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Ireland Knows How To Support Growing Companies

Four workshops down, one to go here in Ireland. No sign of Swine Flu anywhere!

I continue to be amazed by Enterprise Ireland—Ireland’s Department of Commerce.  The support they provide start-ups and high-potential Irish companies is something we can all learn a lot from.  EI provides funding, programs, advisors, resources, introductions to key decision makers, market research, competitive intelligence, advice on market entry strategies, partnering and acquisition strategies, and what appears to be endless support.  They’ve got offices in 31 countries with support in an additional 39.

During the past two weeks I’ve heard story after story from CEOs about how they’ve been helped by Enterprise Ireland.  In fact, they’re subsidizing the program for which I am a facilitator.

Although Ireland is suffering through the same recession as we are in the U.S., Enterprise Ireland continues to invest.  That investment in many hundreds of companies run by smart, hardworking, and determined CEOs will continue to leave Ireland in the best possible now and coming out of the recession.

There is no question that all this costs a lot of money.  We don’t have the stomach for this degree of federal spending in the U.S.  Our needs aren’t the same.  Ireland depends on exporting its goods and services.  Evidently this country of only 4 million considers the significant ongoing investment in Enterprise Ireland, coming out of the pockets of the Irish people, worthwhile.

Photo credit:  This blogger, trying on his Swine Flu mask anticipating the Dublin to Boston flight home on Saturday.

Irish International Selling CEO Workshops

I finished up my second CEO workshop this afternoon in Limerick as part of The Dublin Institute of Technology/Enterprise Ireland International Selling Programme.  We covered three critical success factors for building and scaling a sales capability for international trade: Hiring, Compensation, and Qualification and Prioritization (as it applies to the pipeline and forecast at the CEO-level).

The high point of the yesterday’s workshop event in Dublin was the CEO Forum.  My guests were (left to right) Gerard Keenan (Keenan Systems), Bernie Cullinan (Clarigen) and Dermot Farrell (Lakeland Dairies).

They each shared with the group their unique challenges with respect to exporting their products internationally.  Some areas covered were credit management (Ireland experiences most of what the U.S. does, and not long after), the challenges of employing both a direct and reseller channel, and the cultural challenges related to selling into other countries.

Today’s CEO forum included (left to right), my guests, Helen Ryan (Creganna), Gerry Raftery (Dawn Farm Foods) and Ian Bolger (Bolger).

There were a host of take-aways for the other CEOs attending the event.  Here are a few examples:

Q:  How do you adopt your sales process internationally?

A:  Helen Ryan: We modify it to align with how the customer segments or types buy (that’s large versus small entities, regardless of the deal size).  It has much more to do with how they operate as a business than their geography.

Q: As you expand into each new country to use local salespeople or relocate Irish salespeople.

A: Gerry Raftery: Local people are the answer.

Q: Has the employment of the sales process you developed from the International Selling Programme enabled you to sell more effectively with respect to corporate buyers?

A:  Ian Bolger:  With all the training, strategies and tactics employed by big U.S. multinationals, our process has enabled us to stay even.  Those buyers get tougher and tougher each year.

The sales executives reporting to these CEOs are concluding an eight two-day module program.  The 2009 series begins in January.

Many thanks to hosts Claire McBride (DIT) and Eileen Banks (Enterprise Ireland).

Hiring, Compensation and Qualification

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The Gap of Dunloe (Photo: Dave Stein)

I’ll be headed back to Ireland next month to facilitate two one-day workshops as part of the CEO Series for the Dublin Institute of Technology and Enterprise Ireland’s International Selling Programme.  I’ll be working with 60 CEOs and managing directors over the two days.

The topics require a bit of explanation.  Each is a critical capability for a CEO of a small to mid-size company.

In 2002 I was hired to deliver a speech to 300 technology executives in Dublin.  The subject was qualification.  The person who hired me was an executive at Enterprise Ireland—the Irish government agency responsible for the development and promotion of the indigenous business sector. He told me that one of the biggest challenges for CEOs of Irish companies was to NOT get on a plane to America every time their phone rang with an inquiry from a large U.S. corporation. (This executive shared with me that I was hired for this speech because I was the only one of several well-known sales experts that actually qualified him before agreeing to meet with him face-to-face.)  He told me that the lack of qualification was an epidemic.  Fortunately that situation has improved considerably over the last six years.  With that being said, even CEOs need to be able to prioritize their companies’ portfolios of business opportunities, especially in mid- to smaller-size companies.

Hiring of sales executives is critical as well.  Too many Irish companies, in their quest to expand to the U.S. and other countries, hired what seemed to be a strong salesperson/manager.  Many of them didn’t work out.  This has been a significant problem.  Typical: A Dublin-based telecomms company hires a person to commence operations the U.S.  Six months later, after the person has been fired, the company is at least €100k poorer, has lost a year in the international business development component of their business plan, and has probably damaged their reputation for years to come.  Again, I can report real improvement on this front as well.  CEOs in general, have become more discerning, patient, and unwilling to repeat the mistakes of the past.

Back in 2003 I asked a room full of Irish CEOs if they would feel comfortable writing a check to a salesperson for €1 million.  (It’s a standard, unscientific test I give to get a sense of how CEOs measure the importance of the sales function within their organizations.)  I was almost ejected from the room.  The Irish business community then looked at selling very differently than we do here in the U.S.  I asked the same question to last year’s group.  Only one out of 25 CEOs had a problem with it.  More progress.

I’m delighted to be on the faculty of the Dublin Institute of Technology and thoroughly enjoy my professional and personal relationships with my relatively new and growing network of Irish business associates.  I was thrilled when the former New York Consul General for Ireland, with that appealing Irish sense of humor, introduced me to the Irish Minister of Education as “Dave O’Steen.”

What’s really fun is to see these CEOs and the sales executives that work for them, hungry for knowledge, exceedingly coachable, and genuinely passionate about growing their businesses internationally.

If you have an opportunity to buy from, or do business with, an Irish company, please share your experience with me.  I’m really interested, and they’d really like the feedback.