Taking your first steps towards selling abroad
For B2B companies which have never done business with international clients before, attempting to penetrate global markets can present various obstacles. This critical step could be challenging for a variety of reasons: An absence of international clientele in your portfolio; the geographic distance to your target market; a lack of sales personnel assigned to your target market; large, notable global competitors with vast budgets; small, local competitors who are familiar with and well-suited to the market; difficulty in handling international business partners, and others.
What could go wrong?
Mis-conceptions of how to conduct international marketing and sales; inadequate preparation; and a lack of experience in global export could result in entering the market unprepared. This could create a mediocre image, leaving an impression of an uninspiring company that does not stand out above the competition. It could, furthermore, impact your ability to attract top-notch distributors or to close deals, resulting in wasted resources and frustration.
Readiness test: a precondition for succeeding in global marketing
Considering that you’ve invested so much time and effort in developing your idea and venture, avoid making similar mistakes as other companies, and be sure not to skip the critical step of the international readiness test. Aimed at preparing you for international activity, the readiness test will save you a lot of time and money, and considerably increase your chance of successfully penetrating international markets. Read More About Our Service.
Save time by budgeting in advance
A surprisingly high number of companies begin conducting international activity before budgeting for this purpose. This often results in wasted resources and time, frustration, and a lower success rate. To expedite the process of penetrating international markets, it is essential to budget your activities.
A marketing budget – an integral part of your marketing plan
Establishing a marketing budget is essential for assessing the investment needed for your international activity, and is an integral part of your international marketing plan. The marketing plan will include the specified channels, activities and means for achieving your marketing and sales goals, along with the relevant timelines.
A good marketing budget should specify the amount allocated for executing each part of the marketing plan and must also reflect the company’s financial situation, and match the specific growth phase of your business. Preparing a marketing budget will also be essential for establishing a business plan that will help secure financing or investments for additional funding.
Allocating funds for learning the market
As part of the readiness test for marketing abroad, make sure to allocate funds for a variety of tasks that will help you gather information about your markets. These may include: Visiting professional trade shows; purchasing market research reports; adjusting a product to the target market; expediting a product’s regulatory compliance; launching a website; and traveling abroad for preliminary meetings with potential customers and stakeholders.
Budgeting the channels for future leads
When the time comes to execute your marketing plan and establish a solid B2B sales and marketing infrastructure , achieving your marketing goals will depend primarily on the extent and quality of your marketing channels and the leads they generate.
For example, in order to generate 10 leads each month, 3 of which would be obtained at tradeshows; 3 more through qualitative content marketing; 2 through an industry consultant; and 2 from a PPC campaign, you must first define the expected marketing activities in each channel, and their respective funding.
Make sure also to allocate a budget for nurturing leads and converting them into customers; establishing marketing and sales tools ; recruiting sales reps; and budgeting for travel abroad.
The power of a references
In the B2B marketing world, where references is most often the key factor for penetrating international markets, acquiring the first customers can be far more valuable than the impact of any brochure or advertisement. It is, therefore, critical to devote considerable thought as to how to attain those first customers.
Once you have a few customers who have decided to purchase your solution and successfully implemented it, and who are happy users, they will play a major role in attracting additional customers by providing references to new prospects, who will be more inclined to do business with you.
Pinpointing early adopters is important for your preliminary business development stages, as these are companies most likely to risk buying a new product or technology from an unknown company abroad.
In order to find these potential customers, you need to first profile them thoroughly, by either their specific verticals, average company size, the solutions they currently use or any other relevant parameter. All this information will be described in your marketing plan.
Early adopters can be pinpointed through a distinctive business “pain”or an urge to gain a significant competitive advantage – attained only by using your product with a tendency to take risks even by purchasing products from unknown companies.
An expert international marketing consultant can help you to quickly locate these early-adopters, and to assess the likelihood of their becoming your first strategic customers.
Beaming a global professional image
Once you have pinpointed your target customer profile and their relevant decision makers, start working on refining your offering and value proposition.
Your company’s USP (unique selling proposition) should transmit the clear message of how purchasing your product will solve a specific “pain” or provide a competitive edge and why should they bother and risk by preferring your product over competing ones.
