ISVinsights recently interviewed two software companies that have opened a U.S. office within the past five years. Repsly co-founder and CEO Marko Kovac and TOPdesk U.S. President Nancy Van Elsacker Louisnord lead software companies with customers across the globe. Even though much of our audience is already based in the U.S., the advice these SaaS executives shared can apply to almost any software company hoping to grow its international footprint, regardless of what country you are expanding into. Their advice goes beyond the obvious language, currency, tax, and brand awareness challenges that come with expanding internationally.
Repsly is a SaaS platform for field sales teams in the food, beverage, and retail markets. The company was founded in Croatia in 2010, relocated its headquarters to Boston in 2012, and has customers more than 70 countries.
TOPdesk is an IT service management and helpdesk software company that was founded in the Netherlands in 1993. The company now has ten international branches, including a U.S. office in Orlando, and has more than 4,000 worldwide customers.
Deciding Where To Expand Next
Even though TOPdesk has a business development team actively seeking out new markets and opportunities that fit its product, a key part of the company’s expansion strategy is dictated by common sense. “A lot of the expansion is customer driven,” says Van Elsacker Louisnord. “As more organizations in a specific region or country start using our software, it is only natural to expand and open a local office.” All software companies should be paying close attention to customer data, and this extends beyond churn rate or upsell opportunities. If you’re seeing new users grow in a particular region, or even if you notice an uptick in inbound web traffic from a certain part of the world, then it could be worth considering what that expansion opportunity might look like. That doesn’t mean a new office is necessary. It will take time to scale to the size of TOPdesk, where its 600-plus employees support its entire global operation.
Repsly has benefited from inbound opportunities too. Kovac explains, “We have quite a few requests for partnerships coming from all over the world every month, or even every week depending on sales.”
Maintaining Localized Relationships
When Repsly decided to raise money, it knew the company needed to have a physical presence in the U.S. in order to work with U.S. investors. This mindset also applies to doing business in foreign markets. Kovac says, “Based on our early experience in Croatia, we knew that in some countries, if we want to do business, we needed to have feet on the street. At a very early stage, we had no idea how we were going to do it other than having partners in different parts of the world.” These Repsly partners are visiting prospects in person and closing deals directly. Repsly just provides marketing and collateral as support. Many of these international partners are customers before they start selling for Repsly. “They are approaching our future prospects as a peer, not from the standpoint of a software company. They are speaking their language litereally. They are using their keywords, not the keywords that a foreign company would use, and this is a very big difference,” says Kovac.
Van Elsacker Louisnord agrees, “The real power of TOPdesk lies in the fact that we operate as one big company, but the customers all have local representatives that understand the local market.”
Considering Sales Cultures
Van Elsacker Louisnord also says, “We discovered that despite the language and cultural differences, our customers very much want the same things no matter what country they are from. Product-wise, the challenges are not as important. More challenges come up with how customers want to be approached. That is exactly why we work with local offices and representatives.” TOPdesk has roots in The Netherlands, a country that is ahead of the adoption curve when it comes to using service management software, but that isn’t the case everywhere. Not all international prospects are as easy to engage.
Repsly keeps its pricing consistent regardless of the market, but that doesn’t mean its software is sold with the same strategies everywhere. Kovac says, “Since our partners are born and raised in the culture that they are selling into, they simply know the best way to approach their prospects and companies. They know what the business culture is.”
For more on this topic, see ISVinsights article, “How Software Breaks Into Foreign Markets: 5 Tips From A CEO Who Made His Life's Work Doing It.” Noriyuki Matsuda, founder and CEO of SOURCENEXT Corporation, explains, “Cultural differences can also make or break the personal touch of continued tech and customer support.”