Macron effect is fuelling French revolution for Irish companies
Opportunity comes to pass, not pause, and right now it's in France. That was the message from Terry McGivern, chief operating officer of Smurfit Kappa in France and keynote speaker at Ambition France.
The recent event in Dublin provided seminars, presentations and panel discussions from Irish companies already succeeding in France.
The audience included a highly targeted group of businesses keen to follow suit.
Ambition France was a first step in creating a peer group of companies selling into the country, and the first in a series of Enterprise Ireland workshops for eurozone markets.
My aim is to build a network of in-country experience and expertise that others can tap into.
France is the sixth-biggest market in the world, with a GDP of €2.5 trillion and a population of 66 million.
Delegates came away with a sense of the opportunity that exists in this growing market, where consumer confidence is buoyed by the "Macron effect".
Part of the reason I'm building this peer group is because we know that having a network of people willing to share successful commercial tactics helps accelerate business success.
With France, however, there is also an additional reason. A key recurring theme at Ambition France was how hugely relationship-based a market it is, and how challenging it can be to develop these relationships. Securing a referral helps enormously, which is why I'm keen to bring first-time entrants together with seasoned campaigners.
Recruitment can be a challenge. Niall Fay of Grant Engineering told of his company's recent success securing experienced French staff to help open up the market. It was a significant advantage in a country in which having team members with established relationships is so important.
To overcome these challenges, Irish businesses need to make their value proposition clear and really sell the company to prospective employees. It's worth doing, when local staff with a strong network of contacts can be a huge advantage in accessing buyers.
We at Enterprise Ireland help too - opening doors, fostering links, and ensuring French buyers are aware that Ireland is a dynamic country with which to do business.
We prepare the ground so that the companies we support are not met by outdated, but sometimes lingering, perceptions that Ireland is primarily agricultural.
The best way to assess the market is to get out there, advised Shane Lyons of Ei Electronics: "Meet the customer, find out how they buy, and what they are interested in. Then develop a solution that suits them. Use Enterprise Ireland, use their contacts, get to exhibitions, and get a sense of where the market is going."
It is more important than ever to do this. Brexit presents a huge opportunity for Irish companies to position themselves as alternative English-speaking suppliers.
To capitalise on this opportunity, however, you must be fully au fait with French business culture - or rather cultures. It is a country of huge regional variations, delegates at Ambition France heard, so acquaint yourself with local nuances. Invest in linguistic skills. Andrew Fleury, CEO of Transpoco, told how his staff takes French lessons via Skype. "It makes it easier to do business and clients are very appreciative of it," he said.
That's for sure. I have seen many deals scuppered by ignorance of basic business etiquette.
For example, Irish people almost by default go into a meeting shaking hands and chatting about the weather and their trip over. But if you are dealing with a large French company, that's a faux pas.
Meetings here are much more formal. Focus on the business, plan your presentation to the Nth degree and demonstrate - with evidence - why you are the best supplier with the best product. Keep chat for later.
It's the kind of thing a peer would tell you and you'll be glad they did, because right now, in France, opportunity is here for the taking.
Sinead Lonergan is country manager France for Enterprise Ireland, based in Paris
Sunday Indo Business