gigCMO Discussion - Succeeding in the US Market with AWS Corp Transcript
Mark Magnacca: Welcome to this week's edition of Things You Should Know to Make Your Business Grow. I'm the founder and CEO of gigCMO Limited. We have as our guest today, Steve Lanier, who's the president of American World Service Corp, also known as AWS Corp. Their main office is in Washington, D.C. Steve, I'd like to welcome you to the program.
Steve Lanier: Great to be here. Thanks for having me, Mark. Appreciate it.
Mark: It's our pleasure to have you with us today, without a doubt. Why don't you give people a brief overview of AWS Corp?
Steve: Yeah, we've been in business a little bit over 20 years now. Our focus is really helping non-US companies develop the US market. We're helping them develop a strategy for the US, how to get in, we do a lot of marketing studies, market checks to look at the market. What are the trends? Who are the competitors? What's going on to help us develop that? We do a lot of partner searches where we're looking for potential partners, distributors, agents, and multipliers. We'll talk about multipliers maybe a little bit more today. We're really helping companies develop a strategy, get into market, and then we can also act as a representative office in the long term to help continue to develop the market. And that's really all we do. It’s good old fashioned marketing, develop strategy, and get into the market.
Mark: You know, I think so many of our listeners really appreciate that, because you've got a solid business, you're very clear about what you're doing and how you can help people. I know a lot of times in discussions with clients, one of your key points are talking about the four main channels to market. Why don't you talk through that in a bit more detail for our listeners so they can benefit from your experience?
Steve: That's right. Typically, when we work with clients, we talk about four different channels to look at to consider. Some of our clients work in one of them, some work in all four, but it's good to evaluate and systematically look at all four to determine if the channel might be right. The first channel that we look at is basically going direct. You have a list of potential clients and you want to contact them directly. That could be through a telephone call, email, LinkedIn, but you really want to have a direct contact with a potential client decision maker. This is probably the most difficult, most challenging, time consuming channel to look at, so we don't develop that or choose to go that direction lightly. But in certain cases, it makes sense. Sometimes there are no potential marketing partners that exist or no multipliers that exist so you have to go direct. Other times, you may have a very limited number of potential clients, so you want to contact them directly. Or sometimes, there just is a reason that there might be a client who's rather large and you want to take that on directly. There could be valid reasons for going direct, but it's something that really does take time and energy to do. We suggest if you're going to go direct, develop some type of specialisation so that when you come in, you're not going to be one of the many vendors. You're going to come in with a specialisation focused on an area that might be underserved. I'll use a quick case study we like. I like case studies--
Mark: Sure, Steve. Just before you mention the case study, you used this term, if you have no multipliers and no marketing partners. Although, as you know, I'm Canadian and British now, and you are American, a lot of our clients are in the UK and we all seem to be separated by common language at times. What exactly did you mean no multipliers?
Steve: Good question. Multipliers are actually one of the channels so we'll talk a little bit more, but briefly, multipliers are typically industry associations, different influencers who are in the industry, other service providers who might be in the industry. We'll talk a bit more about that. But industry associations are a good way to think about multipliers. That's the quick answer to that. They could open the door to potential clients.
Mark: That's going direct, and you’re going to give us a case study?
Steve: Yeah, when we look-- I use this example, we worked with a vaccine producer. This was pre-COVID so this had nothing to do with COVID or anything. But they were a vaccine producer and they were targeting pharmaceutical companies directly. After our discussions, we said, alright, let's go direct. There were a number of pharma companies that we targeted. In this case, we went after the animal health division, because going after the human side, there was a lot more activity, a lot more competition. We looked at the animal health side, which was an underserved area to get in. They came up with a real interesting specialisation and they were able to get in. It took months and months to get in finding the right decision-maker, but they were able to basically sign a licensing deal with one of the pharma companies for their animal health area. Again, a channel that's difficult, a channel that’s challenging, but it can make sense in certain cases to look at going direct to target potential clients.
Mark: Right. I also think with that example you gave, you also helped them because they knew they wanted to penetrate the US market, obviously, because of the size and potential profits available. But they had a product portfolio decision to make as well because I understand they had human vaccines and animal vaccines and were trying to work with you to figure out which would be the best product, even before the channels to get into the US market. Is that correct?
Steve: That's exactly right. That's exactly right. That's part of the strategy development, instead of going out and looking, is there potential here? A lot of our clients, especially service providers, for example, they often times offer a wide range of services. This vaccine producer, they offered a wide range of vaccine solutions and services. We tried to help them narrow down, okay, where do we want to start? Because if you coming to a potential client and say look, we can do everything, they say, okay, I'll call you when I need everything. But if you come in with a specialisation, okay, you're limiting your services, at the same time, you really then can open the door a little more easily because of the specialisation because you're different. You're not doing what everyone else is doing. To open the door, we suggest coming in with a specialisation.
Mark: Okay, interesting. So that's the go direct channel. What's another one of the four key channels you work with?
