Market entry in Europe may be considered quite easy from an outsider point of view: Well, set up a Headquarter in the UK and let things develop. Many US startups with VC backing go that way and lots of them are quite successful. However, the fact that people tend to follow this recipe does not automatically mean that there isn´t a smarter way of tackling this challenge. Also more often than not companies are not aware that this One Country First-strategy exposes their big European project to the threat of simply missing the time to market.
Although they are aware that being the first in a market is always a big competitive advantage they accept slow market entry and deliberately accept risks of being outsmarted by a swift competitor who happens to be first on the doorstep of Heineken, BMW, Bosch, Nestlé and all the other worldclass European brands.
Recruiting: Five months and more
Isn´t it much smarter to have a powerful presence in all important European economies right from the start? Good plan, you may say, but then there are the mysteries of recruiting. Unfortunately talent in Europe has a tendency to hide and even the best recruiters need at least four months to find the right candidates. According to a recent study the average recruiting time for a senior professional is seven months. Onboarding takes another three months and most employees get productive only four to five months after they have been hired.
The sad but true fact is that companies spend their time wasting time and are not even aware of it. For even if their products have the potential of disrupting markets smart competitors are raring to go and threaten any market entry by simply being quicker.
So how can you speed up your presence in the European markets?
- Trust in local partners who can give you the right advice for every single European market. (Yes, there are several and they are different! And many of them, especially Central Europe, Benelux and Nordics are really important for you!)
- Have an entire team of local experts with complimentary skills right from the start. For a good start you typically need 0,5 FTE Field Sales, 1 FTE Outbound Sales, 0,5 FTE marketing/PR. Remember: Recruiting may cost you valuable time and an outsourced team can be productive in as early as 2 months´ time!
- Scale your team as needed – you may be lucky to attract the smartest team members into employment by offering them a lead role in your permanent team. But continue to have a good mix of external and employed staff. The externals will always bring best practices and relevant knowledge from the industry. Remember: Flexibility and knowledge are great assets in this initial phase!
- Your local sales and marketing partner knows the good people and always has some aces up their sleeve. Have him/her staff the team, let them show their skills and hire the best. Professional partners will not oppose such an approach as they will want to stay your partner. By using him/her as your “smart recruiter” you also play save as you can try before you buy. This may prevent you from lengthy post termination suits. (Remember: Many European country have complex employe protection legislation in place.)
- Attract the smartest: Even in the “places to be” like London, Munich or Amsterdam talent is much sought after. And it´s not always the smartest that seek employment at every price. Many of them rather prefer to stay at the cutting edge by changing their assignments frequently. They are only willing to give up their freedom when they have mature management that is wise enough to loosen the reigns and let growth happen.
Have a good start in Europe!
Jan Wansink, CEO Conquering Europe