Showcase your success in the local market and project your professional expertise by demonstrating that you understand the customers’ needs.
Present your company’s core vision; its devoted founders and management team; management’s confidence in the product; and in its benefits to customers.
Convey the image of a company with international business standards through your profound understanding of global markets in the company’s area of expertise; your willingness to fly and meet with the customers; and your genuine commitment to their success.
The ‘go-to-market’ section in your marketing plan should describe in detail how you intend to obtain your first customers. This includes collaboration with industry leaders, consultants, analysts, participation in professional organizations, cooperation with the academy, leveraging the company’s achievements and other B2B technics, which will boost confidence in your company and product and reduce the perceived risk of purchasing products from it. Read more.
Help – I got a lead!
This is a big day: An interested prospect has contacted you!
Once you’ve overcome the initial excitement, your first step is to evaluate to what extent this lead could develop into your customer:
- Is it a target customer within the market segments which you have decided to focus on in your marketing plan?
- Does it match the buyer persona you’ve defined?
If so, then it appears you have done a good job researching and reaching your target market. Document the channel through which you found this lead, and, in this way, continue to track the origins of future leads to pinpoint your most effective channels.
Needless to say, it is highly unlikely that a potential customer will approach you out of the blue without you initiating pre-planned lead-generating actions as defined in your marketing plan.
Not what you were expecting?
If the customer does not precisely match the predefined target market, you should, nonetheless, examine their qualities and start exploring whether customers from this new segment prove to be lucrative.
Think about how you can obtain additional leads of this type, and adjust your marketing plan accordingly. Nevertheless, if you find that your value proposition has less impact on this type of customer, think carefully before redirecting your limited resources to an entirely new market segment. The process of redefining market segments or verticals can be lengthy, and usually requires additional investment.
Anyway, further handling of the lead depends on the marketing and sales process that we’ve defined while establishing a B2B marketing and sales infrastructure and may be executed by an outsourced sales executive.
If you have a distributor in the territory of a lead you have received, you may choose to forward him/her the relevant lead’s details for further follow-up in their local language.
Your distributor will appreciate you sending that lead, boosting his motivation and increasing his commitment. Furthermore, the potential customer will benefit by communicating with someone in their own language and culture, and who could be available to meet in person on short notice.
On the same wavelength
If you do not have any distributors yet, try to assess the prospective customer’s current stage within their B2B buying-decision process; the company size; purchasing budget; and timeline. You can communicate by phone, email, webinars or face-to-face meetings.
Keep in mind that even when both sides are communicating in English, there are high uncertainties and a relatively high chance of misunderstandings that can occur when conducting international business. Therefore, a professional outsourced sales executive with vast international experience can maximize the full potential of this lead, avoiding wasted resources.
If you already have an international marketing plan and a solid sales funnel with a backlog of potential customers waiting to receive a quote or a demo, or to schedule a meeting with you – it sounds like you are off to a good start.
At this point you may consider hiring a full-time marketing and sales manager, experienced in international B2B sales and who could be instrumental in managing the sales process and closing the deals; that is, of course, if you can afford one.
However, if you haven’t reached this stage yet, employing an expert of this caliber is premature, and is an expense that could rapidly deplete your monthly budget.
Outsourcing: your smart path towards success
Successful international sales requires a fair amount of planning and preparation to establish a marketing framework. This includes setting up a finely-tuned sales process that targets the appropriate market segment with the right unique selling proposition, generates qualitative leads and directs prospective customers down the sales funnel until a deal is closed. Hiring a full time sales manager before this framework is in place could result in a costly adventure.
However, a seasoned outsourced marketing and sales consultant with worldwide connections requires minimal investment, and makes far more sense.
Having witnessed numerous mistakes made by company leadership, who lack international experience, this highly-qualified executive will prevent you from making such errors, leading your business towards the right direction.
Hiring the services of an independent marketing consultant for a limited time period offers a relatively low-cost solution as compared to employing a full-time marketing or sales executive.
When entering a vendor-customer vs. employer-employee relationship, you gain the flexibility to extend or alternatively discontinue services once the predefined tasks are completed and your goals are met.
