We all know how much more challenging it is to reach new, or even existing customers, in export markets. No matter how experienced or practiced we are, each new market presents its own difficulties in acquiring and servicing new customers so that we can build and maintain quality relationships with them.
“Was meinen Sie?” or “Что вы имели в виду?!” (what do you mean?) are among the kindest reactions you might get in Germany or Russia! Doing business in other countries, especially when the distance between you and the export market starts to grow, which brings numerous barriers into focus. For example, differences between:
- Culture and language, including business jargon
- Regulations, explicit as well as implicit
- Time zones
- And don’t forget, the rules of the road!
There is of course the harmonization of the Eurozone, which makes it easier than before to do business in other countries. However, after you and your company have decided which market to enter and how you are going to do this, you still have to answer the fundamental question:
What are the best available methods of reaching my target customers?
First of all, it’s important to set priorities for yourself. Whether you are a Business Development Manager, VP Sales or a Marketing Manager, you only can handle a certain number of customers. It’s usually very time consuming, perhaps even impossible for one person to manage more than 10 or 20 direct customers at the same time. So, set priorities and choose your direct customers carefully.
Secondly, make use of channel partners. They know the local market very well, how to reach your end-users, how to promote your products or services and can leverage their existing relationships for your benefit. Channel partners could include distributors, wholesalers, retailers, web-shops, referral partners, private label partners and many more. What you lose on margins, you get back through lower direct selling costs. A key step in finding the right partners is to map your export market. Try to understand the routes-to-market of your competitors and complementary suppliers and don’t fail to develop a clear strategy before you start targeting channel partners.
Thirdly, don’t ignore incremental opportunities. Although you are focusing on a small number of customers, try to be open for new opportunities that fit your long term strategy. All your resources are currently focused on Germany, but a potential client in France may have a significant order for your products. Make sure you can grasp the opportunity without derailing your strategy. Growing your business and your export sales take time, a lot of time and a lot of customer nourishment. Being able to respond to unexpected opportunities, in a considered and efficient way is vital, but it depends entirely on have a thought-out strategy based on an understanding of your markets.
Overall, it takes time and considerable effort to build (channel) relationships overseas. Understanding the host country’s culture, the ways business is done there and the relationships between suppliers, channels and customers is vital. Whatever way you to it, market mapping is crucial; If knowledge is power, don’t go into a new market ill-equipped for the battle!
Brian English is the CEO of Qupact International and he is an internationally renowned expert in sales channel development. He facilitates on the IMI Diploma in International Business Development.