It's a big, big world
Want to win international clients? Then go pitch them
July 27, 2010 - Karl Greenlaw is no stranger to taking to the air in the name of a business deal. The CEO of Brovada Technologies Inc. booked 128 flights last year, travelling to the U.S., Europe and other parts of Canada to meet potential clients. "You can't be afraid to travel," says Greenlaw, having just returned from a five-week trip to the U.S.
Indeed, all those plane tickets are the price of growing his Saint John, N.B.-based company, which makes software for the insurance industry. Already a success in Canada -- Brovada has more than 500 clients in this country -- Greenlaw's firm must crack international markets if it is to reach its goal of $10 million in annual sales over the next few years.
The good news is that Greenlaw's effort is starting pay off. This past February he landed Brovada's first major U.S. client, California-based Terrace Software Inc., which became a distributor for Brovada products. He's also in talks with insurance firms in the U.K. and France, with hopes of deals in the near future.
The method behind his success? The same old-fashioned willingness to get out and promote Brovada and its products that got his company off the ground in the first place.
When Greenlaw launched Brovada in 2003, he did it out of his basement, at first writing software for his brother who ran a mortgage business. He moved on from that project to developing software packages for car dealerships, but soon discovered there wasn't much money to be made there. With projects few and far between, and his income not keeping up with his bills, Greenlaw decided to change his focus, calling former colleagues to look for leads and fresh niches. In 2004, he touched base with a former co-worker who was working at an insurance brokerage. It turned out the friend's company needed a new software package for its premium financing records. Greenlaw came up with a proposal and won a deal that allowed him to keep the intellectual property rights for the software he developed.
At the end of that contract, Greenlaw was armed with a product that he could sell. Deals started cropping up almost right away, starting with a brokerage firm in Grand Falls, N.B., which hired Greenlaw to integrate his software with the firm's back-end system.
Soon, Greenlaw was pitching to larger firms, many of which found his software appealing because it was web-based and could be wrapped around their own back-end systems. "After 2005, companies started viewing us as the go-to company," Greenlaw says. In 2007, having established a new office in Moncton, Brovada started talking about going international, beginning with trade shows and pitching Brovada to American companies.
The initial experience, however, was not what Greenlaw and his team expected. Instead of trying to cut deals with Brovada, other companies expressed interest in buying it outright. Greenlaw held out on the offers he received. "We're not interested in selling."
And for good reason. In addition to Brovada's deal with Terrace Software and the talks with European firms, Greenlaw has negotiated a trial partnership with a major player in the U.S. insurance industry. He's not allowed to disclose details at this time, but says that once a deal is announced, it will be significant. "I think the reality is we're leaders in the world," Greenlaw says. "We just haven't seen all of it yet."
1] PICK UP THE PHONE Don't underestimate the importance of cold calls. They're a good opportunity to send out feelers for potential clients. And don't be afraid to make the call yourself. Greenlaw's deal with Terrace Software, for example, started with a cold call he made to the company. "Keep in mind, however, that you have to set your expectations accordingly," he says. For every one successful call Greenlaw makes, he gets 29 "not interested" answers on the phone.
2] BOOK A FLIGHT During the month of May and the first week of June, Greenlaw was home for a total of four days. The rest of the time he was travelling to places such as Dallas, New York and Kansas to meet with potential clients. The week before, he spent 13 days in France and the U.K. It's a gruelling schedule, Greenlaw admits, but meeting potential clients face-to-face helps build confidence. This is especially important for international clients who want to know everything about a foreign company before they do business with it.
3] ADAPT TO CHANGE It's important to stick to a business plan, but entrepreneurs also have to realize that entering international markets can change their company's dynamic, Greenlaw says. "Don't be afraid of changes that force your business into a different direction." In Brovada's case, Greenlaw had an expansion plan when he started to look at the U.S. market. However, when companies in the U.K. and France showed interest, he didn't hesitate to set the company's sights on Europe. "When a new opportunity comes up, adapt to it accordingly."