Global is the Winning Strategy Take Advantage of the Downtime 

Let’s just be clear from the onset. If you think you can just take your US sales strategy and turn it into a global sales strategy, you have your work cut out for you. At present, the world is undergoing the COVID-19 lockdown requirements, so replicating your US sales force in new countries is not possible. Also, most countries worldwide require corporate formalities to operate, registration papers, just as the US does, to ensure tax consequences and proper legal documents needed for the local governments to be appropriately filed. Selling online is far different than setting up a new sales team. Try opening your company in Japan and see how long it takes to get through all the legal and corporate requirements. And, that’s after you have rented office space and opened a local bank account, which the Japanese government expects before they will even review your applications to register as a corporate entity. They don’t care what happens to your year lease if they reject your paperwork.   

Entering New Global Markets During the Age of COVID-19?

Perhaps you’ve taken note that you will never see many of the largest US brands outside US borders. Has it ever occurred to you to ask why? Think about brands such as Walmart, Wells Fargo, Lockheed Martin, Kroger, Walgreens, The Home Depot, Best Buy, etc. Mind you, many have tried and failed. Some have tried and failed and then tried again and succeeded. The bottom line is that going global requires far more than a few cuts and pastes. Just the same as many international brands have tried to enter the land of the free and home of the brave and couldn’t make the cut on US soil.

Assign Someone to Own the Language, Customs, and Culture Evaluation

Language, customs, and cultures need to be studied and understood carefully as these will make or break your success. The margin for error in these areas is zero. To succeed, you need far more than a casual understanding. As we’ve noted, there are quite a few other considerations that international expansion will require. The challenges of selling into a new market extend beyond whether you use Google Translate or not, however. Don’t get confused by the terminology here. Selling in Canada does not make you a global or international company. It would be a stretch to use the term multinational when investing in Canada. Even after all your research, you have identified a country that sounds like its population will align well with your product or service offering, doesn’t mean you’re ready to take the plunge. A viable product and willingness to invest resources, human, financial, and time even still isn’t enough. You haven’t reached the starting gate just yet. 

Local vs. Global – why or why not? How do you decide if now is the right time?

If you are considering global expansion simply in response to a loss of revenue in the US due to COVID-19, you have just answered your own question. A bigger customer universe doesn’t necessarily mean you will acquire more customers. First of all, if something isn’t working in your backyard, you need to find out what it is, why, and how to fix it, stat! Ask anyone who has run a successful business, and they will tell you that activation is far more effective and efficient than acquisition. If you have not yet invested in a suitable cloud-based CRM to help you manage the business, (but more so, to allow a global salesforce to share information, contacts, feedback, relationships), that would likely be mistake number two. How can you run a global business, or any business for that matter, without the appropriate tools and resources? Before you start reaching out across any pond, you need to make sure things are running smoothly at home. How do you know your sales are down as a result of COVID-19 and not some other reason? If your sales are down in the US because of COVID-19 in the US, why would things be different in Mexico, Brazil, Japan, or Germany? In case you’ve missed the news recently, it’s a global pandemic, this is not a US-based virus. There is a tremendous amount of work to be done, resources and tools to be bought or built, investments to be made, hiring to be commenced, licensing and authorizations, tax stipulations, and a million other requirements to enter just one other country, let alone the rest of the world, that unless you are 100% certain what the sales challenges are before dialing the first +011 then you’re in for an even bigger surprise when all the resources, investments, time, your credibility and reputation are all a wasted effort. Retention is far more important than acquisition and will teach you a tremendous amount about your business, your team, your issues and challenges, and perhaps your strengths and other missing opportunities here at home. Why take your shortfalls to new markets before you know what they are? 

Should Sales Leaders Realign Global Sales Strategy To Reflect New Region? 

 Wanting to go global and have what it takes for a winning global business strategy are two very different things. To successfully introduce products overseas, a company needs to have the right knowledge, skills, experience, and propensity for success.  A global strategy must define the key initiatives which underpin both short and longer-term goals. Programs should always be designed with the entire company in mind, as ultimately, every department will get involved in one way or another down the line. However, at the local level, sales initiatives that reflect local focus could connect directly with the company’s global strategy i.e. winning against the competition. Simultaneously, it may include efforts that don’t i.e. business opportunities unique to the particular region.

Which Critical Success Factors Have You Considered and How Do You Measure Them?

Internal readiness is key to meeting the changing dynamics of international sales. Global expansion must become an internal priority with significant resources dedicated and plans for a laser focus on each metric you are measuring for success or failure. Experience has illustrated you get what you measure. The same goes for prioritization. Your company will respond to the top priorities. To succeed in developing a formidable brand internationally, you need to make sure you have buy-in from your entire organization, not just hopes and dreams.

Closing Thoughts on Global Sales Strategy Considerations. 

The more countries you enter, the easier the process will become. Until such a time, respect the cultural differences and do your homework.  As a business, your credibility and reputation depend on it. Consumers in some areas of the world may not be forgiving of your errors in judgment so study, study, study. The way sales get made in non-US markets differ. For example, in France it’s a virtual waste of time to cold call, the most effective way to do business is to be introduced.  Let the facts about local sales and market opportunity drive the direction.  You don’t have to enter your first few new markets to great fanfare. The slightest misstep could resonate with your brand for years to come and give your marketing team quite the challenge. Their promotional efforts will get diverted towards reputation management instead of developing your respect and credibility. Do yourself a favor and lay low for the first few market entries. Forgo the massive press initiatives and press releases until you know you’ve got the system down pat and know what the biggest barriers to entry are during global expansion efforts. Be sure to listen carefully and respect the feedback sales producers and managers give you about the opportunities and threats you face and include this information in the direction you set. 

Become An Expert in the New Generation of Sales.

You must enhance a heightened awareness and understanding of new dynamics in sales. Sales become defined by introducing new, useful, and globally-available tools, including using the cloud, networking, and social media to communicate and collaborate. It’s more than just using social media; it’s about using relevant technology to better engage with your audience, whether they are consumers or clients or employees or partners, to generate better quality and quantity in all areas of your business. It is also about better alignment between sales and marketing. Perhaps you have heard of ABM, a fast-growing technique that better aligns sales and marketing. Practitioners of the ABM model have been wildly successful. Today, it is about measuring performance beyond a simple analysis of performance to your client audience.  In the new millennium, it has been proven that you must measure all aspects that contribute to sales productivity.   

A Global Initiative is Not for Faint of Heart; Superior Decision-Making Skills Are Not Optional

Opening in new markets, especially international arenas where you have no experience or exposure yet, will require many new resources that the leadership team themselves may need to first need an education or knowledge base investment on. 

New investment, value, and programs will need to be considered for:

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