We live in a global economy and our potential customers are not limited to those who live in the United States. But how can small- to midsize-business owners effectively access international customers, given language barriers and unfamiliar business practices?
There are now many tools and marketplaces that companies can use to easily grow their international customers and diversify their sales base. Here are a few ways business can start reaching out to them to get a boost:
1. Assess the value of the market and understand any differences in pricing.
Research where competitors are growing and how prices may change based on the location.
Also remember that many countries celebrate and have different holidays and seasons than the United States, so their buying habits may differ from what you're used to.
2. Understand local cultural differences.
The world is filled with examples of marketing gaffes when selling from one country to another because of language barriers or businesses not understanding local customs.
Do the research into a geographic segment to determine how similar products are categorized and sold. To get educated, you can run a search on the company's product or industry in a targeted country or overall market.
Remember that global product standards differ and some items may be completely banned. If possible, reach out to local connections in those countries through social media to help validate your internet research.
3. Use global sales platforms.
There are many international marketplaces that already have local customers and make it easy for businesses to launch quickly—and, most importantly, they can also help localize the ever-critical customer experience.
Companies like Alibaba can help American companies sell to Chinese consumers. Amazon allows businesses currently selling on their global platform to reach international customers in many e-commerce economies. (They specialize in the European Union countries as well as parts of Asia.)
And eBay also allows its merchants to sell worldwide. They've even set up domestic shipping points that then get forwarded to the buyer's country.
4. Use targeted advertising to reach international customers.
On many social media platforms, companies can pick which countries they want to reach. They can also specify international customers from a certain age, gender or occupation group. (Consider the social media marketing costs of reaching this audience before going this route.)
5. Get ready to provide more customer service.
Companies interested in reaching international customers also need to plan how they'll deal with customers speaking various languages and living in different time zones.
Remember that with different cultures comes a variety of customer service expectations that employees need to learn.
6. Formulate a fulfillment strategy.
By working with a fulfillment center, companies can outsource the picking, packing and shipping of their products.
Companies can find local fulfillment houses or use Amazon's fulfillment program to do it for them. Alibaba provides a similar service to their customers.
7. Use a currency conversion service.
Most global sales platforms allow customers to use local currency and then safely transfers that payment into an American bank in dollars at the time of the transaction. This can take some of the risk out of getting paid from consumers in other countries.
8. Localize your website and the product.
Not all companies decide to use global sales platforms. Another viable option is to sell directly to the consumer.
Businesses can translate their website using plugins from companies like Webinterpret or find freelance translator from services like Elance or Craigslist. It is also beneficial to offer international versions of the company's store in that country's domain extension.
Also consider including packaged instructions in the targeted country's language. (You could also set up a URL for watching a product set up or demonstration in their own language.) There are many automated translation services that can do this for free like Google Translate and SDL. (But you may still want to run it through a translator to avoid any awkward translations.) YouTube videos can be set up for subtitles in other languages.
Boosting sales by courting international customers is now easier, but still takes planning and monitoring—just like it does for your local customers.
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