Building a Successful International Sales Team From the Ground Up

When I first started working in Dublin, Ireland at age 26, I was too optimistic and had underestimated the work required to be successful in an international sales team.

I was the Vice President of International Sales and Managing Director for a company called Wrike. I had been tasked with building out our new European, Middle Eastern, African team (later Melbourne in Australia; Tokyo in Japan; Kyiv Ukraine).

This opportunity has given me a lot of experience and training which I have been able to apply in my other jobs.

If you’re thinking about launching an internation sales team outside of the US or your HQ country, I hope that my mistakes will help you not have to make them.

Let’s dive in.


Need Help Automating Your Sales Prospecting Process?

LeadFuze gives you all the data you need to find ideal leads, including full contact information.

Go through a variety of filters to zero in on the leads you want to reach. This is crazy specific, but you could find all the people that match the following: 

  • A company in the Financial Services or Banking industry
  • Who have more than 10 employees
  • That spend money on Adwords
  • Who use Hubspot
  • Who currently have job openings for marketing help
  • With the role of HR Manager
  • That has only been in this role for less than 1 year
Just to give you an idea. 😀

Building Your International Sales Team

When you’re starting an international sales team, the key is to have a strong landing team. It doesn’t matter how big your company is; think of yourself as a startup and be prepared to wear many hats.

When I first started my company, we had a small team that was already prepared to welcome new employees.

I had a well-versed recruiter who already knew the Dublin tech scene; we landed and signed 3 candidates, plus there were other colleagues from 2 countries ready to make the move.

This was our landing team.

Everyone in our international sales team is experienced and knowledgeable about the industry.

Pick the correct candidates

We took all of our hires very seriously. The success or failure of the company would depend largely on this initial hire.

The first thing we did was define the roles that were open. Once they were defined, then it was just a matter of finding people who fit our profile.

Defining roles

We looked at our website traffic and existing accounts to determine which roles we should hire first.

We looked for an early adoption of our technology, then we analyzed where that was happening in relation to the regions available.

The regions and languages with the most potential for growth were those that we researched first. We knew they would be a good place to start our business.

We took this information and used it to make the initial hiring decisions.

Defining the candidate profile

Now, in addition to the usual requirements for these positions, we divided candidates into two categories: missionaries and mercenaries. Missionaries are driven by company team missions while mercs are motivated by sales.

Although money is not the primary motivation for missionaries, they may still want to work for you. Similarly, although it isn’t their main goal in working with your company, mercenaries will also enjoy a paycheck.

We specifically sought out missionaries to join our internation sales team.

Wrike wasn’t a new company, but our EMEA team was brand new and trying to expand into an unknown market. We needed people who were committed to the journey and success of the whole group.

The Takeaway

While the founding international sales team isn’t just another sales team, it’s important to take time with your hiring process. You want people who are going to be a good fit for you and each other.

Hiring the first few salespeople will determine how you approach each region, what your success is like and also shape new office culture.

It’s important to make sure your new international sales team has a company culture that works for them. You can’t force an old, outdated company culture onto the new international sales team.

When hiring a new person, consider their cultural fit. We wanted to build something that felt like Wrike but was authentically Dublin.

Year 1 Focus

Your first year in a new region is about laying the groundwork and answering two fundamental questions. You likely won’t be making many sales, but that doesn’t matter.

How are we selling and where is the company located?

Where?

I had loosely identified which countries were a priority before I started, but after that it was just about dividing Europe into regions.

I only had a few reps and 2 CSMs, so I clustered countries together to do the best job I could.

After meeting with Dublin sales leaders and doing some research, we picked our geographies.

In some cases, we assigned reps to just one region. In others – regions considered “B” or “C” markets – we bundled them together so that the right amount of energy was invested in all areas.

When I first started building my company, organizing by region and target market helped us to be ready for when the markets matured.

For example, when we launched in France and Italy alone, they didn’t have enough of a market to justify the cost. But once we bundled them and their combined TAM with ours and our existing customer base was large enough.

We used to have a system where leads were tracked by country, but now we track them all collectively. This is so that they are easier to break out into different teams once the market has matured.

How?

You need to know the best way to sell in each region.

Companies often do this when they don’t take into account the international buyer’s perspective.

It’s not like that would really be a success, right? I’m being sarcastic.

When I first started, my mistake was to not focus on diversity.

