International growth (expanding overseas) is always on the table when looking at how to make your business grow. If you are B2B and complex decision processes apply, the risks associated with this expansion are often too big to absorb.
Very long sales cycles mean it takes a long time to know if you will succeed. While you are trying, costs of setting up and maintaining a local office, recruiting a salesperson, and supporting that office are all painfully high.
In fact, most successful international sales expansions involve some serendipity—an employee from that region, a customer who already bought before you formally sold in that region, or simply a connection to the right person in a particular region.
Ideally, you would like to first check your product/market fit. Now, I am not talking about macro economic market surveys purchased from consulting houses—I am talking about practical legal, business practices, accessibility in the market, pricing expectations, competition, etc.
General market research reports and surveys are typically a very good guidance in terms of numbers and figures but they aren’t reflecting your individual situation to give you full confidence. An addition, and likely more valuable approach is to consider a local expert who tests the product/market fit of your particular offering. In much the same way that startups test their product fit as quickly and cheaply as possible before they “invest”, mid size companies today are testing their market fit in new countries in much the same way.
When testing such a market, you still have the challenge of long sales cycles: therefore it is important to keep up-front costs low. You also need full feedback on what is working and why—this means openness and excludes typical “partners” (VAR, etc.). Instead you want to engage a real salesperson, with all the qualifications of a real salesperson you would hire, and you want them to communicate and give feedback like a normal employee. However, you don’t want the up front costs, ongoing costs, long term commitment, nor do you even likely need them full time.
Solution for expanding overseas:
Increasingly, such sales and business development services are becoming available to support this demand trend. With the typical cost of opening a single office in a normal manner, you could instead test 5 different markets and only open offices where you already have one or two reference sales and a good feel that your offering is a good match for a specific market. Not only do you save money and time, you also can far more effectively recruit for a new office with such a foundation.
What is your experience?