Following the U.S. election, not to mention the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, there has been a lot of concern about the future of free trade. But while obstacles to international commerce come and go, the expansion opportunities created by globalizing your business remain. People from lands separated by great distances have been buying and selling to each other for thousands of years. The return on investment has always depended on how well your products are received in other countries. But it is probably safe to say maximizing ROI is more difficult today than ever before.
Going global is a corporate-wide process of interaction and integration. It involves employees, products and customers from multiple nations, not to mention international trade compliance. The process influences regional economic development and prosperity. It impacts the environment, cultures and political systems. In other words, going global is a delicate dance that requires significant investments in people, markets and technology. And to do this right, it is critical for management to be good at making globalization-specific decisions.
Whatever you do when starting to plan an international expansion, never rely on someone who has never led an enterprise globalization team. Even if you start small, you will eventually need a team of globalizers to help develop, translate, adapt, and promote products to international markets. This team is vital to ensuring that customers receive product information and support in a personalized and seamless way. And it needs to be led by someone with experience. So if necessary, bring in an outside globalizer and let them scale up the team as needed.
As I make clear in Truly Global: The Theory and Practice of Bringing Your Company to International Markets, globalization teams take the lead on measuring quality, performance and ROI, and then automate result gathering. This allows senior executives to be fully kept in the loop, furthering the cause of globalization.
It is critical to have internationalization fully supported by the C-suite. Companies with truly global professionals as top executives have an incredible advantage. They help the business leap forward because they understand how products resonate in other countries. Simply put, all senior executives working for a company with an international presence should have lived or worked abroad, or at least understand how to create a globalization plan. Unfortunately, many companies fail to specifically address the topic of globalization when hiring executives. Sometimes this is just a result of being unfamiliar with how to tackle it. Whatever the case, avoiding the topic can be an expensive mistake.
Globalization models vary from company to company, but they tend to fall into one of the following three structures: centralized, decentralized and split between a couple of departments (such as product and marketing). However, customers do not care about how you are organized internally. All they want is a seamless interaction with your product. And since collaboration between departments is vital for globalization plans to run effectively, decentralized and split models are not ideal, thanks to territorial disputes.
It isn’t always easy to identify where a globalization team is situated within an organization. And when they are hard to find, it doesn’t bode well for efficiency. It is also common for companies to have more than one globalizer or globalization team working under different groups. The more divided the teams, the lower the flow of talent, innovation and customer benefits.
The good news is that resources tend to centralize or align, preferably under one lead, as a firm’s globalization plan matures. But this process can take years, so proactively moving to unify your globalizers pays significant dividends. Ultimately, having a centralized model dramatically improves the internationalization process, especially in areas such as vendor pricing negotiation, mapping what customers need and expanding areas to be globalized.
You don’t have to go big to begin globalization. Start with a neighboring market, then group countries according to their priority and gradually widen your reach in an optimized manner. But if you are going global, do it right.
Globalization isn’t about just having a localized website. It is about the “geo alignment” of your company with other markets. As a result, it’s critical to understand how to make your offerings relevant internationally. Indeed, a globalization plan starts with looking at your business from a foreign customer perspective. In every market you target, customers should be able to deal with you in the local currency and language. And that means at minimum, you will need to globalize the following departments: Marketing, Sales, Legal, Customer Support and Training.
It is also critical to understand that foreign markets can be frustrating because they are different. Do not let problems poison the process. This will be apparent to end users. Your customers are always right, and a truly global enterprise will feel local to each one of them.