I was recently interviewed by Beeleev, a Global Platform of Entrepreneurs for International Growth. Here is the article:
Sophie Lechner was born international. Half-French and half-Pakistani, she attended an international school before graduating in law in France and the UK. After working in France for a British Company, she moved to the USA 25 years ago to pursue an MBA and stayed to work in the pharmaceutical industry (Bayer and Pfizer), mostly in global marketing. 2010 was the year she decided to start her own consulting practice, one thing leading to another, she created the G2Experience (G squared, for Global Growth) three years ago. Being part of the beeleev community, she agreed to answer a few questions on her company, the challenges of international business development and globalization. I hope you’ll enjoy reading her testimonial!
beeleev: Hello Sophie! You have an impressive international background, but your current venture is far from the pharmaceutical industry you mostly worked for. What’s the story behind “the G2Experience”?
Sophie: When I left Bayer, I didn’t have a definite project in mind. I had worked in the same industry for a long time and I wanted a new challenge. I started consulting for a few clients and in 2012, one of them asked me to prepare an outline for the creation of a Global Executive MBA program to meet the needs of globalizing companies. It was the trigger that got me interested in better understanding what globalizing companies need. I quickly realized that an MBA was not the answer. An M.B.A. is a career development program: it’s long, it’s expensive and it’s just not going to provide the real life practical advice a business leader needs to take action immediately.
From there, I changed the concept to something that’s not an academic degree but that includes all the specific, practical information and skills that a company needs to take their operations abroad. I can’t really remember a « Eureka! » moment but this is where it all started. After that I spent more and more time testing my concept, getting feedback, tweaking it and sometime around 2014, the G2Experience was born.
beeleev: What are the services you now offer?
Sophie: We offer immersive training programs to accelerate companies’ global expansion. Most Fortune 500 companies are already doing business worldwide, but Mid-Market companies constitute a huge part of the economy and most of them are not equipped to do business abroad; and this is true not only in the US but in other countries as well. That’s the problem we address. We offer a number of training sessions and hands on guidance for Business Leaders (CEOs, Global Sales and International Business Development Managers) but the core of our offering is a week-long intensive immersion in the target market, with a lot of preparation work before the trip and customized guided activities on the ground.
beeleev: What is the scope of this program?
Sophie: There are actually 2 levels of the program, depending on whether the company is just in the exploration stages vs. if they have committed to entering the market. The first one is called Market Validation and is for companies that are in the early phase of their expansion. They have made a preliminary selection of markets they want to enter, based on their research and need to reach a decision on where to focus their efforts. Exporting or entering a new market requires a large investment in time, resources, and management focus so the pressure is on to get it right. Clearly no amount of research comes anywhere close to actually traveling to the country and seeing for yourself what it will take to break into that market.
Our Market Validation program allows the company’s decision makers to see for themselves, on the ground, whether this market is a good fit for their expansion strategy. Participants get to open their eyes to the realities of the market, shift their understanding of the potential and begin to view globalization from a whole new perspective.
"At the end of the program what we aim for is to give them the ability to make a Go/No-Go decision on actually entering that market"
The immersion week includes professional encounters, visits, transfer of knowledge, conversations with potential customers, meetings with a distributor or agent to get a sense of expectations. At the end of the program what we aim for is to give them the ability to make a Go/No-Go decision on actually entering that market, based on a solid understanding of what it is going to take to succeed. If they move forward, this experience will inform their strategy and increase their chance of success.
And if they ultimately decide not to pursue this market, we consider that a success too because they will save themselves months, in many cases years of heavy expenses, frustration and lost opportunities in other markets. So it’s a very valuable program to do, before committing all the resources that the Go-to-Market phase will require.
The other program we have is called Market Entry and is for companies that have made the decision to expand to that particular market and have already secured commitments internally, with adequate budgets and resources. The Market Entry Program is more in-depth, more hands-on, and the activities are less about gathering information and more about actually getting ready to launch. For example we set up specific meetings with potential customers to get feedback on the products and the new communication materials.
beeleev: What makes your offer so different from the services provided by the international business development agencies?
Sophie: Two things: One, it is more in depth and targeted in its content, and Two, it addresses the one key aspect of international business that sinks well over half of the international projects that are started.
