It’s not the carpet, it’s the value proposition…

Successful entrepreneurs spend their scarce time developing a value proposition for their business, and are not mesmerized by the administrative side of bringing their business to the US.

The quagmire of administrative questions has bogged down numerous entrepreneurs with its lure of choosing: the nicest office building, the best CPA, the fastest internet connection and cheapest phone provider. Selecting the new phone system, printer and copier or even the first receptionist will not improve the odds of your business start in the US.

Instead you should spend your precious time finding out about your (potential) customers and their needs. Who are they, where are they, what do they buy today and why? What do they need that you can offer?

American businesses and consumers alike are very much into asking ’what’s in it for me?’ Why should I buy from you and not from my current vendor?

Have a crystal clear answer to that question, and do not get stuck with just thinking in product or service terms. Think total solution package (sales, customer support, technical support, price, marketing, supply chain,…) through the eyes of  the customer.

A sharp definition of what your business’s value proposition actually is, will set you not only apart from competition but on the right path towards US business success.

Then you will have plenty of time to select the carpet…

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Is it a client or a customer…it is a ‘clustomer’!

A while ago I entered into a debate on the difference between a ‘customer’, a ‘client’ and a ‘consumer’… Was my debate partner selling to ‘clients’ or rather to ‘customers’?

Very quickly we agreed what a consumer was: the person at the end of the supply chain who actually consumed the product or the service…

It got a little trickier to define the difference between a client and a customer…

Webster says: ‘a client is a person who engages the professional advice or services of another’ and in the same breath confirms that ‘a customer is one that purchases a commodity or service’.

Well, that did not really help because my debate partner was actually selling marketing services to a niche market. It got even more confusing considering the fact – although they too offer a service – that doctors, dentists or psychiatrists do not have clients. They have patients. We quickly agreed that calling his clients/customers patients did not seem a good business idea.

We then decided to look at it from the perspective of the client/customer – would they have different expectations? Both buy a solution to their need and will become loyal if it fulfills or exceeds their expectations.

Again, this did not provide a differentiation, because both clients and customers tend to come back for more if they are happy. Although this is also dictated by the laws of offer and demand, because I cannot imagine Oliver Twist, whilst exclaiming ‘Please, sir, could I have some more…’ considered the food to exceed his expectations.

But we are digressing.

Clients, customers, consumers and patients alike will come back for more if you provide the right solution to their needs. So, have regular conversations with your clients, customers or consumers because their needs change, and find out how you are doing…

PS – we settled on calling my debate partner’s client/customers from now on ‘clustomers’. And he is still my client.

location…location…location…act 2

In this two-part article we are discussing the fact that many entrepreneurs do not use a logical process to decide where to locate their new business when arriving in the USA.

In the first act we looked at the importance of: time zones, customers and competition, vendors and transport, incentives and support, and the quality of employees.

Let’s move on to act 2 and discuss the second set of 5 elements in play…

6.    Cost of living

Can be very different from area to area, a nice suburb in a metro area with great schools will be much higher than a location 100 miles out in the country side. New York is on average double of Atlanta and Miami alike – play around with different calculators:

–       http://money.cnn.com/calculator/pf/cost-of-living/

–       http://www.bestplaces.net/col/

7.    Legislation

Employment laws and the impact of unions differ greatly from the North to the South. Many southern states have so-called ‘at will employment’ laws enabling employers to adjust their workforce quickly to new opportunities or an economic contraction.

8.    Climate

The North has winters with truly disruptive snow and ice, if road transport is important to you, it might not be the right location. Florida sees the odd hurricane that can actually close down an entire state, and the South can be very hot and humid in the summer… take your pick with a clear mind.

US climate

–       http://www.usclimatedata.com/

9.    Connectivity

Doing business in the US means flying. How easy is it to get to the airport? How often are flights delayed? How many direct flights to most (all) of your destinations are available from your airport of choice?

How is the commute to and from work – map it out for your team.

–       http://www.aci-na.org/content/airport-traffic-reports

10. Family – schools – education

As it is your decision where to settle, it is your responsibility to think through the impact of the relocation, for you and many more after you. It has been abundantly shown that if the other half of the couple is not happy with the relocation choice – be it employment, the schools, shopping, entertainment, sport, culture, neighborhood, friends, … it will become the venture’s highest hurdle.

Most importantly, know how to weigh, balance and interpret all these elements in play. Do not hesitate to define the unique mix that is important to your venture’s success. Developing a ‘weighted criteria decision matrix’ comparing all the options can be a very helpful tool to remain objective.

Also – do not underestimate the power of the southeast – read Phil’s latest article:

https://doing-business-in-usa.com/category/phils-posts

location…location…location

That’s what a realtor will tell you when buying a home – it is not the house and its features but the location of your favorite piece of real estate that will determine its value.

Heeding this logic where should a new business in the US be located?

There are 3.8 million square miles (9.8m km2) to choose from…

Over the years COGNEGY has spoken and worked with many entrepreneurs who are faced with the very specific question where to start their new business. Surprisingly enough many of them do not pursue a rational process to reach such a decision. This article does not have the intention to promote either the ‘Big Apple’, ‘Big Peach’ or ‘Magic City’ – in fact we serve all three metro areas – but to provide a number of thought provokers leading to a well-founded business decision.

The East Coast offers many great choices, the question is: which one is right for you?

1. Time zones

Stay on the East Coast – a six-hour time difference is big a challenge enough. If the office closes at 5:00pm in Europe and the US starts at 8:30am – you only have 2.5 hours overlap. Move two time zones to the West and there is a mere 30 minutes left.

