24 September 2014

More growth with marketing automation

Finnish small and medium-sized businesses have been slow to take advantage of marketing automation. The seriousness of the situation will become clearer when we notice that a company's growth and profitability strongly correlate with the use of the new digital methods and tools. The technology itself is not the solution, but as a part of systematic renewal, it will help the company to stand out from its competitors. This blog will discuss the benefits and utilisation of marketing automation, especially from business-to-business (B2B) SMEs point of view.

Why marketing automation?

B2B companies, small and large ones, are facing the disruption brought by digital channels: since customers´ purchase processes more and more rely on web based information, ignoring traditional discussions with sales persons, it's much harder than before to reach them at the right time and with the right messages. In addition, customers have adopted global approach, they are looking for products and services well beyond domestic markets.
This will make room for marketing automation. It enables companies to get better visibility on what buyers really like and how they behave; thus it will be possible to boost the implementation of growth strategies, to increase sales by improving market share, to facilitate expansion to new international markets, to support the development of new products and business models or to enhance go-to-market programs and processes.

How marketing automation creates growth?

An American study found that 63% of the companies that are using marketing automation, grow faster than their competitors. Another research revealed that 79% of the top performers have utilised it for over 2 years. A study on Finnish B2B SMEs gave similar kind of results. Next chapters discuss in more detail how marketing automation supports some key growth strategy components.

Sales growth

Marketing automation increases sales, inter alia, through the following mechanisms:
  • The results of marketing campaigns can be accurately tracked and thus campaign effectiveness is better: it is possible to get more results for the same money or the same results for less money. 
  • The number and quality of customer leads grow: there will be more closed deals. 
  • Business relationships with customers will get tighter and it is possible to identify changes in customer behaviour and needs: cross-selling and upselling opportunities with existing customers can be realised. 
  • Sales and marketing cooperation intensifies: sales persons also market products and marketing persons also sell products. 
There is plenty of backing for the above. For example, a Forrester research found that B2B companies utilising marketing automation get considerably better results in their marketing campaigns and also their sales and marketing functions have much tighter cooperation.

International expansion
When expanding business into new market areas, marketing automation can ease the process, for example, in the following ways:
  • It is possible to reliably assess already in the early stages of internationalisation planning, whether potential target country customers and distribution channels are really interested in the company's products: target country prioritisation and selection can be done faster, with lower costs, and the risks with selected alternatives are smaller. 
  • Even before the business is launched, it is possible to get good insights on the needs and purchase processes of potential target country customers: necessary changes to offerings, as well as to marketing and sales channel processes can be done in a timely manner. 
To support this, a study on Finnish B2B SMEs revealed that digital marketing maturity clearly correlates with the relative size of international operations.

Support development of new products and business models

Marketing automation will bring more insights to new product and business model innovation and decrease uncertainties related to it. The corresponding mechanisms include e.g.:
  • At an early stage, it is possible to obtain customer feedback, whether there is enough demand for a planned product or business model: return on investment of the development projects is higher, because they can either be stopped in time or the changes appreciated by customers can be built in. 
  • It is possible to see at a sufficiently early stage, what customers need in order to take a product or business model into use and to then use it actively: expanding the core product with customer valued extensions, either by the company itself or with partners, will bring greater yields. 
The agile new development model has brought good results in the domain of digital services and startups and now it is rapidly spreading also to more traditional sectors.

Enhance go-to-market

Go-to-market of products or business models can be enhanced with marketing automation e.g. through the following ways:
  • By finding the right ways to generate customer attention and interest, as well as by identifying the most suitable sales channels to customers: quantitatively and qualitatively enough customer leads, which results to more closed deals. 
  • It is possible to find early enough marketing messages that resonate with customers and a positioning that stands out in the market: company products will get attention in the marketplace and the importance of price in purchase decisions will be reduced. 
  • Marketing and sales functions cooperate effectively and aim at the same goals: sales revenues can be maximised.

What companies should do?

Utilisation of marketing automation is already in full speed also in European companies. The pioneers are technology, financial services, life sciences and energy, followed by, for example, telecommunications, manufacturing and professional services. In Finland, for example, the following small and medium-sized B2B companies are leading: Basware, Vaisala, Deltek, Metos, CRF Box, Nebula, Asiakastieto, Zeeland and SSH.

The starting point for efficient exploitation of marketing automation is the definition of company strategy for the renewal and growth; in other words, from which direction, by what means and resources, the company is trying to find a new way to prosper. Overlapping with this are company personnel and development of their knowledge, skills and attitudes, as well as implementation of processes, required by the new strategy. Only then it is the time for marketing automation as the technology and the solution, which enables and glues together the strategy, the people and their competences, and the processes.

