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Unlocking the Global Market: Essentials Every Leader Must Consider When Expanding Their Business Abroad

Paula Hunter

Leaders recognize the keys to gaining customer trust and loyalty are communication and empathy. Nelson Mandela summarizes this concept precisely: 

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head.  If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

International expansion is one of the most effective drivers in accelerating revenue growth. But in a world comprised of 200 countries, 300 writing systems, 7,000 languages, and evolving cultural landscapes, the challenge to effectively engage and delight customers on the global stage is greater than ever. Successfully crossing domestic lines boils down to three critical factors: mindset, scalability, and agility. 


Start With a Global Mindset, Integrate Into Every Process 

The Right Time to Think About Global Expansion

The most ideal point to consider your global expansion plans is the day you decide to launch a website or company. 

Some would argue this is too early, but data says otherwise.  According to Stripe’s 2019 globalization report, “For today’s online businesses, expanding internationally has become a top priority - one that often takes precedence over other vital business functions such as sales, marketing, engineering, and HR … 70% of online businesses sell outside of their home markets today. The figure is even higher among those [companies] with more than 50 employees [which show that] 90% are selling across borders today.” 

If your company has a website, by definition, you are global. Anyone in the world with an internet connection can learn about your products or services and can immediately embark upon their customer journey with your brand. Leaders who neglect thinking about global scale can introduce chaos and result in significant costs down the road: preventable churn, product roadmap delays, and irreparable brand damage. In the words of Will Rogers,  “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.” 

Scalability: Putting the Right Systems in Place

Your first impulse may be to Google translate some content and hire a local sales team to identify local opportunities. This has its place in early experiments, but advertising a global footprint without the infrastructure in place to support any resulting traction is high risk. International success can be exciting and impressive, but if unscalable can cause irreparable damage.


Globalization leaders, like myself, are often referred to as the ‘global glue’ of an organization. This is best achieved by a single owner who continually champions a global mindset, centralizes strategies, and aligns teams. In this work, every facet of the business is actively engaged: Marketing, Sales, Product Management, Engineering, UX, IT, HR, Legal, and Finance. Aligning cross functionally from the start will mitigate the risk of re-work, re-investment and negative brand sentiment by ensuring every touch point along the customer journey is poised and ready to support its global customers. Before investment in scale-up tools, platforms, processes, and workflows, getting core pieces in place is essential.    


It does not serve the customer to read a site in their native language and yet other touchpoints in their experience do not serve and deliver upon their needs. Since every facet of the business contributes to the customer journey, it is imperative that strategy and cross-functional alignment provides the end customer with a seamless and culturally relevant experience. 

Throughout my career, I’ve observed the unfortunate consequences of those companies who react to international demand after achieving success in domestic markets without having the adequate infrastructure, tools and processes to support rapid global growth. In order to maximize growth and minimize risk, true international success requires being proactive, tightening strategic alignment, and investing in scalable infrastructures that will support the needs of your global customers. 

Building a Data-Driven & Agile Organization

There may be employees who have friends or family in other regions. The CEO may have lunch with a large customer who is opening up an office in Italy, who needs the product UI translated in the local language. However, this is not a globalization strategy. But how do you go about prioritizing regions and languages? Data.

Selecting the Data That Matters

International expansion costs are inversely proportional to not only the global readiness of every department but also to the regional relevance of  the data collected. In the early stages of forming your globalization approach, you can start collecting country-specific data within your existing systems before investing in supporting customers in other countries:

  • Website traffic details by country
  • User connections (cloud, mobile, online documentation) by country 
  • Tech support calls and insights by country 
  • Revenue by country 
  • Product returns (RMA) by country 
  • Products shipped-to by country 

With these data points broken down to a granular level, we can draw clearer insights into the regional nuances that drive strategic initiatives. By introducing cultural and linguistic dimensions to root cause analyses, companies can better solve customer pain points and provide a more customized and personal experience for the user.

As companies develop and grow their datasets, they can look forward to insights such as market saturation, total addressable market, internet usage by country, and countries who share key verticals with domestic market success. Global market research companies such as Common Sense Advisory and Nimdzi produce comprehensive reports that will expand your firm’s knowledge.

Data Pitfalls

One trap I’ve observed companies fall into is overgeneralizing their international data insights by lumping massive geographical regions.

According to the World Population Review, each of these four primary regions comprise the following number of countries: 

  • NAM (North America) = 23 countries
  • EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa) = 115 countries and 17 non-country territories 
  • APAC (Asia Pacific) = 62 countries 
  • LATAM (Latin America) = 20 countries and 14 territories 

You don’t need to be an international expert to understand the extreme variation in language and culture across Europe, Africa and the Middle East. There are even significant differences in comfort levels of storing data in the cloud between North and South Europe. Limiting yourself to data insights on such broad regional areas provides very little actionable insight into consumer behavior and market demand. 

Becoming a Responsive, Agile, & Scalable Organization

Even if a company is absolutely confident they will never expand outside of their domestic market, they still must consider the customers of the future.  

There will be new and existing customers within your domestic market whose first (or even second or third) language is not English. In the United States, by 2050, one in three people will speak Spanish. Meanwhile, in Canada, the Official Languages Act “...affirms the right of consumers to communicate in French with and obtain available services in French from federally regulated private businesses…” You may never expand internationally, but new and existing customers of yours might! Imagine a large customer who opens offices internationally— you now risk losing business to a competitor who has the infrastructure to support their growing demands. 

This all boils down to being agile. There is an unlimited number of combinations and permutations of globalization framework set ups and strategies you can employ and fine tune with great success. The key is to continuously align your globalization strategy with your overall corporate strategy, and optimize your workflows: experiment, measure, assess, pivot, invest, or slowly intensify that investment and see what happens. 

International expansion before establishing a data-driven global strategy and infrastructure to support the customer journey is like skiing down a black diamond hill, while simultaneously installing your bindings. Today it is crucial for businesses to ensure scalability, agility, and a global mindset are deeply embedded throughout their organizations, as they are essential to a company's ability to compete. In a rapidly changing landscape, globalization professionals’ have the expert lens, focus, and passion to lead and excite companies into the future—the future of their business and the future world.

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