Locals going global

Learnings from Irish IT and technology firms on making their international market expansion a success.

How do you best prepare to take your successful Irish business into an overseas market? Recently I attended an Enterprise Ireland 'Start-up to Scale' event in Dublin where big enterprise brands, innovative high-growth companies, board directors and venture capital leaders from Silicon Valley came to Dublin to share their advice on the best strategies to scale your company. Common themes and insights emerged. It got me thinking. From my experience of working with several different IT and technology companies doing just that, while there is no one-size fits all tick-box to complete to put you on the path to success, certain learnings and commonalities emerge time and time again. I thought the following flags might be of interest to senior management about to embark on their own overseas journey.

Senior Management Buy-In

A golden rule for all key business decisions, your international market expansion project needs the buy-in of senior management and executives at the top. Going overseas is expensive, difficult and a long-term project meaning if it just your pet-project it is going nowhere fast. Aside from top management buy-in, an advisory board of those who have done it before can be invaluable. The key people involved need to spend real time in-country with partners, clients, staff and potential customers to really understand the market.  Whatever the support structure in place, the project should also be linked back to the organisation’s goals and better still the organisations vision and values. This means the international spark is given the required fuel and oxygen to flame and fire.

Top Talent Get-In

Bringing the right people for the market is critical. Investing the time to find the right people is equally critical. Select the talent based on the long-term development goals of the company. They may not be the right match right now but stick it out based on the longer-term view and bring them with you on the journey.  ‘Don’t go shopping on an empty stomach’ - this will help you avoid making panic decisions with regard last minute hires and making sure you right-size the team to the task at hand. Going international is never one person’s job. This is down to sheer practicalities such as the size and scale of overseas territories and markets in comparison to our Emerald Isle. Travelling over and back is acceptable in the early days but its expensive to maintain and does not instil confidence in the buyer compared to real feet on the street.

Regular communicat-ing!

Once your top team are in-situ, make sure you keep the dialogue open and two-way communication flowing form head office and back. Otherwise the focus can get blurred, different agendas emerge, resources get misallocated, head office gets frustrated and troops get demotivated.

A targeted target audience

You may well be able to spiel it off verbatim but it is absolutely critical to write it down, document it, share it with all stakeholders and get them to do similar. You need total clarity to ensure those in head office and those in-country are on message and focused 100% of the time given you the best chance of success.  Understand the pain you alleviate and how you do that – are you a quick headache tablet that’s easy to try as a substitute to their conventional pill or are you a total cure for migraines that is tearing up the traditional playing field but takes time and patience to come to fruition. Ongoing territory market research against competitors and your unique selling point (USP) always needs to be front of mind. If you are an Enterprise Ireland client you might be entitled to leverage their excellent Market Research Centre in their Dublin office which has a fantastic repository of current industry, sector, competitor and company insights. Go with the markets where you have the best chance of success, not just the biggest markets!

Keep it simple

You might have a plethora of established products and services to cross-sell and up-sell back in Ireland but going overseas it nearly makes more sense to lead with your killer product or service. By keeping it simple at the start and limiting customisations (unless you need to make them for the market), you have a single marketing message to put your tight resources behind to help you break through the competitive clutter.

Get a reference

An in-country reference site is key for an overseas market. Don’t give your product or service away for free but have a real think about the value of that first reference site to help you get the snowball rolling. Don’t be afraid to break up your sale strategy for that first deal or pay double commission to the sales person or partner fronting the deal to get it over the line. As clients start to come onboard, get agreement from them all that you can use their logo and blessing as a reference. Use it on as much collateral as possible to build the trust going forward.

Culture is key

In France you need to speak French and they prefer face-to-face as opposed email and phone. In the USA, they’ll give anyone a chance, but they do prefer to buy U-S-A! They also expect phenomenal customer service every time and on a 24x7 basis. The Canadians like working with the Irish but you need to be patient and build a trustful relationship overtime…. these may be a generalisations but nonetheless the key point is culture is key and adapting to that culture when you are in-country is critical to success. Even within large territories, cultures can differ from region to region meaning there are different practices, expectations and philosophies in business to be adapted and adhered to. Get all communications checked by a local! You would be surprised at subtleties in language, tone and expression. 


Joe O’Reilly is Managing Director with www.boostyoursales.ie, a sales, marketing and business mentoring services company for growth-focused IT and tech services companies in Dublin, Leinster and beyond!

Photo by Tom Cleary on Unsplash