What is it like to lead a European-headquartered firm in the US? Matt Greninger, Managing Director of the Americas region at NeoXam, talks to Erevena’s Chris Warner and Eric Liao about his journey into European start-ups and the cultural nuances that shape his working day.

Key Takeaways

  • Success in Europe doesn’t make success in the US a foregone conclusion. With no referenceable US clients, you need to tackle the market almost as if it is brand new.
  • There are cultural nuances that need to be addressed, in particular there’s more reticence in Europe when it comes to telling you that something’s not right.
  • Americans tend to be more comfortable with tension in the sales cycle.
  • Europeans tend to have a more listening culture and a more collaborative process exists.
  • There are significant cultural differences you need to take into account when dealing with people from different European countries.
  • Be structured in how you get together as an executive committee when you’re working across regions.
  • Hire for the market you’re selling into – bringing in a British salesperson here in America may not work.


In conversation

Tell us a bit about your role

I became Managing Director of the Americas region at NeoXam in January this year. NeoXam is a European-headquartered provider of financial software and services to asset management and capital market firms globally. While I’m based out of the New York City office, I also enjoy a certain amount of travel as I oversee go-to-market initiatives for the region, manage client accounts, and strengthen NeoXam’s local reputation.

What’s your background in Go-to-Market leadership?

In a sense, I fell into it. I’d worked at Moody’s for three years on their go-to-market before moving into the start-up world. When I joined Moody’s, new products were simply rolled out to sales, with the team just expected to run with them. But I could see that this didn’t work. Sales needed to know who they should be targeting and what the value prop was, or they would simply go back to selling the products they were most familiar and comfortable with.

So, I asked the head of sales to let me launch the new products, finding the first 10 to 15 customers, identifying who to target and building real customer stories before each product was handed over to the sales team. This worked. We saw twice as many sales being made than with previous launches.

How did this prompt a move into the start-up world?

I realised how much I enjoyed developing go-to-market strategies. Working at a start-up would be an opportunity to do this at an early stage. And while I enjoyed learning about financial institutions and how banks and asset managers worked while I was at Moody’s, there wasn’t an opportunity to really get to know how a business worked. That’s what I wanted to do and joining an early stage company offered me the opportunity.

What attracted you to European-based start-ups?

Knowing that I wanted to go to a small company, it was clear that there were lots based in Europe, which had a growing ecosystem. There was also the fact that, whereas a US-based start-up would already be in one of the world’s biggest markets from the outset, for a European company seeking to expand, the go-to-market strategy would be very different. They would have to consider how to break-in to the US as quickly as possible and that’s the direction my journey has taken me. So, while I’d say I knew the world of start-ups was where I wanted to be, I then fell into a European company.

Is there anything culturally that you particularly enjoy in a European business?

I am a naturally curious person and really like diverse backgrounds. When I joined Duco as their Head of Sales for the Americas after leaving Moody’s, I was only their 21st employee, yet we had some six or seven nationalities. At Moody’s in an office of 4,000 people, almost every single person was American, so I was excited by the cultural diversity at Duco. It’s a similar story at NeoXam, where we have our HQ in Paris, France, but almost 20 offices around the globe. There are South Africans, Australians, Singaporeans, Chinese, and more – it’s just fun hearing other people’s stories. While we all work for the same company, we all got there in very different ways, solving different challenges.

What cultural nuance stands out between US and European ways of working?

I’d say there’s more reticence in Europe when it comes to telling you that something’s not right. I found quickly when I first worked for a UK-headquartered company that the best way to counter any indirectness was by being direct myself. I’d tell people that I’d rather hear if my idea was dumb than run with something they knew wasn’t going to work. Half the battle was assuring people I wouldn’t be offended if hearing the truth meant I didn’t waste my time (and theirs) on building something that they weren’t going to do anything with. They just needed to tell me why it wouldn’t work so that I could avoid bringing other similar ideas to them in the future!

Can you expand on this need to be more forthright – and how it affects the sales cycle?

As an example, if we’re talking about a Proof of Concept and a sales cycle of 9-12 months, there’s no point being reticent about asking the client prying questions. Unless those questions are asked, you could end up getting to proposal stage after months of work only to discover you are way off the mark and you’ve wasted everyone’s time. Americans are much more up-front in their conversations about money. They’ll have those conversations and discuss ballpark figures early on.

Americans are also more comfortable with tension in the sales cycle and will happily ask the potential client if they really do need this or that, whereas I think the Brits are more inclined to let the prospect lead and tell them what they want. I always tell my British colleagues that we need to dictate the process because we’ve sold these products hundreds of times, whereas the prospect is only buying it once, so we’re the ones with the better handle on it.

Within Europe itself, are their big cultural differences between companies?

Yes. They are wildly different. For example, the French come with much more of a data-driven approach to things. If you want to change a firm opinion or challenge an approach, you need to come at it with all the numbers, science and data to prove them wrong! I’d say the Brits are more open to reasoning, rather than needing all the data.

What should a new exec ask a European company planning expansion into the US?