You also spare the significant expense of a hefty salary, costly social benefits and retirement plan, and a severance package. The smart choice is to have an expert kick-start your international business by setting up an effective sales process that will start generating leads.
While initially there might not be enough customers to justify the hiring of a full-time sales executive, nevertheless, once this well-oiled sales machine is working full-blast and numerous leads are flowing in, that would be the right time to hire that person.
In the meantime, your consultant will lead the strategic planning; define your target audience; help raising capital; choose relevant exhibitions; recommend industry thought-leaders with whom you should collaborate; and employ other tactics, channels and a network of contacts to generate your first sales opportunities.
An independent marketing consultant who is not on your payroll will provide a professional, objective view of your business and its competitive position in the market. Aimed at promoting your product and leading to its success, he would feel free to speak with you openly, offering his honest, unbiased opinion.
Experience is the best teacher
When dealing with complex business decisions, nothing can substitute years of practical experience. Having held senior international sales, marketing and business development management positions in varied industries and markets, and with connections acquired in numerous global territories, this outsourced sales manager offers a broad perspective of your business, and will prevent you from repeating critical mistakes committed by others.
Helping you to manage your sales cycle and funnel, he will also advise as to how to tackle complex and challenging sales scenarios, and get faster business results.
Who needs distributors?
Distributors, also referred to as “channel partners”, are a popular sales channel that often proves to be a highly effective means for penetrating new markets.
However, not every company, industry or product require distributors. There are other available sales channels that may be more relevant for your line of business, such as: a local office in the target territory; direct sales by the company’s sales team or through your company website; retail chains, agents, or e-commerce sites. So before you delve into an extensive search, make sure that the distributors channel is the one most suitable for your sales process.
To determine whether using distributors can help promote your sales abroad, it’s best to first revisit your marketing plan and see whom you have defined as target customers. Look at their buyer personas; where to they gather information about similar products, which are the products they usually purchase and where; and the distinguishing characteristics of that market or of that particular segment.
Next, viewing the value chain that you wish to create for your customers, decide which functions you expect your distributors to fulfil: Should they simply introduce you to new customers, or manage the entire sales process and close the deal for you? Should they also initiate and finance local marketing activities? What about handling installation, implementation, inventory and spare parts for your products?
Zoom-in on the perfect match
Assuming you have concluded that you need distributors, and you have defined clear roles for them, we recommend that you establish a distributor’s profile who could best fulfill these functions. Defining this profile will make it much easier to find and select eligible candidates.
Keep in mind that someone might not be the best match for your particular business just because he has approached you first or because he was recommended by your cousin.
You can find potential distributors by contacting the economic attaché at the relevant Israeli embassy; contacting the Israeli Export and International Cooperation Institute; visiting trade shows; utilizing social media; consulting with your existing customers or using other resourceful techniques .
The following scenario occurs fairly often, and may sound familiar to you: A company signs a distribution agreement, and both sides part with plentiful positive promises of a hopeful future. Unfortunately, after a period of radio silence it becomes evident that the distributor has been completely idle. The company’s initial response is to assume he is either on vacation, or is simply busy with a different project, and, once that is completed, he will apply himself entirely to promoting your business. One could easily continue to immerse in this illusion, until ultimately realizing that choosing this business partner was a wrong decision. Avoid the common mistake of signing an agreement with the first candidate who comes your way.
If your underlying assumption is that you have nothing to lose, then, you’re wrong. You actually have a lot to lose: Money, flights, time – are all valuable resources you need to factor in and provide for any onboarding distributor, so make sure to choose carefully.
Looking beyond first impression
A smart selection process should start by defining the roles and functions that you need the distributor to fulfill, followed by establishing one or more profiles of the ideal distributor for you. Once you have done that and have located potential distributors , take the time and follow a systematic process to get to know each candidate: Find out why they are interested in working with you and what their expectations are. Share your expectations with them as well. Accordingly, specify the functions they would need to perform, marketing activities, sales targets, and your preferred means of communication and frequency.
Discuss commissions or other compensation methods; customer visits; marketing tools and materials; expected sales activities and reporting; and the availability of staff assigned to your company’s products.