To the first point, we give participants the right information at the right time and in the right way to make effective decisions. There are many organizations, public and private, that offer a multitude of programs and trainings but it’s near impossible for a business leader to decide what they actually need at any given time, especially when they suffer from the typical syndrome of “you don’t know what you don’t know!” So one key differentiator is that we curate the knowledge companies need, legal, regulatory, marketing, etc, based on their product and where they are in the process, so that what they learn is manageable and actionable.
As for the other key differentiator, one aspect of international business that is very much overlooked is the impact of cultural differences. Studies show that 50 to 70% of cross-border deals fail because of cross cultural communication issues. I call it the Silent Killer because most of the time nobody knows the cause: You have great meetings, you think the deal is as good as done and suddenly, you never hear back…sound familiar?
Chances are something was misinterpreted or some expectation was not met.
So one of the things that we offer that is really unique to our program is formal cross cultural training paired with a variety of opportunities to see those cultural differences in everyday life, and understand how they play out in business situations. Some organizations say they address cultural differences but in fact it’s usually just etiquette, « do this, don’t do that », but that’s not that useful. What really makes a difference is understanding the historical background that has led people to think and react the way they do. It helps to interpret conversations, to present your product, to negotiate effectively, but most importantly it develops a global mindset which is necessary to succeed internationally
beeleev: Are you providing your services worldwide?
Sophie: Ultimately that is my goal! But for now we are focusing on a couple of global hubs. Our business model is to bring a “curated faculty” of the best experts to the table for each group of participants based on their functional expertise, knowledge of the markets and industry, and a deep understanding of the cultural differences gained from their experience. What that means is that it requires us to have a very deep network. Right now we have a solid network of faculty in Paris, Istanbul, Panama, and of course New York, and we are currently developing Helsinki.
beeleev: I understand your presence in France, since you are half French, but how is it that you developed in Turkey and your other locations?
Sophie: Initially, it happened because one of our board members is very familiar with the Turkish market and introduced us to people there. Then, we traveled to Istanbul and developed our own network over several visits. So although it started opportunistically, it made sense because it is not only a sizable market but also a gateway to the Middle East, to North Africa, to the developing markets of Central Asia.
It was a similar process with Panama which is a perfect gateway to Latin America. It also coincided with the Panama Canal expansion that took place recently and we knew that it would cause a shift in the global maritime trade routes.
Recently, we have been working with Finland and expanding our network in the Nordic Countries. It’s a very interesting market, booming with innovation. This has actually led us to work with entrepreneurs in earlier stages, which introduces an interesting dynamic. So Helsinki will likely be our gateway to the Nordics.
After all, our tagline is The Gateway to Global Markets!
beeleev: What is your typical customer?
Sophie: A company that has already done very well in its home market and wants to benefit from the opportunities offered by global trade. They find themselves not knowing where to turn and needing some help and some orientation. It can be very overwhelming because of all the difficulties of doing business, regulations, customs, distribution etc. Those business leaders can rely on us to guide them in their market entry, save them time and money and avoid many of the mistakes that are often made and can be costly.
beeleev: What is the thinking process when contemplating Internationalization?
Sophie: Really good question, because that’s actually the basis for our marketing strategy: « Who do companies contact first when they contemplate Internationalization? ». Many go to their local Chamber of Commerce or one of the local organizations that most countries have such as a development or export promotion agency. That’s one of the reasons why we are partnering with some of those organizations in different countries, so that we are presented as an option for companies who reach out to these organizations. Some will also reach out directly to professionals in the target market, often a lawyer or a marketing agency or their consulate, so we work with them too to develop co-marketing.
beeleev: What advice would you give to a Beeleever wanting to go abroad/contemplating internationalization?
Sophie: I would say be patient and open minded. Being successful in a foreign market does not happen overnight, and however much time you plan for it, it will probably take double that. Think of it as starting a new business, which we can all relate to!! And keep an open mind, not just about cultural differences, but also about maybe pivoting to a different model or considering partnerships. And most of all, get advice from those that have gone before you and surround yourself with a solid team of partners in the market; you can’t do this alone but you sure can learn a lot, have fun and have great success!
Thank you so much Sophie for this interview. We invite Beeleevers to connect with you on beeleev.com and wish you great success for your projects!
Thank you Beeleev team!
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