Lessening the gap...making workplace differences work:
More Strategies for Success
by Ami Wright, Technical Writer
According to the French consulate, there are more than 180 French companies in New England. Every year more French companies set up operations here. For many of these companies, the U.S. is an extremely large market. The level of success in the U.S. significantly influences the success of the company. However, the effect on the company goes beyond increased revenue. Success in the U.S. can also affect the way the company operates.
Focusing on a Niche
One of the differences between France and the U.S. is simply the size of the market. France is a comparatively small market, and the sales strategy in France is often to have a broad offering of products and services, and to sell multiple products or services to each customer. In France, selling in a niche implies that you are a small company and are afraid to think big.
However, in the U.S., selling in a niche is an essential strategy. The U.S. is a comparatively large market. Trying to use the same broad strategy in the U.S. that one uses in France results in an approach that is too scattered to be able to gain traction in the market.
Start-up companies in the U.S. are often advised to focus on a niche market that they can dominate. Because the U.S. is so large, a niche market can still provide significant revenue. For companies that are established in Europe and now want to enter the market in the U.S., focusing on a niche that they can dominate is also an essential strategy.
In some cases, this results in two distinct strategies for the company: a broad strategy for Europe and a niche strategy for the U.S. However, in other cases, the niche strategy becomes the strategy for the entire company. For example, when IDDI (International Drug Development Institute) was created in Europe the company offered a broad range of services to drug companies and biotech companies. After focusing on growing the business in the U.S., the company has grown, but also narrowed its focus. They now focus just on designing clinical trials and analyzing the data. They offer the same services to customers in the U.S., Europe, and Asia. According to the CEO, Marc Buyse, this has actually made the sales process easier, even in Europe where a broader strategy is more common.
Simplifying the Product
As part of the process of choosing a niche and developing a marketing strategy, a company might find that a product that sells well in France is too complicated to sell easily in the U.S. As noted by Chris Hote, CEO at Digimind Inc., it might be part of French culture to create complex things, but Americans are generally not very interested in the complexity of the technology. Americans are more interested in knowing what problem the product solves, how much money it will make, and with what return.
Therefore, creating something viable for the U.S. frequently requires simplifying the offering. Often this can be done by changing how it is presented. For example, a company might simply not discuss certain features, or it might simplify how they are presented. However, in other cases, simplifying the offering requires redesigning a part of the product.
Streamlining the Sales Process
France and the U.S. also typically have very different sales processes. The sales process in France is typically a one-to-one process, because it is important to have a personal relationship with the customer. The personal relationship can be more important than what you are selling. Each sale generally requires lots of time and multiple meetings.
In the U.S., having a personal relationship is less important. It is possible to sign deals with people you’ve never met, if you can solve a problem that they want to solve. A company can pick a market and a strategy and streamline its marketing and sales for that specific market.
Americans also expect that someone can explain the basic purpose of a product in only a few sentences. This requires focusing on what’s most important and getting right to the point.
According to Jean Rauscher, CEO at Yseop, people who have worked in the U.S. often take these approaches to France. Having a relationship with the customer is still important. Multiple meetings are still required. But people are more efficient in their presentations, and customers in France appreciate that.
When a company opens operations in the U.S., people also learn to work with colleagues who are not in the same office. Americans often work remotely, and often with colleagues that they have never met. They are located in different offices and communicate using email, WebEx, teleconferencing, etc. They might work together for years without actually meeting each other. In France, it’s more common to have face-to-face meetings. Typically, when colleagues work together everyone gathers at one office.
With offices on both sides of the Atlantic, face-to-face meetings become impractical. This, combined with the American habit of working remotely, encourages the French to also adopt the style. Particularly when people spend a few years in the U.S. and then go back to France, they might want more remote meetings. They push to do things over the phone, rather than spend an hour in traffic to get to a meeting.
Having operations in the U.S. increases the importance of English for the company. In order to be understood by the team in the U.S., information such as reports and the bug database should be in English.
Both Jean Rauscher and Chris Hote noted that companies that they have worked with started using English for this type of thing when the company began operations in the U.S. They also noted that having all the information in English was also a benefit when their companies were acquired by an American company.
At IDDI, the policy from the beginning has been to write everything in English. All the reports, SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures), etc. are in English. This is particularly important for them because the field of clinical trials and clinical research is currently driven by the U.S. More than half of the company’s revenue comes from the U.S. so it is critical that what they do follows FDA standards.
Of course companies change over time no matter where they do business, but these are some of the changes that might result from doing business in the U.S.
Copyright © 2010 Ami Wright - All rights reserved. Tous droits réservés.
(This article was originally published in Le Courrier, the newsletter of the New England Chapter of the French-American Chamber of Commerce.)
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