Crossing the Border: SOM Students Help A Canadian Company Identify Inroads Into the U.S. Market.

September 08, 2015

Woman climbing ladder

Teresa Nelson's MBA students aided Fusion Learning Inc. to increase expansion opportunities in the U.S.

Article first appeared in Spring 2015 SOM Management Magazine

The opportunities can seem endless when a company seeks to expand into a new market. But successful expansion for any business comes as a result of thoughtful preparation, thorough research, and careful strategic planning. The students in Professor Teresa Nelson’s Simmons School of Management strategic management capstone course had a chance to experience this first hand when they took on a consultancy project to help Fusion Learning Inc. identify a foothold and new expansion markets in the United States.

Fusion Learning Inc. is one of Canada’s leading providers of sales strategy, sales management training, and consultancy, helping businesses improve their sales performance through customized, targeted, training programs. It has built a strong reputation in the Canadian market and sees significant growth opportunities in the United States. In 2013 Fusion hired Simmons School of Management alumna Carol Roby ’09SM as vice president of sales force effectiveness for its Fusion Learning USA team to help build and grow this market.

Roby’s efforts had gained traction in the past year. However, she was seeking new ideas to help understand the US market and increase sales opportunities. Through the alumnae-faculty network of Simmons, Professor Teresa Nelson became aware of Roby’s new position. The two women, who had stayed in touch over the years, met and designed a project for Nelson’s class that, if successful, would help Fusion Learning USA identify which of the multitude of US expansion opportunities might best yield new business. 

The capstone class jumped to this challenge. Teams began work on understanding Fusion’s strengths and weaknesses, conducting a competitive analysis, examining benchmarks, and looking for potential markets for entry into the US.

Understanding a company’s market differentiation is one of the first steps to take to determine possible growth targets. What makes the company unique? Where does it excel in product or service over that of its immediate competitors? The class’s careful study of Fusion revealed that its market differentiation lies in its ability to customize content, build relationships, and deliver excellent face-to-face content. 

Is an already crowded field ready for the services Fusion can provide? The class looked at the state of the industry today in the US. With the economy emerging from recession, consumers are starting to spend money again; however, consumer purchasing behaviors have changed. Companies need to learn how to adapt to this change and this may require a change in their sales strategy. The class’s research showed that companies are looking to hire sales training and consulting firms to help them be effective in sales in today’s new economy. 

What competitive benchmarking factors does Fusion need to be aware of as it hones in on its target markets? Based on the strategies, objectives, resources, and assumption of the industry, the class anticipates Fusion’s competitors will do the following:

  • Engage in aggressive targeting tactics to acquire clients 
  • Offer complementary services to give customers more value for money spent
  • Utilize technology as part of their package as well as offer technology resources to clients to help enhance client’s sales goals 
  • Provide online sales training workshops and webinars
  • Seek to expand into new markets

Fusion needs to be ready to respond to its competitors by keeping these benchmarks in mind. Careful planning around these assumptions will help the company keep up with its competitors—or stay one step ahead of them.

When considering expansion into a crowded foreign market, strategy, consulting, and training companies such as Fusion Learning Inc. can find opportunities in places where at least one of four key factors exist: market instability, a growing market, significant vertical integration within the industry, or a high level of sensitivity to changes in trends. For Fusion USA, the class identified several industries where these opportunities could be found.

Recent changes and fluctuations in the US health insurance market due to the affordable care act mean many individuals now need to purchase insurance directly from a provider. This “retailization” of the market creates new opportunities in an industry not accustomed to working with individual consumers. Insurance products can seem complicated and confusing to the public—another factor that lends itself to the need for quality face-to-face selling. These are all areas where Fusion’s sales strategy and sales training services can potentially have a big impact.

Renewable energy is an industry that has seen impressive expansion over the past decades. The concern over climate change and new regulations are forcing industries to look for ways to adopt alternate and renewable energies. This is creating a strong business opportunity for renewable energy producers. Well-trained sales representatives are needed to effectively communicate the need for change and the strengths of their particular products. Fusion has an opportunity to help in this area.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the oil and gas industry could also benefit from Fusion’s expertise. Oil and gas is a highly vertically integrated industry, with opportunities to share unified training both across business units and up and down the supply chain. Targeting vertically integrated companies means less effort is required to market to a wider audience, and allows for economies of scale in pricing for the companies contracting Fusion Learning’s services—a win-win for both Fusion and for the companies that invest in its services.

When looking for an industry that is sensitive to changes in trends, the financial services industry comes to mind. In the US, new regulatory initiatives combined with the increased scrutiny on the industry has firms looking for new ways to create and effectively promote their products—and consumers looking for firms they can trust. This creates opportunities for companies that can find the appropriate strategic sales approach to reach an educated yet skeptical consumer. Fusion could make strong inroads here, particularly with boutique financial service firms or with firms looking to tap underserved markets.

In addition to drawing these general conclusions about industries to target, the class identified 10 specific firms within each industry Fusion Learning USA might approach to offer its services. This level of detail the class provided in both its background analysis and recommendations served to both reinforce and add insight to the strategic direction Roby and her team are creating at Fusion. Carol Roby says, “It has been my good fortune to work with this group of talented Simmons women and a great point of pride for me personally. Their work on behalf of Fusion has added valuable insights and will help inform our strategy and next steps.” 

Jane Hayward

Jane N. Hayward ’10GS is the editor of Management Magazine and has been the faculty design director since its inception. She leads the creative services team at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and is an adjunct faculty member at the Simmons School of Management.

Fern RemediBrown

Fern Remedi-Brown, has expertise in designing programs that understand the needs of multicultural and multilingual populations. She has a passion for eliminating global healthcare inequities. She has a Master’s of Education and an MBA from Simmons with a concentration in Global Health Care.