HBH: Briefly, what’s your background?
Salla Hänninen: I’m a strange hybrid between a linguist and an economist – I specialised in international business communications during my studies and have been on that path ever since. I’ve done pretty much everything imaginable in that space: I’ve worked as a journalist, translator and Business English trainer in the UK, been in charge of international PR and investor communications of a start up, and for the past few years I’ve worked as an internationalisation consultant for Finnish companies
I’m the founder and CEO of Palava Global, a global growth agency that helps startups first find the best markets for their products and then grow in those markets. My team and I have worked with lots of startups and know the pain points most of them have.
You’ll be talking about how to successfully expand abroad. Did the playbook change in 2020 or do the same rules still apply today?
Many things have definitely changed: companies have had to move most of their operations online (if they hadn’t already) and find new ways to reach their customers. Most startups had hopefully already built a scalable online marketing and sales strategy though, so the change has probably been greater for more traditional companies. However, if your company’s sales strategy is based on personal interaction, one thing most likely has changed forever: we’ve learned that we don’t necessarily need to meet face-to-face to buy from someone in B2B. Many companies have successfully negotiated deals worth of tens or even hundreds of millions of euros remotely.
The basics haven’t changed though and probably never will: first, always choose your markets based on product-market-fit, not your gut instinct or random coincidence. Second, find out who your best customers are in that market and always choose your strategy and sales channels based on your customers’ preference, not convenience (if your customers want to purchase online, be online. If they want to meet you at trade fairs, be present at trade fairs. If your customers are most likely to hear about you on Instagram, advertise on Instagram. Third, be realistic: you can’t expect to spend a fraction of the sales and marketing budget you’ve spent in Finland, for example, and expect to get 10x the revenue. There are greater opportunities out there, but you need adequate resources.
What other points will you talk about on Startup Space?
I’ll be talking about all the things that could go wrong during your journey to international success – everything from failed market selection (even giants like McDonalds and Starbucks have been there) to inadequate market entry strategies. The aim definitely isn’t to leave anyone feeling defeated though, rather the opposite: after the talk you should be aware of the possible pitfalls and more importantly, feel positive about being able to avoid them. I want to guide the listeners through the different stages of internationalisation and help draft a solid plan for it.
Sounds interesting, we’re looking forward to it!