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Top Ten Tips Every Business Should Consider When Planning To Enter International Markets
TIP #1 – FIND SOMEONE WHO HAS DONE IT BEFORE
There is nothing worse than learning by trial and error. Especially when you are talking about international markets where you probably know little about the culture, customs and language. Find someone to point out obstacles and opportunities. Someone who can introduce themselves, has the resources and network to help you. Someone who knows how to market your products.
It will cost you something. But the money and time you save will be far less than what you would have wasted doing it yourself.
TIP #2 – DON’T TAKE AN EASY ANSWER WITHOUT LONG-TERM THINKING
So you agree that you need to find someone who has already done this – now a warning: choose your partners carefully! You can be “partnered” with them for a long time and they will be critical to your success. So how do you choose someone when you know little about the international market? Look for referrals – international trade organizations in your state or industry groups are a good place to start.
But don’t stop there: create a list of criteria and a profile that is most important to your company. Then interview, check references and do a site visit for those on your short list. Assessing the strengths and weaknesses of potential partners against your company’s needs and wants can help you make an informed decision while allowing you to make a timely decision.
TIP #3 – IT IS NOT THE SAME AS SELLING WITHIN US
Not so fast: approaching new markets with the same best practices that make you successful at home may work – but most likely won’t, and you risk a negative perception of your brand at launch.
That doesn’t mean you do all the work. After all, that’s why you have partners. However, you’ll want to manage the process and work with your partners to understand which parts of the sales process are most important to localize versus nice-to-haves. Yes, it’s more cost effective, but more than that it allows you to focus on what will have the most positive impact on sales right after the slide.
The key can be language, culture, humor (English is not the same!). Also consider the infrastructure – how advertising is done, how many people or businesses are online, etc. Look at the motivations and influences of your end customers; they may differ from those in your home market. What works “here” doesn’t work everywhere; plan ahead for key differences.
TIP #4 – BUILD RELATIONSHIPS, NOT MERCENARY
“Sell! Sell! Sell!” There are many reasons to expand into another market, and of course increasing revenue is usually at the top of the list. If you currently reside in a culture where sales professionals are primarily motivated by money, it may seem counterintuitive to spend time building relationships with your new sales channel. So why do it? It pays off in the short and long term, time and time again!
I recently heard a story about a guy who worked at a company that had a huge banner hanging in the foyer where employees entered the building. The message: “You work here to make money.” The company survived; employee turnover was high. This single focus resulted in an employer/employee relationship that lacked trust, respect and communication. It worked well in good times. It was a disaster in bad times.
Building good relationships with your representatives in new markets will allow you to build a mutual understanding and knowledge of each other and your respective businesses; your values, expectations and goals will be clearly known and understood. Trust, respect and mutual support will grow as you work together over time to build market share, increase sales and enjoy sustainable profitability. Find what your partners are good at and capitalize on it. Fill in the blanks and support them where they are weak. Good relationships lead to a good customer experience. Everybody is happy.
Focus only on the money and you’ll probably end up at the bottom of the list when it comes to attention for your products. Others may be looking for opportunities to jump ship – perhaps to your competitors. It’s just not worth it. Take your time – build a relationship.
TIP #5 – DON’T IGNORE LANGUAGE
Sure, many people around the world speak English – it has become the language of business. Does it make it easier to do business across borders? Simple things can be hard. Even native English speakers around the world can have misunderstandings because of the language! Be careful about product naming, translation of instructions, advertising and more.
History provides many examples on this topic:
• The American launch of the “Nova” car in South America “didn’t go over well”.
• “Snapshot” is slang for “butt” in German and Dutch
• Japanese hotel announcement for guests “You are welcome to use the maid service”
• Hong Kong dentist claims to be pulling teeth with ‘latest Methodists’
• In Copenhagen, an airline once promised to “take your luggage and send it in all directions”
Personal example: I attended a conference in a large hotel in a country where I did not speak the language. After a day-long meeting, a large group of people rented a small bus to visit a local science and technology museum. I decided to join them at the museum later and asked Porter to get me a taxi to take me to the museum for the bus. Imagine my surprise when my taxi driver rushed through the narrow streets and announced to me that we were “catching a bus”. I tried to explain but he drove on, forced the bus to stop so I could join the group and calmly announced, “Madam, your bus”. What could I do? I paid the driver and boarded the bus.