When selecting a solution, the key is the vendor's ability to support the company's business; the key parameters include, for example, solution features, customer segments that a vendor is targeting, possible industry focus and pricing models. All these are compared in a review, which also lists Finnish company references that the key marketing automation vendors have.

15 September 2014

Where to find assistance for Finnish SME internationalisation?

Many Finnish SMEs have a good market position in their existing markets and the customers appreciate their products, but these companies are still reluctant to go international. The reasons are many. It may be missing courage, not understanding the opportunities and requirements of new markets, not having the necessary expertise in-house or missing funding or resources. There are, however, means to overcome all these obstacles. A company is not alone, when figuring out the challenges of internationalisation - there are a number of sources available that can give advice and assistance.

Internationalisation assistance needed?

Systematic internationalisation can be divided into four phases, each of which requires different skill sets:
  • Strategy: Why and in what way internationalisation serves company growth and other objectives
  • Direction and capabilities: Requirements and prioritisation of target markets, as well as identification and development of required own competences
  • Research and plans: Deeper investigation of target markets, creation of market entry plans
  • Implementation of market entry: Starting and developing operations in selected new markets
In most cases, the steps are not taken in a serial manner, i.e. it is often necessary to return to the previous steps and iterate on the basis of the latest findings. It is therefore important that an internationally expanding company itself stays at the rider's bench whole time - enabled either through permanent staff or a temporary help closely integrated with the company's objectives.

Digitalisation has brought an enormous amount of different kinds of information within reach of a company going international, but here we focus on four sources that can provide advice and help for the Finnish SME:
  • Finnish public sector agencies
  • Internationalisation consultants
  • Target country public agencies
  • Target country local consultants
The role of the advisers at the various stages of the company internationalisation is assessed in the table below: the more pluses the cell house, the bigger the typical contribution in internationalisation activities. The estimate is based on the needs of the Finnish SME, but also startups and major companies can at least partially use this reasoning. This paper does not focus on the importance of external finance as an important potential enabler of internationalisation. Therefore, public sector financial aid for internationalisation is not reflected in the assessments of the table.

Finnish public sector internationalisation agencies

Internationalisation services of the Finnish public sector are centralised under Team Finland brand. A company can get help by contacting a regional contact person in Finland or a Team Finland coordinator in a target country. The network consists of 73 teams around the world and of 15 local teams in Finland. Individual services are produced by different units working for internationalisation, such as Finpro, Tekes, Finnvera, Finnfund, Finnpartnership, cultural and scientific institutes, MEK, ELY centres, the Finnish-Russian Chamber of Commerce and the Finnish-Swedish Chamber of Commerce. Services include, inter alia:
  • Business idea coaching: Finpro offers companies expertise in international business and its challenges. Service provides feedback on company's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, as well as support for internationalisation issues. Free Of Charge.
  • Internationalisation test: With Yritys-Suomi service of TEM, a company can assess and analyse its internationalisation capabilities. Free Of Charge.
  • Business opportunities:  Concrete business opportunities throughout the world identified by the experts of Finpro. Free Of Charge.
  • Team Finland Future Watch:  Reports on changes in the international markets, brought by Tekes. Free Of Charge.
  • Networking with business and public actors: Finpro will advise how to obtain information about target markets and helps to network with public target market actors and Finnish companies already present in these markets. Free Of Charge.
  • Export trade financing expertise: The objective of the Finnvera programme is to improve financing competences required by export activities. A basic programme is Free of Charge, Charges Are Applicable for extra sessions arranged by Finnvera training partners.
  • Shipping handbookFinPro's document, contains information from 190 countries on free trade agreements, import restrictions, required documentation and legalisation of documents, special certificates, product packaging and labelling, provisions laying down special conditions governing sending of samples as well as other goods. Charges Are Applicable.
  • Advice to enter Russian market: Finnish-Russian Chamber of Commerce provides useful advice and concrete assistance to Russian business operations, at all stages of the planning. Charges Are Applicable.
  • Advice to enter Swedish market: Finnish-Swedish Chamber of Commerce can advise on all matters relating operating in the Swedish markets, as well as consult companies to start exporting to Sweden. Advice is Free Of Charge, in consulting Charges Are Applicable.
  • Advice to enter developing countries for the purpose of projects: Finnpartnership advices on issues related to developing country business activities. Free Of Charge.

