Expanding your Service or SaaS Business Internationally
One of the biggest challenges for many SMB companies is to expand and open new markets to keep growing their businesses. In order to do it right you need to have previous success in your own country and build the right expansion strategy.
Why do companies go international?
Typically companies are trying to open international markets to sell more of their existing services or products to increase their market size.
In the case of our services companies - minimum.run (no code and product marketing agency) and mendesaltaren (product design studio) - we want to sell more internationally because international clients in countries such as USA, UK, or Switzerland pay higher fees than in Spain where most of our technical team is based.
In the case of our SaaS business Polyflow.co (Webflow multilingual extension), we are targeting international companies from day 1. If we would focus only on the local market we wouldn´t have enough market to make it an attractive business in the long term. Read here 3 reasons to localize your website.
If you are a SaaS business or a digital product you might have the advantage that you can offer your services and products remotely without having a physical presence in international countries. However, you will need to adapt your product and marketing strategy to local markets in order to be able to get traction.
Typical Modes of Entry To New Markets
Depending on your business model, you can enter new markets in different ways, here we listed the main ones:
- Strategic Alliances
- New wholly-owned subsidiary
- Selling Online
In our case, since we are early-stage software and services company we are mostly focused on searching for strategic alliances and selling online directly. If international expansion works well we will probably decide to hire a new person and open a subsidiary in the new market.
Main challenges to enter in new markets
There are many challenges when you are expanding your business or product into new markets, however, I put here a list of topics that I consider more relevant:
- Understanding local competition and your target persona
- Meeting local regulatory and compliance
- Understand how much you need to invest
- Local language and culture
- Creating an international marketing plan for your new markets
- Managing teams in different countries
1) Understand your local competitors and your local target persona
Before selling anything you need to understand the market, your competitors, and your target persona. Understanding your competitors will help you understand your main differentiation and competitive advantages.
Create buyer personas for the individuals or businesses that your products and services would most appeal to, and explore how you plan to reach them. This will help you build your marketing, content and what are your main distribution channels.
2) Meeting local regulatory and compliance
As companies go through the process of international expansion, growing and expanding into new regions, so too do their compliance responsibilities. Meeting local rules, tax obligations, and regulations can certainly become complex as the company’s footprint and workforce expand.
Doing due diligence ahead of time is essential, but sometimes it’s a question of expertise and time. So sometimes this task can be outsourced to an expert and it might be easier for you.
3) Understand how much you need to invest
It is important to understand all of the expenses that will accompany the market expansion. List all the elements you need to invest on to get new international customers:
- Creating a new legal subsidiary
- Hiring new local team members to expand the business and provide customer support.
- Marketing strategy for the new markets
- Content translations to local languages
- Opening new offices or facilities to operate your business (in case you don´t work remotely)
- International trips
- Attending events to meet the local clients
4) Adapt to the local culture & language
When engaging in international business, it’s important to consider the languages spoken in the countries to which you’re looking to expand.
Does your product messaging translate well into another language? Consider hiring an interpreter and consulting a native speaker and resident of each country.
It’s also critical to consider the languages spoken by your company’s team members based in international offices. Once again, investing in interpreters can help ensure your business continues to operate smoothly.
Depending on the region where you want to expand you might communicate in a different language. This means that sometimes you might need to adapt your marketing, sales, and operations to the local language market. It depends on your target and buyer persona.
Understanding cultural differences, not only language is also important if you are selling B2B SaaS or if you are running B2C campaigns. Details are important, especially when you are competing with local competitors.
Some SaaS businesses only communicate in English because they consider their target personas to speak and work in English in all countries. However, if you want to have a lot of traction in some new markets you will need to adapt the marketing and content to the local language.
5) Create an international marketing plan
A global marketing strategy doesn't only cover selling products across borders. It includes layering the 4Ps of Marketing (Product, Pricing, Promotions, and Place) with other marketing processes such as analysis, planning, tracking results, and gathering social proof.
Study your marketing personas and communicate the value of your product in your marketing message. Consider your competitors’ positioning and outline a marketing plan that emphasizes your strengths.
Your product's value proposition may change in different markets, so adapt accordingly. Uber, for example, promotes cash over cards in developing markets where cash payments are predominant.
By using a well-designed website with strong messaging that emphasizes the key benefits of your products, you can maximize all online marketing channels. We recommend using an optimized website, localized content to personalize the services/products and prices, and localized ads to reach your international audience.
You will also need to use search engine optimization (SEO) strategies to improve your website's ranking in international and local search engines.
Some companies don´t offer the same services in each country, so a common tactic is to target users by language and local IP to customize the messaging and services by country and not only by language.
(BTW this is what we are doing for our customers on Webflow at www.Polyflow.co)
When creating content for your site and distribution channels focus on connecting with your customers. Get familiar with their motivations and make your messaging clear and personalized so there's no confusion about what and who you are selling to. It's helpful to learn about popular cultural references, events, and holidays to create a truly global, local experience.
By creating a compelling communication and marketing message you should be able to attract new customers in the new markets.
6) Managing international remote teams
Last but not least challenge that I highlight in this post is managing employees who live across the world. When trying to function as a team, it can be difficult to account for language barriers, cultural differences, time zones, and varying levels of technology access and reliance.
To build and maintain a strong working relationship with an international team, facilitate regular check-ins, preferably using a video conferencing platform so you can interact in real-time.
Some of the tools we use to work with a remote team are:
Slack to connect via chat and share daily stand-ups.
Looms to provide asynchronous feedback.
Notion or Google docs to document all the information.
Hangout or Zoom for video conference calls.
Salesforce / Hubspot / Pipedrive to gather and collect all the CRM data.