abdi Ltd. is a professional services firm working with private, public and social enterprise clients to help them to plan, measure and report the impact of human capital and capacity building investment. Services provided include consulting, coaching and workshops. In addition, abdi has developed the UK’s only accredited portfolio of professional and higher education qualifications in this field and, as a result, was presented with the award for ‘The Most Innovative Development of Return on Investment (ROI)’ at the Global ROI Conference in Dublin in October 2008. Based in Cambridge, abdi Ltd. was established in 2006 by Jane Massy and Jeremy Harrison and now employs seven full time and one part time (PhD researcher) employees.
Expanding out from the UK
Back in 2011, abdi had enjoyed a modest income from overseas clients, largely driven by word of mouth or website enquiries. However, the UK market was showing no signs of recovery and they were sure greater business opportunities would result from a more proactive strategy. Arman Baroyan, Senior Consultant at abdi, explained their approach, "We started to attend some of the UKTI events, and concluded that the Middle Eastern countries, in particular Kuwait, would likely prove to be an interesting market for us: Kuwaiti businesses typically have the funds to invest in learning and development, place a high value on UK qualifications and the economy is buoyant." Before investing their time and money in selling into Kuwait, abdi wanted to ensure they gained a better understanding of the market: was it sufficiently mature to warrant their Impact and Performance Measurement services, how could they best provide their services to the market, would their training programmes and consultancy services need adaptation to appeal to the Kuwaiti audience and how should the services be priced in this market?
It was at the BILD (British Institute for Learning and Development) event that Jane Massy, CEO and founder of abdi, discovered UKTI. Triggered by a presentation from one of the UKTI advisors, abdi contacted their local UKTI International Trade Advisor (ITA), Robert Doak, to explore the services available to support abdi in their overseas expansion. After detailed discussion and agreement on an action plan, abdi was advised to contact the Export Marketing Research Scheme (EMRS).
The EMRS is a UKTI scheme providing professional advice and funding to help businesses understand the dynamics of a potential overseas market before creating an appropriate strategy for launching in this market and there is a nationwide team of professional Research Advisers to support individual companies.
Alice Mamier, the Research Adviser for Cambridge, met with Arman to understand abdi’s requirements, and helped him to produce an action plan for the research trip. In late 2011, Jane Massy travelled to Kuwait for a week, armed with a prepared list of interview discussion areas and a full itinerary of 12 meetings, comprising UKTI experts in the local embassy, corporates with their own training budget, public sector training agencies, educational institutions and including a mixture of private sector companies, public sector organisations and training providers.
abdi were delighted with the results of their research trip. It was clear that there was a real need for their services and their qualifications were indeed highly valued. It became apparent that a local partner would be required to deliver the services; there was a definite cultural preference for direct contact over email contact and feedback was expected quickly. The learning from the interviews also enabled abdi to establish a good price point for their service, and the confidence to focus on private sector organisations.
There were also some very interesting findings, "it was serendipitous really", explained Arman, "and we would never have known about this without the research, but we had to totally change our agenda and the structure of abdi’s workshops: firstly because businesses are accustomed to working 8am to 2pm not 9am to 5pm; and secondly, we needed to build in time for prayer breaks during the day to respect participants needs." As a consequence, each 2-day course was recreated as a 3-day course. Another useful finding was the requirement to be selective about the nature of case studies and to include equal case studies for public and private sector companies.
As a result of the research, abdi was able to recruit a local partner to help identify potential clients and negotiate abdi courses on their behalf. In addition, the training programmes have been suitably adapted for the Kuwaiti audience. "Our success has been so much greater than we’d anticipated," enthused Arman, "the year after our launch into Kuwait, Jane had more than 6 successful trips delivering training and consultancy in the region and a solid customer base and track record on which to build still further."
Arman happily recommends the EMRS scheme, "I don’t think this would have happened without the EMRS help. It really gave us the courage to stand up and move forward. The EMRS really makes sense and helped us a lot – it certainly is a good Return on Investment itself! I’d like to see a lot more companies making the most of the support that’s out there."