Many cities and regions also provide internationalisation services. For instance, EnterpriseHelsinki is active in Helsinki and BusinessOulu in Oulu. Organisation for regional development organisation in Finland, SEKES, has a listing of regional players on its website.

These services are able to provide the basic knowledge both for planning internationalisation strategy and for analysing own capabilities, as well as for acquiring basic information on potential new markets. And because the services are, as a rule, free, they should also be used. On the other hand, public sector services provide little help for deeper, company-specific internationalisation activities, such as building a detailed strategy, closing the competence gaps or getting a deep understanding of new market opportunities. This is, of course, caused by the fact that the services provided are largely productised and generic, thus leaving very little time and resources for extensive company-specific assistance.

In addition, the contributions provided by network experts vary in quality and quantity, depending on personal skills, experience and service attitude. For example, I have sometimes been able to make experts of the network as an integral and high value-adding part of the team, sometimes their help equalled results that half an hour of Internet browsing would have given.

Internationalisation consultants

In the name of internationalisation consulting, a variety of services are offered: training, compiling of reports for international organisations, research of new markets, starting operations in new market areas, opening up sales channels to certain customer segments, marketing communications, strategy work, etc. Both small and big domestic players as well as international companies with their Finnish offices are present.

According to my experience, the big threat for SME is that a consultant focuses the project on his own areas of strength, not on the ones that would be the most important and useful for the paying company right now. It is, for example, dangerous to let consultant´s considerable target market experience lead to deep market studies, when internationalisation strategy and sufficiency of own competences are still in the making.

Another important consideration is that many times an SME business needs only one versatile and seasoned professional, not a bunch of constantly-changing consultants with very narrow areas of expertise. This ensures that the consultant is a solid part of hiring company operations and the company can really lead the process of internationalisation. Certain nuances, related to the organisation of work, are then manageable: for example, whether it is about consultancy or interim management cooperation, or whether it is the consultant working hands-on in the project or primarily transferring his know how to company employees.

The role of consultants is the largest in the creation of internationalisation strategy, in setting direction and in defining required capabilities, see the table above. Depending on the consultant's background, he can be - in parallel with local contributors - also an important factor in the thorough target market investigation and actual market entry.

Target country public agencies

Almost all countries have the desire to attract foreign companies to invest in the country. To this end, public sector all over the world have been busily setting up specialised agencies for this. In Finland, Invest in Finland is the name of the active public player, and the world association of agencies, Waipa, has produced a good listing of its counterparts in other countries.

The agencies that are assisting market entering companies can usually provide useful information about the target country, its market and competitive situation, market entry alternatives and setting up operations in the country. For example, GTAI, German Trade and Invest, offers mainly free services in the following areas:
  • Information about Germany, its economy and business life
  • Industry information, including market situation and news about recent developments
  • Consulting services to create market entry strategies, to make evaluations in the country and to establish operations
  • Guidance on the different market entry questions
An internationalising company should definitely check out, how target country public actors are able to assist. For the assessment and prioritisation of target markets, it is possible to get - and in most cases free of charge - important building blocks. Also, good advice on setting up local offices can be obtained. Depending on the country, more customised free advisory services may be available, in which case tailored information, contacts and services can be acquired. It should be noted, however, that willingness of agencies to help depends besides the abilities of individual experts also on the objectives of the market entering company. A big business always gets more personalised service, and planned product development or manufacturing activities always get a warmer reception than mere sales office ones.

Target country local consultants

When it's time to explore your potential target markets in greater depth, to set up a business in a new market or to expand an existing one, local consultants are often utilised. Local specialists, however, are not enough to get the business up and flying; the hiring company must ensure that the basis of internationalisation, including the role of international operations in the company´s growth strategy, initial prioritisation of target countries and trimming of the company for internationalisation, is solidly in place.

The scope of consultants´ work can vary, some examples given below:
  • Market research and competitor analysis
  • Establishment of a local company
  • Identification of potential clients and creation of contacts with them
  • Search of distribution channels and partners
  • Financial, legal or environmental issues, marketing or HR 
In most countries, you will find plenty of willing local companies to assist in market entry, see, e.g. an extensive overview of various Market entry consultants in European countries, with detailed information about the contacts, served markets, services offered and industry focus. The Association of Finnish Entrepreneurs, Suomen Yrittäjät, has also an international network with Finnish-speaking contacts.

Probably the biggest pitfall for Finnish SMEs is the correct identification of local aid. For example, when I was once looking for a local consultant to tighten cooperation with potential customers, the selected person turned out to be the best in finding a suitable office space and in helping us to manoeuvre through local bureaucracies.