Caitlin Sykes

Your Business editor of the NZ Herald

Small business: Crossing the ditch

Sarah Perry, chief operating officer of SnapComms.
Sarah Perry, chief operating officer of SnapComms.

We Kiwis like to think we share a bit in common with Australians and the way they do things. We're neighbours, after all, with a heap of shared cultural traditions.

But talk to Kiwi companies doing business in the Australian market and many will say one of their biggest surprises has been that the two countries are not as similar as they once thought.

SnapComms, an Auckland-based firm that develops and markets employee communications software, has been doing business in Australia since 2009.

Sarah Perry, the company's chief operating officer, says taking part in a Path to Market programme with New Zealand Trade and Enterprise was an eye-opener in relation to the Aussie market.

"The key take away from that course was it is important not to treat the Australian market the same as New Zealand. Prior to that we had assumed both markets would be similar," she says.

Experience has taught the firm, she says, that while a New Zealand company might buy their solution following a demonstration, an Australian company wants to see more evidence of an ability to deliver - and if you don't back that up, the sale may well fall through.

The bulk of SnapComms' business comes from the US and UK, and being able to leverage off credibility gained in the States in particular has helped the company gain traction in Australia, Perry says.

Bella Katz, a Kiwi who's been based in Melbourne for more than a decade, is a branding and marketing consultant who advises Kiwi companies going into Australia.

"One of the biggest mistakes New Zealand businesses make is half-heartedly, dabbling here and there while talking up the 'Kiwiness' of the business," she says.

For companies considering entering the Australian market, Katz advises doing some serious desk research or, better still, getting on a plane and taking a look for yourself.

"Be prepared to spend some money and put a local spin on your New Zealand business. Not every business can use the 'We're a New Zealand company' message to its advantage. Have something more to offer than being Kiwi," she advises.

And tap people based in Australia, or Kiwi companies already in the market for advice, she adds.

Kathy Ross, managing director of online transport management software provider iCOS LIVE, echoes Katz' advice about being adequately resourced before crossing the ditch, and the importance of spending time in market.

"Be careful about who you take advice from," she adds. "There are so many paths you can be led down that look good but turn out to be best for someone else's company, not yours. The most reliable advice comes from people who have already done what you are trying to do - even if it's in another industry."

Sarah Perry - SnapComms

Sarah Perry is chief operating officer of SnapComms, which develops and markets employee communications software.

When and why did SnapComms first enter the Australian market?

We entered the Australian market in 2009 with Australian Customs being our first customer. In order to build a profitable business we've needed to look beyond New Zealand shores for customers; our software solution is primarily suitable for businesses with more than 1000 staff, so the scope to grow the business in New Zealand alone was too limited.

What's the current state of your business there?

Australia is an emerging market for us - the bulk of our current business is in the UK and US - but Australia is a key market for us. We see potential across all industries in Australia, with a focus on the Melbourne and Sydney markets.

Although Australia is still a small part of our overall business turnover, this should increase dramatically as we look to bring a reseller on-board over there. We've found across all markets, having the right people on the ground definitely helps gain market traction.

What other strategies have worked well for you in terms of gaining traction in Australia?

Think global, act local has been our war cry from day one. When going into the US we created a very US-centric website that used US English as standard, had a US address, US bank account and so on. By doing this companies felt more comfortable dealing with us as we appeared to be a US company. This has given us the credibility to enter the Australian market - something we would have struggled with if we'd chosen Australia as our second market, after New Zealand, to enter.

We've found that rather than just trying to sell our software solution to businesses, we try to provide value to our customers and potential customers by providing internal communications best practice white papers on our website, and useful tips on how to manage crisis and outage communications.

We also provide a monthly newsletter to prospects and customers - who opt to receive it; this contains trends in the communications space along with handy tips and tricks, customer case studies and any updates that have been applied to the SnapComms solution. The case studies are a great tool for our sales teams to sell into Australia as they give us credibility.

What approaches have been less successful?

The approach that has not been successful is assuming Australian companies are similar to New Zealand companies - which in themselves are quite hard to sell to. Where a New Zealand company might buy our solution after a software demonstration, an Australian company wants more evidence of ability to deliver, and if you don't have the credentials or evidence to back that up, it's likely the sale will fall through.

Have there been any particular resources or sources of support services that have been helpful for you on your journey into the Australian market?

We went on a Path to Market programme with New Zealand Trade and Enterprise. This was a real eye opener, and a key take away from that course was it is important not to treat the Australian market the same as New Zealand. Prior to that we had assumed both markets would be similar.

What are three key pieces of advice you'd have for other small New Zealand businesses looking to take on Australia?

1. Build your credibility in the market. In our case, we had to take our software solution to the US market in order to gain market credibility, and an Australian company is far more likely to buy your product if a US company has endorsed it, as opposed to a New Zealand-based company endorsing it. If you appear to be a US-based company and/or have offices in the US then this also helps.

2. Make yourself and your business visible. Sponsor an industry event, make sure you target Australia via Google Adwords and Facebook ads and consider building a local Facebook presence, depending on what you sell. LinkedIn and Twitter are worth considering as well.

3. Network. Attend conferences, industry networking events and grab any speaking opportunities that are offered. Australians like face-to-face meetings so having staff on the ground there will definitely give you an advantage.

Coming up in Small Business: Wearable technology is one of the hottest sectors in high-tech. What are some of the cool companies operating in this space in New Zealand? If you've got a story to share, drop me a note: nzhsmallbusiness@gmail.com

- NZ Herald

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