Principal, Global Sales Initiatives
When we have multiple markets and customers within our reach, we can make decisions about which opportunities hit our sweet spot and which ones are less attractive, rather than feeling we must take everything that comes along in order to keep our business moving forward. This revenue generates the cash flow we need, and finances the necessary investment in the facilities, equipment and people we need to continue our growth cycle.
In the pursuit of revenue, a big step for small companies is making the decision to sell their products or services in another region of the world. If you have never sold outside the US before, this can be intimidating and you may find yourself asking “Where do I start?” The most effective way to address this challenge is to break it into manageable pieces. For example:
Do Your Homework – Understand why you want to sell overseas, where you should sell and why you think there is a need. This means knowing the market for your product or service. You may decide to immediately invest in costly market research or a market entry program however, to avoid spending a large sum of money prematurely, you can start by using resources that are available at no charge or have a minimal fee, and will allow you to learn about your targeted market and begin developing a plan. This is where resources like the Department of Commerce Export Assistance Centers, Small Business Development Center, World Trade Center and the State of PA Department of Community and Economic Development play an important role. These agencies and organizations have access to market data, experts on export regulations and documentation requirements, and representatives on the ground in many countries, who can help you understand the market and competitive landscape. Check out their websites to learn about what they have and how it can help you.
Develop A Plan - No plan is perfect and all plans will change as you grow. But in order to be successful, you must have one! As you do your homework and identify your network of resources, also begin to visualize and document your specific objectives, financial goals, budget, customer value proposition, potential barriers to entry and a Sales and Marketing strategy. If you need help getting started, the Small Business Administration (www.SBA.gov) provides a basic plan outline on their website. Remember to also use your network to find a mentor and ask for help at various stages of your planning process. The resources mentioned above can identify companies who have successfully navigated international markets. This will provide you with a valuable sounding board as they can explain the keys to their success and the mistakes they made along the way.
Align Your Resources - An important part of your planning process is understanding the resources you need to launch your global initiative successfully. This includes finding a lawyer to help with domestic and foreign laws, export regulations and contract reviews, securing the financing needed for your global transactions, working with a logistics company that can handle customs documentation and find the most favorable freight terms for you, identifying channel partners, defining your insurance needs, documentation translation requirements and many more. There are many resources required and many excellent service providers in the Harrisburg area who are happy to help, so ask for recommendations and work with them to develop a budget and timeline you can live with.
Commit - Once you have completed the homework, planning and resource activities, and you still believe establishing a global footprint is the right move for you, MAKE THE COMMITMENT! Position the capitol and resources to put your plan into action. This may include signing an agreement with a sales representative or channel partner who knows the local market and will sell your products, traveling to your targeted country or region to attend trade shows, translation of web pages, product brochures and business cards to the local language, or setting up an in country stocking location. Also keep in mind that new exporters may apply for a Market Access Grant sponsored by the Office of International Business Development within the PA Department of Community and Economic Development. MAG’s can provide you with up to $5,000 in matching dollars to help you fund these export activities.
Remember, there will be unexpected events that may require you to modify your plan, so analyze the situation, make the adjustment and keep moving forward with conviction.
Show Up - Once you commit to penetrating a foreign market, it’s critical that you establish a visible presence in the targeted country or region. By now you have identified a channel partner who knows the local market to sell your products, but it’s also important to spend time on the ground there. Several reasons for this: 1) You will have a better understanding of the local market and customer requirements 2) Your partners and customers will need training as they begin to embrace your products 3) Communication is a key to your global success. Much of this will be done via email and phone, but you also need to see firsthand what is happening, provide clarification and direction, and avoid misunderstandings from language barriers. 4) Relationships are critical, and when you show up, your partners and customers know you are committed and will help you understand their culture, traditions and work environment which allows you to learn how to effectively conduct business with them. And when you share a meal, you will know more about each other personally and begin establishing the element of trust you need with your business partners. They are proud of their country, eager to make a good impression, and help your experience be a positive one. Plus, there is so much incredible food you can share!
Be Focused and Patient – We all demand results. After all, that’s why we are in business and how we measure ourselves. We are also impatient, and a key to our success is that we continually strive to achieve better results, faster. You should maintain that focus when doing business overseas, but you must also realize that you are now dealing with new people, rules, customs and expectations. Jump into your global initiative with enthusiasm and as you execute your plan and identify the opportunities and gaps, make sure you are patient and receptive to fresh ideas and approaches. There is a world of them out there.
Kevin Smith is a global Sales, Marketing and Business Development executive with over 20 years of leadership success at corporations such as Tyco Electronics, AMP Inc., and Philips, which includes senior management assignments based in Asia and Europe. As the Founder and Principal of Global Sales Initiatives LLC, he now focuses in two areas: 1) Working with small to mid-size US companies who want to accelerate top line growth by developing and executing a plan that identifies and penetrates new markets and customers, both foreign and domestic. 2) Partnering with foreign companies to develop a penetration plan and establish a presence for their products or services in the US. Kevin received his degree in Business Administration from the Whittemore School of Business and Economics at the University of New Hampshire and lives in Harrisburg with his wife.