A Start-Up Fairytale: Solve Three Riddles and Conquer Europe


IMG_1723Once upon a time there was a tech company with a big idea and a fantastic business offering. The company had already gained considerable momentum in its home market, the U.S. The CEO of this company, a very smart guy, decided to make the company even bigger and set out to conquer new markets across the Atlantic.

So, one sunny afternoon he and his Chief of Marketing sat together and made a strategy to enter Europe. Basically, it was easy as they had already gathered a lot of experience on their home market and so, all they had to do was to copy and paste the existing concept. They choose GB as their European headquarters – a decision that was easy to make as they basically shared the same language. Then, they launched a big social media campaign, had a translation office translate the website and the marketing material. Soon they got lots of inbound leads from all over Europe, especially from the wealthy German speaking region, DACH. Big brands from all over Europe knocked on their door and the company quickly multiplied its revenue. Eventually they scaled globally and were acquired only 36 months later for a $1B …

… and then we all woke up … Good morning!!!

Entering Europe is a very turbulent ride. Often we read about such fairytales – fantastic “overnight” successes – but the truth is that stories like the one above simply do not exist in reality. They have only been “overnight” for those who have not been part of the journey.

Still, there are lots of companies who are a big success in Europe. Only a few have a good strategy right from the start, most of them, however, write really painful stories before they eventually find their paths to success.

But what is it they do differently?

They adapt to local communication behavior

Knowing business manners is a key factor to success: Decision makers in target companies are rulers in their small kingdoms aka as local markets. It pays to know what they want and how they like to be approached. When it comes to press relations you should be aware of the fact that U.S. generated material is usually regarded as too promotional and opinionated and therefore not adequate for European expectations. Europeans generally do not believe in superlatives. They rather want solid, detailed information. Contrary to the U.S. culture, Europeans generally communicate more subtle. In negotiation situations your prospective customers need the good feeling that their decisions are based on “hard facts”, that they are not “being sold something” which, in their opinion, is almost equivalent to being outsmarted. In Europe the best sales persons, whether they are inside sales or field sales, count on solid relationships into their target industries and also on recommendations which are easily made if people have a good business attitude. The best of their breed are experts in consultative selling. They have an excellent understanding of qualifying questioning which gives their conversation partners an opportunity to re-think their views and make them think “out of the box” when it comes to solving a business problem.

They accept the fact that Europe is more offline and outbound than the US

While in the US inbound lead generation and social selling have gained substantial traction in the last 5 years, most European countries, among them the important DACH region, are lagging behind in online usage and social media adaption. While some social media platforms like LinkedIn are slowly(!) beginning to gain acceptance in the whole spectrum of markets, others like Twitter are almost ignored by business buyers. Also download offerings are not widely accepted. Therefore companies usually still face the challenge of bringing in substantial quantities of qualified (inbound) leads and feeding their sales pipelines.

Why is that so? Well, in most European countries and especially in the German speaking DACH region data protection is a major topic. There is a strong sentiment that displaying one´s life online is rather harmful than beneficial. People have an uneasy feeling when they become traceable in their information and buying behavior. Also legislation regarding customer and data protection in European countries rather underline these sentiments.

Therefore, and even if this trend is slowly changing, outbound strategies are predominant. More than in the US, outbound efforts continue to be the most effective way to generate qualified leads for sales pipelines, faster. In complex sales environments well-trained inside sales reps who can speak directly to their prospects´ specific needs and circumstances will remain a key factor to ­­­­a successful market entry.

 They work with local sales and marketing teams for each specific region

Successful companies know that European markets are not homogenous. They know that Europe as a continent has multi-facetted cultures and business rules which differ tremendously from Italy to Sweden and sometimes even within regions that share a common language. They accept the fact that even the wealthiest among them are quite regulated and that all markets have to be addressed in their very special way.

Therefore these companies work with local experts and – humbly accepting the fact that as a U.S. company they can only have an outsider point of view – they loosen the reigns and trust their local teams find the best way into their specific markets. First teams on the ground who can move freely and are not hindered by too many rules will quickly succeed. Sometimes time is running out and results are thin on the ground. Still, local teams should be given the benefit of the doubt. They will eventually find the right sales and marketing strategies and a customized, local way to success. This is how best practices can be established and turnover can grow easily and steadily.

Have a good start in Europe!