5 golden rules for successfully hiring a country manager

Hiring a Country Manager to drive expansion into specific international markets is a critical decision that a CEO makes on their company’s growth journey. Market-dependent factors, cultural differences, and cross-border organisational challenges are just a few of companies’ many issues.

At Wyngs, we’ve helped many leaders navigate this process and seen many examples of how it can go very wrong. This article explores the “5 Golden Rules” that we recommend to clients when considering this next step in international growth.

Rule #1 – Understand the market before you hire a country manager

Are you ready to hire a Country Manager?

Many companies think hiring is a necessary first step to opening up new territory, but taking this approach can be costly.

Invest in better understanding and engaging with the market before you recruit. Starting the hiring process before having tangible market insight leads to a poor definition of the role and capabilities needed.

Ideally, this insight should be grounded in some early market exploration and analysis, which should be done with a local partner supporting one of the leadership teams.

Rule #2 – Get it right, the first time!

As with any key role in the business, it’s essential to find the right person, rather than the first person.

Many companies understandably want to move quickly, often driven by competitive and market pressure in the target geography. But hiring the wrong Country Manager will cost you much more than a bad hire in other roles within the company.

Consider that a wrong hire can set you back at least a year because:

  • It’ll take you up to 9 months to figure out you’ve got the wrong person (due to onboarding, waiting for first results, starting to doubt, doubting seriously, deciding to make a change, etc.)
  • at that time, hiring a replacement will roughly take another 3 to 6 months
  • the new hire will need another 3 to 6 months to be fully operational
  • you might lose the trust of your clients, prospects, investors, and team members
  • the wrong candidate can negatively impact your brand in the market and potentially close doors for the future.

Ultimately, hiring too fast can result in a significant delay (not even considering what this amounts to in lost market opportunity) plus a lot of frustration for you and the rest of your team.

Rule#3 – Define the right profile

What exactly are you looking for?

Do you want a Country Manager, or do you need a more business development-oriented profile? Because they are not the same.

Be very clear about what the person will need to do.

For example, what partners and stakeholders will they need to manage? Do you need a hunter to open doors and win lighthouse customers? Or do they need to work with different channels and agencies to deliver results?

Other considerations are whether they will need an established network to get traction in the market, something that is likely to vary from your home market.

Also, consider the next phase of expansion. Will this person need to build up a team? In this case, managerial competencies are required. However, this doesn’t always fit with strong sales and business development profiles.

Rather than copy-and-paste a profile based on someone you’ve hired in your home region, consider what you need them to do (and deliver) and write the job ad from scratch.

In general, we advise clients to aim for a profile higher than they would seek at home due to the risks already outlined above.

Rule#4 – Get local help with the search of a Country Manager

Whether you decide to get professional help, such as a headhunter, or take a more network-related approach to source for the role, it’s best to get local support.

Local knowledge of the talent market, as well as broader cultural differences, are essential.

Be aware of foreign employment laws before starting to hire. If you don’t have this information before engaging with potential candidates, it will be too late, and you lose credibility.

Other local differences, such as variations in salary and compensation plans, will change depending on the country you are hiring in.

All these arrears of the recruitment process, from the subtle to the significant, will impact your ability to attract and secure the best talent.

Rule#5 – Prepare properly before they start

Finally, once you’ve hired the successful candidate, it’s critical to have a solid onboarding plan and integration period, mainly if the candidate works remotely.

Be sure to have supporting materials available before they start. Delays in translating and localising collateral can add significantly to their ramp-up period.

In our experience, Country Managers are often rather sales-driven and need the essential tools to hit the ground running and start work from day one. If not, you can lose up to 3 months of early traction and motivation from the candidate.  

If you don’t give them the tools they need, they are apt to find their own solutions, potentially leading to a suboptimal approach to the market, with incorrect messaging and positioning of your brand.

We’ve seen many instances where companies have fallen foul of one or several of these rules.

A good example was an organisation that we assisted with entering the German market. They hired a Country Manager through an “external sales rep” agency and, after 9 months of non-performance, approached us to find out why it wasn’t working. After we assessed the situation, we discovered:

  • The person they hired was not the right profile, with no relevant sector experience or network (both critical elements of the role).
  • The company didn’t understand the market entirely, leading to unrealistic expectations and, ultimately, setting too high targets.
  • In addition, they relied on the Country Manager to research the market, which led to messaging and pricing that was not adapted to the market, further compounding the lack of traction.

These errors could have been avoided by following the “5 Golden Rules.”

You want to know more about internationalisation? Have a look at our article “6 good reasons to go international”.

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International Readiness Workshop

The status quo before the project

The DACH market had been identified by the Collective Thinking management as a strategic target market in Europe. First business development and sales actions have been conducted by the first German team and a GmbH had been established. 
The CT team wanted to continue to build their knowledge of the German market, the identification of key partners, key client groups in order to better evaluate business development potential and sales targets. This knowledge shall help define an appropriate strategic and operational marketing approach for CT in the DACH markets. CT is also in the process of raising a Series A funding round, a European approach can be evaluated in this project.

What we did

Wyngs wanted to support the Collective Thinking Team to create a strategic and operational roadmap for optimized business development and marketing/communication, with a special focus on developing the DACH markets – Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

We prepared a 1-day workshop, divided into 2 major parts:

  • Review of existing actions, the discovery of the key players and potential business development partners, enhancing market knowledge. 
  • Creation of a strategic and operational business development and marketing plan for 2021. 

Presentation of results of the workshop in the form of a roadmap to concretely address the mentioned challenges.

CEO Vincent

The “International Readiness” workshop with Wyngs allowed the German team of Collective Thinking to better understand and define the needs of the German market, particularly in terms of marketing strategy & business development. If you too are planning to develop internationally, Wyngs would be a very good partner to succeed in these first steps, which are essential for successful development.

Vincent Susplugas

CEO Collective Thinking

CEO Vincent

The “International Readiness” workshop with Wyngs allowed the German team of Collective Thinking to better understand and define the needs of the German market, particularly in terms of marketing strategy & business development. If you too are planning to develop internationally, Wyngs would be a very good partner to succeed in these first steps, which are essential for successful development.

Vincent Susplugas

CEO Collective Thinking

CEO Vincent

The “International Readiness” workshop with Wyngs allowed the German team of Collective Thinking to better understand and define the needs of the German market, particularly in terms of marketing strategy & business development. If you too are planning to develop internationally, Wyngs would be a very good partner to succeed in these first steps, which are essential for successful development.

Vincent Susplugas

CEO Collective Thinking