January 14, 2009

Advice for Selling in International Markets

We asked managers for their top tips on doing business abroad or entering a new market.  Here is the advice they offered:

1.       Do you homework  - What is the opportunity? How big is it?  How to exploit it? How long will it take?  What will it cost?  Overestimating the potential and underestimating the cost / time required is all too common.  Relying on market research is just not enough.

2.       Spend time in the marketplace – there is no substitute for being on the ground and getting to know the people and the market - it is the different between knowing a market and knowing about a market.

3.       Be clear on your proposition / unique advantage in the market.  That requires that you understand competitors and how they compare.  It is important not to try to be everything, but instead to focus in on a few important areas on which you will differentiate yourself.  The importance of that first reference customer in the market / segment cannot be underestimated.

4.       Develop a target list based on a clear customer profile.  Don’t try to appeal to everyone, instead target a particular type of customer for which your solutions have a particular advantage.  Searching out, of course, those segments, or niches that are most attractive and amenable (e.g. least competitive, highest margins, etc.) for your business at this time.

5.       Test the reaction – it is not via research that markets are validated, it is by on the ground sales activity - only then will you know, or understand the requirements of the market and its potential for success.  Be prepared to adapt, or change your approach based on what the market tells you.

6.       Localise your approach – What works at home may not work abroad.  So:

a.       Tailor your proposition, adapting your product/service to local needs, tastes and customs. 

b.      Beware of self reference criterion – those in the local market see things differently to you. 

c.       Yes, the world is increasingly global, but don’t overlook local differences, as well as customs and traditions.   

d.      Speak the language (even where english is widely used) and have a local telephone number, etc.

7.       Develop a local partner – building a base of local contacts is very important, including linkages with complementary service / product providers and where possible partnering with a local organization to overcome the newcomer, or outsider objection.  Of course partnering can be a major challenge, depending on a co-incidence of needs and priorities, as well as the right fit of personalities, ambitions and cultures.  It cannot be fast-tracked and will inevitably involve disappointments and set-backs.

8.       Adopt a long term view – make a commitment to the market, sales cycles are what they are and building relationships is an essential requirement that will take time.  Don’t let it appear that you have just parachuted in for business, show that you are committed to the market. 

9.       Have a plan, this is essential to setting and managing expectations, clearly focusing energies and resources, assessing progress and generally maximizing the potential for success.  Its not about a document, but a blueprint for action – delineating who is doing what and when, as well as the result expected.

10.   Invest in sales and marketing.  ‘You get out what you put in’ when it comes to time and money spent on sales and marketing, that is, of course, it is spent well.  There is a certain critical mass in terms of the commitment of time and resources to a new market.  Delay a decision regarding a new market, or the number of new markets, until management can devote sufficient time and commitment to it.

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