When you interview for a EU company, you want to understand their GTM plan; how many customers do they have, what revenue and how are they pricing locally? I’ve seen companies coming into the US market believing it was OK to charge full price because they already had traction in Europe. But these companies didn’t have any referenceable customers locally – no one in the US wants to talk to a French reference client who only speaks French! You might be the Porsche or Lamborghini of your sector in Europe, but nobody knows who you are in the US! If the company doesn’t understand that, or they’re not willing to adapt to it, this could spell their demise pretty quickly.

It’s important to find out if the company is comfortable with attacking the US almost as if it was a new market. Could they think back several years when they were building in Europe and do it all over again in the US? Are they OK with making less margin, buying into the market a little bit, and growing it over time? Are you aligned in our thinking in terms of the pitfalls to avoid? For example, a mistake that I’ve seen (luckily not in any of the companies I’ve worked for) is to put one lonely salesperson in an office in the US and then expect them to go and conquer the market. If you look at the asset management space alone, there’s 4,000 firms and one salesperson would just drown in the volume.

Does working in the Americas for a non-US company change your leadership style?

This is not a good role for somebody who’s a micromanager. If you’re working with people in different time zones, it’s not possible to micromanage them because you may only overlap for two or three hours a day. So, you need to be more communicative than you would in another firm that’s based wholly in one region. You should be very explicit upfront about your expectations so that everyone knows what good looks like. When I’ve been reporting to the chief revenue officer sitting in London or a CEO in Paris or London, my habit has been to send a weekly recap email filling them in on what’s going on and what they need to know. This engenders trust as people know that I’m on it and they don’t need to keep asking for updates. It buys you a lot of goodwill.

Does this same level of communication apply to people reporting into you?

I tell my reports what I expect of them. If we’re looking at a long sales cycle, I can’t wait 9 to 12 months to figure out if a salesperson is good or not. So, I need to be looking at early indicators, such as how many new meetings they’ve had in the first three months or how many new customers they’re talking to and what opportunities they’re creating. Then, in the next 3 to 6 months I want to know about the velocity of those deals. Are they sitting in a specific pipeline stage for too long? Or are they moving them from discovery to demo to PoC, to proposal. How are they moving them through? What are their conversion rates from discovery to PoC, and from PoC to proposal? Ultimately, at the end of the 9 to 12 months you start to see the closing.

Have you noticed a difference between how US and European execs approach collaboration?

My feeling is that Europeans have a more listening culture where feedback from employees is incorporated in the business. You’ll see more use of internal employee Net Promoter Scores in Europe as companies seek to find out how their employees feel about working there and whether they’re happy or would recommend the company to others.

At management level there’s often positive disagreement in European headquartered companies with execs hashing things out between them in management meetings. Then when a decision is made, they’ll commit to it. They might not agree with the decision, but they don’t set out to thwart it because it’s been a collaborative process. I also think there’s more of a willingness amongst managers in Europe to go to their teams and ask them what’s broken and where the bottlenecks are. Of course, it’s then the manager’s job to work out how to fix things but I think American managers don’t always want to ask those questions.

What best practice approach works for you when it comes to exec committee collaboration?

You need to be more structured in how you get together as an executive committee when you’re working across regions. One of the best models was at Duco where we had a virtual hour-long meeting every week, which was really just firefighting, and a virtual half-day meeting every month looking at how were doing against our objectives. Then on a quarterly basis, we’d have a two-day off-site in person, talking strategy and planning for the next quarter. This way of communicating and collaborating really worked for us as a company.

How do the cultural considerations impact hiring decisions when building your own team?

I think the main thing is that you need to hire for the market you’re selling into. So, me hiring a British salesperson here in America would probably not work that well. One other factor to consider – although these characters don’t really exist that much in FinTech – is that a big, loud, boisterous American salesperson will never survive in a European-headquartered firm. They’d be like a bull in a china shop and the CEO over in Europe would look at them as if they were a moron – and that’s never good for me as the hirer.

What practical advice would you give to North American executives considering joining a company with European roots?

I come back to the need to be overly communicative and let people know about problems. Even if it’s something you can fix, still flag it up because you don’t want other execs to find out via somebody else and it turns out you knew about it all along. So, keep communicating would be my advice.

Beyond your innate curiosity, what other qualities have served you well in your career?

Being analytical is important. You need to make decisions quickly based on the information you have and then be able to justify those decisions. So, it might be the decision to focus on a specific market segment, which is something I’m looking at right now. My analytical thinking has enabled me to look at the market and identify a niche that we should go after. But it’s also important that you don’t over think things and suffer from analysis paralysis. You need to be able to pivot once you gather more data if it shows you’re going in the wrong direction.

Other than that, in terms of qualities that have served me well, I like to speak to people and understand other ways of doing things. And I enjoy traveling. This job has allowed me to do all those things.

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Chris Warner, Partner

Specialisms: Sales, Marketing, SaaS, FinTech

Eric Liao, Principal

Specialisms: Sales, Customer Success, Marketing, SaaS (Bottoms-Up/Enterprise)

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