Thursday, October 7, 2010

Business Models For CALA Market Entry

Many companies operating profitably in North America and in EMEA assume that their products, in their current version, are suitable for the CALA market.
There are some companies that recognize that they might have to deliver product documentation in either Spanish or Portuguese. And some companies recognize that if the product requires post implementation support, they will make the necesary investment to meet this requirement but...only after the sale!.

The reasoning is that once the customer agrees to the transaction, then, and only then, the required investment will be made so as to minimize risk. Management in these companies is convinced that the CALA region should be developed organically, although their other markets were not.  

When a market is new and unknown to a company, this approach presumablymakes sense. Particularly since CALA has a reputation among sales and business development executives that business in the region is tricky, closing sales takes a long time and success can be uncertain.

Sales and business executives don't have to navigate blind the CALA currents and can insure the success of their market entry initiatives by considering these four basic factors:
  • Hire Experienced And New: A technology company's first instinct would be to hire a sales person with experience specific to the company's product line; perhaps from a competitor. The sales person would have current customer contacts and first hand knowledge of deals that can be closed quickly avoiding a long opportunity development effort. The truth is that potential customers in CALA would be reluctant to do business with a sales person after he/she switched hats overnight. Credibility is at stake and credibility is perhaps the most important criteria in the LatAm market. My recommendation is to hire a knowledgeable person who not only understands the tehnology but also buyers' purchasing process. Someone who is a new face for a new product! 
  • Don't Go It Alone: CALA customers demand assurances of capable and immediate post-sales support. A local partner can be an effective extension of the company's support team. another reason is that most purchasing contracts and country's fiscal requirements will invariable prove advantageous to in-country established vendors. In absence of a foreign subsidiary, the right local partner is the ideal complement.
  • Dividir Para Multiplicar: Which translated from Spanish means sharing to grow. A company wanting to succeed in CALA will do so through the loyalty from their local partners and must develop two solid and complementary value propositions: one for the end customer and also one for the in-country partner. Distributors are also being targeted by the competition! 
  • Invest In Pre-Sales Support: Hiring a bilingual sales person is a given but investing in equally diverse pre-sales support personnel is often second priority. While it is true that the in-country partner will eventually become the first line of support to the end customer, developing t he partner's expertise will take time. Furthermore, customers want to see and have direct access to the main vendor. With qualified pre-sales support one can immediately pursue opportunities wth the assurance that products will be represented fairly and accurately while providing on-the-job trainig for the partner.
A complete CALA market entry strategy requires more than these factors but these four are the absolute minimum necessary to succeed while minimizing the investment.

(If you are interested in a sample budget, please feel free to contact me and I can e-mail you a Excel file)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

LatAm Market Entry: Before You Jump, Part Two

Before looking into some Market considerations, I'd like to point out an additional, and perhaps, crucial Product consideration. Many technology companies rely on strategic partners to complement the company's innovative offering. Perhaps the product requires special hardware or even additional software for it to be a complete solution. Maybe there is a need for certain expertise for delivery or even a need for specialized facilties for operation. I know of a company that houses its service application at a third party installation in Belgium and from here, the company serves its European based customers. No such installation was available in the CALA target country. In order to provide the same service in CALA, the company would either have to build a hosting site or procure an existing one in the region. On the other hand, there are many India based companies that seem to have overcome this limitation when serving US customers. The good news is that hosting companies have sprung out in Latin America. Brazil, for instance, has no less than fifty such companies specializing in different types of applications.

Another example is the requirement of specialized computing equipment in support of a company's special software application. The consideration is that the partner supplying the computing platform might not have as wide a presence in the region as the software vendor requires. This can significantly limit the reach of the software vendor.

So, intentions of strategic partners towards CALA can be an essential success factor.

Traditional approaches to market assessment follow a macroeconomic or political factor approach. PEST analysis is a must on every international marketing MBA curriculum.

