Do SaaS creators necessarily have to decide to go global at some point in their development?
Some experts are frank: to go from a start-up to a scale-up, you have to go global, at least to, for example, be in a giant market like the US or China. The digital world rarely confines itself to traditional land borders.
Even if an international strategy can be a source of new opportunities and new growth, it can also be risky. That’s why an international strategy is more adapted for companies that have reached a certain level of maturity and who are ready to throw themselves into a new phase of their professional activity. In their case, going global and expanding into new markets is a necessary step.
Which new country should your company develop in? Should you deploy resources in-country or from a distance? Discover the advantages of going global as a SaaS start-up, but also the steps, the do’s and don’ts, and finally a firsthand account from Jonathan Anguelov, co-founder and COO of Aircall.
Why Should a SaaS Startup Go Global?
Even if moving into a new market implies major investments that could be substantial for any startup, it also means gaining a new customer base and market share. All of which translates into a major boost in revenue and profit.
Tip: Be certain of the potential value that each targeted market could bring you and your company, before going in. Wanting to take over a new market doesn’t necessarily equal higher revenue and profits, there could be hidden costs or barriers that block you from even making a profit.
You can also do economies of scale, your tools and resources of production are the same, you have a solid base to deploy your offer in other markets, as long as you adapt it and invest in it.
Develop Your Competitivity
Software online doesn’t have any geographical limitations, your competitors are already deploying or are going to deploy abroad, so why aren’t not you? Side note, if your SaaS gets involved in the BtoB industry, your software might even interest some of your customers’ subsidiaries.
Grow Your Presence
Being able to export your value proposition to other markets will increase your visibility on an international scale and make a name for your company. Your presence in different markets can also reassure your customer base and investors, which can be a major asset to any company, regardless of its size.
Convinced of the benefits? Keep reading to find out the major steps, for any company, to go global.
Steps to a Successful Global Launch
There’s no secret to success, a successful international strategy comes from a solid plan. Here are the steps to help you make one.
Step 1. Choose the Right Country or Countries to Expand Into
First, start with a market analysis of each of the countries you’re interested in expanding into and ask yourself the following questions:
- Do we already have foreign customers? If so, where are they from? Should we focus on expanding our customer base in that country?
- Do we have employees that speak the language of the country and/or already have knowledge of the local market? How about local partners?
- What’s the potential of this market for us? Does our value proposition fulfill an existing local demand? Is our culture close to that of the country in question?
- Who would be our competitors in the new market? Is there an opening in the market to take a portion of the market share?
- Are there any legal or political boundaries that could slow down or block our move into the new market?
- If the target country is in a different time zone, would that affect our operations?
Start by doing a test run in a neighboring country, for example, if you’re located in France the logical choice would be Germany, Spain, Italy, etc. A country that’s close by allows you to get there quicker, recruit people faster, and even go there for meetings, all the while seeing if your value proposition holds up in a new market.
Wanting to go too fast and being too greedy can be a bad thing, you might even run into competition from Silicon Valley, on their turf, and that’s not a game you’re going to win.
Also, don’t forget the importance of developing local partners. Key partners in the target country can help you be compliant with the local fiscal and legal regulations, and they can also help you to identify the best levers to reach your targets.
They could be:
- The local chamber of commerce
- Network of alumni from your alma mater
To go global, it’s better to start thinking in terms of languages. If you think of English, you’ll target countries like the US, the UK, or even India. Think of Spanish and you’ll be going more towards countries in South America or Spain. But before you throw yourself into a brand new market, really think about starting with markets that are culturally similar to your own. For example, it would be much easier for a French company to settle in Germany or Spain than a country across the Atlantic or elsewhere.
Step 2. Adapt Your Value Proposition and Marketing Strategy
A new market means a new customer base, should you recruit in the target country or run the global strategy at a distance?
If you sell online, you don’t have to open up offices in the new market, as long as you have an internal HR department that speaks the language and knows the market.
Whatever you decide, to succeed, you have to:
- Know your objectives
- Adapt your value proposition
- Adapt your sales style
To penetrate a new market, you might even have to review and change your marketing mix to compete against local leaders and companies in the same industry.
Adapt/localize all of your communication according to your target market, including:
- Product pages
- Sales or marketing brochures
- Social media pages
- Ad campaigns
- SEO content
What is localization? It’s the adaptation of content in the language of a specific country, taking into account the cultural specificities.
You have to identify:
- Laws in place
Note: Even if your product or service worked in one country, it’s not guaranteed that it will work in another, even if they speak the same language.
Also, train your teams in charge of your international strategy to assure a streamlined and coordinated offer/value proposition in the home and new market. Even if your communication strategy is slightly different in the new market, your product should be seen the same way as at home.
Don’t just translate the content on your website, sales presentations, etc. You might save time doing that in the beginning, but over time you’ll lose out on quality and credibility.
Remember, even if English is a universal language and it could be tempting to just make one website just in English for your global strategy, it’s not enough. Your Spanish and German prospects probably aren’t looking things up on Google in English.
Step 3. Coordinate Your Sales and Marketing Strategies
Think smarketing! It’s obvious that you have to come up with coherent marketing and sales strategies, and that’s why it only makes sense to have centralized processes and strategies between the two for going global.
