From generalizing TAM to underestimating cultural nuances, here are the top three international GTM mistakes companies make and how to avoid them.
For many companies, the desire to go-to-market (GTM) quickly tends to trump going to market smartly, which leads to the same GTM mistakes being made again and again. Be it misunderstanding local buying habits or underestimating cultural differences, glazing over GTM detail is a recipe for disaster. Here’s the recipe for success.
Mistake 1: Generalizing the total addressable market (TAM)
While everyone knows an opportunity in Germany is different to one in the UK, it doesn’t stop companies from generalizing the market and ignoring the fact that customers buy, demo, and sell products differently in each market.
For example, German buyers have a very structured decision-making culture and run detailed RfP processes. This adds 6-9 months to the sales cycle to the exact same deal in the UK, where decisions are more subjective. But, on the flip side, Germans are more loyal customers with higher retention rates than most other European countries.
Companies therefore need to localize their TAM to be effective. Just as selling in the Midwest is different to New York, selling in Frankfurt differs from Berlin. Taking the time to dig deep into the TAM data to understand the last-mile nuances – i.e. what company ecosystems are prevalent in the market? Who partners with who? Are they big Salesforce or Microsoft users? – will help you avoid ineffective blanket-selling strategies.
Mistake 2: Overhiring the regional team
When expanding internationally, companies often hire a GM or ‘Head of’ to lead the regional GTM team. These senior hires then focus on the big picture instead of executing the strategy and clash with the home team.
For example, how many times have you seen the following scenario? A US company hires a senior European lead on the premise that the US regional VP doesn’t understand Europe. The European leader patronizes the American VP on the complexities of Europe. The American VP becomes increasingly frustrated and eventually expats a replacement to Europe they can work with.
It happens far too often and preventing this cultural division is simple: hire an ambitious and execution-oriented junior to lead the regional GTM team. At the GTM stage, companies need someone to implement the strategy, not revise it. They need someone who will do the hard graft, win a few logos, kickstart initial momentum and then scale, not a lofty title managing from up high. What’s more, as execution-oriented people are more focused on outcomes, they tend to look for synergy with the home team to get their results, whereas a senior hire has more time and a bigger microphone to magnify differences.
Mistake 3: Underestimating cultural nuances
Even pre-pandemic, companies were more likely to buy from their own culture. Since Covid, with less business travel and growing wariness of buying tech from foreign companies, b2b sales has become increasingly tribal. Yet, most companies still plant a team of people in Country X, go after the market and, inevitably, get it wrong.
For example, the Nordics are very tech forward and more responsive to being sold to by outsiders. If you’re launching a product, Scandinavia and Australia are usually the best to give you honest and helpful feedback on a solution. Meanwhile, Southern Europe is often overlooked as a phase 2 or 3 market, but the lack of competition makes it easier to quickly win logos.
As such, companies need to dig into each market’s nuances and decide where best to go-to-market. Whereas major markets like the UK are the best place to drive revenue, you will face greater hurdles – i.e. tribalism and competition – so it might make more strategic sense to head elsewhere first, get product-market fit and a secure footing, and then expand.
Preparation is key
Like cooking a meal without knowing your guest’s tastes, going to market without deep preparation and knowledge of the target audience is a risky endeavor. Taking the time to find out what people want, how they like to be served, and setting up the structures to cater for that, is a recipe for international GTM success.