2. Customers and competition

This is the real question…where are your current customers and where are your prospects hiding. Also consider where your competition is located – you will want to hire (industry savvy) people without relocating them all across the US. It will be difficult to attract great employees if you are out there all on your own.

3. Vendors – transport

Where are your vendors based – having them drive out of their way to deliver your materials, components or supplies will drive up your costs unnecessarily. Also industry players tend to congregate in one geography, allowing negotiation for  better prices.

4. Incentives and support

Once decided on the larger geographical area it is time to talk to state representatives, county officials and local chambers alike and invite them to be creative with their entire incentive program to attract your business. Their enthusiasm will be directly proportional to the number of employees you plan to hire.

5. Quality of employees

Select a metro area if you want to attract the right caliber of executive and team. Not only for the quality of the schools for their kids, but also the quality of life. Blue-collar labor might be cheaper further away from a metro area, but you will struggle to find and retain the right caliber of management. The optimal solution will depend on your business. Do not hide out in the sticks.

We will look at 5 more elements in my next post. In the mean time, choose wisely, as the world famous Yogi Berra once said: “When you come to a fork in the road… Take it”.

Fill in the blank …

I want to share with you a reply email I just sent to a European company who are looking at an opportunity on the USA market…

Fill in the <blank> for your product/service/solution and see if it also applies to you…

In this client’s case, having established that the market opportunity really exists, I observed that <blank>’s market is fast growing and therefore very attractive to many other players. In turn creating an environment prone to increased competitive pressure. Sounds familiar?

The <blank> opportunity

As a starting point, let us assume that the product/service/solution is competitive in its features, advantages and user benefits… Realize this (only) provides <blank> access to the market as a player, to become successful <blank> will first have to answer two key questions…

What is <blank>’s VALUE PROPOSITION

It is crucially important for <blank> to identify its differentiators versus its competitors

  • What makes <blank> a better total solution
  • Do not only think product or service – think solution package (sales, customer support, technical support, price, marketing, supply chain,…) through the eyes of  the customer

How does <blank> ACCESS the MARKET

  • What are the market segments with the highest return (depending on the company goal this can be profit, market share, volume, revenue, …)
  • Who are we talking to – who is asking, who is buying, who is paying, who is deciding, who is setting the selection criteria, …
  • What structure needs to be developed to access these markets, what channels are needed – an importer, a distributor, a fully owned structure, …

Formulate the answers to these two questions in a crystal clear manner and will know where to aim and how to get there.

Remember, there is no point worrying about execution (sales collateral, supply chain solutions, marketing, price, promotion, websites, import regulations,…) before these have been answered.

Do not draw a blank – come prepared!

What are you waiting for…?

BELGIUM IS LEADING DIRECT FOREIGN INVESTMENT INTO THE US.

Data released on March 14, 2012 by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis shows that in 2011 Belgium was the leading foreign direct investor into the United States. 

Foreign direct investment in the United States (FDIUS) measures the equity capital flows, reinvested earnings and intercompany debt flows between US affiliates and their parents abroad. In order words it is a measure for the ‘business activity’.

The key findings of the published document on FDIUS are:

  • Total investment in 2011 reached $227.9 billion which is only a small 4% decrease over the previous year
  • Belgium is the leading foreign investor with $43.8 billion (19.2%) followed by Switzerland ($29.2b) and Luxembourg ($19.4b)
  • Other leading countries were Japan, Canada, the Netherlands and Germany

It is remarkable that countries such as the UK, France, India, Brazil and China are absent from the top 10 list. The report also shows that Europe remains the most important region to invest into the US representing 65% of total investments.

The question is what have they seen that you have not?

The United States economy continues to pick up and various economic indicators are illustrating this steady – however slightly bumpy – ride north.

It enjoys a business success culture that puts up few hurdles to start a business, providing access to a huge homogeneous market with 312 million consumers who have a healthy appetite for things better and new.

What are you waiting for – it’s only one feasibility study away.

 ________________

All data used in this article are based on the ‘Foreign Direct Investment in the United States’ document released on March 14, 2012 by the Organization for International Investment. Data are preliminary and subject to revision.

 

To skimp or not to skimp…

Many European companies enter the US domestic market on a shoestring budget, making them look anemic and quickly out of (budget) breath.

This is the wrong time to skimp. Prospective clients in their decision process to replace established domestic competition compare all your touch points with the reigning players in the market. Touch points are products, people, proposed pricing, marketing collateral (think print, website, brochures) etc… that should send the same consistent quality message.

In most cases the ‘budgeteers’ (those who have ‘zero’ responsibility over the Business Development effort and who are there to ‘protect’ the company) score easy points in two areas: marketing costs and people costs.

Marketing & Sales budget for a continent

Very often when a (too) quick return needs to be shown, ‘budgeteers’ skimp on the Marketing and Sales budgets. These are very easily cut, and unrealistic token budgets are left behind in the plan as sore reminders. Sales and Marketing budgets are treated as an expense/cost not as an investment to open a huge market.

To avoid the ‘inbound investment hangover’ one should earmark enough budget to be able to run a smart strategy at your laser targeted (by the market entry strategy) market segments. You will be unable to outspend established competition, but there are no rules against outsmarting them!

Budgets to hire the right people

European companies can struggle with the compensation requirements of high quality domestic players. We have heard the remark too often: “I cannot hire someone who makes that much (more) money (than I do)”. Most likely this indicates that the US project is not handled at the right executive level, it has become an operational effort and the manager responsible makes the wrong hiring choices. Opening a new market, building new business, displacing entrenched competition is hard, it is very hard and it should only be entrusted to the best candidates available.

So, in conclusion…Firstly, identify the right partners to help you budget realistically and spend specifically; and secondly, budget to invest – because it will take longer than you think/plan.