Five questions to ask first
Expanding on a global scale means more work for your teams in the future as you acquire new customers in different countries and time zones; however, successful expansion also means more revenue, diversified revenue streams, a dramatic increase in global brand awareness, and exposure to international business technology and methods.
If you try to launch in other markets without a decent strategy, however, you risk outward hostility from a new market, a ruined brand reputation from bungled business deals and huge financial losses.
Before you begin, ask yourself these questions to ensure you’re truly ready to make the leap.
1. Why are you expanding?
Growing revenue is a primary reason for expanding to international markets, but look beyond the bottom line when you consider whether this is the right time to make such a move.
Factors to consider: Put aside the idea of cash flow for a minute, and think about why you picked the markets you have your eye on and how your product can best serve those markets.
Kelsey Walsh, Manager of Client Success at Capterra, helps B2B software companies grow their international reach every day. Her advice is to focus on making data-driven decisions.
Says Kelsey, “The first thing we ask when it comes to global traffic is, ‘Do you already have customers in any other countries?'”
That might seem like a no-brainer, but if you’re already making sales and accumulating clients in a particular country, that country should be your first target. Take a deeper dive into the data to make a responsible decision. Otherwise, you may as well throw a dart at a map.
When narrowing expansion options, ask a few more questions:
Pointing to justifications beyond potential new revenue streams will solidify your case for global expansion, and help you better understand and prepare for potential hurdles.
2. Do you have a global business plan?
After you’ve determined that expansion is appropriate for your business, it’s time to figure out how you’re going to do it.
Keep in mind that just because your company operates successfully in your home country doesn’t mean that it will fare as well in other countries or markets.
Factors to consider: Think of expansion as if you’re starting your business from scratch. Research how your business would function, or how operations will need to adjust, in an entirely different environment. What laws govern business operations in your new market? Who are your local competitors, and how are you going to outsell them? Can you include trusted partners in your supply chain?
Don’t take anything for granted when it comes to expanding to new markets. Just because you know how to do business in one country doesn’t mean you have everything figured out in others.
3. Do you know anything about the local culture of the country you want to expand to?
After you’ve covered some of the nitty-gritty business logistics, start looking into the buyer side of your business. Your local tried-and-true sales tactics will likely need to undergo a shift to accommodate buyer sentiment in your new market and how buyers respond to specific messaging or approaches.
Factors to consider: While e-commerce makes it easy to sell to consumers all over the world without leaving your home office, that doesn’t mean a business trip is out of the question. If you’re serious about expanding to other countries, a quick visit to get a feel for how things operate there is a good idea.
Even doing small things such as learning a few phrases in your new customers’ language or some regional slang might help endear you to your new market buyers. It could also help you avoid some of the cultural gaffes that even the most successful global enterprises have made when expanding into other countries.
At the very least, research subjects such as local traditions and holidays, how long the average business day lasts and even when the typical lunch break happens. Having a deep understanding of work culture in the country you’re expanding to is crucial, especially on the B2B side of the equation.
4. Are you optimized for global SEO?
Expanding out of one English-language market like the United States to another English-language market such as the United Kingdom doesn’t mean that your marketing and advertising strategies will automatically translate. When expanding to a country where your language isn’t the native language, you’ve got even more work to do.
Factors to consider: Create a website for a particular country — an “.fr” site for France, for example — to better reach local-language-speaking customers through local, trusted search engines. Remember that sites such as Google tend to serve results and ads that match users’ location and language preferences. So if you’re selling electronic signature software, you’re much more likely to see French traffic if your site advertises “logiciel de signature électronique.”
Translating an entire site’s worth of content can be difficult and expensive. It might be enough to create localized landing pages and invest in translation and PHP redirect services for a small amount of content rather than a complete site.
Make sure your team thinks through the challenges of telling new consumers about your product across your targeted cultures and languages.
5. Is your sales team equipped to handle global leads?
Don Georgette, Senior Business Development Executive at Capterra, points out how hard it is to juggle time zones: “It’s hard enough for a smaller team to handle inbound leads from the Pacific time zone if they’re in Boston, let alone leads from even farther-out time zones like Europe.”
His observation stems from the widely known correlation between sales success and response time: Not responding to a lead within the first five minutes of receiving it makes it 10 times less likely that you’ll get in touch with them at all.
Conducting business across time zones — even between the East and West Coasts of the U.S. — can make maintaining fast response rates difficult.
Ensure that your sales team is equipped with the right tools and techniques to handle international leads with a more dramatic time difference. As Kelsey Walsh put it: “Once you get traffic, you need to start thinking ‘How do I capitalize on this?’ In an ideal world, you shouldn’t treat a U.K. lead like a U.S. lead if your sales team is based in the U.S. That wouldn’t serve you well.”
Factors to consider: To maintain a stellar response time and give your new leads a chance, Walsh suggests using a tool such as marketing automation software to help follow up on inbound opportunities, even in cases where your team doesn’t physically staff the office at 9 a.m. GMT.
To give your leads some sense that you’re going to get back to them as soon as possible, Walsh says, “Contact them somehow. Send them anything, something to push them into the funnel. You can send automatically triggered emails, pushing them to either schedule an appointment or send them a thank-you page with details on when and how you’ll follow up, or information on your process or product.”
Ready to go global?
Reaching new markets means your business will work through several new challenges. While you can and should build on successful processes that have already served your teams well, don’t assume that everything will translate to success in new markets.
Another point to keep in mind: All of the questions here focus squarely on your customers. By taking a step back from expansion discussions based solely on revenue, you and your team can determine how best to serve your clientele, no matter where they’re doing business.
Discover how to connect with more in-market buyers worldwide and scale your business.
Tara Spence is the Senior Manager of Vendor Content at Gartner Digital Markets. She has more than 20 years’ experience in content, from her start as a newspaper reporter to most recently directing the editorial program of a Fortune 500 IT services and solutions provider. Tara loves cooking, traveling and being a mom. Connect with Tara on LinkedIn and Twitter.