How to succeed in the US: Be a disruptor, not disrupted
Martin McCourt is an investor, non-executive director and mentor who’s successfully spearheaded stellar US expansion for Dyson as well as other International businesses. He says that faint-hearted companies should probably consider staying in their home market, but for the brave ones making moves on the world’s largest consumer market, get to ready to disrupt the big guns.
You’ve got to be absolutely certain that you want to enter the US market. If you are, approach it with a really strong and clear plan, and make sure you finance it properly. Then give it everything you’ve got.
If you believe you have a service, product or technology that has real relevance for the American market and you believe that you can achieve success there, then you shouldn’t defer your plans because something out of your control in happening elsewhere. There will always be a reason or two why now is not a good time. I am a great believer in ‘he who hesitates is lost’. I’d also say to businesses, particularly those based in Europe, that America is not for the faint-hearted and achieving success there is far from being a walk in the park.
Define your upfront risk appetite
People ask me how much risk you ought to take when you expand into the US. How the heck do you crack that market without taking any risk? It is likely to need upfront financial investment and working capital for inventory and the like.
You can moderate the risk. Boards have to figure out the scale of risk and whether they prepared to take it whole-heartedly. If they’re not, perhaps they should consider expanding somewhere else.
Perfect timing is vital
Americans use that wonderful expression: ‘You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.’ If you get it wrong, especially with a consumer product, it can be very damaging. If you’re supplying one of the very large US retailers, for example, and you get it wrong the first time, but you go back to them five years later for a second chance, it’s going to be very hard to convince them. Going with haste could be a good way to lose your shirt.
However, boards also have to be careful when considering the launch of a service product, especially if it’s a web-based platform, and if they drag their heels for too long someone else may well take up the space before they get there.
Expand with conviction and commitment
When we were setting up Dyson America in 2001 and the company was still a scale-up, there was no greater growth opportunity than success in the US. So I shifted my CEO office from Malmesbury to Chicago.
The best way to get a market going for a breakthrough product – one that’s technically different and better and where you’re absolutely nailing your competitors to the cross – is to use people – complete disciples – who live, breathe and deeply understand your product.
I was 100 percent convinced that the technology would be attractive to US consumers, based on our experiences in other markets. I knew it would work but didn’t know it would become brand leader within in three years.
Create the strongest leadership for US expansion
You should know what your business stands for and the persona you want to project to your various audiences. And if you have a DNA approach to your business and you want to instil that culturally into the emerging structure that you’re creating, then it’s very important that someone who lives and breathes that is leading the way. It’s all about leadership – creating that culture and belief.
By the time we had made a successful fist of growing Dyson in the US and we had more resources, I had an international managing director in my team at the time and I gave him all 55 businesses around the world except for one. I kept America because it was the jewel in the crown. Although my colleagues could have managed it, the US absolutely justified my CEO attention.
Great sales and marketing strategies in the US
Today companies that are contemplating breaking into America have a lot more resources at hand than I had because they have the whole digital world at their fingertips. Remember that the conventional methods, such as big media campaigns, can be costly.
There are five clear steps companies should consider for a B2C product launch:
Who am I and who do I want to be?
What position am I going to take in this market?
Why are sales going to shift from competitors to me? In the process of analysing that realistically and honestly, if you conclude that you’re just as good as everyone else and don’t have anything extra to offer, then that’s a very dangerous place to be and you may end up competing on price.
Where should I be distributing the product?
Where should I be pricing the product? This is really key as pricing is likely to go down over time and not up. Think about taking a premium position so that you set the expectation among retailers and consumers from the word go.
Be a disruptor, not disrupted
I ask companies to tell me where their sales will come from and they usually say it’ll be from their competitors. So I ask them to itemise the amount of sales they’ll win from each customer. They agree that a measure of their success is how effectively they steal share from their competitors.
I then ask them how their competitors are likely to react to their sales being taken away from them. You would be eating the US competitors’ lunch and they are not going to be happy about that, to say the least.
“If you create impact and you’re getting traction in your chosen market you must expect a strong reaction. Your competitors will leave you alone if you are not hurting them.”
In a market like America, companies can go from totally calm to outright hostile in the blink of an eye. So if you’re an upstart company entering the big, beasty US market and you kick a giant where it hurts and grab their market share, they will react very strongly. You need the right mindset in place right across the company to be prepared for when the competitor guns are turned on you.
Disrupt, and when you do, be ready to get a reaction and be prepared to capitalise on it. Consumer sympathy will always flow to the underdog and that could be you. If the little guy is facing a tough reaction from an incumbent behemoth, all that little guy has to do is figure out how to turn that adversity into opportunity. Easy to say, I know, but worth it.