9 Common Global Business Expansion Strategies

By now we have helped more than 150 startups expand into and across the Asia Pacific Region. In turn, we have observed all kinds of global business expansion strategies with different degrees of success. Expanding your business internationally in 2021 can be quite chaotic and intimidating, but there are ways to eliminate that stress such as understanding your options.


Also read: Introducing Greenhouse's Ultimate Guide to International Business Expansion


Yet, global expansion can look different for each company and there is no single model that can be applied to all cases. As such, we decided to consolidate all strategies we have seen so far and you can decide which framework might work best for your business.

Here are the 9 most common global business expansion strategies we have seen.


Quick Navigation
1. Traditional expansion
2. Outsourcing business development entirely
3. Fly in and out
4. A bit of everything
5. Growth through integrations
6. Trade agencies
7. Growth via marketing
8. Growth via channel partners, resellers, or distributors
9. Outsourced sales through a service provider + hire salespeople on the ground
Summary Table of Global Business Expansion Strategies


1. Traditional expansion

This first global business expansion strategy usually has the following steps: incorporate a business, hire a country head, secure an office, recruit a team, and start selling. Traditional expansion is one of the most common global business expansion strategies, yet it comes with its downsides as well.

Pros:

  • Full control.
  • Completely compliant approach.
  • Have higher price points for your products compared to outsourcing sales.
  • Increase brand awareness for your product.
  • Gain control over how to reach and how to sell to your customers, and gain deeper customer insights.
  • Build key relationships directly in-market.

Cons:

  • Expensive.
  • Time-consuming.
  • You may not know much about the international market you are expanding to.
  • Risks associated with hiring your leadership team, who may underdeliver on your expectations.

2. Outsourcing business development entirely

This global business expansion strategy finds a service provider that offers in-market representation services. They will drive leads, build a team on your behalf, carry your business cards, change their emails, and even add your business to their LinkedIn.

Pros:

  • Fast.
  • Less expensive than traditional expansion.
  • The service provider has more experience than you in the target market where they operate.
  • Effective method by which to validate your hypothesis about the international market.

Cons:

  • Limited control. No matter how great the service provider is, someone else will be managing your brand in the new market.
  • You do not have all the learnings.
  • It's not easy to find a trusted service provider.
  • Limited market opportunity is available. It will depend on the milestones you and the service provider agree on.

3. Fly in and out

Another common type of strategy to expand your business internationally is by managing the global expansion by yourself. Some do this by hiring a few people on the ground (contractors or FTEs, and typically sales) and visiting them every once in a while to make sure there is alignment between your head office and new teams.

Pros:

  • Fast.
  • Inexpensive.
  • Gain control over how to reach and how to sell to your customers, and gain deeper customer insights.

Cons:

  • Travel is limited during times like now.
  • Limited control, but greater than in the case of completely outsourcing your business development.
  • Very taxing on the person who needs to do all the trips.
  • Costs of flights + people on the ground may add up (depending on where you are based).
  • You may need to incorporate (especially if you want/need a local bank account), in some international markets, which comes with commitments to paid-up capital (money you have to deposit into your bank upfront in order to operate).

4. A bit of everything

This global business expansion strategy is a culminated form of the first three strategies. The procedures usually look like this: hire a country head, incorporate, outsource some of your business development efforts, and then fly in and out to ensure head office and new teams are aligned.

This is usually best for more mature businesses, with proven opportunity in-market.

Pros:

  • You are leveraging internal and external channels to drive growth, hence minimizing the chance of failure.
  • Strong presence in the target market.
  • To a degree, maintain a personal connection with your customers.

Cons:

  • Expensive.
  • Requires resources in people/project management.
  • Taxing on the people who need to fly in and out.
  • It's not easy to find trusted service providers.
  • It's not easy to coordinate internal and external teams.

5. Growth through integrations

This strategy identifies relevant platforms where you can provide complementary value. Companies do so by approaching decision-makers remotely and start closing deals.

In some cases, you can hire service providers to help you secure the meetings, after all, there won't be hundreds of relevant companies. Hence, it's important you put a lot of weight into each outreach when expanding your business internationally.

Pros:

  • Inexpensive.
  • Scalable.

Cons:

  • Limited volume in partnership prospects.
  • Dependency on your partnership, leaving you hostage to their terms and business operations.
  • Time-consuming as you may need to customize your solution for some of the new partners.
  • Hard to manage and control.

