Lindsay Willott, CEO, Customer Thermometer discusses the market opportunities in America and how to build a successful business.
For every ‘breaking America’ success story, like Adele and One Direction, there is a host of talent that hasn’t been quite so lucky – and this couldn’t be truer than in the world of business. Tempted by the ‘land of opportunity’ and huge lucrative market opportunities, there is an endless list of UK companies that have tried but then ultimately failed, including the likes of business giants Tesco’s, Marks and Spencer’s and Dixons. If players with these resources, scale and expertise can't make it, what hope is there for everyone else?
It’s important to do this reality check and understand that it isn’t going to be easy breaking into such a large and highly competitive market. If your business strategy is ‘export to the US’ then you must rethink. It’s not just a case of having a product or service that you think would go down well in the American market. The journey will much more complex than you expect.
In reality ‘breaking the US’ is more likely to be achieved by a gradual process of entering and then continually adapting to the market and your buyers. That has certainly been the case with us – and North America is now our biggest market. We started our software company on the understanding that we needed to make it easy for customers to order our product and service from our website, no matter where they were located and what time of day it was. We were thinking initially about our local UK market, but we wanted to make sure that when we shifted our focus to global that we had the functionality and ability for them to buy it/subscribe to our service online.
Surprisingly it happened much quicker than we expected. Our 3rd ever customer of our (now) 1500 was a North American buyer. Having nailed ‘making it easy to buy’ we then had to consider support. Many businesses succeed virtually, so it was never part of our plan to have an international office, but we did know that our online presence and support needed to be second to none. Customer service is the US is absolutely fundamental – so we knew ours had to provide US customers with the value add that would enable accounts to grow and then for recommendations to be made.
We wanted to create an experience that US customers especially would remember. Then out of the blue, an email came through from a US customer suggesting our customer service agents named themselves ‘magicians’, because they had given her such great service. It was a seedling of something great and before long the idea had exploded. By 2016 we’d created the Ministry of Magic (our customer service department) with everyone working within it being a Magician.
The team has done fantastic work in transforming the customer service experience and journey. It also taught us a valuable lesson about being proud of our Britishness. Our American clients love the Harry Potter connation and the quirky British humour. You can be proud of that and use it as a tool to succeed.
As our US customer base scaled we also made the strategic decision to charge for our service in dollars. This has obviously been great for our current and future customers based in America as it makes it easier for them, but it isn’t a decision to be taken lightly. Talk to your accountants first as there are ongoing currency fluctuations you need to account for.
Another tactic to ‘break America’ is to leverage any contracts you have with international companies in the UK. Whenever we start working with a big company we suggest trialling the service in other markets – it is a great way to expand your international footprint.
Once you are established another growth tactic you may want to consider is to recruit some local partners that can help sell and deliver your service. They may take a cut but can prove invaluable as they will have a much bigger network and can help advise on the cultural nuances. We may speak the same language but these companies have great insight on what terminology works well for potential customers in America.
Ultimately for your product to succeed in America it might be right for the market. Our product makes it easy for businesses to continually measure customer satisfaction. Given how important the service culture is in America, we perhaps shouldn’t have been surprised by the demand. But there is a world of difference between acquiring some customers, and then keeping and growing those accounts, whilst adding many more. I truly attribute our success to the support we provide – a happy customer will recommend you. When you complement this with partnerships and local currency, breaking America doesn’t have to just be a pipedream.