Going Global? Turn Chaos into Strategic Success

So your company is going global without a strategy that got board level visibility? Everybody wants to go global. Engineers have it in their DNA. Product Managers want to fulfill their global product ambitions and add this to their resume. Sales teams find those perfect customers who just happen to want your product or service around the world.n. 

When I moved from Paris to Geneva to San Francisco, I was not only seeking a professional career and fulfilling my desire to see the world, I was responding to an urge to experience the world and expand my horizons.

In a world of SaaS powered by inbound marketing, self-buying, and self-service, customers naturally come to your product from all over the world before you even plan for it. Borders don’t exist in the digital world: you will be global, and there will be (plenty of) chaos along the way.

It often starts by accident

Going global is often like transforming that shack in the backyard into a guest house without ever hiring an architect. If you are lucky your product team started it and put their hard work into a product that’s (almost) ready to go international. Re-engineering a product that has not been designed for multi-byte, multi-language, multi-currency etc. is no small feat, so that’s good news. Sometimes it starts with sales bringing a contract with an international client who has expectations for product, support, billing etc. that far exceed your current organization. Either way, you have to make the best of it. Leverage what you have, build what you need, and if it all works out, enjoy accelerated growth for years to come!

Departments move at different speeds

The product and ops team can ensure operation in new geos, support basic localization requirements, and allow for translation and maybe more advanced localization requirements like supporting local currency or regulation. Support can find a way to turn around international customer requests without too much pain as long as the volume is small. Business development even has a few international sales or service partners who are interested in local markets.

10 signs that your organization is going global

  • You have international users of your products or services
  • International traffic to your website is increasing in %, and going to product, support, and pricing pages
  • Your product is available in new languages
  • Sales Ops has requests for subscriptions in foreign currencies
  • Support requests are coming in from other time zones and countries
  • International partners are asking if they can distribute/sell/support your offerings in their local markets
  • PR gets requests from international media
  • The world “global” is showing up in presentations, investor pitches, interviews, the website etc.
  • Your product team is making architecture changes to support globalization
  • International or global responsibilities are becoming part of select job descriptions

From silos to a global strategy

It is time to start orchestrating these silo’ed efforts into a global strategy that can get board-level attention and become a strategic pillar of growth. Sometimes this happens right when the top execs and the board want to focus on it, sometimes it happens much earlier and might be a tougher sell. Either way, it’s time to outline a strategy and make conscious, strategic decisions. This will prevent sinking a lot of resources and money while missing out on larger, more strategic opportunities, as the snowball of silo-ed initiatives will just keep on rolling and suck in more and more resources. The good news is that it’s ok to put the cart before the horse, because it strengthen your business case. But don’t wait too long or that cart will be off the road and taking you on a long free-fall if you don’t act now.

What do you need in your global strategy?

  1. Objectives: why are we going global? How are we going to measure success? What’s our time frame and SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time bound)?
  2. Market analysis: analysis of the global markets to identify and prioritize relevant local markets
  3. Product strategy: internationalization, localization, key features (e.g. multi-currency, timezone, regulatory differences, etc.)
  4. Go-to-market strategy: are you going to sell direct and/or through partners?
  5. Customer success strategy: how are you going to make them successful?
  6. Marketing Communication strategy: how will you tell the world, literally?
  7. Demand Generation strategy: how are you going to generate local demand?
  8. Organization: defining the responsibilities for international with each department (or within an international department)

Now, how do you reverse-engineer your tactics into a well-thought out strategic plan? Here are 5 steps that work well to get there (some of these can be done in parallel):

  1. Inventory what you have: evaluate how far along you are and what are the major gaps against the elements of your global strategy (see above). Make sure you identify your global resources within the company as part of the exercise, whether they are already involved or not.
  2. Identify executive sponsor: if you cannot find one, you might want to put the effort on ice and revisit in 6 months. If you find one, make sure you are aligned as to the drivers for your company going global.
  3. Evaluate the market opportunity by region and map against market size, competition, barriers of entry, product requirements, go-to-market options, customer success strategy etc. Then map it against the reasons why your company wants to go global. That should result in a rough priority list.
  4. Create global strategy, working with all departments, and staying aligned with directions from top execs and board. Have a short deck to present with risk/reward analysis for the options.
  5. Sell it hard. Present, fight for making it a high-priority, get the budget, and execute like crazy until someone stops you!

 Good luck with your global expansion!