- Going global is pretty much required for volume-based B2B businesses. It’s also really hard to do right.
- Avoid reinventing your go-to-market (GTM) machine for each new country or region – it’ll put a drag on your flywheel’s momentum.
- Handle the localization of your content, systems, and product in-house. Recruit local partners with a command of the language and culture to handle high-touch sales and service.
This article is part of our series on using the flywheel model to grow your business. Check out the complete collection here.
Accelerating your business’ growth by entering new markets around the globe isn’t a question of if – it’s a question of when and how. Sooner or later, one of two things will happen. Either you’ll make a strategic decision to go after a new market, or you’ll notice sales happening organically outside your home country and decide to pour more fuel on that fire. But regardless of whether you take a proactive or reactive approach (or both), you need the right foundation in terms of your product and operations.
Going global as a flywheel business forces you to address several business questions including pricing, staffing, messaging, support, and more. Ideally, the way you sell into one market is largely the same as how you sell into the next – that’s how you preserve your momentum and stay true to the flywheel model.
Today I’m going to share how Atlassian has done it, including both the things we got right and areas where we’re still learning.
How does going global affect your business?
To set the stage, let’s review the four biggest impacts on your product and business when you start expanding into new regions:
- Language – The number of ways language comes into play is mind-blowing. Obviously, your website and in-product copy will need some attention. But think about the whole buyer journey, from SEO and top-of-funnel content to paid ads to purchasing flow to help docs and email notifications and support tickets. Don’t underestimate how many touch points you have with your customers and how a poor translation, or no translation at all, can lead to a poor buyer experience.
- Messaging – It’s not just what you say but also how you say it, right? Across our various touch points, we try to inject humor, slang, and nods to our Aussie heritage as part of promoting Atlassian’s brand personality. It’s often difficult to translate that flavor in a way that will resonate in other cultures. This forces us to come up with entirely new messaging, adding complexity and slowing down our teams. It’s a good example of the trade-offs you have to think through when deciding how to market your product globally.
- Pricing – Which currencies will you support? How will you determine whether supporting another one will be worth it? What exchange rates will you use? What financial mechanisms will you employ to protect your business from currency swings? If you see the currency in a given market begin to devalue, will you raise prices just on those customers but not the rest of your customer base?
- Payment methods – Atlassian prefers the ease of accepting credit card payments, which feels perfectly natural to most of the English-speaking world. However, in some markets, like Japan, this is not the case, and businesses are mandated to purchase via wire transfer or check. Like pricing, billing can become surprisingly complex as you expand into new markets.
That’s a lot of decisions to make and a lot to coordinate. The bottom line is that going global is hard, no matter how you go about it.
The traditional approach to global expansion
When I speak with peers at other companies, they tell me the first thing they do when entering a new territory is to hire a General Manager for that market. They hold this person accountable for establishing a presence in that market, hiring staff, growing the sales pipeline, and of course, bringing in revenue.
Effectively, this person must rebuild the entire business in the new locale, so they begin to ask for resources. They go to marketing, commerce, accounting, support, legal, and HR, and request dedicated staff and programs to support their efforts. Some organizations plan ahead for this and begin dedicating headcount from existing teams to support individual countries or regions. But oftentimes, there simply aren’t resources to give, leaving the General Manager with a dilemma: do they wait until they get support, or do they simply go hire the people they need themselves?
You can guess how this eventually plays out. More often than not, each market ends up with duplicate teams doing the exact same work as teams in other territories, but without the scale and efficiency of a central organization.
The upside of this approach is you get strong accountability. The downside is it can be very inefficient and expensive to maintain, thus limiting the speed at which you can expand into even more regions.
Going global without sacrificing GTM efficiency
On the other side of the spectrum is a flywheel-friendly approach that centers on consistency and reusability. This is the approach Atlassian chose, which has worked well for us.
Atlassian has customers in nearly every country where we can legally do business. All of our teams and programs run at a global level and are managed centrally by global leaders, not regional leaders. This ensures the consistency and repeatability that is so critical to our model. We try to keep our messaging, campaigns, brand, and imagery standard across all the regions we serve. The bar for doing something bespoke in a particular market is very, very high.
There’s one exception to this rule: Japan.
The reason we made an exception in Japan is two-fold. First, the business culture relies heavily on personal relationships and face-to-face interactions, neither of which fit our low-touch sales model. Second, we realized that while our flywheel approach was working well in countries like the UK and Germany, our business in Japan was lagging behind. We were realizing only a fraction of our potential within that massive market.
Thus, as a company that is always willing to try new things, we took a different approach. We hired an incredible leader to run our Japanese business, establish a Japanese market, and hire a Japanese team, just as I described above.
This team started with just two people but has grown to over 30, covering all aspects of our business from marketing to support. Additionally, the Japanese team is always generating new ideas and leading programs to improve our business – not just in the Japanese market, but in all international markets. More importantly, our bet paid off and the business began to grow. So well, in fact, that the Japanese market has outpaced Atlassian’s overall growth for the last five years.
Translation, localization, and internationalization
Expanding globally as a high-volume, low-touch business means looking for ways to serve as many audiences as possible with as much standardization as possible, and with as few people as possible. In other words, what can you do for each region without having a physical presence in that region?
