The mission of Going Global, which appears on ePrairie on most Tuesdays, is to educate and inform Midwest technology companies on what local technology companies are doing internationally so other firms can learn from the successes of like-minded peers.
CHICAGO – Bill Merchantz founded Lakeview Technology in 1990 to focus on advanced solutions for continuous data and application availability. Lakeview’s technology works to ensure the availability of business information so customers can increase productivity, reduce costs and satisfy service level and compliance requirements.
In part three of a three-part Q&A, Merchantz sat down with international expert Michael Muth to discuss the value of international Webcasts, trade shows and partners.
Michael Muth: What’s the difference between a hardware partnership, an ISV alliance and a technology alliance?
Bill Merchantz: There are three major categories of partners: hardware distributors with smaller resellers underneath, ISVs (which tend to be more vertical applications) and system integrators that outsource a customer IT organization to deliver services. An example of an ISV is our relationship with Jack Henry. Their banking software application must be up and running all the time. They actually resell, install and provide the first level of support for our products.
MM commentary: It can be a little bit confusing trying to figure out which type of partner fits best for some technology companies when looking at Lakeview’s Web site. While it’s clear that Lakeview partners with three kinds of companies, it’s not clear how the partnering relationship differs with each.
MM: Do you offer training courses abroad?
BM: Yes. We conduct training in Belgium and Hong Kong and if necessary on site at customer locations around the world. The curriculum is the same as it is in the U.S. and is usually in English, but depending on the requirements of our customers, we can localize it.
MM commentary: While consistency is important, localizing can be expensive. I’m surprised Lakeview doesn’t offer local training in Latin America so they can attend training on their own continent.
MM: Do many foreigners sit in on your Webcasts?
BM: Webcasts are viewed from many countries. We offer them at different times to accommodate the different time zones and then post the recorded Webcasts on our Web site so people can view them at their convenience. Webcasts are all about where you promote them (or no one will know about them).
We’ve historically been sensitive to the localization of the messages and localized issues and what messages are important to customers in those countries. We’re going to organize those campaigns and messages to be more global. We’ll be promoting Webcasts more globally and we’ll get more international coverage. We currently offer on-demand Webcasts for folks who missed the original broadcasts.
MM commentary: While it’s great that they’re paying attention to the international reach and content of Webcasts, English-only broadcasts may be somewhat of an obstacle.
MM: How many U.S. trade shows do you exhibit at or attend?
BM: Lakeview exhibits at or attends approximately 70 international trade shows each year. Some of the shows are conducted individually as well as jointly with business partners. We use market development funds to which a partner has contributed. We then match dollars and help them run trade shows and other lead-generating events in their country.
MM commentary: I wonder if attendees and exhibitors have fled trade shows abroad as much as they have in the U.S. For those who remain, I wonder how the leads are divided with partners from joint shows.
MM: What languages do you speak?
BM: Just a little Texan every now and then (joking). I’m just picking on my friends in Texas.
MM commentary: Texas almost became a foreign country and some people from there still act like kings.
MM: Has this helped or hurt you internationally?
BM: I don’t think the language has held me back in the role I play. Having language skills can only help. It hasn’t held back our ability to negotiate with partners. We are very blessed and advantaged that English is broadly accepted as the business language of the world. In Europe, we do have people who speak many different languages as well as in our office here. Globally, there is a big head start with English. It’s still taught in many schools. India was a British colony and English is a big advantage for them over in China right now.
MM commentary: I’ve got to echo his comment that “having language skills can only help”. If there is a global business language, it is English. To be able to do something as important as negotiate in English is an even bigger advantage. However, everyone prefers to communicate in their native tongue. If or when you can communicate in other languages, you work on the level of your customers rather than demand they work on ours. Americans often assume that the English-speaking ability of foreigners is better than it really is and slowing down and using a more basic vocabulary usually helps.
MM: What international education have you had?
BM: Nothing formal at the university. However, very early in Lakeview’s life we began to negotiate terms and understand conditions in international distribution reseller agreements. We have a wonderful resource in Baker McKenzie, which has been our lead global law firm. They have offices and skilled staff all over the world. They’ve been very good at delivering the international training programs. They’re an important resource that has significantly contributed to Lakeview’s ability to grow internationally.
MM commentary: The school of hard knocks can be a great teacher. Service providers can be a great help in expanding internationally and Baker McKenzie is one of the best. I’ve avoided interviewing service providers to focus more on those working in the trenches. I may make an exception for Baker.
MM: Have you seen any technical differences in how customers apply your applications in different geographic areas?
BM: We see government users in different countries favoring different platforms on which to build their IT infrastructures. In Brazil, there is a strong movement to Linux (likewise in Germany moving forward). IT is global. A disk is a disk, an application is an application, a database is a database and a network is a network. The character sets, though, are very different. Coming from the infrastructure point of view, we don’t see many differences in the way our technology is applied.
MM commentary: More governments than just these mentioned are moving toward Linux. Though Lakeview probably doesn’t realize it or care, I would bet customers in different countries secure different sets of data because different cultures value different sets of information.
MM: Is there anything else ePrairie readers should know?
BM: We’re very proud to be a local, privately held business that has experienced a lot of success and growth with little to no debt and little to no venture capital investment. Our loyal customers and business partners deserve a lot of the credit for helping us achieve many of our milestones.
Take it from me. It can be done. Also, look to and trust your outside advisors on what it takes to grow internationally. Make sure the advice isn’t engineered too much. If you have a good offering and know how it fits into a whole solution in the marketplace, go out and don’t be afraid to make some mistakes. Don’t shoot people for making mistakes. It’s the only way to learn by trial and error.
MM commentary: To have grown such a successful global business is a great international Chicago success story. While international mistakes can be more expensive than domestic ones, they can be better learning experiences, too.
Michael Muth is managing director of GATA, an international business development consultancy that helps technology companies build international partnerships. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here for Muth’s full biography.
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