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Top Ten Tips Every Business Should Consider When Planning To Enter International Markets
TIP no. 1: FIND SOMEONE WHO’S 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 little about the culture, customs and language. Find someone to point out obstacles and opportunities. Someone who can make presentations, has resources and a network to help you. Someone who knows how to approach the market with your products.
It will cost you something. But, the money and time you save will be much less than what you would have lost doing it on your own.
TIP #2: DON’T TAKE THE EASY ANSWER WITHOUT THINKING LONG TERM
So you agree you need to find someone who has done it before; now the caveat: choose your partners carefully! You may be “partnering” with them for a long time and they will be critical to your success. So how do you select 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.
Don’t stop there: create a list of criteria and a profile that is most important to your business. Then interview, check references, and do a site visit for those on your short list. Assessing the strengths and weaknesses of potential partners based on your company’s needs and wants can help you make an informed decision while allowing you to make a timely decision.
TIP #3: NOT THE SAME AS SELLING IN THE US
Not so fast: Approaching new markets with the same best practices that make you successful in your home market might work, but most likely won’t, and you risk a negative perception of your brand in the time of release
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 what parts of the sales process are most critical to localize versus what’s nice to have. Yes, it’s more cost-effective, but more than that it allows you to focus on what will have the biggest positive impact on sales right from the get-go.
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 motivation and influencers of your end customers; may be different from your home market. What works “here” doesn’t work everywhere; plan ahead for key differences.
TIP #4 – ESTABLISH NON-MERCENARY RELATIONSHIPS
“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’re currently rooted 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 will pay off in both 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 lobby where employees entered the building. The message: “You are working here to make money.” The company survived; worker turnover was high. This single approach resulted in an employer/employee relationship that lacked trust, respect and communication. It worked well in the good times. It was a disaster in bad times.
Establishing good relationships with your representatives in new markets will allow you to build understanding and knowledge between you and your respective businesses; your values, expectations and goals will be clearly known and understood. Mutual trust, respect and support will grow as you partner over time to increase market share, grow revenue and enjoy sustainable profitability. Find what your partners are good at and capitalize on it. Fill in the gaps and support them where they are weak. Good relationships result in a good customer experience. Everyone is happy.
Focus only on the money, and you’ll likely end up at the bottom of the list in terms of attention to your products. Others may be looking for opportunities to jump ship, perhaps your competitors. It’s just not worth it. Take the time to build the relationship.
TIP no. 5 – DON’T IGNORE THE LANGUAGE
Of course, many people around the world speak English: it has become the language of business. Does this make it easier to do business across borders? Simple things can be difficult. Even native English speakers around the world can have misunderstandings because of the language! Be diligent with product naming, translation of instructions, advertising and more.
History offers many examples on this topic:
• The American introduction of the ‘Nova’ car in South America did not “go” very well
• “Snapshot” is slang for “ass” in German and Dutch
• Japanese hotel notice to guests “You are invited to take advantage of the waitress”
• Hong Kong dentist claims to extract teeth ‘for late Methodists’
• In Copenhagen, an airline once promised to “take your bags and send 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 full day of meetings, 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 the Porter to get me a taxi to take me to the museum to find the bus. Imagine my surprise when my taxi driver ran down narrow streets and informed me that “we’ll take the bus”. I tried to explain, but he continued, forcing the bus to stop so I could join the group, and calmly announced, “Madame, your bus.” what could i do I paid the driver and got on the bus.
TIP #6 – CULTURE, CULTURE, CULTURE
Business language, greetings, titles, business cards, topics of conversation, negotiation, presentations, company meals, public behavior…need I go on? All of this and more must be managed within the culture in which you do business. Tips and guidelines are available for many cultures.
But what about colors, pricing standards, truth in advertising, humor, product naming, packaging? Culture drives the attitudes and behaviors 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 Argentina shopping center was like being in the USA
Cultural differences can catch up if you’re not careful – the little things mean the most, so do your homework and pay attention to detail early on! Bonus: You’ll have more fun and build stronger relationships!
TIP #7 – DON’T IGNORE THE POLITICAL SITUATION
Ownership, operation and fund transfer risks are key areas to pay attention to when assessing the political situation in a new target market. You know that knowledge and appreciation of a country’s history, language, and culture are key—review the political background to round out the picture before making a long-term investment. Monitor political developments and factors beyond government control, such as strikes, and create approaches specific to your business model, including contingency plans.
Be careful to consider laws or regulations that may affect the marketing of your products, such as
• Entry of goods
• Sale of anti-dumping/low cost products
• Recycling rates and CE marking issues
• Safety and health rules
• Membership requirements (eg chamber, union)
• Nationalist buyers or suppliers
• Currency and remittance restrictions
• Value added and export performance requirements
There’s a lot to consider, but the good news is that there are plenty of resources available to tap into in both the US and your target market.
TIP # 8 – DISTANCE MAKES EVERYTHING HARDER
In market entry decisions, it’s critical to look beyond the “mathematical 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 2004 Harvard Business Review article, Distance Still Matters, suggests a framework for evaluating markets that looks at “distance” through a number of lenses:
• Geographical (share a border, adequate transport or communication systems, physical distance, climatic differences, time zones)
• Cultural (religion, race, social norms, language)
• Administrative (currency, trade agreements)
• Economic (revenue, channel distribution/quality)
• Where do you manufacture?
• How do you handle customer service or work with vendors?
• Is the distribution system compatible with your product?
• Will the purchase criteria remain the same?
• What about localization needs?
• Is sharing a language more important than geographical proximity?
The answers to these questions may be different depending on your product and where your company is in its international business life cycle. Understanding what is most relevant and acting on it will be a key driver for your successful international expansion.
TIP # 9 – DON’T RENT IF YOU WANT TO ACCOMPANY
Local laws and regulations differ, but are often much stricter than labor laws in the US, especially when it comes to letting someone go, whether for business or cause.
You could say it’s the classic “control” versus “risk” question. Although many more companies are “born international” in today’s economy, most companies are still working through the “going international” life cycle. On average annually, 15% of exporters will stop exporting, while 10% of non-exporters will start. Companies progress more or less in stages until they reach a level suitable for their capabilities or product (or stop), with the most critical moments: start or stop exporting.
As stated above, you need to be careful when choosing any partner, be it a distributor or an employee. It can be tempting to hire right away, thinking you’ll have more “control” than you would with a reseller relationship (for example). However, the risks can be similar and ending the relationship can be even more costly, so make sure it’s really what you need before taking that step. There are four key factors to consider when making a decision:
• Degree of standardization in the product offering
• Marketing program beyond the product
• Location and extension of value-added activities
• Competitive scenarios
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 assistance
It’s all there, ready to go, now the question is how much “localization” really needs to be done to get sales? Language, culture, and purchasing patterns are just a few factors that can affect the effectiveness of the product’s structure and support materials.
Ideally, adaptability should be built in up front, but usually companies are figuring out how to adapt already successful products and services to the domestic market. You may or may not need to adapt the product itself to local markets, but you will likely need some adaptation of materials, packaging, training and more, at least translation of marketing and sales materials into the local language, to have success.
Key takeaway: Don’t skimp on what it takes to support your international markets.
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