Reach for the sky
Aim for high-quality experienced distributors, but expect that they will have more demanding requirements from you and want to be compensated accordingly. With that in mind, the more you prepare in advance, the more likely you are to attract high-quality distributors with proven success in promoting global companies.
That’s why it’s so important to have an outstanding international B2B marketing and sales infrastructure in place, with first-rate sales and marketing tools, such as: international price list; distribution agreement; easy-to-operate demo environment; professionally-written website which generates leads; content marketing and more.
A skilled distributor will immediately assess the level of these materials and your international readiness level, and might hesitate working with you if they are inadequate, especially if your company is still unknown, which increases the risk for him.
The pain detector
In your marketing plan you should have specified a market segment or sub segment, which you have pinpointed as a potential source of customers. Ensure that your defined value proposition is highly relevant for this audience, and that it offers a perfect solution for a major “pain” that they have.
The ability to identify a group of customers, who share a common need or pain is instrumental for operating in competitive international markets. In addition, your unique selling proposition (USP) must be well defined, revealing the clear advantage of your solution over others, demonstrating why a new customer should take a chance and purchase from an unknown company such as yours, rather than choosing a well-established competitor who is internationally-renowned.
Some prospective customers from your target segment, defined as “early adopters”, might appreciate the unique value that your innovative solution provides in solving their specific need and gaining a competitive edge. And while large vendors are often unwilling or unable to cater to specific requests, or to tailor solutions to niche markets, if you are able to recognize how a potential customer would benefit from your product, this could provide you with a real advantage.
It is, therefore, worth persevering and winning this customer over as a strategic customer, even by also compromising on certain commercial terms and being flexible with your offering, to secure your market beachhead and lay the groundwork for further future success, appealing to new customers who share similar needs or pains and who will be more inclined to follow.
When competing with the pros it’s essential that you create the image of an up-and-coming international company that shows potential of becoming a leader in its field.
Therefore it is essential to establish a B2B marketing and sales infrastructure, to reflect a global image through first-rate written marketing materials, top-notch presentations, a professional website, well prepared price-proposals and other sales and marketing B2B tools .
Kickstarting your international activities
Securing the required funding to enable global marketing and export abroad is one of the main obstacles for companies who are just beginning their activity in the global markets. It’s important, therefore, to become aware of the numerous available funding and support channels that provide financial support.
Where to start, and what’s available?
The Israeli Ministry of Economy, together with the Accountant General and the Budget Department of the Ministry of Finance, are continuously expanding and improving these funding channels, to especially help small and medium-size businesses succeed overseas. The various entities that assist in financing export initiatives, offer a diverse range of innovative financial and support solutions which can be tailored to each exporter’s needs.
The 5 main public organizations responsible for assisting Israeli exporters are:
- The Israel Export and International Cooperation Institute – most suitable for small exporters or for companies that are just beginning to export
- The Foreign Trade Administration in the Ministry of Economy
- Commercial attachés at the respective Israeli embassies at the target markets
- Division for small businesses in the Ministry of Economy
- The OCS (Office of the Chief Scientist) in the Ministry of Economy
Funding channels are determined according to:
- The funding or supporting entity
- Type of financial aid or support (fund, loan, grant, consultancy, credit, or tax benefit)
- Qualification for funding, such as sectoral or geographic location
- Amount required for funding
- Purpose of funding
- Funding terms
- Company’s growth stage The source of the funds can be either governmental or philanthropic
Funding starts from NIS 50,000 and can reach several millions of NIS, depending on business volume; purpose of the requested funding; or even the company’s geographic location.
Polish your look
Many companies compete over obtaining these same funds, and it is therefore vital to ensure that your application, and in particular the enclosed business plan and marketing plan, look highly professional.
The idea is to instill confidence in the funding organizations by conveying the message that the company has a great business potential, a staff experienced with conducting international business, along with a clear view of how they intend to utilize these funds.
Unprofessional applications are rejected, such as by companies that lack a clear marketing plan as to how they intend to market their products abroad.
This is why you need a professional who is experienced in funding- and grant applications, and in preparing the necessary accompanying plans for this purpose.
For further details about funding channels and applying for funding see financing your international activities.