How to develop a successful go-to-market for the US
Scale-ups that achieve a successful go-to-market in the United States can considerably accelerate their growth. However, achieving this in the US is anything but easy. Be prudent, prepare thoroughly and go for it but heed this GTM advice.
“In the US, you burn a lot of money fast,” says Andy Zook, Vice President of Sales at InterSystems. In other words, a go-to-market in the US needs to be goal-oriented and effective. Because things can go wrong very quickly, Zook explains: “If you establish yourself on the East Coast, but your customers are on the West Coast, you can forget it. The same applies if your products don't comply with regulations or you hire the wrong people.”
Andy Zook has experience putting SAS on the map in Asia and is currently helping a Greek company gain a foothold in the US. Zook travelled from North Carolina to Rotterdam to advise start-ups and scale-ups in the Fortino community on their US go-to-market strategy. “This strategy can be radically different from a European strategy,” says Zook. “Because the US is not just any other region. Doing business there is another story because of the different structures, the scale, the people, the legislation and so on.”
“In the US, you burn a lot of money fast! The US is not just any other region. Doing business there is another story because of the different structures, the scale, the people, the legislation and so on.”
Andy Zook - VP of Sales at InterSystems
The US is the largest single-language market in the world
The best reason to go to the US? The United States is the largest single-language market. Even China and India don't have this market potential. The opportunities in the US are huge, much bigger than you would think possible here in Europe.
The mid-market segment in particular is unknown and unloved. In Zook's experience: “Europeans usually think of the big US corporates and the 334 million consumers as potential customers. The mid-market segment of companies is often overlooked. Take financial institutions with USD 500 million to USD 10 billion in working capital, for instance. There are 180 of them in Germany. Well, in the US you'll find more than 900 and that opens up huge opportunities. Or take supermarkets. Anyone who has lived in the US for a few months discovers retailers that are unknown in Europe but that have more than 100 branches in the US. Like Harris Teeter and Wegmans. If your product meets their needs, you can tap into a very lucrative market.”
Beware of big cultural differences
There is a but! Within that largest single-language market, the cultural differences are greater than we think here in Europe. You can compare it to how Germans differ from Italians. “New Yorkers are punctual like Germans,” Zook mentions as one of the many differences. “But people from California are more laid back about meetings. And that makes sense. In New York, everything takes place on a few square miles. Californians, on the other hand, drive hours to get to Los Angeles or San Francisco, which means they're more tolerant of people arriving late.”
Take all the differences into account, both in terms of customers and when hiring staff. Find the profiles that best suit your team, your products and your potential customers. Zook offers a tip for successfully interviewing Americans who are very skilled at this: “Send your candidates four questions in advance of the actual interview and ask them to already answer the questions in writing. This gives you an initial basis to compare candidates. At the same time, the answers help you conduct a more in-depth interview. After all, a candidate whose story and deeper knowledge correspond with the written answers will have a better understanding of the subject matter than a candidate who simply repeats the written answers.”
Define the go-to-market strategy
Zook has negotiated international deals for SAS in Asia. “SAS is an example of a company that has expanded into new markets through its customers. But we didn't just open an SAS office in a new country on a whim,” Zook explains. “We first studied the opportunities. We calculated how many and which customers we could gain. We made a file and weighed up the costs against the benefits.”
In your GTM strategy, you need to determine a number of things very clearly in your preparation, including: the industry you want to serve, your customers, the size of your customers, etc. Make sure you know the laws and the region where your customers are located.
Take all the steps you need to achieve this goal. Zook regularly talks about Belgian unicorn Collibra as an example of a successful go-to-market in the US. “Collibra knew which financial customers it wanted. And they went for it. They invested in an office right where their customers were located, in the Big Apple. Because every bank worthy of the name has a branch in New York.”
Move with your customer to the US
The best strategy is not to look yourself but to be asked to set up shop in the US. For example, by a client with an entity or parent company in the US. “If you enter a new market through someone you know, the chances of success are high. Because the company asking you has every interest in making sure you're successful. It wants you to do well, grow and gain a solid foundation in the US so that it too can enjoy your products and services for years to come. They'll therefore introduce you to customers and to their network, ensuring a good and reliable service from you. This is how payment platform Adyen started making sales in the US through Uber.
You can encourage this best-case scenario yourself by onboarding a customer in your home market with a link to the US. This could be the European branch of an American company or a European multinational with entities in the US. They can recommend you to their US division, or ask you to open a branch in the US so you can offer your services and products there."
An investor with American potential is also a good option, concludes Zook: “An investor invests because they see opportunities. To allow these opportunities to come to fruition, they will open doors for you, advise and guide you and put you in touch with potential partners and customers.”