Founder and CEO of ActiveCampaign, the Customer Experience Automation (CXA) category leader
Many new and scaling companies take an all-or-nothing approach to global growth, believing there’s no point in expansion until “you’re ready” with the currency, the website translation and the team in place. But sustainable international growth should be part of your company’s DNA from the start and not just something you bolt onto the end of your business once you’ve achieved scale.
A sustainable global growth strategy is about supporting customers in the countries where they do business. The advocacy gained from that support builds you up in that market.
As the leader of a company that does more than 50% of its business internationally and has customers in 170 countries and employees who speak 26 languages, including Bosnian, Portuguese, Punjabi and Mongolian, I can validate that you don’t have to make a big single push into a market to be successful there. All you really need to do is support customers in the areas where there is demand.
Since its founding in 2003, ActiveCampaign embraced international growth; in fact, our first customer was a scuba-diving company based in Mexico. For the first decade of our existence, our main currency was U.S. dollars. Our sales team was primarily U.S.-based, and we had an English-only site. But we still got traction in other markets and built advocacy in those markets by allowing our customers to dictate where we focused our investments.
Here are the incremental changes we made to grow globally and how you can, too:
Support their language
Brazil is currently one of our biggest markets, but we couldn’t have predicted this seven years ago when we decided to translate some of our content into Portuguese.
At the time, Brazil was rapidly growing in both trials and ARR (annual recurring revenue). We saw Brazil as a prime opportunity because many of our competitors were not in the market and municipalities like São Paulo.
Seven years ago, we had just started translating the in-app experience, and we had nothing translated on the site. But by changing that, advocates started popping up in the market. After seeing the advocacy-fueled organic growth, we decided to take the next step: an agency. That was the validation we needed to grow a team in the market.
We didn’t have the resources to invest in a big launch in Brazil, but to support our customers there, we worked with an agency to start a translated, SEO-optimized blog and translate about 50-60 pages of our site into Brazilian Portuguese. As a result, we grew our traffic by quadruple digits in 2020 year over year.
Be aware of timing
As we pushed into Asia-Pacific, we saw again that small changes can make a big difference. In this region, it was all about time zones. Our sales team ran an experiment where reps called into leads in Singapore specifically during their office hours.
This simple shift created incredible uplift and allowed us to have meaningful conversations with prospective leads in Singapore. Now, Singapore has the highest revenue per account among any country in its region. Those data points helped us determine where to focus our attention to make improvements to our processes.
Capture the benefits of going global early
Many founders think that global investments aren’t a good idea or aren’t possible until after the company has been established locally. But the truth is, it can be much harder to make an impact in global markets if you wait too long. You can’t treat international reach as a sales or revenue lever. You must plant small seeds within markets well ahead of time.
One of the biggest benefits of growing globally is the ability to maintain optionality for your company. If you “place your bets” on multiple countries, you can call on these markets at any time once you know how to sell through them. If a market is particularly opportune while others may not be, you can double down in the place that has opportunities for big impact — not just for your business, but for your customers.
Going global from the get-go can help you develop more diverse perspectives, increase growth momentum and better support your U.S. customers. When you build your business for globalization, you build more intuitive, easy-to-use content and you have more diverse investments, which ultimately makes you more sustainable. You also learn things from global markets that you can apply to your own business.
How to grow into new markets
Hopefully the above is evidence that small changes can make a big impact on brands looking to expand their global reach. If you’re looking for ways to start, here are three tips that I think can help any business:
1. Accept that going global doesn’t happen overnight. It’s not just one big campaign with a beginning and an end — it’s a constant growing process.
2. Start with one manageable market. There are a lot of changes to handle between translations and currency. When you pick that market, choose a market that is not your No. 1 customer market, and don’t choose one that your competitors are going after, too. Instead, talk to your early adopter customers to find the market that has the highest potential for international reach instead of just the most proven reach.
3. Never stop learning. The best way to learn about international opportunities is by talking to your customers and sharing that knowledge with your team. It’s a powerful experience for your teams to understand the difficulties people go through to use your product and the value that customers get from it.
Remember, when you think about global growth as a support strategy, rather than a revenue channel, you will end up with both.