There’s no doubt that for many North American based companies, expanding into Europe is an attractive option. Sections of the European market have often been enthusiastic early adopters of new or innovative technologies.
When planned and implemented effectively, entering European markets can stimulate a significant growth in global revenue and market share as well as positively impact a business’ valuation – and of course delaying the process can run the risk of opening the door to competition.
If your solution lends itself to simple remotely conducted on-line sales, the barriers to entry are relatively trivial. But if your typical sales cycle is more complex – and particularly if it involves multiple prospect interactions and a lengthy buying decision process – then there can often be significant barriers to successful market entry.
At best, these barriers may have the effect of delaying the revenue uplift that your business has projected as a consequence of your expansion into Europe. At worst, it can serve to critically compromise the whole initiative – and leave unprepared or unsuccessful organisations to retreat and lick their wounds.
The decisions organisations make at the start of an expansion initiative often have a profound impact on the outcome. Here are just a few of the most common mistakes:
- Hiring people who turn out to be unsuited to the task
- Not doing enough to build pipeline in the territory
- Failing to secure the all-important early market wins
- Failing to implement a scalable, repeatable and predictable sales process
Let’s look at each of these in turn:
The People Challenge
Whilst hiring the right local leader is critical, your other hiring decisions also have a significant impact on your chances of success. Being successful in an early-stage outpost requires character traits that are unlikely to be present in people that haven’t demonstrated an ability to perform in this sort of environment previously.
Even more than you would at headquarters, you are looking for people who are self-motivated, eager and quick to learn, resilient and accepting of a certain amount of tolerance for the inevitable early-stage ambiguity. Hiring people who have only previously succeeded in an established, big-brand environment with lots of infrastructure to back them up almost inevitably leads to failure.
If your organisation is working with a head-hunter or recruiter, you need to ensure that they both understand the local market and can demonstrate a track record of success in helping their clients build successful teams in early-stage environments.
The Pipeline Challenge
Having the right people in place is just part of the challenge. Having a process for building high-quality pipeline is another critical factor for both short and long-term success. Without enough pipeline – or without a clear sense of what an ‘ideal prospect’ looks like – your sales team will inevitably get frustrated chasing too few low-quality opportunities.
For many technology-based businesses, efficient pipeline building requires effective audience targeting and the ability to conduct high-level conversations with potential sponsors and decision-makers, therefore telephone and conversational skills are key. Rigid scripts are unlikely to be effective – the business needs people who are confident conversationalists, good listeners and succinct summarisers.
At this stage many dynamic start-ups with high-value, complex propositions opt to employ a strategic Business Development capability outside their own business. This operating model is specifically designed to target emerging propositions and scales to deliver predictable sales pipeline and revenue.
If your business is to lay the foundations for sustained success, one of your early priorities must be to invest in an effective and sustained pipeline-building programme.
The Early-Win Challenge
Securing early wins is important for many different reasons – not only to justify the investment of opening up the new operation but also building confidence and a sense of momentum in your local team.
This is why chasing every opportunity – no matter how hopeless – is an utterly dysfunctional strategy. The sooner you can build quality pipeline and identify a group of well-qualified, highly promising opportunities, the better.
The early wins are likely to come from a combination of effective qualification plus excellent sales execution. As a new player in the local market, you need to anticipate and prepare for more than the usual share of questions about your organisation’s credentials and your product’s capabilities.
Generic sales skills and good product knowledge are obviously important: but you also need to share whatever you have learned to date about what an ideal prospect looks like, what really matters to them and how and why they make buying decisions – the sort of insights that are unique to your organisation.
The Scalable Sales Process Challenge
If, by following the above advice, you manage to get the early market traction you have been hoping for, then your attention will turn to scaling up the operation. You’ll still want to be rigorous in your recruitment and to continue to build quality pipeline – but now implementing a truly scalable sales process is necessary to drive continued success.
This is a matter of taking everything that you’ve learnt about what makes the local market tick – the common characteristics of your ideal prospects, the issues that are most important to the local market and the way in which buying decisions are made – into a scalable, repeatable and predictable local sales process.
This will, in all likelihood, reflect many of the winning behaviours that you have already observed in your home market. But it’s also likely that there will be a certain amount of adaption to reflect what you’ve learnt about local market conditions.
Winning Globally by Selling Locally
The idea of “Winning Globally by Selling Locally” is a particularly relevant mantra for companies that are in the all-important international expansion phase. With the right people on board, effective pipeline building programmes under way, a handful of high-quality early wins under your belt, and the basis of a scalable, repeatable and predictable sales process in place, there should be nothing to stop your business realising its potential.
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About the author
Clarify works with dynamic technology start-ups engaged in high value (from $200k to $30m TCV) complex sales. Clarify designs and builds specialist ‘office based New Business Development (BD) teams’ that combine the coverage and scalability of a demand generation team with the business development skills of high-end field sales.
Clarify’s innovative approach enables its clients to create influence and engage where existing go-to-market models struggle. As a result, growth is accelerated; market share increases and access to new markets are enabled.