What technology companies really need and what technology companies really want is a list of opportunities ready to mature. Ole Kilgore, former CEO of UshaComm, once told me that what every CEO wants is to hire the salesperson with an almost ready deal in the back pocket. In other words, totally abbreviated market research boiled down to the pre-purchase order stage. 

Market research and assessment initiatives, at the very least, aim to 
  • Identify number of potential qualified buyers,
  • Determine when will they be buying,
  • Find out how much will they spend; and
  • What their purchasing cycle and process is, including who the decision makers are. 
This kind of information unfortunately isn't readily available from industry reports and can be best obtained through a series of sales calls. Therefore, the importance of hiring a person with actual and current presence in the market. Ole, you were right!

One can fairly state that some very important market considerations were already identified in the previous blog on Product. The recommendation was to explore whether the Product was suitable, in the current incarnation, to meet the specific needs of the CALA market.

Perhaps the company will find that there is a need for further development to have the product fit CALA. Let me give you an example. A software vendor has designed its application to be compatible with a very high performance technology platforms, from mainly two strategic partners. Tall them N and T. Yet the dominant vendor for this type of computing platform in CALA is neither. It is actually O. Under what conditions will the software vendor invest in being compatible with O? Or will the company assume a wait and see what deals will N or T bring to the table?   

What other general considerations should a company look for when entering CALA as a new market? I propose that we assess how suitable the market is for a Product based on three characteristics:
  • Ready;
  • Willing; and
  • Able
Ready: Are the potential customers ready to adapt or use the product? Going back to the mobile market. I worked with an India based company that wanted to distribute videos of sports events via mobile handsets. At the time, the majority of the handsets were 2G, and in fact, there was but only one 3G network in the region. Clearly, the market was not ready.

Readiness limitations are not only technological but can be economic, social or even regulatory. Some mobile VAS require significant bandwith. Most mobile operators down south, have access only to limited spectrum. The perceived technological limitation is the result of a delay in the freeing of bandwith by the regulatory entities. 

The recommendation then, for companies entering the CALA market is not to walk away from a market for not being completely ready but rather to assess what pieces are missing in a particular value chain and determine when will the market be ready to take full advantage of a company's offerings.

Willing: I've found out that the highest priority of most mobile operators is still to get more customers. Any service or product that delivers new subscribers would top the list of coming attractions!
The urgency for increased customer acquisition is stronger than the efforts to increase revenues or margins from existing customers. So, my recommendation for a company entering the mobile market in CALA is to position its product as a means to get more customers.

On the other hand, the CALA market is receptive to applications that have little play in more developed economies. In the US, mobile to mobile money transfer is not yet a big requirement. That is not the case in some African countries where the banking system is limited at best. Yet, money transfer, in the form of credit from one mobile subscriber to another is widely used in Botswana and could be equally popular in Brazil, Mexico and other countries where there are serious consumer credit limitations.
One can argue that the CALA market would be highly receptive to certain innovatve offerings. This receptiveness stems from needs that remain unsatified by traditional means, in this case banking.

Able: Finally, there is the issue of abbility to acquire the product. Are the limitations economic? Then only a few will have it. The Apple iPad is more expensive than what the average worker makes in a month. And yet, quite a few are being sold in CALA. The key word is few

For the mobile market, the pertinent example is the penetration of smart phones. When the average ARPU in the region is about $18 US, subsidizing a $400 or $500 handset does not make much economic sense. Yet there are thousands of subscribers who demand the sophistication and functionality of a smart phone. The challenge for the mobile operator then lies in identifying those subscribers who can afford them and...developing offerings that are profitable even with a reduced subscriber base.  Phew!

To conclude, a company wanting to enter the CALA market would be well served by initially assessing the true potential for its products rather than blindly investing in sales efforts. 

How can a company enter and make money in CALA? Perhaps there is a way, or two, in how the company does business in the region. 

Stay tuned for the next blog: CALA Business Models.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

LatAm Market Entry: Before You jump

Many technology companies, like those targeting the mobile or wireless sector and with demonstrated products and valid references in the US and Europe, can significantly improve their bottom line by capitalizing on the CALA (Caribbean and Latin America) region.  After all, Brazil and Mexico are the 8th and 14th world economies respectively. The region, in general, represents a large number of potential consumers specially hungry for innovative technology products.

