Believe it or not, right now is the perfect time to double down on expanding globally.
As we continue to weather the impact of COVID-19 and as countries open and close at different intervals, global expansion allows your team to minimize risk by not putting all your eggs in one basket.
But as you likely know, global expansion isn’t easy. It takes careful planning, the right people, and good timing.
Elements of Successful Global Sales Expansion
“Be Quick but Don’t Hurry” – John Wooden
Successful global expansion is all about capitalizing on the right opportunity at the right time.
If you are seeing additional demand from a particular region based on in-bound leads or media mentions, don’t miss an opportunity to capitalize on that interest.
But don’t rush into it without a well-thought out plan in place. So, let’s look at four keys to a successful global sales expansion.
Make Investments Across the Board, and Make a Plan for the Resources You Have
Global expansion requires strong business partners in all functions, and committed investment across the board.
One of the first steps when you’re preparing to move into a new market is to create a cross-functional, go-to-market strategy. Gain agreement from everyone involved on market status, product, marketing, customer success investments, success metrics, and timeline.
Nominate one leader per function to lead expansion efforts (We’ll look deeper into how to choose the right leader in the next section).
Once you have leaders in place, develop a list of all the elements that need to be completed for launch and long-term success. Ask your leaders what resources they’ll need and do research on the new region to determine if there are any special requirements for operating in those regions that you need to get squared away before you launch.
Then you can use a RACI diagram to note each team member’s responsibility for the launch checklist and get to work.
It’s important to schedule regular check-ins to review progress, gather input, and troubleshoot roadblocks.
Be upfront with your reps about what your company is prepared to invest.
Most reps will need local language, data centers, and compliance, but it’s unlikely you’ll enter the market with all of these figured out. These are big investments that take time.
Luckily a portion of the market can usually be captured without all of those in place. But be transparent with your rep about when those investments are likely to come through, and adjust your performance expectations accordingly.
The hard questions:
No plan is without its faults, and no sales expansion is without its fair share of roadblocks. So, it’s important you ask yourself some hard questions.
How much market share can you capture with your existing product and resources?
What if you don’t get the resources you planned for?
How will your headquarters team adjust their hours to support needs globally?
The more honest you are upfront, the better prepared you’ll be for the problems that inevitably come your way.
Hire the Right Leaders
It takes a particular type of sales leader to be the first in a new country or region. This person must be independent, able to operate with few resources, and excellent at generating pipeline and demand.
Make sure you are upfront with the expansion leader about what will not be available.
They will be spending a lot of time doing business development activities like speaking at events, meeting partners, and making customers successful, all while still building pipeline. Add in restricted travel, limited in-person customer visits, and time zone changes and your first hire could feel very isolated.
Some people thrive in this environment, but many don’t. So, be honest, and let your potential hires make the choice of whether that’s something they’re willing to get into.
Another important thing to consider is whether to hire local talent or promote from within.
Proving out a new market with existing talent and resources is a great way to test a market. But, that being said, you’ll have more success hiring people who are local to the region, but creating the business case is often best done by assigning existing reps additional territory.
Put the word out. Ask your investors, former colleagues, and recruiters to point you to the best candidates who can work independently to build a market.
Layoffs in technology have been a reality for many companies and will likely continue. For those in a position to be hiring, this creates a great opportunity to help former colleagues and find otherwise unavailable, fantastic talent.
International experience can be career defining. And it can be tempting to focus solely on someone who has done it before, but that can limit diversity and could mean missing out on otherwise great talent. Instead look for traits that will indicate success. Find someone who is interested in pioneering a new market, likes a challenge, and has a flexible schedule.
Use competency-based interview questions to look for independence, leadership potential, self-discipline, and resourcefulness.
I frequently reference Jason Lemkin’s post on hiring two reps when you first begin, and I’ve found this to be very helpful when entering new markets. The idea here is that by hiring two reps, you can more quickly figure out what is or isn’t working.