TIP #6 – CULTURE, CULTURE, CULTURE
Business language, greetings, titles, business cards, conversation topics, negotiations, introductions, business meals, public behavior…shall I go on? All of this and more needs to be managed within the culture in which you do business. Tips and instructions are available for many cultures.
But what about colors, pricing standards, truth in advertising, humor, product naming, packaging? Culture drives the attitudes and behavior of business partners and potential customers, and new market entrants must be prepared to adapt – to “localize” where it matters.
See how people buy and sell: trying to export channel strategies that work in one country can feel more like a square peg in a round hole:
• Japan has many layers of small players
• Brazil has many small shops
• The Argentinian mall was just like the US
Cultural differences can trip you up if you’re not careful – the little things mean more, so do your homework and pay attention to detail from the start! Bonus: you’ll have more fun and build stronger relationships!
TIP #7 – DON’T IGNORE THE POLITICAL SITUATION
Ownership, operational and fund transfer risks are key areas to consider when assessing the political situation in a new target market. You already know that knowing and appreciating a country’s history, language, and culture is critical—before investing long-term, review the political background to complete the picture. Monitor political developments and factors beyond government control, such as strikes, and create country-specific approaches to your business model, including contingency plans.
Be careful and consider laws or regulations that may affect the marketing of your products, such as
• Entry of goods
• Anti-dumping/under-cost sale of products
• Recycling fees and CE marking issues
• Health and safety standards
• Membership requirements (e.g. chamber, trade union)
• Nationalist buyers or suppliers
• Currency and transfer restrictions
• Requirements for added value and export performance
There is a lot to consider, but the good news is that there are many resources available both in the US and in your target market.
TIP #8 – DISTANCE MAKES EVERYTHING HARD
It’s important to look beyond the “mathematical equation” when making market entry decisions – the sales potential may be great, but is it really the next best opportunity? Distance can make a difference, and “distance” is more than geographical.
In his 2004 Harvard Business Review article, Pankaj Ghemewat proposes a framework for evaluating markets that looks at “distance” through a number of lenses:
• Geographical (share a border, adequate transport or communication systems, physical remoteness, climatic differences, time zones)
• cultural (religion, race, social norms, language)
• Administrative (currency, business arrangements)
• Economic (receipt, distribution/channel quality)
• Where do you manufacture?
• How do you manage customer service or collaboration with vendors?
• Does the distribution system support your product?
• Will the buying criteria still be the same?
• What about localization needs?
• Is language sharing more important than geographical proximity?
The answers to these questions may vary depending on your product and where your company is in its international trade life cycle. Understanding what matters most and acting on it will be a key driver of your successful international expansion.
TIP #9 – DON’T HIRE IF YOU WANT TO SHOOT
Local laws and regulations vary, but are often much stricter than US employment laws, especially when it comes to firing someone, whether for business or cause.
You might say it’s a classic “control” versus “risk” question. While many more companies are “born international” in today’s economy, most companies are still going through the “international” life cycle. On average, 15% of exporters stop exporting per year, while 10% of non-exporters start. Companies more or less progress through the stages until they reach a level corresponding to their capabilities or product (or stop), with the most critical junctures: starting or stopping exporting.
As mentioned above, you need to be careful when choosing any partner, be it a distributor or an employee. It can be tempting to hire it right away, thinking you’ll have more “control” than you would with a distributor relationship (for example). However, the risks can be similar and ending a relationship can be even more costly, so make sure it’s really what you need before taking the plunge. There are four key factors to consider when deciding:
• The degree of standardization of the product offering
• Marketing program beyond the product
• Location and scope of value-added activities
• Competitive scenarios
Finding the balance will be critical to your success.
TIP # 10 – IT’S NOT JUST A PRODUCT
• Marketing materials
• Sales and distribution tools
• Customer service and support
Everything is there and ready to go, now the question is, how much “localization” do you really need to do to get the sale? Language, culture, and purchasing patterns are just some of the factors that can affect the effectiveness of your product and materials support structure.
Ideally, you would build adaptability up front, but companies typically figure out how to adapt products and services that are already successful in their home market. You may or may not need to adapt the product itself to local markets, but you’ll probably need some customization of materials, packaging, training, and more—at a minimum, translation of marketing and sales materials into the local language—to be successful.
Bottom line: don’t skimp on what’s needed to support your international markets.
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