6. Trade agencies

If you are fortunate enough to come from a developed international market e.g. the USA, Germany, the UK, Australia, Singapore, etc., you will have access to great trade agencies that can help you expand your business globally

Less developed countries have limited resources and may not be able to provide a lot of help. Trade agencies, being government bodies, are not allowed to charge market rates. It will be either free service or the rates will be much lower than what service providers from the private sector charge.

Pros:

  • Free / Inexpensive.
  • Trade agencies will look after your best interest no matter the budget you have allocated for your global expansion.

Cons:

  • You are one of many companies they are helping.
  • In some international markets, the trade agency may have a really good network, but in others, you will need to handle the global expansion on your own.
  • Most trade agencies operate agnostically and won't assume the risk of making recommendations, they'll only share options and encourage you to manage your own decision-making process.

7. Growth via marketing

This global business expansion strategy starts targeting customers in new markets online to find out what's the appetite for your solution before you start flying in/recruiting/incorporating. Once you are convinced that there is a strong online demand, then you can start deploying resources.

Pros:

  • Scalable.
  • Data-driven.

Cons:

  • Localization may be challenging from remote markets.
  • It may work well for bottom-up SaaS or some B2C models but not at all for top-down SaaS / Marketplace models. Particularly challenging if you're selling to enterprise organizations.
  • Larger marketing budgets and innovative marketing strategies will be needed to drive web traffic.

8. Growth via channel partners, resellers, or distributors

This strategy identifies relevant partners and creates good incentives so that they can sell your product/service as you expand your business globally.

Pros:

  • Save time going to the target market.
  • Inexpensive vs other alternatives.
  • Low effort.

Cons:

  • Limited control of your brand narrative and reputation in the international market.
  • No learnings/direct connection with your customers.
  • Distributors sell many products at any given time, your project might not be of first priority.
  • Resources are required to train and manage your partners.

9. Outsourced sales through a service provider + hire salespeople on the ground

This strategy builds a small team to handle your sales and then hire a service provider to aid them. This is similar to the fly in and out method, with the only difference that you do not have a person who actually supervises in person the outreach. You will be relying on the new team or person, who you have hired to manage the entire operation.

Pros:

  • Fast.
  • Inexpensive.
  • Gain control over how to reach and how to sell to your customers, and gain deeper customer insights.

Cons:

  • Limited control, but better than in the case of complete outsourcing of business development.
  • You may need to incorporate, in some international markets, which will require paid-up capital.
  • You will need to invest a lot of resources to train well your new team or person who handles the go-to-market effort.

Check out: A startup's guide to APAC expansion 🚀 🌏 💰 - Blog


Summary Table of Global Business Expansion Strategies

Type of Global Business Expansion Strategy

Pros 

Cons

Traditional expansion

Full control, build brand awareness, completely complaint approach

Expensive, risky as you do might not know the target market well, might not hire the right people

Outsourcing business development

Fast, more affordable, able to test your market 

Limited control, have to find a trusted service provider, you do not have all the learnings

Fly in and out 

Fast, inexpensive, good degree of control 

Travel is limited during times now and travel flight costs add up, the possibility of needing to incorporate 

A bit of everything

Low chance of failure, a strong presence in the market, personal connection with customers

Expensive, requires heavy human resources, need to find trusted service providers, flight costs add up

Growth through integrations 

Inexpensive, scalable

Limited volume in partnership prospects, huge dependency on partners, hard to manage and control

Trade agencies

Inexpensive, trade agencies will look after your best interest

You may not be your trade agency’s priority, trade agency’s network may vary, 

Growth via marketing 

Scalable, data-driven

Localization may be challenging from remote markets, challenging if you're selling to enterprise organizations, require larger marketing budgets

Growth via channel partners, resellers, or distributors 

Save time going to market, inexpensive, low effort

Limited control of your brand narrative and reputation, your project might not be of first priority, require resources to train partners

Outsourced sales through a service provider + hire salespeople on the ground 

Fast, inexpensive, gain deeper customer insights

Limited control, the possibility to need to incorporate, invest a lot of resources to train your new team or person who handles the go-to-market effort

There you have it, 9 different ways we have seen businesses expand internationally. However, there is no one global business expansion strategy that works for all companies.

Your industry, size, funding, product-market fit state, knowledge about the target market, relationships on the ground, and experience from growing businesses internationally plays a role.

In turn, we advise you to have an experimental mindset and test all of your assumptions through the above-mentioned strategies.

A few weeks back our team wrote A Framework for International Growth that can help you to make educated decisions as it comes to your international growth.


Looking to expand your business internationally?

Greenhouse empowers you to connect with experienced consultants in your target markets who can help with market research and validation services and answer your questions about expanding globally.

Contact us here for more information on global business expansion strategies.


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