In this five part series, we look at the steps businesses need to take to fully capitalize on exciting opportunities in foreign markets.

Once is enough
Double work needs to be avoided, particularly when it comes to registering and confirming orders (and deliveries), and ensuring they are processed correctly by finance. This often involves all manner of templates created for the sales organization to fill in, initialed and signed off further up the chain, and then manually entered by back office personnel – possibly in a system not directly linked to the financial administration.

In these scenarios, ensuring timely, accurate communication between sales in one location and administration in another is extremely important. It’s also important that everyone has an extremely clear picture of their and their colleagues’ responsibilities.

Maybe HQ will handle all the paperwork. Maybe the sales office needs to deal with purchase documentation once the goods have been delivered to the end customer. Who will then use that information in creating the sales invoice and booking away the outstanding item with the supplier? How do both sides ensure they both know what’s going on at all times?

It’s not difficult to imagine that uncertainty here can lead to a lot of time on the phone. And when sales personnel are busy with these activities, they’re not busy with creating new deals.

Uniformity and consistency
Setting up a satellite operation is a significant investment step for any company, particularly if there are multiple new sites on the agenda. Dispersed operations can see significant differences in work culture within one organization, local dynamics making it difficult to achieve uniformity and consistency in company-wide work processes.

To be successful, all employees need a clear, consistent approach to organizing, implementing and completing their work. Without it, individuals will start building in their own security mechanisms to protect commitments. They might help them in the short term, but overall, it decreases the real execution power of the business.

Organizations help themselves if they approach each new venture in the same way. In addition to the operational procedures, the way in which each location reports – not only financial data, but in terms of sales and other operational information – will be extremely important in steering the business through the first phases of expansion.

Consistency is the key ensuring the company can learn as it grows, helping each new set-up to benefit from the experiences of the last. Once a problem is encountered anywhere in the business, it’s then easier to access the knowledge and experience required to remedy it.

Creating the right infrastructure
Given the difficulties outlined above, how can companies go about giving their new offices the best chance of success? How should they go about managing costs and delivering margin while still ensuring the business offers the service level customers will require?

IT support is a critical aspect. The wide range of influencing factors and relevant information streams mean that the software system in place needs to be both powerful and flexible. The choices are wide, ranging from best of suite solutions offering everything under one lid, to best of breed applications for specific business processes that can potentially be integrated to offer complete coverage.

Your current vendor will likely have a plausible story on how to manage an international operation with their solutions. However, whatever that may be, there are a number of important points to be kept in mind when considering how to set up your systems.

The fit with your organization
In the broadest sense, it’s important to consider how the available business solutions fit to the shape of your organization. What are the specific challenges and needs that you’ve identified for your international offices? Critical questioning of your (possible) supplier on these points is essential if you’re to properly evaluate their ability to successfully address your pain points. Be sure to request and then dive into cases they have successfully rolled out in the past with businesses that mirror yours.

In the final installment of this series, we’ll look at the vendor landscape, and the key points to address on your journey to selecting the right IT support.