In June, the 2015 Export Awards recognized New Brunswick companies that have achieved recent and/or ongoing success in developing new markets and expanding their reach. Opportunities NB (ONB) wanted to take advantage of our relationships with some of that event’s featured speakers and get their thoughts on achieving export success in Canada.
Beth Webster is VP – Operations with Populus Global Solutions, a tech company dedicated to helping organizations create better health outcomes. Webster brings to the table over 20 years of senior management experience in business development and management in the knowledge sector. She’s been recognized as the Knowledge Industry Person of the Year at the New Brunswick KIRA Awards in 2003, sits on a host of community and provincial boards, and is an active volunteer for many non-profits.
ONB was fortunate enough to chat with Beth about Populus Global, New Brunswick, and more.
ONB: What were some of the most significant obstacles faced by Populus on its road to export success?
Webster: First is building credibility. Regardless of where you are and where you’re trying to sell, it’s building that credibility to prove that you can bring value to your customers. Sometimes it’s just about having to work really hard. When you’re smaller, sometimes you’re at a disadvantage because the big guys are known. People know the brand and the company. Even if they’re more expensive because they’re a known commodity you’re up against the wall out of the gate. It’s about being able to prove at the outset that you’re bringing value and that you have a reason for someone to listen to you. Getting the opportunity to find out the pain points of prospective customers that you’re able to solve is the challenge.
Are there any attributes of New Brunswick that have played significant roles in your organization’s success?
For us, it’s having access to really good people. We have great schools, particularly for our industry. The University of New Brunswick’s Computer Science faculty has been a great place to find skilled, smart, driven team members. It’s easy to create an environment where people feel good about what they’re doing, they understand what it is you do, and they’re happy to work within the team. Building that team environment is easy in New Brunswick. I think we have talent with skill sets that can compete around the world. There is a resilience and a drive that sits within entrepreneurs and business owners in New Brunswick, but also in the team members that join those growing export companies.
It seems agreed upon that New Brunswickers underestimate ourselves and that we don’t do enough to sell our strengths. There’s a degree of humbleness to this region, and we too often seem to feel like we can’t compete with larger markets.
Right. For an organization like ours, however, when you’re working with these outside regions, you really do get to see that you are bringing strength to the table. That’s a big advantage of being in an export position. We get to see what else is out there. You then realize that we have some of the best talent right here. We have good people that can compete with those in other markets. It’s about learning what you have here, and not undervaluing and underestimating it.
How important is it to understand the culture of target markets?
Many at our company have either lived abroad or worked abroad. We tend to agree that you do need to understand cultural differences. There is some cultural appreciation you simply must have, just in terms of business styles. Going to meetings in North America is one example. If you’re going to a meeting for a certain time, you have to be there by five or ten minutes to. There is a much more relaxed approach to those types of things in other parts of the world. You cannot impose your strategies and cultural standards on it; you learn to be calm and accommodating.
We have found great leaders around the world that are interested in doing something different and getting great outcomes. You learn to appreciate the finer nuances. You learn that there are a lot of similarities around the world, and there are some differences — be ready to manage both.
Are there any notable surprises you’ve come across along the way?
I don’t know that I’d say there have been many huge surprises, no. I think we learn as we go, and in any environment, you learn to pivot. Every time you meet with someone you learn something that helps you hone your message or hone your pitch. You pick up something new every time that helps you find new ways to grab new opportunities. You find things that need adjusting that will help for next time.
We stay open to what we can learn, we listen to our customers and users, understand what isn’t working, and find new potential customers willing to give us feedback. If you stay open to what they’re saying, you’ll open doors.
If you think it’s going to happen overnight, it won’t. It takes time, patience, energy, and yes, money. But when you start to see it come together and start building on those stories, it will be worth it. That’s something we’ve learned — keep telling your story over and over.
That goes back to your point about being a smaller brand going against the big names. Your story needs to be front and centre for these new markets to see. What’s your best piece of advice for other businesses looking to see export success?
That’s a hard one. Believe in what you have to offer, first. But listen for nuances that indicate that if you change your offer slightly, you can be successful. Most importantly, be brave.
We are focused on the export market for the foreseeable future. We don’t see a limit to where we can go around the globe. Our tagline is “What is technology without humanity?” but it’s not just a tagline, it’s who we are, and we hope to continue improving health outcomes with technology from right here in New Brunswick.
Images via Populus Global Solutions.