MANY COMPANIES DREAM
about building their global brand and expanding their revenues through overseas sales.
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, 96.5 percent of manufacturing small and medium-enterprises (SME) export. However, SME’s comprise only 18.9 percent of the export value of the U.S. The two major obstacles those SMEs face with exporting are:
- The lack of resources to identify and qualify export customers, and
- The inability to competitively navigate import requirements to reach those customers.
This article will show SMEs
how to simply provide international customers information about your organization on a culturally neutral basis so that you will be perceived as willing to be flexible enough to do business overseas. The SME can then identify the export customer, the first step in the qualification process.
Global market development has been an expensive and time-consuming process, involving market and legal research, multiple overseas trips, and numerous trade show visits and displays.
One of the greatest impacts of the last Great Recession was how the buying process changed.
The Internet has become the great equalizer of marketing communications. Customers find your business today conducting a simple online search. We have all experienced this personally in our own consumer product searches:
- 93 percent of business-to-business purchasers start with an online search
- Buyers are 70 percent of the way through the product search process before they talk to a seller
- Buyers conduct global product searches
Did you know the U.S. makes up only 5 percent of the overall globally available market? And that there is a lot of available market left?
Most buyers want to gather preliminary product information without talking to a salesperson.
After this information is gathered and assessed the buyer is ready to be contacted. The seller can now hand off the prospect from the marketing people who put information on the website to the salesperson or overseas channel partner (if selected) to provide customer-specific application information.
Customers want to hear from a company representative to help them solve their problem with a product.
The earlier they make contact in the buying process, the greater the likelihood of a sale. Using the internet, companies can help define overseas buyers’ needs and position themselves as a preferred supplier.
SMEs can then start global business development with real overseas customers providing information about their product needs.
Prospective customers will explain their market.
They will also tell the vendor, you, about competitors and potential channel partners. A business plan can now begin with real customers on a more market specific, focused, manner.
If an SME has not traveled, lived or done business overseas they will encounter some cultural difference they may not have expected that will create a lack of trust or empathy on the customers part.
Elevating that trust level starts when an overseas vendor shows that they want to do business in a culturally neutral way. Simple enhancements to the SME’s web site would include:
Modifying the “contact us” page
- Use an international phone number-not an 800#
- Eliminate zip codes, abbreviations and mailing address fields
- Add a country identifier box
- Ask to enable cookies (a new requirement of the European Union Data Privacy Act)
Modifying the seller’s international contact information
- State your direct phone number with country code (no 800 number)
- Display a separate international contacts page
- Identify a separate resource to contact for exports, such as email@example.com
- State that you are a U.S. company
Enabling some simple tools from Google
- Embed Google Translate on your pages
- Add Google Analytics on your site
Using more culturally neutral conventions for times, dates
- Use Greenwich Mean Time and a 24-hour clock to state business hours
- Use global calendar conventions: day/month/year or year/month/day
- Add metric conventions and other engineering measure conversions
- Add voltage, amps and frequency for electrical products
- State whether you modify or customize standard products
Search engine optimization
- Produce high-quality English-based content
- Obtain testimonials from current global customers
- Drive contact forms to a unique ID content management system
Embracing new available digital technology
- Make their site mobile friendly
- Benchmark world class web sites
It is important to only request required contact information at this stage of the relationship. Is an address required to receive electronic information?
Don’t expect that you will see a dramatic immediate increase in your leads immediately. It takes global prospects three to six months to recognize these online changes. There are many great company website examples of how to build a more culturally neutral presence. It is not a matter of company size.
The goal is to appear to be the easiest to do business with. This first step is understanding our cultural differences and minimizing them. SMEs will then be able to win overseas customers and reap the benefits of exporting:
- Increasing sales and overall profits
- Creating a global brand and higher enterprise valuation
- Creating new jobs
- Offsetting slower growth in the domestic market
- Outmaneuvering competitors and perhaps attacking them on their home turf
- Creating economies of scale in production
Enjoy the journey!
Jim Thomas is founder of Dynamic Development LLC, which consults with businesses on international growth: 612.321.6459; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.jimthomasintl.com.