One of the best opportunities for many companies to increase sales is by exporting their products or services. While entering the global marketplace is sometimes a surprisingly simple process, there also can be significant obstacles to overcome.
“It's important to create a marketing strategy for developing global business," advises Terri Batch, an international trade consultant and president of Batch Global Strategies in Los Angeles. “This plan also will serve as a guide if the going gets rough internationally. When problems or obstacles arise, companies can look back to the strategy they developed in order to refocus and move forward."
But, like a lot of things in business, one of the best ways to learn how to navigate global waters is from experienced exporters. Here are some dos and don'ts for global marketing, gleaned from Batch and two experienced international traders.
Do: Your Research Before Entering a New Market
Among the most important business mantras is: Do your homework. That's especially true for exporting.
For Excel Dryer, which sells electric hand dryers through more than 4,000 distributors in 70 countries, understanding the regulatory environment is particularly crucial. In fact, the company's international team always does a detailed analysis of product certification requirements before entering a new market.
Moreover, don't assume your product will meet a given country's standards. “In many cases, we have to make slight modifications from our base domestic model to meet the needs of specific markets," says Denis Gagnon Jr., vice president of international for Excel Dryer in East Longmeadow, Massachusets. “We also create discrete SKUs tied to different regions."
Batch, who worked for more than a decade as an international trade specialist with the U.S. Department of Commerce, agrees that due diligence is essential every step of the way. “It is important to check the import requirements for the country that you are exporting to prior to making the shipment," she advises. “And don't rely on one source. Use government and industry associations to verify your information."
Don't: Forget to Make Distribution a Strategic Priority
Another important factor in the global sales and marketing process is understanding how to reach your target market.
Gagnon recommends having a strategy for penetrating key industry channels and/or geographic sectors within a country. “Our default model is one master distributor per country, which is generally sufficient in smaller markets," he says. “But in larger markets, it may be appropriate to have multiple distributors."
—Robert Freeman, CEO, First Priority Emergency Vehicles
Moreover, Gagnon warns, be careful not to compete with your own distribution partners by selling directly to end-users: “We rely heavily on the trust and support of our international distributors, and we won't undermine that by going around them."
Do: Customize Your Product or Service for the Local Market
Exporting success also requires the ability to customize products to meet both the technical requirements and the cultural “norms" of the local market, says Batch.
Robert Freeman, chief executive officer of First Priority Emergency Vehicles in Manchester, New Jersey, agrees: "One of the most significant things to recognize about entering the global marketplace is to fully understand not just the technical, but the cultural aspects of the transaction."
Don't assume anything, adds Freeman. He recalls exporting a fire engine to Nigeria that was designed to help provide emergency services for a city of more than three million residents. But selling and delivering the truck was only half the battle. The pumper was designed to run on 1,000 gallons per minute, but the local infrastructure could only accommodate about 50 gallons per minute.
“It wasn't until we sent our training team over that we learned that the city only had a single bore hole for its water supply," says Freeman. "We were able to make it work, but it was not the full American-style experience the customer had hoped for."
Gagnon adds that localization includes understanding both the way business is conducted in various markets as well as how to communicate. “Don't assume your messaging will translate literally, he adds: “It is critical to ensure that your marketing message and approach works in each country."
As Excel discovered in Latin America, advertising can get lost in translation. When the company introduced one of its hand dryers in Costa Rica, it quickly learned that the English tagline “Finally, A Fast Hand Dryer" did not make sense in Spanish. So they modified the phrase to: “Finally! A Hand Dryer That Actually Works," which turned into a Spanish tagline that works, too.
One other important “do" when it comes to localization is to provide local service and support. “This is critical for developing long-term commercial viability," says Freeman, whose company has done business in 21 different countries. “Budget aggressively, especially if you are unfamiliar with the local environment."
Don't: Assume "Made in America" Guarantees New Customers
Plan on leveraging your online presence, search engines and bricks-and-mortar events to generate sales leads for your distributors. For Excel Dryer, websites localized for SEO and international trade show participation help generate the best results.
But don't automatically think that the “made in America" brand will immediately translate into market share. “You might have to educate your end users and/or customers about the benefits of your product," says Batch.
Also, don't assume that the same promotional platforms that work in the States will be viable or accessible in your target markets. China, for instance, is notorious for blocking some U.S.-based websites.
Do: Take the Time to Properly Screen New Partners
Batch also recommends taking plenty of time to identify and “vet" potential distribution partners. “Before entering into an agreement, make sure that your company has sound legal contract advice," she says. “Depending on the country, a distribution agreement that goes bad can have a lasting impact on your business."
And don't underestimate the extent of U.S. trade restrictions and regulations, and the penalties for noncompliance. “We make sure we know our customers, and that any carriers or forwarders we use have processes in place to prevent selling or shipping to a restricted counter-party," says Gagnon.
Finally, adds Freeman: “Having an effective local distribution relationship is not only cost-effective, but a critical part of success in global markets."
For more tips on expanding your business, access Business Growth: How to Survive and Thrive, from MSNBC’s Your Business.