Steve: Yeah, the second one is one that I wasn't talking about 10 years ago, which is basically digital marketing and social media. Now, everybody needs to have a conversation about what they're going to be doing, especially if you're B2C. If you're targeting consumers in the US, you need to have some kind of digital marketing strategy in place. It's something that's important, something to look at, even again, if it's okay, we have a Facebook page in English, or we have a website. It's important to have a conversation about what is your digital marketing strategy in the US, and how you're going to use that. Again, for consumers, we found that it is extremely important. Even if you do use a distributor or importer, they're going to ask, what's your digital marketing strategy? So again, important to have a conversation around that and develop activities in the US. You might not do everything that you're doing in your home market, but you want to have some kind of strategy in place that you can communicate to find clients. That's the second area to look at.
Mark: Interesting. As a channel, localisation in that digital world is so important, right? For example, Facebook, how people use that in different countries does differ, and how you communicate what words and images etc becomes really important, as does your LinkedIn profiles. You and I both know, Steve, if you look at someone on LinkedIn, you can almost tell what country they're from by how they're in the profile. We're not talking about the language, but just how they present themselves. Because I've seen Italian companies, British companies, American companies, and Canadian companies, and just how they create their digital presence, you can just almost see they're different, right?
Steve: That’s exactly right.
Mark: Okay, so localisation is very important. So that's two: go direct, your digital presence, you still need to look at as a channel. What's the third key channel you look at?
Steve: Then the third one, we're back to multipliers and that's where I really like this channel because it is oftentimes overlooked. It's a channel that doesn't get the respect that I think it should. But basically, multipliers, as mentioned, are any type of organisation, influencer, industry association, even another service provider, for example, lawyers. We found lawyers that can open the door to potential clients in the US. It's sort of developing a network, identifying these multipliers that have in their network potential clients that you want to talk with. I think industry associations are probably the best example. We find multipliers are especially relevant for service companies. If you're doing any type of engineering services, software services, design services, consulting multipliers give you credibility because now you're part of the industry, if you're part of an industry association. They can go out there and open the door to their potential members. It’s an important channel to look at.
Mark: Yeah, I certainly remember one of our first discussions after we were introduced, actually by a lawyer in the States.
Steve: That's right. [Laughs]
Mark: Just for our listeners, it was all positive. We were both in trouble together, and we're sitting, asking the same guy for help. It was somebody we were introduced to by mutual friends. But you first talked about multipliers and I thought that was such a powerful insight, and as you said, very often overlooked. Because particularly in the US market, obviously, it's a large market, a developed market, very sophisticated, and industry associations and trade bodies play a really important role in sometimes driving the regulatory agenda, fighting for the benefits for the members and the needs of the member to make sure their voices are heard, where your head office is conveniently located in Washington.
Steve: That's exactly right. They really can be multi functional in what they offer. Another little case study, if I may? We were working with an Italian company that had these high-end architectural design services but more interior cabinetry and all these high end furniture cabinetry that they were developing from wood. They worked with architects and their target was architects. So again, looking at the channels, you can target architects directly. Call them up, email, target them through LinkedIn. You can do search engine optimisation so hopefully an architect's going to find you on the web. You can also look at multipliers. We were able to develop a number of architectural associations that had a high end group of architects and so we said, hey, can we do a webinar with them? In this case, we had to join. They had to pay some money, hundreds of dollars to join the organisation, but then we were able to organise a webinar. They made a presentation about how to use wood, when to use wood, what are the different types of wood, and there were about 100 architects that were part of this webinar. They were able to get their message out during the pandemic during COVID. They were able to get their message out to 100 or so architects about what they were doing. And so that's the power of a multiplier. Again, I never say one channel is the best or this is the right channel, you have to systematically evaluate every one. But I think that's a great example of this got them in front of their clients at a time when they couldn't travel, but they were still able to get their message out. And that's powerful.
Mark: That absolutely is very powerful. Okay, so number three. And number four, last but not least?
Steve: Last but not least. This is more the traditional channel, working with partners such as importers, distributors, agents, manufacturers, reps, and I would add complementary manufacturers as well, again, which can be overlooked. These partners are typically more suitable if you have an actual product to sell, whether it's a consumer product or an industrial product, then you're going to look more for an importer distributor agent. But a lot of times, even service companies can find potential well targeted partners that could represent them. In that case, when it's a service company, oftentimes we look at doing maybe even a cross-marketing relationship where a service company, the US, represents our client. Then our client sometimes will represent the US partner in their home market. But again, you look at different partners who might represent you and be able to offer your products or services through their network. Just briefly, complementary manufacturers would be any type of manufacturer who is in the industry you're in, but they're not selling or producing a directly competitive product. They're doing a complementary product, and that's sort of the ideal activity.
Mark: Yes. Will you get in there with them and help the potential client meet these complimentary partners and set up the meetings and work with them on their engagement?
