Insurance 26 September 2016

Conquering new markets: Tips for small business success

international_markets

Starting off in new markets is always a challenge, especially when you’ve got a small team with you. Duncan Keene, UK managing director of ContentSquare, shares his tips on how to manage a small team with a larger “mothership” office abroad, and considers the ever-present Brexit uncertainty shading business activity on the continent.

It’s a problem every small and mid-sized company aspires to have: “How do we launch into a new market effectively?” Your venture is clearly successful if you’re seriously asking yourself this question, however at this stage of company development it’s very easy to be lulled into a false sense of security.

Yes, you may have found more stable revenues and potential prospects in another market, however these alone are no guarantee of success. Launching into new markets is fraught with challenges, some obvious and others unexpected. However, if done right, there’s huge opportunity to scale your company beyond what would have been possible if you’d just stuck to your home base.

How do I know this? I’m the managing director of ContentSquare UK. ContentSquare was founded and is headquartered in Paris, France, where it has grown since 2009 into a key player in the user experience analytics firm in that market. However this time last year we were virtually unknown in the UK. Over the course of 2016 we’ve been launching ourselves into the UK, and are on a strong growth trajectory for success.

This article will cover some of the challenges and solutions that many businesses, regardless of product or sector, may face when moving to new markets.

Common issues

A key mistake when growing your business across borders is to assume that everything will be the same. Even across European borders, such as between the UK and France, there are occasionally big differences. For example, the marketing technology and analytics market in the UK is more mature than in France, with more competition from other companies operating in the same space.

If you’re moving out of your native country and into a new market, one of the things that catches people by surprise is the extent to which they have to educate sales prospects. In your home country people may have heard of your company name and even know a bit about your product, but in your new market you have to explain from the very beginning all the time. What this means in practical terms is that you’ll need to put more work into your elevator pitch: use your local knowledge to adapt how you sell your product, and get used to starting sales conversations at a far earlier stage.

Regulation is another area that companies looking to found offices abroad must pay close attention to. In Europe, the European Union has been at times a simplifying force by ensuring that similar regulation exists across the continent, however with Britain’s recent vote to leave the EU, businesses will have to invest more time in working out whether they are compliant in their new market.

It’s more complicated for businesses looking to expand across the Atlantic. Legislation, such as the EU’s new General Data Protection Regulation, scheduled to come into force in May 2018, could have a profound impact on any company which handles consumer data with a presence, or looking to introduce a presence, into the EU.

Perhaps the most common problem of all is also the simplest: breakdown in communication. Once you find yourself is in another country, and no longer bumping into the same people in the hallway, communication can break down, and that can have an adverse effect on decision making and overall team morale.

Solutions

There’s no way around it: if you’re going to make a success of being a small outfit in a new country, you’re going to have to put in the groundwork from day one. In many ways it’s similar to being a startup again: you’ll have to take a critical look at your existing product, and rework it to fit your new market.

Nothing should be sacred, and you should work quickly to get a minimum viable product up and running in your new market. This means getting out there, scheduling meetings with potential customers, and really understanding how their needs differ from your home country. Don’t get frustrated if it feels like the work you have to do to sell one unit has doubled, or tripled even.

When you’re starting out from scratch in new markets, people are your currency. You may be uncomfortable and under-informed about how your product will fit with market demand, but if you have a solid team at your side your chances of success are much higher. In practice, this means that you should emphasise with headquarters that you want as much control as possible over the hiring process: you’re going to be the one spending time with these people, so it’s only fair. Pick people that you feel will bridge the gap between the established company culture, and the culture of your new market.

Finally, a word on Brexit. With the UK’s recent vote to leave the European Union, there is much more uncertainty in the air, and this can have a powerful negative effect on your relationship with both your customers and your headquarters. In this environment, keeping clear lines of communication open between your office and headquarters is paramount. In addition, understand that your customers might need additional reassurance about your commitment to the market.

Duncan Keene is UK managing director at ContentSquare.

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