Mobile technology expert Mark Rosner shares three crucial tips to enable small businesses to grow internationally and reach a global market.
Although multinational companies have been around for hundreds of years, only in the past 20 years or so have they become anything approaching a norm. These days we operate in a global economy, and even small businesses expand internationally. Indeed, going global is often the only way for successful companies to keep growing.
But just because everyone’s doing it doesn’t mean they’re doing it successfully. The first step should always be focusing on your product and ensuring it’s ready for global expansion. Then you can consider getting a sales and operations team in place – one that is smart, savvy, and trustworthy.
Here are three tips for growing a talented and successful sales and operations team internationally.
Be deliberate when choosing your locations
It always pays to be strategic about which locations you expand to. Don’t just expand into a country because everyone else appears to be. For example, Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends Report shone a light on India, which now has the second most internet-connected population in the world. Apple is setting up a new app development accelerator in Bangalore and a research centre in Hyderabad.
However, the market isn’t necessarily a perfect fit for every growing company, and you should do your own research as it relates to your product before expanding there. Similarly, just because particular countries have inexpensive office space or labour doesn’t mean that it’s a great fit for you in terms of your strategic business goals. Your best bet is to hone in on regions where reliable research tells you there are customers who would buy your product.
Overall, when you’re choosing a new international region to expand into, focus on quality over quantity – as long as you have enough quality customers to truly make it worth your while. In any new market, you want to make a name for yourself by offering a sound product that is embraced by quality customers.
And finally, if you’re B2B, be sure to think about where your customers want you to be next. If they’re likely to expand to a certain region, then you want to be there to support them when they do.
Hire locally when you can
It’s always tempting to move reliable employees from your UK headquarters to your desired new market and make them the backbone of your new office, and there are times that this makes sense strategically. After all, you already know them and know that they can be trusted to do great work.
But the truth is if you’re entering a foreign market, the most reliable employee in the world will never be be able to make up for the fact that they don’t understand the local dynamics. The bottom line is that transferring people,expecting them to learn a new culture, market and lead a new office could cost you time, money and relationships.
The far better strategy is to start by hiring good people who grew up in the country and are native to the market. They’ll already have a sound business network and know the local work culture, both of which can be a challenge for outsiders.
When you think about it, having an established network and a nuanced understanding of the culture is particularly important in sales because sales staff have the most daily contact with your customers. You’re many steps ahead if they already know those customers and share a local culture with them.
Sometimes the best way to expand into a foreign market is to make an acquisition there. That’s how AppLovin successfully entered the EU market in 2014. By making a good acquisition, we dispensed with the time-and-resource-consuming step of building a sales team from scratch.
None of this is to say that you should never transfer any of your UK employees to work overseas (after all, you do want to instil your company culture elsewhere), just that it’s risky to have expats form the backbone of a foreign office.
Zero in on the right customers for each market
When you’re expanding your market but your product remains the same, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that no matter what (or where!), the same demographic will be interested in your product. But your customer base can actually vary tremendously from country to country.
You need to determine with whom your product resonates by doing both market research and A/B testing among samples in the country. From there you should be able to find quality customers whom you think will scale efficiently, not to mention evangelise for your product and brand. Generally speaking, it’s better to find long-term, quality customers early on.
It’s also important to be aware of differences within the market itself. For example, my company does a lot of business in the mobile gaming industry, and when we expanded into Japan, it was important for us to know the profile of Japanese mobile gamers vs. UK mobile gamers, and that Japanese marketers often have different goals than UK marketers do.
Never assume that customers for a product are going to be the same across regions. Always do your homework so that you can identify quality customers within a new market and meet their needs.
Expanding your business internationally can be enormously rewarding. It’s a great way to grow your business and learn new things about different cultures. But particularly when you’re first getting boots on the ground with your sales and operations teams, you need to look before you leap. Make absolutely sure that the location and the consumers there make sense for your business. Then, once you’ve confirmed that they are, hire a local team that is familiar with the lay of the land so they can secure quality customers and build a strong business.
Mark Rosner is the chief revenue officer at AppLovin, a platform that provides marketing automation and analytics for brands that want to reach new consumers on mobile.
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