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6 Tips for Expanding Internationally Using Channel Partners

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Your product’s a hit in the country you call home, so naturally it’s time to show the rest of the world what they’re missing. But just like with pop music, a hit in one country could be unheard of in another. And best to avoid the sound of crickets on the big stage (or worse, flop and lose the respect of all of your could-be fans!).

After setting up shop in five countries, we figured UK-based REVIEWS.io knew a thing or two about making a solid first impression with a unique new audience that has a whole slew of new business challenges. In 2020, the reviews platform had already established offices in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, the US, and Canada when they decided to expand to the DACH region (Germany, Austria, and Switzerland) by opening an office in Berlin, Germany. 

For the expansion, the REVIEWS.io team needed to convince prospects that their product, unknown to the DACH market up until this point, would be worth their time and money. But anyone can claim their own product is great (just think of the amount of cold emails you receive promising to save you, er, time and money). Hearing a new product is great from a trusted source is typically what entices you to click, read about the product, and ultimately buy. 

Knowing this, the REVIEWS.io team sought out local allies among a wide variety of strategic and hyper-localized agency partners and consultants — in other words, those who have been on the ground supporting the growth of local businesses in the DACH region for years. These partners held something powerful: the open ears and minds of stakeholders the REVIEWS.io team was trying to reach. 

By leveraging partners for the expansion, REVIEWS.io: 

  • Gained 20 clients through a single agency partner just six months after launching in the DACH region. 
  • Added 20-30% more clients to their customer base in DACH. 
  • Gained 100s of customers in the DACH region by looking to Shopify+ agency partners who were local to the region. 80% of their customers in the DACH region use Shopify, compared to 34% of their customer base in Australia using Shopify.

We’ve compiled six tips from the REVIEWS.io team on how to sell your product to a new market for the first time with the help of your closest allies — your partners.

1. Develop Partnerships With Local, Specialized Agencies and Consultants 

Who has the most influence with your prospects?

REVIEWS.io realized that it’s the local, specialized agency partners, rather than the all-in-ones, that hold the most trust with their customers (ahem, REVIEWS.io’s prospects). For example: a social media agency may already meet with a REVIEWS.io prospect regularly to recommend new tools for its customer’s tech stack and make continued improvements to its customer’s campaigns. However, an all-in-one agency managing a variety of business initiatives likely has a hands-off relationship with its customer and may not have as much influence in advising them on new tools and strategies. (It’s the local consultant with a niche offering you’re more likely to find grabbing a coffee with their customer in Kreuzberg.)

“You’ve got people who are really focused on their core offerings [such as] development agencies, your brand agencies, your SEO agencies,” says Tom Goodwin, COO at REVIEWS.io. “The individual agencies have really strong relationships [with their customers].” 

tom-goodwin-reviews

He adds, “We’re getting involved in a lot of joint pitches.” 

The more specific the focus, the better. For example: One of REVIEWS.io’s biggest partners in the region is consultant Thomas Grabner, Founder and CEO of email marketing agency Mailody. Grabner focuses on clients who are transitioning their existing marketing automation platform to Klaviyo. Working directly with Grabner, whose team implements Klaviyo and other tools that help customers achieve better results with their SMS and email marketing, REVIEWS.io can lean on the growth of Klaviyo within the German market and the good word of their agency partner.

Grabner has helped REVIEWS.io by introducing them to some of his agency’s existing clients and by pitching them as part of a marketing and e-commerce ecosystem attractive to his prospects. For example: when Grabner pitches a client on moving over to Klaviyo, he recommends REVIEWS.io and Shopify as a critical part of the prospect’s tech stack. 

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“A lot of tech companies try to position themselves as the only solution you’ll need,” says Shane Forster, Country Manager DACH at REVIEWS.io. “We’re going down the path of a best-in-breed connected solution. We don’t want to do what Klaviyo does, what Gorgias does, we do what we do very well and help you connect that into other systems.”

Another way to identify potential partners is to look at who your competitors are partnering with. 

Identify your most popular competitors in the region, and browse:

  • LinkedIn to identify partners who have completed the competitor’s certification course and have shared the competitor’s certification badge.
  • The competitor’s website. Check out the competitor’s “partners” or “integrations” page as well as partner case studies
  • Google search your competitor’s name and the type of partner you’re looking for (like X’s marketing automation partner). 

