Contributed by Mona Pearl
Opening up your eyes to see the bigger picture of the global marketplace is one of the most important steps leaders in the 21st century can do to help their businesses succeed.
Unfortunately, it is also one of the easiest and most devastating actions they can fail to take. For those who spent their whole life looking at the world through a keyhole, throwing the door wide open can be overwhelming. There’s so much to take in that it is easy to miss opportunities that could be right in front of your nose.
Engaging in international business may require reaching beyond your comfort zone while developing the spirit of adventure. In many cases, people are too conservative, too afraid of change and of the unfamiliar, and therefore, they resist global opportunities out of fear. The key to growth is to let go of fear and focus on 5 main points for success and growth globally.
1. Be Curious. Dare To Expand Your Horizons.
The new frontier is that there is no frontier, and how one responds to this reality may have a significant impact on the economy as a whole.
Throughout my life, I’ve fostered a love for intellectual curiosity and ongoing learning. With each new experience on my journey, whether good or bad, positive or negative, I add another dimension to my understanding of people, cultures, and how to best penetrate the global marketplace. I use these experiences and knowledge to impart insight and wisdom for the benefit of my clients, my students, and my work.
For example, when I started a manufacturing business, I learned how to negotiate across borders to deliver the best possible product for markets in both North America and Asia. I maximized the value of a global supply chain by sourcing abroad and working collaboratively with other business people from around the world.
Today, as a global expansion expert, I combine my acquired business skills with my unique global perspective to help clients navigate through the global expansion process. Throughout my years in business, I have discovered that the business deals themselves are seldom the problem. Business leaders today have the skills and finesse to identify and execute great deals. It’s the soft issues that surface on the international stage which cause unanticipated and disastrous problems.
2. Cultural Sensitivity
Be sensitive to cultural nuances. I’ve witnessed many business transactions that come to a screeching halt and fall apart due to cultural misunderstandings and cultural ignorance. Don’t assume anything, and do your homework. Business people in an international business environment must not only be sensitive to differences in culture and language, but they must also learn to adopt the appropriate policies and strategies for coping with these differences.
My first client, a major German company, could have hired anyone or any company from around the globe, but they hired me. We had a relationship that originated in cultural fluency that developed into trust and mutual understanding. This is when I truly learned the value of relationships and cultural fluency in the international marketplace. Knowing the target market’s language is helpful, but cultural fluency at the level of strategy is what separates the good business deals from the great ones. For example, the CEO of a U.S. company doesn’t have to learn Portuguese if he or she wants to do business in Brazil, but he or she needs to know what will work and what will not. And this is best accomplished through commitment, a global mind-set and the establishment of local relationships.
3. The Value of Relationships
Recognize that a solid foundation of trusting relationships in the target market and around the globe will ease the difficulties of going global. Personally, I have benefited on numerous occasions because I took the time to cultivate long-term relationships based on trust and mutual respect. By definition, relationships in the United States are different from relationships in other parts of the world. In the United States, people tend to be very open to casual friendships, and the word friend is used frequently. But these friendships often lack the depth necessary to offer real value in times of crisis. Internationally, relationships can take years to build, but the result is loyalty that lasts a lifetime. For visual effects, I use to compare the first as a peach (a soft exterior that stops at a hard core) and the latter as a coconut (a hard exterior that may be tough to break, but when done, it is as smooth as can be).
To build relationships, keep in mind that people want to be heard, understood, and respected, not judged, benchmarked, or ridiculed. This is universal.
4. What You Don’t Know May Throw You Dead In The Waters
Going global is similar to embarking on a new adventure, a bold mission, and you are the commander. As such, it’s important to learn not just from the successes of others but also from the failures of others.
For example, consider the Titanic’s tragic encounter with an iceberg on the Northern Atlantic waters in 1912. On a clear night, in a calm sea, under the command of a seasoned captain, disaster struck. Even after warnings of iceberg sightings, disaster struck! However, damage to the ship wasn’t caused by the iceberg’s tip, which rose visibly above the water’s surface. Rather, the fatal damage was caused by the massive section of iceberg, hidden from view, beneath the surface of the water.
What’s under the surface in international business? A lot! The culture, social norms, values, customs, reasoning, thinking patterns, decision making, negotiations, and body language are just a few of the minefields businesses encounter as they attempt to navigate the global marketplace. While the legal system, tax issues, and the political situation all seem visible, in many regions they are not always as they appear. For example, in some countries the lack of transparency functions just like an added tax. And the implications of these unknown “taxes” are not easy to calculate. How can you deal with these issues? What should you know? Where do you start? Right here. Right now. By educating yourself and getting out of your comfort zone.
5. Mastering the “Dance”
Ultimately, a successful global expansion is dependent on an organization’s ability to view the world in a new way. After all, the global economic tsunami of this century is reshaping the world’s economy, creating new players, new rules, and new challenges. In response, U.S. businesses must view the future through a new filter focused on global opportunities with a willingness to learn new ways of conducting business. It’s like learning to dance, which, for many of us, requires professional instruction and an expert. You also need to practice regularly, especially if you want to “dance with the stars”—or even be the star—and succeed in this global economy.
If you are embarking on your first global expansion effort, you will have to learn new rhythms, new rules, and new steps, different from the ones you have employed domestically. But after your first experience, you will be better equipped to make sound choices about who, what, where, and when to engage abroad.
Now It’s Your Turn
With 95 percent of the world’s population living outside the boundaries of the United States, the potential for business leaders who can apply these lessons and skills to their unique circumstances is beyond measure. With a world population of six billion people, it only takes approximately 5 percent of that market to equal the entire U.S. population. Whatever the size of your business, the global market has much to offer you and, although you may not realize it, you have a lot to offer, too.
Mona Pearl is a global strategic business development expert as well as the founder and COO of Beyond A Strategy, Inc., a company providing expertise to plan and implement cost effective and sustainable global growth that improves a company’s bottom line and helps realize seamless international operations. In addition to Beyond A Strategy, Inc., she has also founded and operated 2 additional businesses and sits on the board of several organizations. Past clients include Deutsche Telekom, Michelin, American Airlines, Philip Morris and Bacardi.
She is the author of Grow Globally: Opportunities for Your Middle-Market Company Around the World, has been quoted as an expert by CNBC, The Globe and Mail, Oracle, Chicago Tribune, NPR/WBEZ, Microsoft, Bloomberg, Entrepreneur.com, and Crain’s Chicago and regularly publishes columns on global competitiveness in industry magazines, including Manufacturing Today and Management Today. For more information, please visit www.monapearl.com.