How to Compete More Effectively in Foreign Markets

An interview with Sophie Lechner, president and CEO of Global Commerce Education

Sophie Lechner, president and CEO of Global Commerce Education Inc.

If your company is entering a new foreign market, are you confident you have the skills to do so successfully? The G2 Experience accelerates the global expansion of companies by giving their leaders intercultural and market entry competencies through action learning, deep immersion and targeted networking in global business hubs. Sophie Lechner is president and CEO of Global Commerce Education Inc., which oversees the G2 Experience.

I had the privilege of interviewing her on how the G2 Experience will enable leaders to compete more effectively in foreign markets.  

Laurel Delaney: Can you give us a short course on what the G2 Experience is?

Sophie Lechner: The G2 Experience is a unique learning program that accelerates the global expansion of companies by enabling their leaders to compete in foreign markets effectively. We do this by guiding companies in four key areas: creating a solid market-entry plan, understanding differences in business practices, targeted networking, and cultural immersion. This is done in three stages.

First, the groups, of no more than 15 to 20 participants, meet for two days of intensive workshops in their home country. With the help of experts they create or fine-tune their market-entry plan, they participate in cross-cultural training, and they learn skills like networking and pitching. 

Second, over the following three weeks, a series of interactive webinars helps them to compare the home and target market approaches to marketing, accounting, finance, regulatory and economic environments.

 

And the third stage of the program involves traveling to their target market for a full week of intense business and cultural immersion with company visits, special cultural experiences and panel discussions on real-life situations hosted by accounting and legal firms, advertising agencies and banks.

They also participate in several networking events to meet potential service providers, key players in their industry, and potential clients and partners. 

LD: What led you to start the G2 Experience?

SL: One of my consulting clients asked me for a proposal to help them create a Global Executive MBA program. In the course of my research, I realized that there is a very important segment of the business population that is currently severely underserved regarding global education, so I centered my proposal on that market need: leaders of mid-size companies who need to rapidly learn how to compete more effectively in global markets. 

The potential of mid-market companies in global trade is huge, both in the U.S. and around the world, as the global middle class grows exponentially. For example in the U.S., although there is high demand abroad for American-made products, only 1% of U.S. companies export, and in our conversations with executives and trade professionals in several countries, we found that mid-market companies have similar problems around the world. We want to bring to life this potential. 

LD: I understand the G2 Experience integrates the knowledge and skills required by participants.  Can you elaborate on that learning method for readers to better understand it?

SL: I am glad you ask because this is probably what differentiates us the most from anyone else.

I mentioned that there are four key components to the G2 Experience: the strategic expansion plan, comparative business practices, targeted networking and cultural immersion. But these are not addressed sequentially and independently of each other. Each informs the other. For example, the market-entry plan is the first workshop; the plan becomes informed with everything learned, seen and experienced during the program, and is revised and presented again at the end. The topics covered in the webinars are brought to life in the target market through discussions with specialists as well as peers who have successfully entered that market on and share what they learned in the process. Networking sessions may take place in a historical location that has influenced the local culture. Activities are weaved together to promote experiential learning, and, most importantly, all these connections are explored and discussed.

LD: Give us an example of a big “aha” that a participant will experience should she sign up for the program.  

SL: Let’s say you just learned that relationships across generations are very different in this culture. You will see, maybe at a sports event or on the local train, the different attitude toward the elderly, the way families interact. This may influence how you position your product, or it may shed light on who is the real decision maker in family purchases. You will bear that in mind when reviewing your strategic plan. It will also influence who you send to meetings for negotiations and how you interact with the different members of your counterpart’s team. An experienced facilitator helps participants connect what they experience with their learnings and their business objectives

LD: Is the G2 Experience more comprehensive than the U.S. Commercial Service Gold Key Program? If so, how?

SL: The intent of helping U.S. companies when they enter a new market is the same, but the approach is different.

Let’s say a U.S. company wants to export its product to Colombia. With the Gold Key service, the U.S. Commercial Service staff in Colombia looks at the company’s profile and picks potential local buyers, then organizes six to eight one-on-one meetings over two days. This isn’t really conducive to a successful match because there is no time to develop a relationship, to really understand what the other party is looking for, and there is a very limited choice as to whom you meet with. This often takes place on a trade mission, and you might have one extra day with a briefing and reception, for a total of three days. 

In contrast, participants in the G2 Experience benefit from extensive preparation, spend a full seven days in the target market and attend numerous networking sessions. So over the course of a week, participants may meet with over 50 professionals and potential leads. They can then follow up with a meeting during the week (we leave free time to do that). This corresponds much more closely to the way you would do business in your own country and has a much higher chance of success.  I see the G2 Experience and Gold Key as complementing each other. In fact, the U.S. Commercial Service staff we have met agree that the G2 Experience addresses a pressing need, and they participate in our program as speakers, event hosts, and in some cases, will include the benefits of the Gold Key program within the G2 Experience. 

LD: What are your short- and long-terms goals for the G2 Experience?

SL: Our short-term goal is to launch our first few programs and get some in-depth feedback to further improve the program. We are currently preparing our launch in Panama, with companies from Panama that are planning to enter the U.S. market. We are also working with Turkey and France, and each of these locations will serve as the hub for the region, both for local companies looking abroad and for U.S. companies looking to enter those markets. Long term we plan to increase the number of global hubs where we offer the program, including India, Asia, and Russia.

LD: Is there anything coming up that people need to know about and should act on?

SL: Well, there is a major shift that is definitely coming up and fast. Over the next 15 years, there are going to be an additional 2 billion people joining the middle class, mostly outside the US. When you stop for a second to visualize this number, it’s equivalent to six times the entire population of the United States! Now think back to what happened to the U.S. economy in the 1950s when we had a surge in the middle class, and they spent money on cars, refrigerators, entertainment, travel…a huge economic boom! This new middle class is going to buy “stuff”, and if the U.S. does not quickly learn to be more effective in selling overseas, these 2 billion people will buy elsewhere. People and countries will trade, with or without us! 

LD: What’s the best way to reach you?  

Email me at slechner@gceemail.com or call or text me at +1-917-859-5268. Our website is www.g2experience.org.