Why? To reduce translation costs, and guarantee the quality of your content, among other things.
- Make a team dedicated to the internationalization of your product or service (SEO Managers, customer success managers, etc.)
- Involve all members of this team in the implementation of your international strategy
- Deploy a strategy by country rather than by language
- “Think local, act global”
- For example, even if Portugal and Brazil speak the same language, you should localize and adapt your content according to each country. Just localizing according to language doesn’t take into account the different laws and regulations that change from country to country.
Don’t make your team define the strategy for each market without managing and bringing them together with common objectives and vision. Another key point is that while it might be good to adapt to each market, without those cultural adaptations making sense in the greater context it won’t be good for the overall international strategy. The right dosage between uniformity of key processes, empowerment, and centralization is key.
Interview: From Paris to Sydney, How Aircall Conquered the World of VoIP Phones
Whether you’re looking to expand past the geographical borders of your country for the first time or looking to continue your international strategy in another country, this first-hand account from Jonathan Anguelov, co-founder and COO of Aircall, will allow you to get exclusive insights into how a start-up can successfully implement an international strategy and go global.
Product, Business, Marketing: Which Should Be My Priority for an International Strategy?
A product isn’t easy to internationalize, there can be occupational complications, for example. You have to have a product with no barriers before being able to proceed.
Once you have a solid product, you have to start to try and understand your new market, by having an adapted marketing strategy. English is a priority, being able to market your product in English allows you to be an international brand. The product being international is rarely a barrier for customers.
After all that, ask yourself: “how do we get people to recognize us?” And from a business perspective: “how do we get our team to speak the client’s language?” At Aircall, we’ve made multilingual teams, and have recruited German and Spanish salespeople, for example. You have to have people who speak the same language to have a stable commercial relationship
Should I Concentrate My Efforts on One Country or Target Multiple at the Same Time? What’s the Best Strategy?
Without a doubt: do as much as you can! That’s what we did here at Aircall, even if you’re a small company, you can have three languages on your website, allowing you to target multiple countries at once.
We started our marketing journey pretty late here at Aircall: our first marketing team members came to Aircall, almost three years after we launched. However, I don’t recommend such a late start.
Despite this, we quickly came up with both a sales and international approach. When you’re still small, each new account allows you to have a global approach, and after that, you can adjust your efforts accordingly. You should review cursors to balance the efforts put in and the results attained.
Do You Have Any Regrets? Do You Have Any Tips for Things We Shouldn’t Do?
Concerning products, something you shouldn’t do is not follow through with your vision of a product. At the beginning of your journey, you’ll probably be tempted to follow the wants of your first customers instead of carrying out your initial plan. It’s therefore essential to stay focused, especially if you want to have a mid or long-term international strategy.
When deciding to move abroad, one faux pas is to open an office too early. Here at Aircall, we sent employees to Germany way too early, which quickly became a big risk for us. After that, we went back and started from zero by recruiting German speakers in France. Now in 2021, we’re ready to face a shortage of qualified recruits in France.
Another important tip that I’d give a small company just starting with an international strategy, is don’t open an office abroad unless it is necessary, from a legal, recruitment, or organizational perspective. If you don’t run into any of those barriers, then you don’t need to open a new office abroad.
Opening an office abroad or expanding your presence on the ground in a new country is not an essential part of an international strategy. We waited until we hit three million in revenue before deciding to open an office in Sydney.
I Don’t Speak English/My English Isn’t Sufficient Enough to do Business. Am I Doomed to Only Do Business in My Country of Origin?
It’s not a big deal if the entrepreneur or founder doesn’t speak the language of the target country. Their role is to give a vision, objectives to reach and to recruit people who will lead your operations.
Often entrepreneurs are afraid that they won’t know what to do, but that could be a mistake. It’s not a bad thing if they don’t know how to do everything, they give a vision and lead the people who do have the necessary skills.
Sometimes objectives may seem far away and unattainable, but when you give them to your team magic happens. Clear and precise objectives give your team a specific plan. Trust your team!
Any Other Tips?
Always think on a global scale, and know how to respond to the question, “What do we want to do?”
It’s not a bad thing to want to go global or to be scared of doing it. You could manage to create a big and well-performing company in your home country, but could still have problems. Ask yourself:
- If my company doesn’t expand abroad, is my product at risk?
- If yes, how am I going to expand abroad?
- If not, it’s not necessary to go abroad
If you have an extremely complex product that's almost impossible to replicate, you might want to think about going global… maybe even by being bought by an international company.
Internationalization: Don’t Run, Walk
Going global represents a substantial investment, in time and money, but with a clear strategy and some general precautions, it can launch your SaaS startup into a scale-up with newfound success.
- Focus on the conception stage of your acquisition strategy, particularly on local client understanding and their specific customer journeys
- Define and outline the processes that you’ll use to go global to align your marketing, communications, and sales teams
- If you can, think about going global straight from the start of your SaaS, to develop a product that’s easily adaptable to your future markets
And even if there is no ONE method to succeed abroad, one key point to retain is this: take time to understand your target market and recruit qualified talent that is serious and ready to jump in headfirst with you at the helm.