Investing for growth in Europe is a risky proposition. Opportunities abound, but how to access and manage these is not as straight forward as it might be in a large homogenous market like the U.S. Global leaders must acknowledge the importance of these challenges and the value of local market practices and insights. To mitigate investment risk, companies must take a more disciplined and focused approach to devise a cost effective go-to-customer strategy. A purely global, top-down, ’one size fits all’ model might be easier and cheaper, but it’s simply not reasonable across the disparate markets of Europe.
So does that mean the strategy requires a country-by-country approach? Yes and no. There is value in local insights for planning purposes. What is that value? And how do you strike the right balance between local coverage and global consistency? Last year the Alexander Group conducted a study called “Europe: Driving Topline Growth” involving over 30 in-depth interviews with Europe Revenue Leaders. Answers to this sticky question were literally all over the map. Consider some of these perspectives and quotes from participants on the right planning approach:
It should be based on market maturity … “The degree of autonomy in the region really depends on the maturity of the market. In the early stages we take a more dictatorial approach. But as the region matures we allow them more autonomy.”
It should be bottom-up … “The answer is a bottom-up approach, by country. The right competent managing director that knows the market — they should do the market analysis. It should be a requisite before you hire them.”
It depends…“At the country level I am making decisions for the markets I play in that it will be very different than what other countries do. What works in Spain is not necessarily good for Germany. What works in Holland is not good for France. Corporate lets us adapt the go to market or sales motions required by segment in country.”
Some combination…”We are trying to drive scale without destroying the localization, because obviously the country has the best knowledge on market specifics and what to do there.”
Plan globally, execute locally…“You can set global strategy, but to compete and win in local markets you must hire competent leadership and allow them room to maneuver.”
The last quote represents the center practice – plan globally, but allow regions and countries to flex their models based on local market needs. Local flexibility costs more and is more difficult to manage, but it also enables companies to grow, and avoid costly or embarrassing mistakes. How much flexibility is required? Too much flexibility results in local leaders creating “fiefdoms” and using the all too familiar “our market is different” excuse to avoid implementing anything coming down from Corporate.
Relationship or Expertise? The nature of the sale, or put another way, the degree of innovation and differentiation of the offering, matters. Selling mature, well-established products or services often relies more heavily on relationship, which might require the local presence of an account manager. But a new, innovative solution that customers simply must have may not require the same local touch. For example, the Italian clinical oncologist is willing to speak with the sales consultant from Paris because they have cutting edge gene-sequencing equipment that operates 10x faster than the competition. This dynamic could significantly influence how much localization is needed, and by role. Study participants shared how specialist roles with high levels of expertise can cross borders more easily to speak to new solutions while a local account manager maintains the relationship.
Three Growth Levers for Europe
The study reached several conclusions, which we distilled into three levers for driving top-line growth in Europe:
Precision Selling. Driving top-line growth requires discipline and focus. This idea of precision selling has never been more applicable than it is today. Yes, buyers have more information. But sellers can be equipped with more information as well. Precision selling is about using data to carefully identify and target the right buyers with the right messages about the right offerings, at the right time. Rather than a peanut butter approach to do business in ‘as many countries as possible,’ experienced leaders advise picking a small number of markets to invest “an unfair share” of the resources in order to ensure a critical mass and success.
Strategic Partnering. When it comes to covering complex markets, Europe offers all the reasons for using partners: speed to market, mitigating risk, local market knowledge, flexibility, and value-added services. But rather than casting a wide net and signing up as many partners as possible, companies should take a disciplined focus to select and invest more with fewer partners that represent a stronger fit. In general, start with smaller, local partners who will ‘give you the time of day’ rather than the largest players who, although they have global reach, may not know companies’ target markets intimately and may be tougher to gain mindshare.
Centers of Excellence. Finally, not all resources need to be local. Certain resources and capabilities lend themselves to centralization and the creation of centers of excellence. Most companies are significantly underutilizing inside sales in Europe, which can be effectively centralized in locations like Dublin, London, Barcelona and Malaga. Technical and specialist roles can be deployed out of regional hubs and flex across geographies. Marketing and sales enablement resources can be a bit tricky but can also often work effectively from regional hubs.
This is the second article in the series, “Europe: Driving TopLine Growth.” Future articles in this series will dive deeper into each of the above growth levers. If you would like to learn more about driving topline growth in Europe, access the eBook.
Original author: Paul Vinogradov