Let us take a minute to salute the international companies, those that have gone multi-market or are on that path. They deserve our applause and respect. When I led market entry programs , I observed that these international firms tended to outperform the purely domestic firms, but for a reason you might not expect.
Companies that were operating in many markets tended to do better than those that had a presence only in their home market, but this had more to do with the international journey than the additional revenue.
The process of going international forced a company to adapt for each new market. As a result, the international firm became a learning organization which encompassed several different successful models, and the lessons from each new market could be applied in other markets. So the international company tended to develop a feedback mechanism and process improvements more readily than the purely domestic company.
Indeed, if you ask the leadership of that purely domestic firm what they want to do tomorrow, you are more likely to hear that they want to do tomorrow what they did yesterday. In other words, many business people (like all of us) have a bias for the familiar. We all like patterns of behavior and we like to stay in our comfort zone. I see this regularly when I discuss China opportunities. We will have a nice conversation with a lovely mid-size company, but unless it has an international culture it will have an overwhelming focus on building out a successful domestic model. The management philosophy at these firms tends to be:
— Reliant on the organic growth that has served them well over the years;
— Highly structured organization, task-driven, with people looking at monthly and quarterly results;
— Heavily product-focused.
These companies tend to dominate their space or be a segment leader. All of this means these companies have a strong incentive not to expand their current set of activities, and not to think about what changes might be in order. The key principle at these firms is MOTS – More of the Same. We do what we did last year, but we do more.
More revenue, more customers, more market share, more net. A pretty common-sense approach. But this is not a strategy. This is a behavior pattern. Let’s do what we have always done, presumably because it has more-or-less worked. This approach makes sense if the world is static. If the world is standing still, if society is standing still, if technology is standing still, and if competitors are standing still– then it is ok if the business stands still as well. But there are moving pieces out there, so you had better move as well. Unless the business incorporates a bit of a change culture, it risks falling behind.
Therefore, some sort of strategy is in order. Strategy can mean the allocation of resources without the normal formula for a return, displaying some capacity for experimentation. Strategy can mean you are doing something different, and the constituency for this change has not yet been established. Strategy can mean clearer costs than benefits.
Strategy can mean a journey into the unknown. You are taking steps that require you to stretch beyond current capabilities. A new product launch could represent a strategy. A new sales channel. Or a new market.
For most companies, the decision to go into a new market is a matter of strategy, because growth is no longer MOTS. The best expression of this might be a decision to go to China. On any given day it might not make sense to have a strategy. It makes sense to do what you did yesterday. But cumulatively, this could lead to a disaster.
On any given day, it might not make sense to go into a new market. But over the long run it could cripple the company to stay only in its home market. I caught up with Jack Ma recently at the Forbes Global CEO Conference. Jack has stepped down as Alibaba ($BABA) chairman, but he is still fiercely passionate about helping companies enter the China market. I had not seen him in almost a year, but we immediately saw this issue eye-to-eye.
Sooner or later, every company needs an international strategy. Sooner or later, every company needs a China strategy. Strategy is possible. Cost-free strategy is not. Those companies that are taking the international journey, we salute you.
Whether in banking, communications, trade negotiations, or e-commerce, my professional life is helping companies enter and succeed in new markets, with a particular focus on China. As Founder and CEO of Export Now, I run the largest international firm in China e-commerce. Export Now provides turn-key services for international brands in China e-commerce, including market strategy and competitive analysis, regulatory approval, store operations and fulfillment, financial settlement and remittance. Previously, I served as Asia Pacific Chair for Edelman Public Affairs and in my last role in government, I served as Undersecretary for International Trade at the U.S. Department of Commerce. Previously, I served as U.S. Ambassador to Singapore. Earlier, I served in Hong Kong and Singapore with Citibank and Bank of America and on the White House and National Security Council staff. New market book: http://amzn.to/2py3kqm WWII history book: http://amzn.to/2qtk0wK