Last year, we were contact by our local university to participate in a business development mission to India. We would sponsor a graduate student of marketing, who would go to India on our behalf. We could set any business development goals we wanted. The mission was presented as a good way to learn about this huge market and how we could adapt AceProject to increase sales in India.

We figured this was a great opportunity. After all, India is poised to become one of the biggest economies on the planet. Its growth has been above 6% every year in the last decade. This is a market where we definitely want to be.

We would learn more about India. In fact, we thought, why not actually hire someone in India to do our customer service and sales? We knew one reason why our sales are not spectacular in Asia is the time zone difference.

Hence, we tasked our representative for the mission to not meet with a project management association, explore the feasibility of hiring someone in India to work for us directly, and meet with some of our existing clients.

Before take-off: it doesn't look good

Vanessa, our representative for this mission, found challenges even before landing in India. She had a hard time contacting companies by email and phone. In order to call India during the daytime there, she would have to make her calls in the middle of the night. There were very few responses to Vanessa's emails, and the responses arrived several weeks after her sending the initial message.

We were still excited about sending Vanessa to India: it would be a great opportunity to learn about doing business in this country.

On site: we are far from home

As our representative Vanessa, wrote in her emails, India is so different from North America it's stupefying. On the practical level, even in the cities, neither electricity nor Internet access are reliable. Power outages are frequent. In office buildings, they may have generators and be able to maintain power during the outages. Still, the availability of the Internet cannot be relied upon. This would make hiring someone to work from home pretty much impossible.

Hiring someone from a call center would seem like a better option, but with a 30% turnover rate, it would mean having someone new every few month, and we would spend too much time training the person, only to see her move one to another company and have to start over (again).

Moreover, in India, social contact is very important. It's important to meet a representative for the product they want to buy. It's important to them to develop a relationship with their suppliers. Connections and contacts play a very important role in the way business is conducted. For us being so far away, it makes it hard to establish this type of meaningful contact with our clients in India.

Back home: next steps

If hiring someone to work at home won't work, and "renting" someone from a call center will be too unstable, what should we do? 

Our first goal is to improve our availability to our Asian customers, so that they can call someone during their normal business hours. Hiring someone closer to Asia (in Europe, for example), might be easier to manage. The time zone difference is shorter, and the work / business culture is closer to Canada's. It would seem like a good compromise.