CALA market entry initiatives should take into account what effect subscriber behaviour and other considerations have on the five essential elements of a successful sales initiative:
  1. Product;
  2. Market;
  3. Business Model;
  4. Sales Process and
  5. Sales organization. 
Product: At the risk of being obvious, understanding how a company's product is used and applied by existing customers allows for an improved and refined value proposition, specially when pursuing new customers. The question then becomes: Can CALA potential customers apply the product in the same way that their US or European counterparts do? If so, will the benefits be equivalent?

Many companies, particularly those with limited CALA experience, assume tacitly that their special widget, in the current encarnation is indeed a be all to end all. As an example, take billing systems. Post-paid billing systems are used to support over 95% of mobile subscriptions in North America whereas the ratio is more like 10% in CALA. Pre-paid billing platforms are the priority for CALA mobile operators. Location Based Services (LBS) common and the rage in the US, Canada, Europe and Asia are the exception even in Brazil, Mexico and Argentina, the largest mobile markets in the region.
Perhaps the most interesting example, to me at least, is the use of Voice Mail. In Latin America , leaving a voice message is not considered polite, it is deemed unproductive and not smart use of one's expensive minutes. Here in the US, for instance, is not uncommon to have ten's of voice mails to conduct business or even communicate with loved ones.

I recently concluded a consulting engagement for a company that has developed an extremely powerful analytics application. The product, among other things, allows mobile operators to determine how usage of advanced Value Added Services (VAS) can be optimized. An existing customer, in the US, has determined what handsets work best with each type of data service, and has, therefore, developed promotions to favor the more reliable handsets. The challenge in CALA markets is that the more sophisticated VAS are used by at most 10% of mobile subscribers. The result is that business case justifications for sophisticated analytics applications are difficult to come by. 

Truism: companies that understand the differences in the CALA market and apply this knowledge to product development will be amply rewarded.
Let me introduce you to  CATATREPA, , an innovative small software company based in Paraguay. CATATREPA developed a simple application for the CALA pre-paid mobile market: Reversed Charge SMS. Text messaging is prevalent in CALA. It is conveniently inexpensive for the subscriber and represents a high margin for mobile operators. The challenge lies in increasing usage for pre-paid subscribers whose budgeted allotment has run out. CATATREPA's SMS Collect makes it possible for a subscriber to exchange SMS with other subscribers who are willing to accept the charge. Already the service has been deployed in six countries and represents significant new revenues for CATATREPA's customers and added convenience for their subscribers.

In the end, successful CALA market entry initiatives must account for customer usage and behaviour that can be particular for the region and nowhere else.

On the next issue. I will write about Market considerations. As a preamble:
  • Ready;
  • Willing and
  • Able 
Hasta luego.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

What is the Value Proposition of a Salesperson?

It's not a revelation that the web has affected the way business is conducted. So it shouldn't be a revelation that the sales profession is perhaps one of the most impacted. In light of this transformation, the question is: Has the perception of value, to an organization, of a sales person (SP) changed? And if so, what is this value?

What is, then, the role and contribution of a SP in the post-Google /YouTube era? Why and under what conditions would companies rely on sales people rather than on on-line sales or on any other sales channel? And, an equally important question is, what skills must a sales person now have in order to deliver high value to companies that employ them?

To the cynic, like me, the answer would be simple: sales and marketing costs should be managed to under 20% of revenues. So, as long as cost of the sales person lies within that parameter, there is value. Ha!.

Complex vs. Simplex:
I recently posted this question as a discussion to the Sales Best Practices Group on LinkedIn. In order of appearance, the majority of the responders agreed that the Value Proposition depended on the market and or on the complexity of the sales process. The more complex the product, the more valuable that the SP is in securing a sale. This is my view as well. I've worked for companies selling complex software solutions for the last 12 years and indeed, the role, and the value of a sales person shows up in the execution of the sales process: Qualifying, Identifying Requirements, Developing The Solution, Marketing The Solution, Negotiating, and Closing The Business.

