Learning how to operate for worldwide success is about much more than simply understanding another language, using the right terminology, or even having in-market teams around the world. Being truly global is about seizing the opportunity to compete and win on an international basis.
Successful globalization includes working with champions to advocate for globalization on behalf of your global customers. At NetApp, our champions help us align our goals and roadmaps to department needs, all while supporting globalization across the organization to make sure that programs, projects and ideas are accepted across countries. We call this “geo alignment”.
Geo alignment is a concept I came up with while working in a corporate setting and leading a centralized team of globalizers. Maybe someone else had used the term before, but I embedded geo alignment into our enterprise, using the concept to discuss a gap I had detected around the lack of collaboration between headquartered teams and the local offices.
I saw too many parties not talking to each other or even trying to understand what will make a product successful in a particular country.
Headquarters cannot and should not work alone
It is not uncommon for companies to push products internationally, without having crossed-checked and prepared a good geo alignment strategy. Going global requires tight alignment between all headquarters (domestically and internationally) in order to successfully enter a specific country or key account.
This common mistake assumes that most key corporate or enterprise offerings are cooked and created by folks at headquarters. They are responsible to take a program international. But how often are these programs created in a vacuum, involving only a few folks behind closed doors?
My observation was that in more than 75% of cases where these programs had received zero or very little input from the field in its design phases, they failed.
They were often launched late, were not taken seriously, were rewritten, rebuilt, repositioned, or ignored if there was not a very clear mandate to fully support the programs up upfront.
Corporate headquarters are usually the setting and offices where the CEO sits, taking the overall responsibility for the success of the company. It is considered a business’ most prestigious location and where most major decisions are made. Geo headquarters are usually also the setting that governs a full geography or cluster of countries. You might have a corporate headquarters out of Houston, Texas, in the United States, and the geo headquarters out of London governing Europe. You may find Singapore as the Headquarters for Asia, Mexico as headquarters for South America, and so on. All headquarters typically have the same goals towards a set of products and company revenue targets imposed by the CEO.
Working together for a fully-integrated product launch
If you create an incredible product out of your headquarters in Barcelona, you will most likely have a sales plan to export your product to Spain, to France, or Italy, and other regions of the world. For your product to be successful you need carefully orchestrated plans ahead of time to export, place, enter, promote and reach the ultimate customer in each market in a manner that will stick, be supported, and see steady growth.
Geo Alignment means that all parties in the creation and final push of a program into market are in synch, including all the leads in the field that need to run these programs locally. In this scenario, there is full upfront disclosure and buy in from the teams who will actually have to sell and push this product in front of customers. Timelines are set, product is global ready, marketing plans are developed, sales plans are in place, and support plans are ready to go.
I presented this idea to my executives after seeing how headquartered teams kept pitching fully fletched completed ideas to the field offices without collaboration. The pitcher pitched, and the catcher couldn’t keep up, nor had any visibility into what was coming towards them. It was my observation that a large percentage of programs created by headquartered teams would never launch successfully once they landed locally in the markets. The markets couldn’t keep up or these programs would compete with local ideas.
Creating a program that will succeed internationally is complex, but doable with a geo alignment program. Typically, countries receive a number of programs they are supposed to support and push through, and a geo alignment team will organize and manage this across borders.
Geo Aligners are people who have lived in a few countries, speak different languages, can empathize with a country set up and a headquarter set up and bridge the in-between processes.
They are often diplomats, well spoken, clear in conversation, meticulous in scheduling, and making sure no one is left behind.
Your geo alignment checklist
If your product is not selling well internationally, you need to figure out why. A process like geo alignment will help decipher where the key issues are. It might be a licensing or pricing issue, localization issue, lack of advertising budget, or maybe the support center is not open enough hours.
Sample checklist for proper geo alignment should think through the below:
- Mapped programs that will need to go global, when, and where
- Well prepared calls with just the right number of participants
- Disclosure of plans, and timing of a significant program
- Clear expectations of KPIs
- Have the field offices disclose back to the HQ their marketing, launch and support plans
- Agree on assets or bills of materials needed for launch and post launch activity with localization plans and budget assigned
- Agree on training to make program successful at any pathway level (for sales, marketing, engineering, support, etc.)
- Executive visits for launch time and Executive Business Center presentations
- Create a sustainable roadmap for this program, product or launch: when it will be obsolete, combined into another program or need to be upgraded
- What is the support model? Licensing model, OEM models, etc.
This effort requires the coordination of an orchestra, and the geo aligner is at the helm.
They are experts in going global and seeing local success with detail.
Geo Aligners are well respected and are typically very senior roles, who understand the company’s vision well, understand quarterly and yearly plans, and are excellent mediators. Often, they set up a cadence of geo alignment calls to get organized and know who oversees all the pieces. They learn the programs to launch and carry the success all the way to launch day. They will have a methodical way of going through all the pieces for both sides, the HQ and the field. They will identify who to team up with and will think for the business with each of these local leads.
Making sure a product sticks internationally requires parallel and long-term activities, planning it all correctly with a goal in mind will ensure success. A team organizing all the pieces will help speed up international acceptance and introduction for mass market.
Have you tried a version of geo alignment at your organization? Share your experiences in the comments!