5 challenges for B2B companies when trying to go international
Learn from our experience at Trustmary
Growth is something that a lot of companies are after and every local market has its limits. For us at Trustmary going international became a pressing topic a bit over a year-ago. We are a startup originally from Finland, started in 2016.
Our original focus has been on producing video testimonials, but over the years we have also done a lot of other stuff while pivoting between different products and now to international markets our focus is on our Saas -service, that we offer for different businesses to help them get feedback and reviews. At 2019 we did around 2,4 million € in revenue mostly from Finland and we are completely bootstrapped.
We currently have offices in Stockholm, Sweden and Minnesota, USA in addition to offices in Finland. Originally we tough about going international as something we just go ahead and do, but along the way we have realised it is not that simple. Here is 5 challenges we have faced along the way.
1. Different B2B sales cultures
The biggest difference in terms of business between countries at least for us has definitely been sales culture. It is something that has really surprised us, as we thought that the ways of doing B2B sales that worked in Finland would also work abroad.
Well turns out they really didn’t.
Finland and Sweden have quite a lot of similarities in their B2B sales culture, but a lot of really meaningful differences, but USA is like another planet.
In Finland you can pretty much get trough to anyone with a phone call. In USA our first expression was completely opposite. First of all finding right phone numbers felt almost impossible and when you got them it felt like it is almost impossible to get trough to them. Even if they would have already downloaded a guide or had another contact with your company.
Well obviously over time we have started to figure out the ways to do sales also in US, but it has taken a lot of time and have to say we still have not figured it out completely. Something that we have found usuful are different resources related to cold emailing, like this one.
2. Some countries are way ahead compared to others in terms of marketing
The second thing that has been real challenging is related to the first one in a way. When we started to lead generation we realised that US is definitely in the forefront in terms of methods for lead generation. And those methods that seem to be working at the moment really well in Finland and Sweden, might have been relevant in US 4 years ago, but are no way relevant at the moment.
As Gary Vaynerchuk says: “Marketers ruin everything.”
In some countries marketer are a bit further forward with ruining different methods than in others it turns out.
3. Product/market fit can differ greatly between countries
Third big challenge has been figuring out product market fit for different countries. Originally we figured that if something has need and sells well in one country, it probably should also have some product/market fit also in other countries.
Well turns out it is necessarily not the case. For example related to reviews, in Finland Google Reviews is not a big thing. But in US, you can’t really talk about reviews without talking about Google Reviews.
This leads to a big challenge for us internally as we have to try to focus our resources, but have too very different customer segments with different needs. Obviously there is some overlap between the needs and wants in our case between different countries, but I do believe that in some cases it might be necessarily to build completely separate products for international markets and local markets you have started from.
4. Resource allocation
The fourth challenge is very much related to the last one and something that you struggle with while you try to go international. Do you need a person in the target market or can you just start opening doors there from the country you are starting from?
Should you focus on lead generation and sales or brand marketing or on building a better product?
In the end the fact at least for us has been that the local market whe have started from, that being Finland, funds going international. So you balance between putting resources on the international market and your local market. And a lot of the times in the medium to short term the local market would be wiser decision in terms of numbers, but in the long term you know the international markets are a necessity to grow.
5. Language barriers
I personally feel like I speak and write relatively good English. But over the last year I have learned that even tough I would be able to speak some language well, there is a lot of “hidden meanings” for words, that are hard for me to grasp.
This makes copywriting especially hard for non-native people like me, or at least I feel like that is the case. One example of this has been choosing a word to use for on what our product does. Does it help get reviews, testimonials, referrals, recommendations or something else?
The actual translation for the words mostly used in Finland would be recommendations, but actually it turns out in English the commonly used word for similar things to what we are doing is reviews. It took a while to figure this out for us and a lot of discussion with locals from our US Country manager Arttu.
It has been challenging to go international for us, but I personally have quite a lot of trust in the fact that we are able to make our business successful also internationally over time. It might take a year or 3 years, but it will most likely happen.
The most important lesson for me has been that it is more about acquiring the right skills, not so much about having a lot of money. That is also why websites like this are important, sharing valuable knowledge to people that can really benefit from it.