Building a Sales Team in Europe: Lessons Learned

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If your SaaS company is considering expanding from the U.S. to Europe, there’s good news: Building a successful sales team in Europe actually isn’t so different from building one in the U.S., but I have observed a few key differences.

As Head of Sales at Artsy, I supervise sales representatives that serve the U.S., Europe, and Hong Kong. In my experience, I’ve learned that about 85-90% of sales management is the same in the U.S. and Europe.

The core of sales is universal

It’s a myth that the inside sales strategies that work in the U.S. don’t work in Europe. I’ve heard that Europeans don’t pick up the phone as frequently and prefer in-person meetings. But cold-calling works in Europe, too. You can build an inside sales team using the same basic strategies that work in The United States.

Actually, companies moving into the European market enjoy several notable advantages. Because the market is less flooded there, your sales team’s actions can have greater impact. Especially if your market is new in Europe, there are a lot of opportunities for you to tap. Once you have prospects in the pipeline, you can very well end up generating sales at a faster rate than you did in the U.S.

Cultural differences in building a sales team in Europe

When building a sales team in a new market, you want to look for the same qualities that you look for in all of your U.S.-based sales representatives. However, there are some cultural differences that should influence your decisions.

1) Find people with industry-specific expertise

In the U.S., industry-specific experience is less critical for sales positions. There is a cultural expectation that you will learn the industry as you go along. I myself have worked in a wide variety of companies: sports analytics, a recruitment startup, and now Artsy: a technology company that works with art galleries and museums. In the U.S., this kind of hopping between industries is common. Most of our American hires didn’t have previous experience in the art world.

But in moving to the European market, we’ve noticed that buyers hold sales reps to the standard of an expert. Especially in the high density art regions (Germany, Spain, France), it takes someone with industry knowledge to successfully connect with customers. To adapt, we now specifically target SDR candidates with art expertise. Our reps with previous industry experience have been more successful because they can speak that language to get conversations off the ground.

2) Build a team of SDRs that can work together effectively

One of the biggest mistakes I see companies make when expanding abroad is to only hire one or two SDRs in a new country. These SDRs become isolated. They’re not part of a broader culture that breeds sales success. It’s very likely they’ll develop bad habits without supervision and without a larger support structure. They won’t achieve the same sales numbers they might otherwise be able to achieve. And once they’re outside your core team, they’re hard to bring back into the fold.

When you’re expanding, I recommend hiring three or more new SDRs for the new country. These new hires will form a team that can support each other in entering this new market. If your company only has enough capital to pay one SDR in Europe, it’s better to save your money rather than invest piecemeal in a new team.

Cultural differences in the European sales process

Once you have a core team in place, take a step back and consider what the primary drivers for your sales process in America have been. Use your processes from the U.S. to guide your strategy in Europe, but be prepared to make a few adjustments based on local conditions.

1) Expect more in-person meetings

Your sales reps will need to make more in-person visits in Europe as compared to the U.S., especially when closing deals.

In general, you can expect your sales team to spend at least 10-15% of their time outside of the office. Europeans tend to perceive B2B transactions in more personal terms than Americans, so agreeing to a major deal over the phone or e-mail isn’t done as frequently. Contacting prospects cold still works at the top of the funnel, so this should remain a part of your larger sales strategy.

2) Personalization: the key to success in Europe

In the U.S., there’s a cultural expectation that B2B purchases are a cold business transaction. But European buyers expect a more personalized service. In selecting members for your new sales team, you want team members who can adapt their approach based on prospects’ personalities and really get to know them as individuals.

Some American sales representatives utilize an aggressive approach, following up every 3-4 days and calling relentlessly until a sale is made. These SDRs are less likely to be successful in Europe. SDRs who are adaptable and utilize a more restrained approach are a better fit for the European market.

3) Payments will take longer to process, lengthening the sales cycle.

You should expect a longer sales cycle in Europe. Our team at Artsy has observed that on average, sales take between 15 and 30 days longer in Europe. A lot of that difference is because there are different business practices in each market. In the U.S. it is common to put business-related expenses on credit cards, but this is rarely done in Europe, especially in countries where English is not the primary language.

A longer process of collecting payment reflects a larger cultural difference. Europeans prefer to take their time with major decisions. Your team should understand these differences and be willing to work with customers through the process.

Final thoughts

Starting up a successful sales team in Europe requires planning, but it is very possible to achieve. If you’re willing to execute, adapt, and learn from local conditions, you can easily enter new markets and enjoy success.

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Greg is the Head of Sales at Artsy. Prior to his position at Artsy, he was the Head of Sales at WayUp, Director of Sales at Krossover and a founding member of the Close.io sales team.

  • Great read for me to start the year. I would also recommend investing in local knowledge and segmented market insights basing on statistics of performance and market reaction to equip your sales team.