Editor’s note: Steli Efti is the Co-Founder/Chief Hustler of ElasticSales and an advisor to several startups and entrepreneurs. You can follow Steli on Twitter here.
Selling to the U.S. market can be a significant milestone in the life of an international technology startup. The U.S. is the largest market in the world, and a successful foothold here can mean dramatic growth as well as further credibility of your company. But selling to U.S. businesses can be difficult especially if you’re based overseas. Having successfully introduced international technology companies to the U.S. market, we’ve learned several lessons, listed below, to help companies abroad sell in the U.S.
- Find markets that are not yet saturated by your competitors. U.S. competitors will have a geographic advantage, so pick an industry vertical, or regional market, where you can introduce your product and gain rapid traction.
- Identify Early Market Signals. Track early signals that the U.S. market is even interested in your product or service. Do you have signups on your website or requests for information from U.S. customers already? Set up a U.S. page where customers can sign up to be on a waiting list and run a basic online marketing campaign to promote it. If you see interest in your product or service from the U.S. market, you know there’s an opportunity to push further into the market.
- Experiment with pricing, but don’t get caught up in a price war. International companies often differentiate themselves from U.S. competitors by offering similar technology at a lower price. However, cheaper doesn’t always compute as better; many customers associate a lower price point with lower quality. So rather than racing your competitor to the lowest possible price point, pitch your product as providing a superior solution at a price that can actually support the growth of your company.
- Get introductions from your existing clients. Many of your customers may already operate in the U.S. and have industry contacts that could also benefit from your product or service. Ask them for introductions to new customers. Tell them you’re entering a new market, and as a long term or successful client, you’d appreciate a connection with any industry contacts that would also benefit from your solution. Asking your existing customers is an easy way to find early adopters in new markets, but a tactic that many businesses simply fail to do.
- Leverage the brand of a notable customer. Associating your company with a larger U.S. brand builds credibility for the larger sales. Customer references, quotes and case studies can all do this, but getting your large customers to speak can be difficult. So be creative.
- Employ a U.S. Accent. Customers in the U.S. respond better to this versus a “foreign” accent. That’s not to say that successfully selling in the U.S. is impossible for anyone with an accent, but having someone who sounds like they’re based here, who understands regional slang and can hold a casual conversation with a potential customer, can be valuable to a company breaking into the market.
- Be blunt and to the point. Many international companies operate in a culture in which a relatively long period of time is spent developing personal relationships with their potential customers. U.S. businesses move fast and these prolonged conversations can be perceived as wasting time. As an international company, enter a meeting with a potential U.S. customer with the intent to determine if a deal can be made and what steps are involved to finalize an engagement. Beginning a conversation with this intent won’t offend your customers but will imply that you’re here to do business, not make friends.