I have had the good fortune to work and consult for a considerable number of European-based technology companies. This has helped me to see wonderful places, eat great food and place interesting wagers on sports that I don’t understand very well. It has also opened my eyes to a number of substantial differences in the way European and American companies build sales teams to address the huge technology market in the United States.
Many of our European technology sales clients are accustomed to building out territories in Europe, where there are several countries, languages and cultures throughout the continent. Given the lay of the land in the European marketplace, it is common to handle sales remotely from the corporate offices and to use channel partners to create a local presence in nearby countries. On the other hand, both of these strategies usually fail here in the States, because of the enormity of the US in both geographic size and market opportunity.
It is very difficult to handle technology sales in the US from remote offices in Europe for a number of reasons. The time differences alone can make things challenging and uncomfortable by requiring round-the-clock staffing just to hit all the US time zones. In addition, many US companies are reluctant to make themselves dependent on technologies and services that are not supported directly in the US. This is due to past experience: Over the years, the market has been tainted by non-US companies that have experimented in the US and ultimately gotten cold feet or otherwise decided that the market was not ideal for them. If you buy technology from a company that goes out of business or no longer provides support in the US, you generally lose your investment. Companies who were burned once tend to hesitate the second time around.
Adding to this complexity, channel partners behave differently in the US than they do in other parts of the world. Value-Added Resellers (VARs), resellers and systems integrators in Europe often depend on demand created for them by their technology partners in countries in which they do not have a direct sales presence. They frequently provide localization and translation services and even first line local language support for the vendors in exchange for exclusivity or preferential treatment in their defined territories. However, they expect the technology partner to provide the leads and are not proactive about creating their own leads until they are sure that a hot market exists for that product.
In the US, the expectation is often that channel partners will create demand themselves in defined territories and markets, but that rarely happens. Channels in the US are much better designed for fulfillment and for specific account access than they are for pure demand generation. More often than not, channel partners are identified, everyone signs agreements and enjoys nice dinners as new partners, and then nothing happens while each side waits for the other to develop leads and sales opportunities.
Not all is lost, though. There are two ways for European companies to successfully access the US Market. The first method is to build out an extensive and expensive distributed sales organization in the US and demonstrate the patience needed to successfully open up the market. This approach works well if you have plenty of time and money.
The second way is to opportunistically use a sales advisory firm to open the market in specific territories with a full service sales organization, establish a US brand, build a strong sales pipeline and get those first reference wins that will validate the market for the company, the sales team, future channel partners and ultimately your customers. This minimizes risk and ensures that you are ready and attractive to sales candidates prior to making huge investments in a US Sales organization.
For more information on how Mansfield Sales Partners can help you expand into the US marketplace with a global sales effort, please schedule a complimentary consultation.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published in April 2013 and has been updated for accuracy and relevancy.