David Visneau, SVP, Corporate Product Management & Pricing Strategy, Ambit Energy
In today’s increasingly networked, international business world, businesses that just a decade ago operated on a state, national or even local level now find themselves competing on a global scale. This was certainly the case for Ambit Energy, which since 2006 has grown first from a Texas company into a national and subsequently an international organization operating in 16 states, the District of Columbia, Japan and Canada.
While such growth can mean, quite literally, a world of opportunities, it also brings unparalleled challenges, many of which are new to even well-established companies. Successfully engaging and overcoming these obstacles can mean the difference between success and failure.
Global enterprises typically face a number of similar challenges that cut across industries and location. These include:
Distance. Physical distances separating various locations can impact production and travel costs and the ability to put “boots on the ground” during a crisis at the local level.
Culture. The traditions and attitudes people bring from their own backgrounds can have a major impact on your corporate culture. You’ll have to consider differences in language, work habits, processes and more.
Regulatory. Every location will have its own regulatory, legal, tax, licensing and other requirements. To make it even more challenging, not all of these will be spelled out in black-and-white.
Operations/Systems. Operations and systems will have to be compatible across different languages, currencies and sometimes legacy technology.
Daunting as these challenges may be, Ambit Energy’s own experience expanding into Japan and Canada shows that they can be overcome.
People, Processes and Product
Resolving these challenges requires paying even closer attention to the classic “Three P’s” of Business Success: People, Process and Product. These are the values that helped build your company into an international organization; using them as guideposts as you expand abroad is more than half the battle as you continue to grow.
Firstly, focus on getting the right people in the right positions. This is the most important and impactful step you can take. Leaders who understand and are respectful of local behaviors in and out of the workplace can help you build rapport with customers, suppliers and employees. They can help you understand local laws and resolve translation and interpretation issues more easily. Google Translator is no substitute for a fluent native speaker.
Process is also important. Systems need to be designed for short-, medium- and long-term results. Since these may not always align perfectly, it’s important to prioritize which are the most important. You also need to be realistic about which existing systems can be leveraged, and which need to be replaced because they’re incapable of meeting the demands of the local market, dealing with language differences, regulations and other considerations. It’s also essential to use data/analytics as a strategic tool. Learn how to measure data consistently across markets and break it down into usable information. Be willing to pivot quickly and make changes based on data. “We’ve always done it this way” is an especially poor approach to business if you’ve just opened a brand-new office in Osaka or Oslo.
The right product is also essential. What does great in one market may not do well in another. You’ll also need to tailor your communications, advertising and pricing strategy to local conditions. And, tying back to the previous point, constantly use data analytics and local expertise to measure results and adjust your product mix for each individual market.
The bottom line? Be honest with yourself. Assess what’s working and what isn’t and make constant adjustments. Really, the same values and hard work that made you a local success are the key to becoming an international one. It just takes a little bit more of each, as well as extra patience as you learn from your successes and failures.