Archives for June 2021

27 questions to create your country playbook when expanding internationally

For first-time CEOs and founders, the decision to expand internationally can be both exciting and daunting — as it should be. Expanding into new regions can spur growth and open up a world of possibilities, but it also adds a level of complexity that not every leadership team is ready for, especially without first-hand experience operating in that region.

In part 1 of my blog series on international expansion, I shared a strategic approach for how services firms can tackle international expansion, based on my own personal experience. It covered topics like when to expand, where to go first, how to work with partners, and ways to mitigate risks like culture dilution and financial readiness.

In part 2, I’ll dive deeper into what happens once you decide to make the move. Specifically, how to create a global operating framework that can support your expansion into each new country — what I call your country playbook.

What is a country playbook?

A country playbook is in essence an operating framework for international expansion, providing structure and information needed to expand into a new country or region in a disciplined, repeatable way. It’s the operating manual that brings your strategy to life.

A country playbook can align the leadership team with the new leaders on the ground in a new region. It can reduce risk, speed decision making and guide the new team to operate with the same vision for customer experience, culture and employee experience while still allowing for local flexibility.

While a country playbook should provide enough detail to answer the most common questions about expansion, it doesn’t need to be long or formal. It just needs to provide your leaders with the direction they need to understand and execute on your strategy—and feel empowered to make decisions that will benefit everyone involved.

What are the components of a country playbook?

There are two parts to a successful country playbook: a global overview and country specifics.

The global overview provides a high-level structure that can be used across countries, covering items like company positioning, sales differentiators, the scope of services to be provided, the customer value proposition, financial modeling and governance frameworks. This part of the playbook also includes information to help country leaders with hiring, providing clear expectations about alignment with your culture.

The playbook must also address country-level nuances linked to your overall strategy. For example, the specific roles you might need in-country for delivery versus what you can centralize through a center of excellence model. It might also include specific services or capabilities that best fit the customers and partner maturity in that market.
Since each country and situation is unique, this article will focus on the 5 areas that should be part of the global overview: 1) culture; 2) team; 3) services & go-to-market; 4) governance; and 5) financial model.

When thinking about each of these areas, look to expand through fractal growth. By this I mean branching off from an existing offering or point of strength, which helps to create consistency and alignment between regions. Below is an illustration for how this might look as you expand your market interactions, people processes and customer experience into a new country.

Culture

Solidifying and scaling your existing company culture should be top of the list when it comes to global expansion. You have to get it right, and so do the country leaders hiring your new team. Your country playbook gives you an opportunity to embed your existing culture into each new market from the start, weaving your mission and customer experience into the fabric of each country’s operating framework.

To help you get started, your playbook should address questions such as:

  • What is your stated vision, values and brand promise as a company?
  • When your company hires a new leader, how can the team make sure they’re aligned with your values and cultural DNA?
  • What are your norms and rituals as a company, and what can you/should you bring to the new region?
  • What kind of differentiated experience do you expect to provide to customers and employees in this new market based on existing brand expectations in other markets?
  • How can you translate your corporate culture into how you manage processes, performance and compensation while leaving room for local nuances?

 

Team

Thinking through how teams will be structured within and across regions in advance will not only create efficiencies of scale and limit conflicts down the road, it will also speed up recruiting and productivity. Your country playbook should provide guidance on how you will manage customer relationships inside and between regions, what kind of support will be provided from headquarters versus what talent is needed locally, and what you can serve out of nearby regions. This is especially important for customer-facing and leadership roles.

Certain economies of scale can come from centralization and filling some roles from nearby regions, however, these decisions must take into consideration regulatory, cultural and language differences between regions. You will likely want to fill in-country customer-facing roles (e.g. country management, sales, project managers, solution architects) by hiring local/native people, while leveraging global support functions for scale. Some companies will fly-in top experts or tap into global virtual delivery teams, or, when you have a first team in place and some traction, use nearshore and/or offshore facilities.

Your playbook should address questions such as:

  • What leadership roles are needed, and will those be hired locally or through existing leadership?
  • What is your delivery model? What are the services you need/intend to deliver locally or globally?
  • What is your partnership strategy for a given market?
  • How are you going to train your employees and manage their competencies?
  • How are you going to staff projects?
  • How are you going to structure work arrangements with subcontractors?
  • When it comes to forecasting how can you anticipate and prepare for demand?
  • How are you going to manage customer satisfaction?

 

Services and GTM

When it comes to the services, you’ll want to build a country-tailored portfolio mix and go-to-market strategy. This strategy should be based on the size and potential of the targeted market, the offerings most needed by your partner ISVs in that region, and the competition analysis you conducted prior to making the decision to expand. That portfolio shouldn’t reinvent the wheel, but instead be grounded in the services that already set you apart in your home market. For example, if 80% of your customer references are in the financial sector or are of a certain size, it makes sense to focus there in the new country.

Your playbook should address questions such as:

  • What specific services should we offer in each country?
  • What is the value proposition of those services?
  • To what extent will our offering differ from what we sell elsewhere in the world?
  • How does our pricing in this country compare to the rest of the world?
  • What markets or services do we want to say no to (e.g. public sectors, staff aug, etc.)?
  • What is your local plan to build/develop your customer-facing brand?

 

Governance

Governance frameworks and approvals should also be built into the playbook, breaking responsibilities down locally, globally and regionally. This part of the playbook should address who makes the decisions, and how that relates to your strategy and services.

Your playbook should address questions such as:

  • What level of decision making or approvals are needed when it comes to customer contracts?
  • How do we handle fixed-price proposals?
  • What are the thresholds on approvals and who needs to be involved?
  • Who makes the final decisions on hiring? Does that vary by role?

 

Financial model
Last but not least you will want to define your financial model and the budget implications of decisions being made. Your playbook should address structural models like how you’ll manage the P&L, and think through those decisions.

Your playbook should address questions such as:

  • Will we manage P&L by country, region or globally?
  • How do we align and create consistency between our P&L philosophy, incentives, compensation policies and governance?
  • How do we cope with intercompany subcontracting to ensure that countries/markets who host our expert resources are incentivized to support the start of new markets?
  • Who is financially responsible for budget overruns?

 

Once you have your global framework in place, you can dive deeper into the specific country-level detail. This should also be an evolving document. It will only continue providing value if it remains up to date and considers lessons you learn as you expand into more countries. So leave room for growth while ensuring your current playbook alleviates misunderstanding and miscommunication. Revisit the questions in here and add to those based on the situations that occurred in earlier rollouts and talk to your regional leaders to see what else would’ve helped them as they took their first steps.

If you’re a founder or CEO looking to expand internationally, and need capital or counsel to support your move, get in touch with Tercera. Or connect with me on LinkedIn with specific questions. We might be able to help!