Steve: That's it. That's exactly right. We'll help identify potential partners, complementary manufacturers, or other distributors, agents, and so on, and really try to help them get in and find the right partner. I say it's like a marriage. You have to go in, you never know if you're going to get married, but our job is to try to increase the chances that you're going to find that right partner. I think the other area to look at which we put under this partnership umbrella, is to look at an acquisition or some kind of joint venture partner. I don't like the term joint venture, because it's hard to define sometimes, but acquisition, right now in the US, it's a real buyers market if someone's looking to acquire a company. All the baby boomers are starting to think about retirement, and they're starting to look for potential exit strategies. We do a number of acquisition projects a year, and we're seeing that we're able to find potential acquisition partners more easily now than say 10 years ago. And so that's another item entry to look at. We worked with one company in the UK that was making auto parts and they really had a hard time developing their brand name. They even met with a number of distributors and distributors were just really not moving. They sold on the internet and that really wasn't moving. We said acquisition might be something to look at. Again, you don't do it lightly, it takes an investment. But an acquisition can give you a partnership that gets you into the market. You have a ready made brand and network to work with. Right now, it's not a bad time to look at buying a company in the US. That's another sort of underserved or under looked at partnership option as well.
Mark: So that fourth channel that you talk about is partnerships, agents, distributors, and potential acquisitions. Is that correct?
Steve: That’s right.
Mark: Okay, excellent. Just to summarise, so the four main channels to market: go direct, establish a digital presence, look for multipliers, industry associations, influencers, and some form of partnership, whether that's through an agent or distributor, or closer, as you said, a complementary--perhaps a frenemy, or an acquisition. As you said, there might be actually a mix of those as you approach the market, but usually best to start with one or two to focus on to get some traction, I would think?
Steve: That's right. It is difficult to develop all four in the beginning. That takes a lot of time and effort. Again, it still is doable, but it's a little more complicated. That's the more sophisticated or higher level, if you're going to go after all four at once in the beginning. Yeah, most of our clients will go after one or two.
Mark: Okay. And from your case studies, from vaccine manufacturers to manufacturers of wood timber based products, we talked about some B2C as well, so obviously, you've worked with companies across industries in B2C and B2B. Is that correct?
Steve: That’s right. That's right. Yeah, we've done a lot of different consumer product projects. We've done a lot of service projects, even in the IT area, and we've done a lot of industrial products. And again, we developed activities in all three over 20 years. We didn’t start in all three, but over time, we've really been able to develop expertise in a number of different industry sectors. That's been helpful for our clients.
Mark: Okay. I also understand that you've worked with partners throughout--oh, well, I guess firms throughout Europe have come to you to help them succeed. German firms, French firms, firms from Central and Eastern Europe, firms from the UK. You've been a good enabler for many companies from different geographies across Europe.
Steve: That's right. About probably 80% of our clients, or even 90%, on certain years, of our clients come from Europe. I put the UK in Europe. I should say Europe and the UK now. But from this side of the Atlantic, this is really our client base. And we do some projects and we get some every once a while clients from Asia. We've done projects with clients from Japan and Korea, but our real ‘bread and butter’ is in the European area. That's really where we work. As a service company, we work with our own strategy. We work with a number of multipliers, and these organisations bring us clients on a regular basis, like the DIT in the UK or Switzerland Global Enterprise. These are different organisations and we work with them closely for years. Oftentimes, they will bring us companies that are looking to develop the US market. We're kind of a testimonial to our own strategy development.
Mark: Yes, very good. It’s very exciting. I think just before we wrap up, our listeners they probably find this podcast a really interesting conversation with you Steve and about the services you provide. Everybody always wants to ask but never asks how much is this? Is this like, $100,000 to get you to work with them? Or what's the minimum sort of engagement, investment, because they're going to a new market so companies that are serious about it recognise there are some upfront costs, because if you don't invest anything, you're not going to get a return. What’s the minimum you look at for an engagement or your clients expect and recognise they need to invest to move ahead on something with you?
Steve: Yeah, that's a valid question, a very valid question. I mean, when we do a project, whether it's some type of a market check, market study, or partner search, I roughly say to think about $10,000, not pounds or euros but about $10,000. Sometimes it's less than that, and sometimes it's a little bit more. It just depends on what we're looking at and what we're doing. If we’re doing a combination or doing a very significant project, it can be more than that. Oftentimes, it's a little bit less than that, but that's roughly it. For our services, all of our clients are small and mid-sized enterprises. We work with SMEs. We know budgets are important, but it does still take an investment to look at the US, and so we say to plan around $10,000 for that first type of project to try to get you in and get you going. Then the worst case scenario, if you really don't get in, you're going to understand the market, and you're going to be smarter. It might be another year before you get in or you might come back home, but you'll be a lot smarter, and you'll know what's going on. That's kind of a quick answer.
Mark: Excellent. Great. Well, thank you, Steve, for joining our podcast this week of Things You Should Know to Make Your Business Grow. It's been a very insightful discussion. Great to have you here with us.
Steve: Great to be here and always happy to brainstorm with anybody that might want to have a one on one or brainstorm more. Hopefully that'll be helpful and give your listeners some food for thought for their systematic marketing activities.
Mark: Absolutely. I think it's been great. Thank you very much everyone for listening to our podcast today. Our guest has been the president of AWS Corp, Steve Lanier. Their main office is in Washington DC. As you've heard throughout the podcast, they are people who make it happen if you want to penetrate the US market. They talk about the four main channels. Hopefully you found this conversation as beneficial as we have today. Thank you very much, and we'll see you next week.
Steve: Thank you.