Commercialization lessons from the Netherlands

This article will launch our series of country reviews with insight from experts in the Proof network. Here we’ll discuss and present some excellent market opportunities for Finnish companies.  

Finns are often praised for being brilliant product developers, but rarely complimented for commercialization expertise. So, how can we develop our skills, and what or who can we take as a model? Can we dare to fish further than the Baltic Sea?

Is there a one-country commercial masterclass?

It’s difficult to find another nation as commercially innovative in the European market as the Dutch. We contend that Finns have a lot to learn from them and that there are great business opportunities in the Dutch market

This is an open-minded and entrepreneurial nation, with a strategic location in Europe, that has gained skills in international trade – and thus no little wealth – since the Middle Ages. Today, the Dutch start to absorb trading skills early and, already in primary school, they get their first taste of the trade alphabet. The government has also done its best to facilitate the learning process. 

Entrepreneurship, working and making money are valued. Commercial expertise and commercialization remain the most important cornerstones of the national economy. Remarkably, this small nation is able to swing in the top three of the world’s major trading nations year after year. Internationalization is a self-evident aspect of business for many companies right from the start-up phase. The Dutch are also very talented at adding value to products produced elsewhere and reselling them.   

What characterises a great bridgehead market?

For a Finnish company, Holland is a great test and learning market as it’s small, densely populated and prosperous. It’s also an internationally connected country that’s relatively geographically and culturally close to us. The country is compact and accessible in its entirety, not just a region. In terms oftrade volume, the Netherlands is Finland’s 4th largest trading partner. Good living standards, an innovative operating environment and low tax levels have also attracted investment from abroad. The Netherlands is also the European pilot market for many Asian and American companies, and the location of many regional headquarters and distribution centres. Brexit has only served to increase interest in Dutch business opportunities.    

As trading partners, the Dutch are knowledgeable and rigorous negotiators and expect their partners to be punctual, knowledgeable and well-prepared. They are open-minded, ready to give feedback, and seal the deal quickly if you manage to impress them.   

The Netherlands is highly digitalized and online shopping, payment and delivery methods are very modern and versatile. Short distances allow for extremely fast deliveries. Dutch e-commerce is estimated to break the $15 billion barrier in 2020.   

Fierce competition prepares you to succeed

The Dutch are typically critical in negotiations for good reason. Competition in the market is fierce and, even with a semi-finished concept, sub-standard products will not survive. It’s worth taking feedback from the Dutch seriously. They know sales and operations in their domestic market intimately and they are familiar with working in the context of international markets. In commercialization and market-fit planning, local players have local customer insight, they know how the sales support ecosystem works and importantly, they know how to influence it. They get the best understanding of your customers’ challenges, as well as the values ​​and trends that affect local decision making.     

Launching a company or product in the Netherlands requires well prepared groundwork and a willingness to support a local partner. The enthusiastic Dutch are ready to invest in your product, but expect support from your company to help them open up the local market. Partners want long-term, mutually beneficial market growth. The global perception of what constitutes a good Dutch or Finnish product is very similar. According to the Made-in-Index (2017), products from both countries are associated with high quality, high value for money, excellent design and high-tech attributes. Finland is 11th in the rankings and the Netherlands is 13th. 

Human contact at the center of everything

In the Netherlands, one quickly learns that commerce is people-focused. Personal contact is valued and, conversely, sales dialogue via email from far away Finland may seem clinical and impersonal.

Particularly during start-up and growth phases, a Dutch business partner expects their counterparts to provide the sales support needed to create market visibility for a new product. Local operators have invested a great deal of their time and knowledge in growing their own business and they therefore hope for a common commitment to commercialization, beyond just the agreed sales commissions.   

Sir Richard D. Lewis has modeled negotiating styles for different cultures. When comparing the Finnish and Dutch styles (see pictures below), a somewhat similar straightforward style can be observed. Take a look at the classic Undutchables books for some telling stories of Dutch culture. The picture that emerges is that an aspiring Finn must know when to be verbose and be able to justify their benefits to a Dutch business partner in a straightforward – and yet profound way.      

Seize the opportunity

How can we learn from the Dutch mindset and look at traditional exports with fresh eyes? How can we Finns be encouraged to develop long-term partnerships rather than one-off gigs for our merchants? And could the development of a comprehensive value proposition and service concept support exports of our excellent products and services?

If commercialization seems challenging, don’t hesitate to find an expert to help. We’re happy to discuss any aspect of commercialization and international growth. 

You are welcome to get in touch with our experts – remotely, of course, to start with:)

Petra Wullings Trademill, 
Petra has been working for over 20 years in the export and development of Finnish and international companies. She lives in the Netherlands and is part of a very large business network from various industries.

Tommi PelkonenProof
Tommi worked in the Netherlands from 2005-2008 as a Strategy Consultant for Satama Interactive Amsterdam. He regards his time in the Lowlands as one of the best business-focused periods of his career.