There's no shortage of do and don't lists for U.S.-based companies considering global expansion, all of which claim to be the tried-and-true international market entrance strategy. In reality, many U.S. companies have experienced immediate success overseas, while others remain paralyzed by ignorance or moved too fast and fumbled out of the gate. Each of these methods provide lessons learned and a glimpse into the requirements for success. In all cases, in-depth research, planning and a solid go-to-market business plan are obligatory. However, once in-country, the best laid plans often crumble and many leaders find it's the surprises and mistakes along the way that end up leading to the biggest opportunities. In reality, being a global company means being open to changing our thoughts, processes, and expectations in a way that may be truly foreign to us. With that spirit in mind, here are three counterintuitive paths you may consider when charting a course to global domination:
Don't Tap your Top Executive to Lead the Charge
The person leading your expansion team will have the most direct impact on your success, so it makes sense to tap a highly experienced executive who knows your products and has a track record of success, right? Maybe not. While you're busy expanding, the home team needs to stay focused on the health and continuity of your existing business. Regardless of who leads the team, global expansion activities will put immense pressure on resources and only experienced leadership at home will keep employees focused despite the additional demands on everyone's time.
Before making your leadership decisions, also consider the personal requirements of the position. The role will require travel, extended work hours and time away from friends and family. The perfect leader needs to be a cultural anthropologist at heart with the energy to work across time zones and an inherent passion for immersion in local cultures. Not many long-serving executives possess all of these character traits. Consider your expansion a great opportunity to identify an up-and-coming leader with the personal commitment and cultural curiosity necessary for the long haul. Then, ensure that person is supported by the entire executive team and given the autonomy to shift directions based on acquired local knowledge.
Don't Be Overly Concerned With Hiring Local from the Start
Nearly every business strategy article will tout the importance of hiring local. What most companies fail to take into account is the time and cost of finding, training and retaining the best local workers. Top talent isn't likely to bet on an unproven market entry and the cost of convincing them could eviscerate your budget before your first official day in business. The less-worn-path involves creating and exporting a launch team of seasoned experts that work well together and excel at the activity required to start the business. Then, as the business matures and you create a solid reputation, businesses can add long-term local talent that matches the established culture and understands the corporate mission.
Forget Everything You Know About Your U.S. Customers
Even if you have a massive U.S. consumer base and the world's best data analytics, you simply cannot expect consumers or businesses in new global markets to see or use your offering in the exact same way. Instead of viewing this as a hurdle you need to "educate" the locals and be open to reframing your core value proposition to provide value in a different way to a potentially new audience.
In the end, you can read all the advice columns, white papers and how-to manuals to prepare for a successful expansion and still find yourself surprised by challenges you never thought to consider. There is no cookie-cutter approach. The only foolproof strategy is to overeducate yourself on the local culture, keeping an open mind and staying flexible enough to find the silver lining in the surprises along the way.