At the other extreme of complex product sales is the sale of consumer products. These, for the purposes of common understanding, are the products that are the same, or almost the same, for all or most of users. Razors, shampoo, toothpaste and even Microsoft Excel, are examples of products that deliver the same functionality/benefits to all customers. There are no direct sales persons selling razors, although there is a lot of "marketing". The success of selling these types of products seems to hinge on the ability to differentiate from competitive alternatives, on delivering higher value (ratio of benefit to lower price) or even on conveying the message that if someone who is prominent or famous uses the product, then its OK for the rest of us to use the same product: Wheaties and Tiger Woods! (OK, bad example); Nutrisystem and Dan Marino; and many others.
The success of making the sale, in these instances, lies on "capturing the mind of the consumer" or in successful positioning of the product. Examples abound:
Apple: the computer for the rest of us!
Nyquil: the only nightime cold medicine so you can really sleep (hey, they all make you sleepy!)
AVIS: we try harder
Campbell's Soup: mmm-mmm goood!
etcetera, etcetera, etcetera!!

I argue that in this case the SP's value proposition is the positioning statement itself and that the SP is the "marketing" department or creative genius who articulated the positioning statement.

The value of relationship
Well over half of the respondents said that relationship, communications skills and product knowledge were, in some combination or other, the Value Proposition of the SP. Not just for the modern SP but at all times.
I personally believe that the value of relationship is misunderstood, specially if the foundations of the relationship are ill defined. I must say though, that throughout my over twenty years selling complex technological solutions, I've found that, all other things being equal, the relationship (based on trust) I had with my customers afforded me the opportunity to be considered as a potential bidder and not really to have an unfair advantage over my competitors. My company, my company's product, my sales team and I still had to win the business by demonstrating superior value over other options for the buyer. We had to establish and demonstrate trust during the selling process.
I feel the need to define and explore and reframe the true value of a seller-buyer relationship in more depth. I promise it will be the subject of a future blog!

Consider that buyers/customers choose from whom they buy and how they buy. Most car buyers dread the car buying experience. Why? Traditionally car buying is a contentious and aggravating process. Innovative and progressive car dealerships have modified their sales process to eliminate the unpleasantness of the car buying experience. In fact, they have strived to enhance the car buying experience for the customer.
Ways in which this has been done range from fixed price - no haggling, to posting the car information on the web and even providing a quote on-line. My girlfriend recently negotiated a car purchase over the phone without meeting the SP nor visiting the dealership until she was close to making a purchasing decision: one visit to test drive the car and one to pick it up. I must say that experienced was preceded by a series of dreadful negotiations with another dealer that relied on the old and tried tactics. A dealer that did not get the sale.
The point being that even purchasing a car, most people's second largest purchase and truly a complex product, can be accomplished with minimal intervention from a direct sales person and still with extraordinary results.
In this case, the SP did not have a prior relationship with the buyer, did not generate interest nor did it find the lead by himself (the SP was responding to my girlfriends web based inquiry). The SP did have to demonstrate product knowledge. The clear communications of the commercial terms of the offer was delegated to the finance manager so the SP did not have to negotiate the offer. In spite of his, supposedly limited participation, the SP delivered value to the organization: he closed the deal.

The modern SP
Need I say that the role of the SP under this environment is totally different than that of a car sales person ten years ago, or even three years ago? Need I say that the value proposition of the SP is still to deliver the sale but not in competition with new technologies but in collaboration with them?

The Value Proposition
The conditions under which this happens have dramatically changed in many industries and, in order for the sales person to continue to perform effectively he or she must learn and adapt to take full advantage of the value of these technologies.
In the end, whether selling a complex product (cars, homes, system software) or a simple consumer product, the Value Proposition of the contemporary, post-Web2.0, Twittered, Facebooked SP is and remains the same: to deliver the sale.