Worldview

Tips for Taking Your Microsoft Partner Business Global

Per shares advice for Microsoft partners interested in expanding their geographical markets beyond their own borders.

It has never been easier to expand your geographical market. The Internet and the cloud are enablers for everyone who wants to sell to other geographical markets.

A big barrier that still exists is, of course, language, and it will be easier for you to sell in markets where the predominant language is English (or the language spoken in your country). An old saying is that you can be a customer if you're not speaking the local language, but you will never be able to sell unless you really know the local language.

You should determine if you want to go through a local partner or if you want to sell direct. This is not an easy choice as both models have their pros and cons. It is also important to think about what is the better fit for selling your services.

If you have a cloud-based offering that requires little or no customization, is more horizontal than vertical and carries a low price tag, then selling direct is probably where you should land. You should be so lucky as to have such a business model. Make sure that your Web site has global appeal with references from different corners of the globe, and that you fully embrace content-driven digital marketing.

If your service needs a large degree of customization or if the sales process is lengthy, then partnering with a local systems integrator makes sense. A local partner will know the local market and should enjoy a great degree of trust from local customers. Setting up new offices and subsidiaries is very costly, carries a high risk and will slow down your expansion. Going through a partner makes sense in most cases. You might still want to eventually set up a small office in order to support your local partners, but then it will be less costly and risky if you have already paved the way with local partners.

It is very important for you to seek legal advice around what happens when you market and sell your services in another jurisdiction. A common mistake by Europeans is that they don't set up a U.S. legal entity when selling in the United States, and that exposes their whole corporation to lawsuits and carries tax implications. It's the same for U.S. companies expanding in other geographies -- when you start to market in a new geography, you will come to a certain point where it will make sense to set up a legal entity in the jurisdiction.

Less is more -- don't try to go everywhere at the same time. Instead, pick one market at a time. Look for markets where you see a great potential for your services and where you can find trustworthy partners that you can easily communicate with.

Canada, the United Kingdom and Ireland are low-hanging fruit for U.S. vendors as you will be able to do minimal localization, and you will able to communicate effectively with the locals. It might be exotic with other countries in Europe, and perhaps your family originates from countries like Italy, Germany or France, but it's better to be a tourist in these countries than having them first in the queue for global expansion. The European Union is a loosely held federation of 28 sovereign countries with 28 different legal systems and a bunch of different languages, and that will create all types of expensive challenges.

U.S. vendors should also consider Latin America as there are several countries that will provide great opportunities for anyone willing to make the bet. As Spanish is spoken in all countries except Brazil, you will be able to find synergies when localizing your services and your marketing material. And Miami is rightfully considered as the informal capital of Latin America and home to LATAM offices for many U.S. vendors. There are many great Spanish-speaking marketing professionals around.

Geographical expansion does not need to be about going abroad. Too often, the real low-hanging fruit is to be found inside your own country. The grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence. If you're based in one state in the United States, then you have 49 other markets to conquer. Test with a neighboring state and then going state by state might be less of an adventure and more profitable than going abroad.

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About the Author

Per Werngren has held many roles at the worldwide level of the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP), including chairman and president.