Think Global, Act Now: Nine Steps to an International Marketing Strategy

As technology breaks down geographic and cultural communication barriers, even small businesses can often tap into the global marketplace. If you think your business is too small to pursue international business opportunities, think again. Get a jump on those opportunities by following the 9 steps outlined below.

Unless you spend excessive amounts of time in foreign countries or soak up knowledge like a Jeopardy Champion, you’re probably not able to make an informed decision about a global strategy without doing your homework first. Start with the low-hanging fruit: talk to your coworkers, peers, family and friends. Find out what you can about countries and markets with the greatest potential. Read relevant print and Web publications voraciously (I prefer eMarketer, Economist, Wall Street Journal and Yahoo! for general business and market research). Compile information about various opportunities and determine which markets have the greatest overall potential (in case you’ve been hiding in a cave, here’s an emerging and growth market cheat sheet for you: China, India, South America, Russia and The Middle East).

Most small to medium-sized businesses do not have the resources on staff to undertake a global market strategy. Assuming there are sufficient opportunities abroad, it’s time to determine how to develop appropriate resources (i.e. in-country sales and support, logistics and fulfillment). In the build vs. buy decision, many companies prefer to minimize financial risk by partnering with companies that have extensive experience within the target market to provide those resources. While partnering minimizes risk, there are drawbacks, such as lack of direct management oversight. Those negatives can be alleviated by hiring employees who have the education, experience and native language skills relevant to your target market. International students are excellent resources: they are educated, affordable, multi-lingual and usually have some relevant work experience. The potential downside is that you’ll probably have to navigate through a bushel of red tape in order to secure work visas.

As you’re formulating partnerships or hiring strategies, it’s critical to thoroughly assess current products and services for viability in foreign markets. The offering(s) must be intuitive and scalable. If the offering is not intuitive, that is, easily applicable to the target markets (i.e. there is no apparent need) you will fail. If the offering is not scalable (i.e. it can’t be produced and delivered to the target markets profitably) you will fail. The new team should lead the assessment phase and outline a strategy to build or leverage existing infrastructure.

Once the offering is fine-tuned and ready for market, your sales collateral must be modified. Even if the global partner or new team has native speaking skills, there are reasons to hire professional translation and localization services (e.g. ViaLanguage) to that ensure all cultural nuances are dealt with appropriately. The goal is to ensure that your sales documentation demonstrates that you feel your target market’s pain – and that you are able to offer a relevant solution.

While your core business and marketing team may already be in place, there are a variety of reasons to explore additional partnerships. Companies specializing in marketing, logistics and customer service are excellent additions to the growing team. Partners within the target market may have relationships with your potential customers that can be leveraged for business development. For instance, we’ve partnered with a homeland security and business consultancy, Eminent Logic, to help penetrate into the Middle Eastern markets. In return, we introduce them to local companies we know that can further their business objectives.

Alternative business development strategies include attending, sponsoring, and participating in industry networking events and conferences. Look into joining industry associations that have a footprint in your target markets, or that are native to the target market. Web-based networking groups (e.g. LinkedIn) can also help expand your network.

Now that you’ve built out your infrastructure, trained and deployed a team, and modified your offering and marketing collateral, you’re ready to turn on the fire hose. Two of the most effective forms of outreach are search engine and email marketing. Internet access is everywhere, which means everyone has access to search engines and email. The best way to build a house list of potential customers in your target market is to optimize your international Web site for search engines and offer visitors an incentive to provide their email address. Once you’ve got their permission to contact them regularly, build a relationship and convert site visitors and email subscribers into customers.

Over time, cold leads will become hot, and those hot leads will want face-to-face meetings. Its decision time: are you ready to invest in a global travel expense account? If so, be prepared to reel in the business, as most of the world works on a handshake and face time is critical. Turn your business trips into tax-deductible vacations and see the world while you’re at it.

On a quarterly basis, it’s very helpful to take a close look at your progress. Assess the effectiveness of your process, strategies and tactics and determine if you’re on the right track. If not, look for ways to fine-tune by breaking down the entire process. If you’ve seen success thus far, understand what is working well for you and decide whether or not you want to scale further. When that is the case, just start over at the research phase and begin searching for your next market opportunity.

Following these 9 steps will put you on the fast track toward a global marketing strategy. As Darwin once said, adapt or die

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