I did not deviate from our successful US approach, and I left it up to the team.

My international sales team quickly pointed out that my idea wasn’t working. It had been based on the US way of doing things, but they are different in other countries.

I learned that data can be really helpful when it comes to diversity in the workplace.

Let me give you some examples:

In Germany, if the purchase of technology was over a certain amount and had an impact on employees’ work (like ours did), that decision could only be made monthly by Workers Council.

This council approval process, which we weren’t expecting, threw our pipeline into disarray and screwed up our forecast. It also stalled the urgency of some deals because we weren’t prepared for it.

What did we change?

When we discussed this with prospects, it was always early and often. We would game plan the meeting together and practice for them.

When we translated the sign up page into French, it didn’t have the same meaning as before.

We had not done enough research on our translations. This was a big mistake that we quickly corrected.

It took me a while to realize that there were so many other things I was doing wrong.

You can call your personal phone in the US without any problems.

In the UK, also OK.

In Germany, you can’t. Unless it’s been explicitly granted to you by the employer, do not.

I made the mistake of not taking time to research each region. I just assumed that if they were qualified for my company, then they would be a good fit in any area.

Do you have the right product for this market?

Do you have a buyer in this country? If so, what is his or her title and authority level?

What are the benefits of your product in layman’s terms?

When you market, do you take into account the customer’s perceived value?

What are your customer’s buying habits? How can you help them through the process of purchasing your products or services?

The following is an example of paraphrasing that would be considered plagiarism: Article: When I first began hiring salespeople, I just assumed pay along with commissions and bonuses would be enough sales motivation. With my first three hires, it did not work well.

If something doesn’t seem to be going well, you should investigate the data. Find out what is wrong and fix it as soon as possible.

The Takeaway

When you expand outside of your headquarters, it’s important to think about each country and culture separately.

Don’t make assumptions about people from different cultures. It will significantly hinder your success.

Finally, measure each region separately. From there you can create insights and take actionable steps to make an impact.

If you develop a successful model, it will work in other markets as well.

Don’t Do It All by Yourself

It was small and focused at first, but we wanted to grow it into a significant revenue source for Wrike. We had to scale.

As I scaled, I found myself juggling more and more everything from hiring to customer success. My team at Wrike HQ helped me (strongly encouraged) to hire specialists for each area.

I had no experience in things like customer success, trade shows or conferences. I knew nothing about Irish employment law.

We hired more and more people as we grew the business.

When I noticed that my own personal weaknesses were holding us back, I hired people who could do the job better than me.

I was able to find some European badasses who were really good at their job. They had experience taking companies from small to big in the region.

They not only helped us grow the business, but they made me a better manager and leader.

The Takeaway

It’s best to get the right people on your team as soon as possible.

Let your employees do their job. They’re specialists for a reason and they know what they’re doing.

When it comes to hiring, research the position and follow your data. Trust what you know about a candidate.

Building an international company is a slow, thorough process with heavy data collection.

The process I used for launching in Melbourne and Tokyo is the same, but it doesn’t include all of the pre-work that goes into figuring out whether to launch internationally or not.

That’s a topic for another day.

When launching in a new country or territory, do as much customer research as you can. Have an open mind about what will work.

You’ll make some mistakes along the way, and that’s OK. The important thing is to establish a culture where you can identify them quickly so they don’t become bigger problems.


Need Help Automating Your Sales Prospecting Process?

LeadFuze gives you all the data you need to find ideal leads, including full contact information.

Go through a variety of filters to zero in on the leads you want to reach. This is crazy specific, but you could find all the people that match the following: 

  • A company in the Financial Services or Banking industry
  • Who have more than 10 employees
  • That spend money on Adwords
  • Who use Hubspot
  • Who currently have job openings for marketing help
  • With the role of HR Manager
  • That has only been in this role for less than 1 year
Just to give you an idea. 😀
Editors Note:

Want to help contribute to future articles? Have data-backed and tactical advice to share? I’d love to hear from you!

We have over 60,000 monthly readers that would love to see it! Contact us and let's discuss your ideas!

Justin McGill
About Author: Justin McGill
This post was written by Content at Scale, a solution that uses AI + a team of optimization specialists to publish hundreds of high quality, SEO optimized content straight to your blog. It’s the first and only solution that allows you to truly scale content marketing.