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startup expansion international New Frontiers

The United Kingdom represents Ireland’s single largest export market, providing significant opportunities for ambitious and growth-focused companies. The UK market is a natural overseas destination for Irish businesses looking to expand and is viewed by the Irish Government as a key export region for our economic recovery.

Not only is the UK one of Ireland’s most important trade partners, but its geographical proximity and cultural similarities make expansion into the UK easier for Irish businesses… on paper, anyway.

There is no doubting that both regions share common characteristics. However, the strategic and operational approach that needs to be adopted in, say, Dublin versus Manchester, or marketing and selling to the public sector in the UK versus that of Ireland differs greatly. In my experience, too many home-grown companies treat the UK as an extension of their Irish market place and are left wondering where it all went wrong or why they did not achieve the progress and success in the UK that they had originally anticipated.

Some common mistakes best avoided

  • Rushing in and not carrying out adequate market research and planning from a quality perspective
  • Underestimating the cost of go-to-market and in-country activities e.g. number of meetings, travel, accommodation, etc.
  • Underestimating the timelines required to achieve success – leading to frustration & impatience
  • Assuming the length of your product, solution or service sales cycle will be the same as that experienced in Ireland
  • Not being cognoscente of the subtle cultural differences and buying behaviours, patterns and preferences
  • Spreading yourself thin by attempting to cover too much geography too soon – this is very common mistake; travelling to a meeting from Dublin to Galway is not the same as travelling between, for instance, Bristol and Norwich

In order to provide you and your organization with the best chance of success in your UK target market, there are key considerations and activities that must be taken on board prior to, during and after market entry. As many of you will be aware from day-to-day experience, getting domestic business decisions wrong or merely misjudging them can prove costly. This experience will be amplified significantly in the UK.

Therefore, a well thought out market entry and market activation plan is essential.

Think before you leap

Some organizations enter new markets and pursue a large contract or opportunity based on a loose strategy commonly referred to as ‘gut feel’. Over the years, I’ve heard many explanations of UK market entry decisions – based on what can only be termed as misguided assumptions, such as:

“We’ve grown our business in a small market like Ireland, so imagine what we can do in the UK.”

“Let’s open an office and see how we get on. Sure how difficult can it be?”

“They speak the same language and we are only an hour away by plane.”

“We have been looking after one customer in Leicester so let’s get over there and sign the rest of them up.”

This type of logic would never be entertained if it was the US, China or mainland Europe that was under consideration – so the strong advice is to adopt the same mindset when looking at our nearer neighbour.

Evaluate, activate, execute

This three step approach ensures you challenge your beliefs and try find answers to important questions that will help to support you before, during and after market entry…

Market evaluation

Have you:

  • assessed the overall market opportunity and size, defining your specific target market(s) by sector, region, company, etc.?
  • decided on the level of resources required to maximize the market opportunity?
  • developed a clear and compelling value proposition?
  • identified your ideal customer across selected criteria?
  • gained a clear understanding of your buyer behaviour and expected sales cycle?
  • decided on where and how you need to differentiate against the competition?
  • considered the most effective channels to promote and sell to your ideal customer?

Market activation

Have you:

  • created a sales delivery plan with clear accountability and ownership?
  • introduced key performance metrics and milestone management?
  • adopted the most appropriate market awareness campaign?
  • aligned internal sales, marketing and product team(s)?
  • introduced a sales and pipeline management process?
  • successfully recruited and on-boarded UK sales or partner representation?

Market execution and management

Are you:

  • actively reviewing and monitoring sales progress?
  • constantly driving the critical few activities?
  • being effective with the remote management of UK employees and partners?
  • expanding your customer/partner base?
  • planning for the next growth phase?

The above are far from exhaustive lists of considerations, however hopefully some of the content and tips will prove helpful and be of some value to any organization with an eye on the UK – or any overseas market for that matter. As they say, the only source of knowledge is experience and I am happy to have shared some of mine.

About the author

Barry Moylan New FrontiersBarry Moylan

Barry Moylan is an Enterprise Ireland mentor, and co-founder and Director at Sales Transitions Ltd. He has 25 years of sales, leadership and executive coaching experience. Barry is an expert in delivering strategic and operational sales growth – working with startups and established/multinational technology companies in both domestic and overseas markets.