“If you can’t handle our business worldwide, then we will have to look at other providers….” is not what you want to hear from your largest customer.
That’s exactly what one of our client companies heard, from its biggest prospect... The company provided a B2B collaboration solution to US companies. With the success of their solution in the US, the need to provide capability started expanding into Europe and Asia.
However, the company had no presence overseas, little idea how to get there and found it impossible to sell and support from the west coast. That’s when the company got the ultimatum: “You have twelve months to build a real presence in all the geographies we want to serve. If you can’t do it? We love you, but you’re out.”
Investors and managers talk about international growth as an option, but often, it’s a necessity. This is especially true for Cloud/SaaS solutions that sell to businesses rather than consumers. Almost every large business on the planet has a couple of key imperatives right now. Going global is one.
Standardising solutions, reducing the number of vendors they use is another. The combination means that if you expect to become a key vendor for a US-based company, you have to expect that, as your solution succeeds, you will be expected to go global. A company can have multiple suppliers of office supplies worldwide, because office supplies are not strategic. But if the solution you are selling is strategic to your customers and makes a difference to their business, they are going to want to roll it out worldwide. You have to be there.
Not that it’s easy. In the year before the aforementioned largest customer laid down the law, 98% of their revenue was from the US and rest came from Canada. Investors and Customers had been asking them to expand, but frankly, they didn’t listen. The perception was the money wasn’t there and the risk and the unknowns were insurmountable. Plus, they were busy. Now, like it or not, they were left with no choice. And if you haven’t been listening closely enough, you may not have one either. Here’s what this company did:
They held a frank discussion with customers, and they listened. They sat down with their customers and tried to get a sense of what they wanted, and what they could provide. This was key. The customers knew they were taking their concerns seriously. And it allowed them to set up a moral commitment, if not a contractual one. If they invested in Europe, the customers would invest in them. The ultimate cross-sell.
They considered building an overseas operation from scratch, but they were lucky: there was already a company specialising in rapid launch, top of the funnel build and even first line support. They minimised their risk and accelerated launch
Other early stage Cloud/SaaS solutions may be able to take some baby steps toward going overseas if their customers aren’t pressing them as hard. However, the sooner you get there the sooner you occupy the high ground and the competition will be chasing you. An outsourced agreement with the right partner can get you in front of customers with local presence far faster and with lower risk than if you built it from scratch yourself. An outright partnership – again, carefully vetted – can also be a good place to start.
They adapted to a new way of doing business. Sometimes they do things differently in Europe, and that’s okay. Other times, they had to have the conviction that their way of doing business was just as valid in Europe as in the US, and they pushed their new colleagues to do it their way. In the US, many of their prospects bought over the phone. In Europe, those customers wanted face-to-face local interaction in their language. They are now using integrated professional B2B Insides Sales for top of the funnel build and nurture with local field sales representation where required.
One year after kick-off, international sales exceeded domestic North American sales pushing the valuation of the company significantly higher whereupon they were acquired.
In the acquired company International revenues are now some 30% of total, and represent the fastest-growing part of their business. They have offices in Asia and Latin America as well as Europe. More important is what did not occur: they did not lose key US customers to a competitor. That’s something that could easily have happened had they not realised that International growth was not a choice, but an imperative.