Following on from my last post, you’ll know that this is an exciting time for GoodPractice, as we look at ways to enter the US market. After successfully tackling the Australian market, we knew that a different approach would be required as we looked west.
Following weeks of research and interviews with contacts who have “been there, done that” in terms of US market expansion, GoodPractice CEO Peter Casebow and I headed out to the ATD conference in Denver.
The trip was an illuminating experience and put many of our new-found assumptions about how best to break into the US market to the test. Here I share three major lessons about what we’ve learned.
The major difference in the US is scale. Everything, and I mean everything, is so much bigger.
This is reflective of the US L&D market in general. There is so much choice and so much noise, so naturally things are far more competitive.
With nearly 400 exhibitors in the expo hall at ATD, I estimated that each delegate spent about 10 seconds assessing each stand.
In the UK, we use a relationship-based approach to sales, engaging prospective customers in a consultative discussion to help identify their requirements and develop solutions together. This is just as important in the US, where L&D professionals face the same challenges as their British counterparts. But in order to have that conversation in the first place, you have to make yourself heard above all the noise.
The main slogan on our stand at ATD read, ‘Let's talk performance toolkits’. A definite invitation to come and have a conversation. However, that invitation was lost in a sea of claims to be the best, the most effective, the fastest … You get the picture.
Directly opposite our stand were a couple of guys who had a video hosting platform. They had a funky name and cool graphics on their trendy, geek chic t-shirts. However, there was nothing particularly bold or attention-grabbing, such as a powerful call to action or a clearly explained business problem that they could solve. By the time prospective customers had worked out they had something to do with video hosting, they had most likely already walked on by.
We realised that we needed something bigger in order to compete in a bigger, and some might say brasher, market.
We need to be bold.
GoodPractice is an online business, so our web-based performance support toolkit can be created, sold and supported from anywhere in the world.
Theoretically, it doesn’t matter where we are based, as we can use technology to connect with stakeholders around the globe. A number of markets place a great deal of emphasis on the personal relationship, which requires meeting face-to-face.
The US doesn't rank as high on that index as markets such as China, for example, but there is another important factor to consider.
The confidence that is created when buying from a company that is based in the US is a significant one.
It is not related to any fear or skepticism towards foreign solutions; more the guarantee that you understand the specific nuances of their needs. With so many competing businesses that are native to the US, prospective clients will always be able to take that option.
In order to compete, this means you have to be physically present in the market, with a US address and two feet firmly planted on American soil.
The piece of advice that stood out above all others was: don't spread yourself too thinly.
In a similar vein to the ‘How do you eat an elephant?’ joke, you need to carve it into manageable portions. So, start by choosing a location, identify an industry, and stick to that. The US is far too diverse to try to cover all bases at once.
GoodPractice’s parent company Emerald Group Publishing has an office in Cambridge, MA, which gives us an excellent geographical starting point. Fortunately, we are strong in the education and finance markets in the UK, both of which are well represented in the Greater Boston area. So we have that one covered.
For those reading who have already looked at the US as a market to expand into, there probably aren’t any major revelations here. Plus, I am sure with a bit of wider reading, I could have learned all these points, along with various other smaller lessons, ahead of time. But finding out for yourself is part of the fun, isn't it? I can’t imagine anyone in a similar position would simply read this and consider that their market research was complete!
We haven’t completed our research yet. Given the agile approach that GoodPractice takes, we will be back in the US again soon with an updated strategy. We are not building up to some big US launch; as far as I am concerned, we are already ready to do business in the US. We’ll simply be developing our approach by adapting to new information and experiences.