“There’s literally a world of opportunity out there,” says digital marketing expert Jeff Kamikow. “You just have to be in the right place to take advantage.”
Kamikow learned firsthand what a boon international business can be. As a prominent digital marketer who’s developed original revenue strategies for several successful companies and built global sales forces that magnified his efforts here at home — boosting sales, revenue and income in the process.
Many of Kamikow’s fellow entrepreneurs are discovering the power of doing business overseas as well. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration, 98 percent of all U.S. businesses that export overseas are classified as small to midsize enterprises. Exports account for nearly 7 million jobs and nearly 14 percent of U.S. GDP. And U.S. companies that export are about 9 percent less likely to go out of business than companies that focus exclusively on the domestic market.
Perhaps most importantly, 70 percent of the world’s purchasing power is located outside the United States. That proportion is likely to rise, not fall, as time goes on.
Exporting can be complicated, sure. But given these facts, it’s hard to argue that expanding overseas isn’t in a growing company’s best interest, all other things being equal. And since many modern businesses don’t even make physical goods, “exporting” can be as simple as bouncing bits off orbiting satellites or shooting data through overseas cables.
If you’re looking to tap overseas markets for your products and services, you’re likely to need a global sales force that can support your efforts wherever you choose to set up shop. No matter how modest your resources or scale, it’s hard to beat an on-the-ground sales force that (sometimes literally) speaks your prospects’ language and spots threats and opportunities in plenty of time to respond.
Here’s what you need to do to build and maintain an effective global sales force, no matter what your company does.
- Plan Before You Expand
A few years ago, when Jeff Kamikow was putting together his first global sales team, emerging markets were the golden children of the global economy. No matter how hard you tried to find an underperforming or politically risky place to grow your firm, you’d find a firehose of eager buyers with fistfuls of cash — at favorable dollar exchange rates, no less.
Those days are long gone. Expanding overseas is a much trickier proposition these days, and the possibility of failure looms large. Former darlings — Brazil, Russia, even China — are struggling to keep their houses in orders. Some smaller players — Greece, Egypt — are on the verge of collapse.
Before you expand your global footprint, take a hard look at what your company brings to the table. Research the markets you’re targeting and determine whether consumers there are willing to buy what you’re selling. (Do they even care?)
If you’re targeting new markets primarily for back-office support for existing operations elsewhere, carefully analyze local political and economic risk. Even if they have favorable tax laws or incentives for foreign-owned firms, politically unstable countries present unacceptable risks. That’s why Jeff Kamikow’s latter-day global sales work tends to focus on relatively stable markets, like France and India.
- Build a Curious First Wave
When you enter a new market, you’re likely to build your first “wave” of salespeople and managers from trusted home-market employees. As you evaluate the candidates, take care to select culturally curious people who exhibit a willingness to learn about and engage with locals. You don’t want people who just want to hang out in the lobby of your Western hotel or apartment block.
- Develop Local Talent
Your sales team’s second wave, with few exceptions, should be comprised of talent hired and developed locally. This is particularly critical if you’re expanding into non-English-speaking markets. Establish connections with local civic boosters and talent search professionals to find qualified workers and reduce failure rates. Jeff Kamikow’s team wouldn’t be where it is today without talented natives willing to stick out their necks for him.
- Understand Local Customs
Customs and social norms differ widely from place to place, so it’s critical to conduct exhaustive research prior to entry and to retain an open mind afterwards. Even activities as simple as eye contact between subordinates and superiors, jokes made during presentations, and finger-pointing or other seemingly innocuous gestures can create tension and possibly jeopardize your position.
- Learn from Your Mistakes
At some point, it’ll become clear that things simply aren’t working out with a particular sales initiative or — unfortunately — an entire territory. Don’t fight a losing battle, particularly when you’re out of your element. Instead, cut your losses, analyze what went wrong, retrench your efforts elsewhere, and vow not to make the same mistake again.
- Look for Opportunities to Scale
As noted, the first wave of your global sales force may well be from your home country, or perhaps picked from other international markets. As you grow your presence in-country, you’ll then need to hire and develop local talent.
But unless it becomes clear that you’re on a fool’s errand in your new market, you should never stop looking for opportunities to scale quickly and cost-effectively — i.e., by acquiring smaller, local competitors or purchasing in-place assets (if cash flow allows) that align with your goals. For instance, if you catch wind that a local call center operator is looking to sell, consider buying them out, retaining high-potential employees, and retraining them to support your local goals (whether direct sales, inbound support or some other complementary activity).
- Leverage Your Global Presence
When you’re building a global sales force, it never hurts to brag. Jeff Kamikow is the first to admit that he’s played up his global sales chops in past situations where it’s to his benefit to do so.
Entrepreneurs who successfully build and manage global sales forces, regardless of scale or mission, demonstrate that they’re able to run complex, multipolar organizations outside of whatever cultural comfort zone they might normally occupy. The value of this competency is difficult to quantify, but it often leads to opportunities that weren’t previously on the radar.
Are you working to build a global sales force for your company? What are the biggest challenges and opportunities you’ve identified so far?