It’s crucial to get your first technical sales hire right. And investing in two reps demonstrates not only what is possible in the region but surfaces patterns earlier. If only one rep is struggling, you know either the rep isn’t up for the challenge, or something about their process isn’t working. If both reps are struggling, you know it’s likely either the market or you’re not properly resourcing them for success.
The hard question:
The big question you’ll need to deal with at this step is this:
How will you know if you have a talent problem vs. a market problem?
This is where hiring two reps to start out with can help, but it’s also important to have a backup plan if this isn’t possible. This could involve testing the new hire with a proven market first or setting up more detailed check-ins early on.
Have a Solid Ramp Plan
Getting new reps ramped up to full speed is important in the best of scenarios, but this is even more important when those reps are pioneering new territory.
We normally run role-based programs that include self-paced and instructor-led, in-person learning components. But when COVID hit, like many companies, we had to adjust how we ramp our new hires.
Now that it all must be done virtually, my team frequently runs multiple classes each month to meet the needs of our global team and ensure we maintain our ramp time.
The goal with this ramp-up is to create a sense of belonging for our new hires in all time zones and a group of colleagues that can be their virtual team as they onboard.
Utilize a new-hire sales & technical sales checklist. Provide self-paced content, and evaluate learnings with live role plays and knowledge checks.
When onboarding virtually, it’s important to make the most of your time. Determine which content is most impactful when delivered live, and focus on that.
One of the easiest ways to do this is to ask your current reps what parts of the onboarding they found most helpful. This could include sales methodology, pipeline generation, product content, and/or a roadmap discussion.
Shadowing is another important part of a new-hire onboarding that can be difficult for new hires in locations outside of HQ. Make your best effort to include them in live or recorded sales calls and get their feedback on what they thought of the call.
Consider extending your new hire onboarding and ramp to include more check-ins as questions arise.
Once they’ve been onboarded, evaluate new-hire KPIs like activities, pipeline generation, pipeline progression, and time-to-first-deal. These leading indicators can give early indications of how well the rep is ramping up.
The hard questions:
When ramping up new hires, especially if they are pioneering a new region, you need to be prepared for the possibility that they may struggle.
What will you do if you aren’t seeing pipeline in a particular region?
What resources do you have to assist the seller?
What channels and relationships will drive new logos in the new region?
Make sure you know what to look for to see if a rep is struggling and have a plan in place to help them and equip them for success.
Support Your Reps on the Ground
It’s important to stay constantly connected to your teams in a new region.
We have added frequent check-ins and training sessions for all customer-facing employees in-region to keep them connected and share upcoming marketing activity, check-in on KPIs, and provide info on product updates.
We’ve also had a lot of success with creating mentor relationships between existing successful reps to ensure in-region reps are constantly getting the support they need.
When it comes to supporting new-region reps, your normal support plan won’t cut it. You need to do more than share recordings of local meetings. Return to your initial KPIs and track against and adjust if necessary.
Revisit the RACI from the initial launch and expand it to include on-going prioritized needs from the region.
Expand the cross-functional team to include the sales leadership and evaluate the check-in frequency.
Establish 1:1 check-ins as well. Ensure the local team has >2x contact weekly from different HQ functions.
We have a recurring bi-weekly meeting for our entire Asia Pacific sales team to hear from other groups and get a summary of content presented on US and EMEA calls, in addition to rotating some of our regular meetings to different time zones.
The hard questions:
Launching into a new region takes collaboration from your entire organization. Ask yourself:
What is needed from your existing team to support the team covering this new market?
What will you do if your assumptions turn out not to be true?
Listen to your reps in-region, and be ready to adjust the level of support you’re supplying.
Expansion is a Marathon
Ultimately, global expansion is an art and a science that requires good planning, hard work, and often a little bit of luck.
But the potential rewards are well worth the effort. It can inject energy and create long-term larger growth potential. And in today’s world, where no market is a safe bet, global expansion is quickly becoming a requirement to ensure your organization can stay profitable.
Just remember that sales expansion is a marathon, not a sprint. And just like in a marathon, success comes down to how well you prepare. So, take your time, prepare well, and start advancing to your success.