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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 through trial and error. Especially, when you are talking about international markets where you probably know very little about the culture, customs and language. Find someone to point out roadblocks and opportunities. Someone who can provide contacts, resources and a network to help you. Someone who knows how to market your product.
It will cost you something. However, the money and time you save is far less than what you would have wasted doing it yourself.
Tip #2 – Don’t accept easy answers without thinking long term
So you agree that you need to find someone who has done it before – now the warning: choose your partners carefully! You can ‘partner’ 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 – your state’s international trade organizations or industry groups are a good place to start.
Don’t stop there though: create a list of criteria and a profile that is most important to your company. Then interview, check references, and do a local visit for those on your short list. Evaluating potential partners’ strengths and weaknesses against your company’s needs and desires can help you make an informed decision while allowing you to make a timely decision.
Tip #3 – It’s not like selling in the US
Not so fast: Approach new markets with the same best practices that might make you successful in your home market – but probably 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 determine which parts of the sales process are most important to localize, versus which are better to have. 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.
Language, culture, humor can be key (English is not the same!) Also consider infrastructure – how advertising is done, how many people or businesses are online, etc. Look at the motivations and influencers 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 Tenancies
“Sell! Sell! Sell!” There are many reasons to expand into other markets, and of course revenue growth is usually at the top of the list. If you currently live in a culture where sales professionals are primarily motivated by money, it may seem counter-intuitive to spend time building relationships with your new sales channel. So why is it? It will pay off in both the short term 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’re here to work to earn money.” The company survived; Employee turnover was high. That singular focus resulted in a lack of trust, respect and communication in an employer/employee relationship. It worked just fine at times. It was a disaster at bad times.
Building good relationships with your representatives in new markets will allow you to both build understanding and knowledge of each other and your respective businesses; Your values, expectations and objectives will be clearly known and understood. Trust, respect and mutual support will grow as you partner over time to build market share, increase revenue and enjoy sustainable profitability. Find out what your partners are good at and take advantage of it. Fill in the gaps and support them where they are weak. Good relationships result in a better customer experience. everyone is happy
Focus only on the money, and you can go down the list when it comes to focusing on your product. Others may be looking for an opportunity to jump ship – perhaps to your competitors. It’s just not worth it. Take time – build relationships.
Tip #5 – Don’t ignore the language
Sure, many people around the world speak English – it has become the language of business. Does that make it easier to do business across borders? Simple things can be difficult. Even native English speakers around the world can be misunderstood because of language! Be diligent about product naming, translation of instructions, advertising and more.
History provides many examples of this:
• American launch of ‘Nova’ car in South America “didn’t go down”
• ‘Snapshot’ is slang for ‘butt’ in German and Dutch
• Japanese hotel notices to guests ‘You are invited to take advantage of the chambermaid’
• A Hong Kong dentist claims to have extracted teeth ‘by the last Methodists’
• In Copenhagen, an airline once promised to ‘take your bags and ship them in all directions’.
A personal example: I was attending a conference in a large hotel in a country where I did not speak the language. After a day of meetings, a large group chartered a minibus to visit the local science and technology museum. I decided to join them later at the museum, and asked the porter to get me a taxi to meet the bus to take me to the museum. Imagine my surprise when my taxi driver came down the narrow street and told me “we’ll take the bus”. I tried to explain, but he forced the bus to pull over so I could join the group, and calmly announced to me, “Ma’am, your bus.” What could I do? I paid the driver and boarded the bus.
Tip #6 – Culture, culture, culture
Business language, greetings, headlines, business cards, conversation topics, discussions, introductions, business meals, public manners… need I go? All of this and more needs to be managed within the culture in which you are doing business. Tips and guidelines are available for many cultures.
But what about color, value, truthfulness of advertising, humor, product naming, packaging? Culture drives attitudes and behavior among business partners and customers, and new market entrants must be prepared to adjust—to “localize” where it matters.
See how people buy and sell: Trying to export channel strategies that work in one country can seem like a square peg in a round hole:
• There are many levels of small players in Japan
• There are many small shops in Brazil
• Argentina Mall was like being in the US
Cultural differences can trip you up if you’re not paying attention – the little things mean a lot, 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, operating and fund transfer risks are key areas to focus on when assessing the political situation in a new target market. You already know that knowledge and understanding of a country’s history, language and culture are important – review the political background to round out the picture before making a long-term investment. Political developments, and factors beyond government control such as strikes, and develop country-specific approaches to your business model, including contingency plans.
Be careful to consider laws or regulations that may affect the marketing of your product, eg
• Entry of goods
• Anti-dumping/sale of low priced products
• Recycling fees and CE Mark issues
• Health and safety standards
• Membership requirements (eg chambers, trade unions)
• Nationalist buyers or suppliers
• Currency and remittance restrictions
• Value addition and export performance requirements
There is a lot to consider, but the good news is that there are many resources available to tap, both in the US and in target markets.
Tip #8 – Distance makes everything more difficult
In market entry decisions, it’s important to look beyond the “math equation” – the sales potential may be great, but is it really the best, next opportunity? Distance can make a difference, and “distance” is more than geographic.
Pankaj Ghemewat, in his Harvard Business Review 2004 article Distance Still Matters, suggests a framework for market valuation that looks at “distance” through several lenses:
• Geographical (share borders, adequate transportation or communication systems, physical distance, climate differences, time zones)
• Cultural (religion, caste, social norms, language)
• Administrative (Currency, Trade System)
• Economic (Revenue, Distribution/Channel Quality)
• Where do you manufacture?
• How will you handle customer service or work with vendors?
• Does the distribution system support your product?
• Will the purchasing criteria still remain the same?
• How about localization requirements?
Is sharing a language more important than geographical proximity?
The answers to these questions may differ depending on your product and where your company is in the international business life cycle. Understanding and acting on what is most relevant will be a key driver of your successful international expansion.
Tip #9 – Don’t hire if you want to be fired
Local laws and regulations differ, but are often much stricter than employment laws in the United States, especially when it comes to letting someone go, for business reasons or reasons.
You could say this is the classic question of “control” versus “risk”. Although more companies have gone ‘international’ in today’s economy, most companies still operate through the life cycle of ‘going international’. On average annually, 15% of exporters will stop exporting, while 10% of non-exporters will start. Companies progress more or less step by step until they reach (or stop) the right level for their capabilities or products, at the most critical juncture: start or stop exporting.
As mentioned above, you need to be careful in choosing any partner, be it a distributor or an employee. It can be tempting to hire now, thinking you’ll have more ‘control’ than you would with a distributor relationship (for example). However, the risks can be similar, and breaking up can be more expensive, so make sure you have what you need before taking this step. There are four key factors to consider in making your decision:
• Degree of standardization in product offerings
• Marketing programs beyond the product
• Location and scope of value adding activities
• Competitive Situation
Finding a balance will be critical to your success.
Tip #10 – It’s not just the product
• Marketing materials
• Sales and channel tools
• Customer service and support
It’s all there, and ready to go, now the question is how much ‘localization’ do you need to do to achieve sales? Language, culture and shopping patterns are just a few factors that can affect the effectiveness of your product support structure and materials.
Ideally, you’ll build adaptability up front, but typically companies are figuring out how to adapt products and services that are already successful in the home market. Your product may or may not need to be adapted to the local market, but you’ll likely need adaptations of materials, packaging, training, and more—at a minimum, translation of marketing and sales materials into the local language—to be successful.
Key Takeaway: Don’t skimp on what it takes to support your international markets.
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