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Efficiency Amplified: A Three-Pronged Strategy for Unrivaled International Operations

last updated: November 1, 2023

Building successful international operations requires a three-step strategic approach: accurately diagnosing local demand, building operation with agility, and deploying a refined trial-and-error methodology in team recruitment.

Part 1: The Imperative of Accurate Local Demand Diagnosis

A recurrent misstep when companies venture internationally is presuming that simply expanding the sales team and infrastructure will make a regional operation perform similarly to other markets. It’s a grave error to believe that strategies which work elsewhere can be transplanted into these new markets.

Such an oversight inevitably leads to failure. Each international market is unique; each requires localized positioning and use cases. The unique cultural and socioeconomic factors mean that the fit of your product or service with potential customers’ lives will be different from other regions. Without a deep understanding of these nuances, success is elusive.

This point does not mean significantly altering your existing product. The imperative is making your product locally relevant through effective positioning, not materially changing your product.

Conversely, embracing an agile and entrepreneurial approach to demand identification is the key to outstanding returns on investment. You might achieve these results by, for example, using locally tailored explainer videos or other marketing materials to gauge responses. After all, sales funnels that convert require strong customer demand to pull prospects through your customer acquisition process.

Part 2: Constructing an Agile Operation

Multinational corporations often falter by aiming to make a grand entrance into international markets. While this strategy might work for universally recognized brands like Apple—an example where the local market eagerly awaits new products—it is ineffective for the majority of less famous brands and products.

A better course of action is to tailor your operation around the immediate demand that you pinpoint. Even if this approach results in a temporary backlog due to slower product or service delivery as you incrementally scale up your supply capacity, it is a better problem to have than maintaining an oversized, low-efficiency operation.

In practical terms, this approach involves identifying bottlenecks in the customer experience that can be managed appropriately based on output requirements. Steps might encompass distribution expansion, customer support enhancement, or altering the supply chain to curtail work in progress. By definition, since supply bottlenecks emerge only when there is demand for your product and they are impossible to fully anticipate, a demand-driven operating strategy is a necessity.

Part 3: Embracing the 80/20 Approach to Hiring

Hiring internationally can be more unpredictable than in your home market. Assessing potential employees based solely on their credentials, self-professed professional achievements, or predictive HR testing often falls short. Some prospects might be impressive on paper but underperform in practice. Moreover, you may find standout talents who lack pedigree but are driven to contribute meaningfully to your company’s long-term success.

This reality calls for a fail-fast approach to recruitment. While your goal is to hire the right individuals at the outset, you must be prepared to let many employees go quickly, especially in the early stages of your international operation. The most successful companies in the region often cycle through multiple hires for key roles before finding the right fit. When entering this market, a “hire-fast, fire-fast” approach is not just preferable, but essential. When a relatively large proportion of employees and managers inevitably don’t work out, moving on quickly is the right course of action. Others deserve the opportunity, and your operation’s success depends on it.

View your employees as yet another example of the 80/20 principle applying to the business world. 20% of your hires will yield 80% of your results. Or, alternatively, one in five of your hires internationally will be outstanding performers. Four out of five hires will likely be mediocre at best, no matter how much you attempt to implement HR “best practices.” To build a successful operation, the 80% of mediocre hires must be rapidly pruned away to make space for new talent. It may sound expensive. But acknowledging this reality allows you to reduce the recruitment cost per hire. Over time, you will accumulate winners on your payroll, cultivate a self-reinforcing culture of excellence, and achieve outstanding performance.

Adherence to this three-pronged strategy is a key aspect of achieving success internationally. By combining the power of these three fundamental principles, you dramatically improve your odds of generating attractive returns to your international investments.