July 30, 2013
I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have the job I do: Every year, I get to explore new markets around the globe and meet people who are equally passionate about building eCommerce businesses.
It's sometimes challenging to try and balance the fact that at Forrester, we are often brought to new places specifically to share our expertise — at the same time, our goal is to learn as much as possible while we're there. Many professionals looking to launch new offerings or pursue new partnerships outside of their own country face similar issues: They aim to both provide insights based on their experiences as well as to absorb knowledge that will help inform corporate strategies.
Having had some great meetings over the years and others where I’ve regretted my approach, I now try to adhere to three rules whenever I start a conversation with executives in a new market:
1. Come with a hypothesis, but prepare for it to evolve. Conversations flow much more easily if you have a framework or hypothesis for what trends you're likely to see in a market — just be ready for holes to be poked in different parts of your theory. In a recent conversation with the CEO of an online retailer in Russia, for example, I indicated that online travel sales often paved the way for retail eCommerce to take off, and asked if the situation was similar there. The CEO explained that in Russia, consumers' reliance on package tours — which are not generally sold online — meant that online travel hadn't flourished to the same degree as it had elsewhere in the world. Finding these exceptions is essential to understanding the nuances of each market.
2. Be ready to listen, not lecture. It can be tempting to want to provide advice to businesses right away — and many will ask for it directly — but taking the time to understand the different dynamics in these markets will inevitably result in more thoughtful recommendations. The more information you can gain before advising, especially in a new international market, the more tailored your recommendations can be. When it's time to share insights, language matters: "What many companies have found effective . . ." generally resonates better than "You should . . . ."
3. Always err on the side of humility. No matter how much of a subject matter expert you are, the people in the room with you will know more about how business is done in the country and the unique nuances of the local market than you will. Focus conversations on what you admire about the country and company you're visiting, not your own. Share your own experiences only after hearing others'.
What approach do you take when exploring new markets?