Going global? Here's 8 lessons from expanding a B2B sales team internationally.

Over the last few years I've spent a lot of time on airplanes flying across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. A big part of my job was to help the Head of Global Sales scale his operations internationally. It was awesome! I learned a lot by working with colleagues from around the world about what it means to be a global company. I thought I might share 8 things I learned about scaling a global sales organization.

Lesson #1 - Clearly define your model so you start with what works.

If you don’t have a clearly defined and repeatable go-to-market model, don’t go. Scale must be built on simplicity and you will end up wasting a lot of time, money, and resources while you create that clarity.

If you have it clearly defined, test it as much as possible in the target geographies. Proven success will instill confidence in the landing team and recruits so that you can ramp even faster.

Lesson #2 - “EMEA and APAC are different” but how do they differ and does it matter?

Get ready to hear the phrase “<Insert Country / Region> is different” and do not forget to dig in so you understand why. There are enormous differences across regions and cultures and you will need to adapt your sales model to certain elements. But some differences should not impact your sales model.

Here are a few examples of meaningful differences you could run into:

  • Buyers may not use the channel your model is designed for or they prefer a different channel. In some regions they may prefer to educate themselves on their own and purchase online without human intervention. In other regions, relationship and trust will trump all. Knowing this difference will drive different resource requirements and investments from your proven model.
  • Employment law changes dramatically across borders. How you manage your sales team may need to adjust. If you employ an aggressive ‘at-will’ employment culture, you will need to understand how that culture may not work in other regions.
  • Labor pools and recruiting practices may differ dramatically. You may find that it is much more difficult or much easier to recruit talent. In fact, you may find that you can recruit and economically employ a lot more talent and shift a portion of your operation overseas. You may also find that it takes longer to get someone to quit their job and join your company simply due to local custom. That can slow down your hiring plan and throw the expected revenue off pace.

Lesson #3 - Precision is critical to adapting your model and not recreating the wheel.

You have to get below the surface on what exactly is different and how it may change your model. If you are not precise enough you will end up changing parts of your model that do not need to be changed. This will create complexity and make it difficult to plug the international model back into the core model, benchmark performance, etc. It will also create complexity that requires more resources to manage on the back end.

Symptoms of the complexity disease are ballooning sales or marketing operations teams to meet regional specific needs signalling that the core go to market model is not scaling. Differences in reporting, sales processes or stages, training, and metrics suggest that regions are beginning to run their own playbooks. While healthy to a degree, be watchful that the models are not going off the rails.

Lesson #4 - Watch out for multiple changes that fundamentally will change the business.

One thing I learned while working for Bain & Company is that companies grow the fastest when they focus on their core business and are disciplined in pursuing growth. In fact, they have found that companies that are disciplined are far more likely to be successful.

That learning absolutely applies to expanding go-to-market models across geographies. Treat model changing differences as multiplicative, not additive. Realize the more you change the model to adapt to a local culture, the longer it will likely take to ramp and the probability of success will drop. Thus, you may be better off going after international regions that are closer culturally to the core region even if the markets are smaller.

Lesson #5 - Send your best.

You have to send your best leaders. They carry the torch for your culture, deeply understand your model, and can serve as a model for success. They embody best practices to get the team launched on the right foot. They know how to identify and attract talent that fits your model. They have respect and connections back to original team that will pay dividends because the core model will continue to advance.

It will be scary to pull them out of the core operation and expensive to pay for their ex-pat packages. But not nearly as scary as realizing you are pouring money into an international office that is struggling to ramp.

Lesson #6 - Sharing best practices just got a lot harder.

Many times international growth is coupled with product line or channel expansion. Your core legacy operation will continue to evolve while your international offices are standing up. Visiting the new offices can feel like the company did years ago. You need to get the international offices up the learning curve and keep them on it.

Distance, especially time zones, will make it really hard to continuously share best practices. Being able to call up a colleague on the sales team to understand how a deal was won, how a competitor messages against you, or how a product is used in a certain industry doesn’t quite work. Couple that with new hires internationally that don’t know any of the sales people and it is easy to see why international teams can struggle to ramp - they have to learn lessons the hard way.

One solution is to send international reps to headquarters to learn from the vets. While valuable, it is difficult to make those connections programmatic. A better solution is to seed the international team with rock stars that will bring your team up the learning curve and serve as a connection to the core. While this is a better approach, it also struggles to scale.

Lesson #7 - Hire Well and Listen to Local Leaders and Team.

Hire people that are smart and let them run! If you hire smart people, they will realize that they don't need to recreate the wheel. They will know how the model should change to meet local needs. They will be critical for hiring and their local networks will pay enormous dividends. They will add to and refine your company culture. I learned so much from my international colleagues and am privileged to call them friends.

Lesson #8 - Install a Win-Loss Program and Make the Learnings Available to Everyone.

One solution that can help provide clarity on differences and help share best practices is installing a global win-loss program.

Install a global program that captures how buyers evaluate your solution, what reps are learning from deal cycles, and shows your overall CRM insights from your won and lost deals. Then make those learnings available across your international teams. Use a third party to avoid bias, perceived or not, across the org.

By interviewing international buyers, you can identify what really is (or is not) different about the buying process and buyers’ evaluation criteria in that region. You can turn your learning curve into an escalator instead of stairs.

Understanding why you win and lose overall and across regions will help you move faster and be more agile to meet local needs. If you are interested in learning about #8, visit clozdinc.com to learn how a win-loss program can help drive international growth.

International growth is exciting! Get ready for the ride of a lifetime.