“[We’ve seen a lot of success] using partnerships as a growth channel,” says Forster. “We’re a privately funded company, so we’re leveraging partners to introduce us and be kind of our own extended SDR team. That really helped us to enter the market much quicker and build brand advocacy in the market.”

2. Lean on Your Most Popular Tech Partners in the Region

34% of REVIEWS.io’s customers in Australia use Shopify. When Shopify made it clear they were expanding to the German market, it seemed only natural for REVIEWS.io to follow the same path. 

“We realized that our Shopify integration was the best of our integrations, and we intentionally followed Shopify into the market here,” says Forster. 

Fast forward to today, and 80% of REVIEWS.io’s existing clients in Germany use Shopify.

“Shopify is investing in the region, and it’s great to follow in that jet stream,” says Goodwin. 

After finding early success with Shopify, REVIEWS.io is now building an integration with Shopware, a popular e-commerce platform in Germany and a competitor of Shopify.

3. Recruit a Country Lead With Deep Familiarity of the Region 

The REVIEWS.io team saw Forster as the perfect fit for taking on the role of Country Manager DACH to open the Berlin office. Forster is an Aussie who has lived in Germany for 12 years and Berlin for eight. 

Prior to joining REVIEWS.io, Forster worked for German SaaS companies targeting the UK market. This experience meant he was accustomed to working internationally, had an understanding of German work culture, and had deep-rooted connections within the B2B and B2C SaaS ecosystems in Berlin. Forster also has working proficiency in the German language and had a preexisting relationship with REVIEWS.io. In other words, he had the trust of internal and external stakeholders.

Find a country lead who has an established network in the region you’re entering, knows some of the big players in terms of potential partners, competitors, and prospects, and can be active on the ground taking meetings and participating in events. 

Goodwin suggests looking for two things when hiring a country lead: 

  • Ensuring the candidate is a proven leader and that they have positive connections with their previous team. Leadership traits can include a willingness to experiment, driving strategic change in terms of business growth, and influencing the success of their internal teams and the career growth of individuals.
  • Validating the candidate has a strong local network of potential tech and agency partners. This could include having existing relationships that the candidate can develop as early partnerships from day one or utilizing their strength in accessing new relationships and networks applicable to the company. 

Forster’s experience working in Germany provided him with a pre-existing network in the DACH region, which opened up new doors for REVIEWS.io. Forster says Thomas Grabner’s name popped up again and again on LinkedIn, which sparked their relationship with their future consulting partner.

“We were in the same groups of people and connected there,” says Forster. 

4. Plan Go-To-Market Events and Co-Marketing Campaigns With Your Agency Partners 

REVIEWS.io’s long-term global agency partner Overdose also expanded to the German market eight months after REVIEWS.io’s expansion. The two companies collaborated on:

  • A local magazine Overdose launched in the region called Overdose Digi:Mag, through which they featured REVIEWS.io. The magazine gets sent to around 3,000 industry leaders in the DACH region each quarter.
  • Local live events, which drew together business founders and leaders in the DACH region and was sponsored by Shopware, a local e-commerce platform.
  • Shared case studies specific to the region, including how REVIEWS.io helped VAAY circumvent Germany’s strict regulations around advertising CBD products by accumulating user reviews as pre-vetted promotions.
  • A shared Slack channel between the the REVIEWS.io team and Overdose agency in Berlin for sharing best practices for the region, particularly differences in how customers in the region use and perceive different tech solutions. 
reviews-overdose-agency-dach

A conference REVIEWS.io participated in with Overdose and local e-commerce platform Shopware in Vienna, Austria in 2021

“We started making lots of noise. Riding the Shopify, Klaviyo, Overdose wave has helped in many ways,” says Forster. 

Overdose agency has deep familiarity with REVIEWS.io’s solution and relevant integrations since the two companies worked together in Australia and other regions.

“We entered the market at similar times and have really worked closely together and have become integral partners in that region,” says Goodwin.

