In our briefings with US vendors which aren't that visible in Europe they often claim that they will start to develop the European market soon. Some one or two years later they are still almost invisible in Europe. There are some obviuos reasons why so many US companies fail to succeed in Europe. They can be split in two categories:

  • The products
  • The market development
Regarding the products, it is important to understand that there are other expectations in many European countries than in the US market. Germans tend to look for the perfect solution, very sophisticated and really fulfilling all their needs, while the Americans seem to accept more point solutions which help to solve an existing problem at least at the 80:20 level.

That doesn't necessarily mean that you need other products for Europe. But US vendors shouldn't raise expectations to high but be realistic and focus on the business values and quick wins there customers can really achieve. Even while this works in many situations there are market segments with very specific European approaches. Role management, for example, tends to be implemented in Europe with a much stronger methodological approach than in the US - and that is reflected in the products.

On the other hand, the strong adoption of products from US vendors in the IAM market proves that the different expectations, requirements and methodological approaches are no insuperable hurdle for success in the European market.

In general I believe that the way a vendor develops the European market and acts in it is the key success factor - and it is where many vendors fail. First of all: There is no success without investment.

There are two approaches to address the market which can (and, in the mid-term, should be combined): Through building an own structure in Europe or through local system integrators. I recommend to start with a small office which mainly focuses on business development in building partnerships with system integrators and really supporting them.

That allows to work with very few offices over Europe - and to deal with the fact that there is not one Europe but there are at least several regions which have to be addressed separately. There is the northern region, e.g. Scandinavia, there is UK and Ireland, there is the D-A-CH region (Germany, Austria, Switzerland), there is southern Europe, there is eastern Europe, there is France, there are the Benelux countries (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg). Some might be addressed from one office. But it usually isn't sufficient to rely only on one office in UK. The business development has to act more local.

Another hurdle is the best practice. Hundreds of customers in the US are not as valuable as one customer in Europe. That is a consequence of the different expectations customers have in the US and in Europe.

Another important aspect is customer support. The partnership with system integrators acting as first level of support solves many of the support issues. But there has to be as well the willingness to accept feature requests from Europe and to address them quickly as to have some technical experts travel to Europe to directly work with the customers in the more complex situations.

To build successful relationships with system integrators, the US vendors have to spend money to educate the system integrators as well as to support the system integrators in promoting their solutions. That should be very focused budgets for specific events, but without investing there won't be any success. Interesting business models where system integrators really can earn money by selling licenses might help as well.

And, last but not least, the US vendor has to become visible. That includes press relations (again, specific for any country) as well as presence on the main events around IAM in Europe. If the vendor isn't represented at these events the customer will doubt that the vendor is really a reliable partner in Europe. Besides this, these events are a good place to build up partnerships with system integrators.

All these initiatives will require some investment - and given the strong Euro these are even more costly for US vendors. On the other hand there are so many customers in Europe, especially in the mid-sized business, without IAM solutions that there is a good chance for a quick return on investment, given that the market entry and business development in Europe is done the right way.