5 golden rules of hiring a successful country manager

5 golden rules of hiring a successful country manager

Hiring a Country Manager to drive expansion into a specific international market is a critical decision CEOs make on their growth journey. Market-dependant factors, cultural differences, and cross-border organisational challenges are just a few of the many issues that companies face. At Mutual Benefits we’ve helped many leaders navigate this process, as well as seen many examples of how it can go very wrong. This article explores the “5 Golden Rules” that we advocate to clients when they are considering this next step in their international growth.

Rule #1 – Understand the market before you hire

Are you really ready to hire a Country Manager? Many companies think that hiring is a necessary first step to open up a new territory but taking this approach can be a costly error. Invest in better understanding and engaging with the market before you recruit. Starting the hiring process before you have 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, which is best done with a local partner supporting one of the leadership team. There are also tools available for market intelligence that can deliver insight ahead of hiring, something that we’ll post about in the future.

Rule #2 – Get it right, first time!

As with any key role in the business, it’s important 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 12 months 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 3-6 months
  • the new hire will need another 3-6 months to be fully operational
On top of this, you will lose the trust of your clients, prospects, investors and team members and the the wrong person can negatively impact your brand in the market and potentially close doors for the future. Ultimately, hiring too fast could result in a delay of 12 months (not even considering what this is 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 is it more a business development profile? Because it’s not the same. Be very clear about what the person will need to do. 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 manage 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 which case managerial competences should be considered, which 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 really need them to do (and deliver) and write 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

Whether you decide to get professional help, such as a headhunter, or want to take a more network-related approach to sourcing for the role, it’s best to get local help. Local knowledge, of the talent market as well as broader cultural differences is essential. Be aware of foreign employment laws before starting to hire. If you don’t have this information before engaging with potential candidates, it’s 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 have an impact on 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, particularly if the candidate will be working 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 sales driven and need the basic 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 a lot of motivation from the candidate. If you don’t give them the tools they need they are apt to find their own solutions, which can potentially lead to a suboptimal approach to the market, with incorrect messaging and positioning of your brand. We’ve seen many instances where companies that have fallen foul or one or several of these rules. A good example was an organisation that we assisted with entry into 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 of which were critical elements of the role).
  • The company didn’t understand the market fully, leading to unrealistic expectations and, ultimately, setting too high targets.
  • In addition, they had relied upon the country manager to research the market, which lead to messaging and pricing that was not adapted to the market, further compounding the lack of traction.
All of these errors could have been avoided by following the “5 Golden Rules.” Published originally by Andrea Vaugan on LinkedIn in 2018
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