“It’s a benefit for us both, working with a global agency in a new region for us where we’ve got shared customers on both sides,” says James Guerin, Head of Partnerships at REVIEWS.io. 

james-guerin-reviewsio


5. Learn About the Cultural Nuances and Regulations of the Region From Your Local Partners 

Even though you’re well-versed in the SaaS ecosystem, acronyms, and trends, if you’re entering a completely new market, there may be centuries-old habits and legalities you’ll need to know. The local politics and culture can influence how you sell your product and can impact any first impressions you make (and those first impressions matter!).

For example: How you approach conflict with your competition could support or hinder your relationships with prospects and partners depending on the region’s conflict management tendencies.

On the flipside, a regional difference presented a unique opportunity for REVIEWS.io to shine. CBD and hemp store VAAY adopted REVIEWS.io, LoyaltyLion, and Klaviyo to bolster its Shopify store. REVIEWS.io published a case study with VAAY explaining how Germany’s regulations around advertising CBD and hemp products presented challenges for the site’s visibility and brand reputation among potential buyers. 

This challenge presented a unique opportunity for REVIEWS.io to step in and help VAAY educate potential buyers and promote their shop through consumer reviews. To obtain its first reviews, VAAY offered loyalty points through LoyaltyLion to incentivize early buyers to try its products and leave reviews in exchange for credits towards future purchases. 

reviewsio-vaay-berlin

“It’s that collaborative effect in terms of saying, ‘Look, the results sell, but if you work with LoyaltyLine and you work with Klaviyo and you work with Gorgias, it’s that whole sort of tech flywheel that we can generate traction and push data into each [tool],” says Goodwin. 

6. A/B Test Your Product Against the Local Favorites 

Not only will you need to educate your customers, you’ll need to educate your partners about how your product differentiates itself from the local favorites so they can advocate on your behalf. After all, their customers may also be long-term customers of your competitors. 

“When one partnership door opens, it could be the opportunity to open five,” says Guerin.

Forster says when they started working with Thomas Grabner, they needed to: 

  • Provide Grabner with a demo of the product so he could understand how REVIEWS.io works and how it could help his clients. 
  • Explain how their solution differentiates itself from local competitors, in terms of features, use cases, and capabilities (like the ability to use reviews data in creative campaigns and segmenting). 
  • Ensure the tech stacks of Grabner’s clients match up with the REVIEWS.io tech ecosystem.
  • Build up awareness around REVIEWS.io by touching base with Grabner regularly and sending him swag to show their excitement around partnering. 

REVIEWS.io learned that many of Grabner’s clients were already using Klaviyo, an integration partner of REVIEWS.io, for their SMS and email services. Through their integration, Grabner’s customers could segment their email outreach according to their reviews data while also eliminating unnecessary tools from their own tech stacks.

reviewsio-klaviyo-tech-stack

From the Klaviyo integration page on REVIEWS.io’s website

Forster says his team needed to show Grabner how the REVIEWS.io product could replace multiple products in his clients’ tech stacks or solve an existing gap for those who needed a reviews platform. 

After a few initial successes with clients using Klaviyo and REVIEWS.io together, Grabner understood the full scope of capabilities of REVIEWS.io. He compared REVIEWS.io’s capabilities with those of its local competitors, after which REVIEWS.io became a standard recommendation for his clients.

“When he’s convincing retailers to use Klaviyo, it’s helped Grabner to say, ‘Hey, part of that ecosystem is REVIEWS.io, is Shopify, and all these other parts,’” says Forster. “That becomes a very nice introduction to us.”

Regarding prospects who had already invested in a local, well-known reviews platform, REVIEWS.io offered complimentary A/B testing to Grabner’s clients and other prospects. This enabled REVIEWS.io’s prospects to test a product that was unfamiliar to them and observe for themselves that switching from something familiar to something new would not hurt their conversion rates. As a result, the REVIEWS.io team established trust, which opened the door to potential sales conversations. 

With hard results in hand, prospects who completed the A/B tests became some of REVIEWS.io’s biggest advocates on LinkedIn. 

Here’s an example of a post in German (with the English translation below):

reviewsio-brand-advocacy-linkedin

The English translation:

reviewsio-brand-advocacy-linkedin

This post on LinkedIn had 80 likes and 54 comments

reviewsio-brand-advocacy-linkedin

Do you have a success story about expanding to a new market with a partner? We’d love to hear about it (Tweet at us @Crossbeam!). And for more insights from partnership professionals like you, check out the second edition of our Partner Playbook below. 

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