The easiest thing (although easier said than done) is to translate your website and marketing content into all the languages you require. You might also take it one step further and localize the content to account for cultural differences like tone, currency, or units of measurement.
Translation – Converting words from one language to another.
Localization – Translation, plus the adaptation of products and/or documents to meet cultural standards of a different locale. This might include date and time formats, imagery or phrases that would be considered culturally insensitive, currency conversion, and legal requirements.
Internationalization – Developing your product and/or systems to enable localization. Think support for non-Latin typography. Or the fact that your nav bar will need to support text-wrapping to accommodate 20-letter German words (of which there are thousands). Or processing payments in multiple currencies.
How do you know which languages to include? If you’re taking a proactive approach to going global, research global IT spend by country. This is probably the best proxy for identifying the largest opportunities for your business.
Alternatively, you can look to your current website traffic and locations of new evaluators. You may spot trends in markets that aren’t immediately obvious, allowing you to accelerate existing demand. For example, in the early days of Trello, we identified a massive amount of demand in Brazil that was driven purely by word of mouth in the market. We then amplified this demand with local campaigns and events.
As for the process, things can get quite complex; Atlassian uses a combination of in-house translation experts, translation agencies, and translation technology to manage it. While it can be tempting to simply hand off the entire experience to a third-party firm, I would caution against this approach. If you want to be a global company, then you have to take translation seriously, and the best way to do that is to have dedicated, passionate people within your organization.
One last note: make sure your user interface (UI) design is localization-friendly. For example, your in-product copy may look perfect in English. But when you translate it to German, a word that was eight characters becomes 15 characters and has to wrap to the next line, throwing your whole layout out of whack. Similar issues can arise from using a different date or time format. This creates a jarring visual experience for users and unforeseen challenges for your development team. Keeping translation front and center in your design principles can help you avoid problems down the road.
And that’s the easy stuff. Everything outside of translation is orders of magnitude more difficult, but ultimately necessary if you aim to succeed on a global scale. The real challenges come in areas like payments, multiple currencies, technical support, and other aspects of truly internationalizing your product.
The ins and outs of internationalization are so specific to each product and company that it’s not worth trying to offer universal advice. Except this: as complicated as internationalization is, it’s far easier to do when you’re in blank-slate mode than to go back and retrofit later, as Atlassian knows all too well. If you remember one thing you’ve read today, remember this: bake internationalization into your products and operations early, even if feels like a waste of time and resources right now.
Think globally, recruit partners locally
I’ve written at length about the importance of “making friends” – that is, building an ecosystem of partners who can pick up where your flywheel-based business model leaves off. Namely, the high-touch aspects of sales and service. You’re going to need people with knowledge of the language and culture who can work with customers who need guidance, both before and after the sale.
It’s tempting to hire your own people to do that. But the reality is, it’s very expensive to set up an office in a new region. So is providing high-touch sales and service (even in your native country), which is why flywheel companies rely on customer self-service. Having local partners providing sales and service on your behalf can unlock massive scale while also providing a localized experience that customers will appreciate. Therefore, partnerships are a massive accelerator for your flywheel. To the 750+ Atlassian Solution Partners out there in the world, I want to say thank you for everything you do.
It’s a boost for your partners as well because instead of routing demand from international customers to your own local teams, you’re helping partners build their businesses with high-quality leads. Sure, you’ve done all the translations and built your systems to support international transactions. But there will be plenty of customers who need specialized help, at which point you hand them off to a partner. And your partners will love you for it.
To illustrate, Atlassian doesn’t have support staff fluent in every language represented within our customer base. So when we get a support ticket in Italian, one of our support engineers (who likely speaks only English) runs the request through Google Translate to get a basic understanding of what the customer needs. In some cases, they’ll reply (in English) with an answer that the customer can translate and be on their way. Or for more complicated cases, they’ll send a list of partners the customer can turn to for local-language support.
Of course, this assumes you actually have local partners in all the right countries. As with entering new markets, you’ll recruit partners both proactively and reactively. You might proactively recruit partners to help you enter high-value markets like Germany or India. But also be on the lookout for organic spikes in demand from less expected regions (like what happened with Trello in Brazil). Finding a local partner quickly will be the key to capitalizing on that opportunity.
Atlassian went global on day one because we’re an Australian company whose biggest market was (and still is) North America. Every day since, our “Don’t #@!% the customer” value reminds us to deliver the best experience possible no matter where the customer lives or what language they speak.
But the idea of “Build with heart and balance,” another company value, also plays an important role. Every dollar you invest in localization for a specific market is a dollar you’re not investing in product features that benefit your entire customer base. There have certainly been times when Atlassian’s capabilities as a global company lagged behind what customers needed from us because we were investing in other parts of our business.
That’s where the “heart” part of the equation comes in. It’s not just about calculated moves to gain more market share. It’s also about empathizing with people who dearly want to use your product. Any way you can make it easier for them will pay dividends in terms of customer loyalty and word-of-mouth buzz that fuels your flywheel – even if the only thing you can do right now involves Google Translate.
Hungry for more? Check out the other articles in this series.
Thanks to Sarah Goff-Dupont for her contributions to this piece.
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