This talk was given by Craig Klemp, Sr. Director of Global Partnerships of Evernote at SaaS Connect 2019 in San Francisco, March 26-27, 2019. Get the slides

International partnerships, while beneficial, come with a unique set of challenges.

That’s what Craig Klemp at Evernote talked about at SaaS Connect 2019. Evernote has grown its international partner base significantly, especially in Japan.

Over that time, the company has learned a certain set of skills that other businesses can learn from.

Why some partnership challenges have cultural contexts

Some countries are higher context while some are lower context. For example, Japan is on the higher-context end of the scale, while the U.S. is on the lower-context end.

Lower-context countries like the U.S. are highly verbal. When giving a presentation in the U.S., you begin by telling the audience what you’re going to talk about, then remind them at the end with a recap. In other words, we repeat important things to make sure our point is being understood. On the other hand, Japan is a high-context culture, using body language and situational cues to make meaning.

If you tried to communicate with a Japanese audience the way you would with an American one, they would feel as though you were hitting them over the head with your point. Similarly, if you go into a meeting with a Japanese partner expecting them to communicate like a U.S. partner, you might find yourself struggling to understand.

Different cultures have different communication styles and expectations, businesses should be aware of these nuances going into any interactions.

What are your local assets?

What are some of the considerations you should think about when you enter new markets? Companies should consider their unique, local differentiators. Some of the things they could touch on include:

  1. Brand equity. If you’re going in cold, having some level of brand equity can help customers be more familiar with you.
  2. Product/market/competitive fit. This varies from country to country, so it’s important for businesses to consider it when entering a new market.
  3. Team. Make sure your team is ready to handle the customer support needed when you break into a new market.
  4. Timely language support. Translation services and translation quality can greatly affect customer satisfaction. Make sure it’s a positive one.
  5. Localized tech. Like language support, this ensures that customers are satisfied.
  6. Physical and legal assets. Having data centers in countries that really value privacy, for example, could be a significant asset.

Lessons learned

The topic of international partnerships is a diverse one, and depending on what country you’re trying to break into, you’ll have to learn your own unique lessons. But here are six universal lessons that will apply to anyone trying to forge an international partnership:

  1. Executive buy-in is ongoing and doesn’t stop at introduction.
  2. Understand the culture map.
  3. Get creative with resources.
  4. Localization tools can work … to a point.
  5. Timely partner support is critical.
  6. If you’re serious, hire locally.