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How businesses can serve international customers

By Expert commentator 09 Jul, 2019
Essential

Every step of international marketing needs to be considered carefully, as doing business overseas comes with many different requirements

Proving a big success nationally can make business owners hungry to expand further and while approaching the international market is something many businesses have the capacity for, it is important to look at factors that influence the success of trying to "go global" too soon.

The strategies and practices that were a huge success at home may not suit customers in a different country or countries, and therefore it is vital that business owners are fully prepared and ready to tackle any differences head-on before launching on a global scale.

Moving into new international markets has many benefits and a business may have many reasons for wanting to do so. Some businesses might see huge potential for revenue growth in a particular market – the opportunity to expand with new customer segments that can’t be found at home.

However, every step needs to be considered carefully, as doing business overseas comes with many different requirements. Your customer – and the service they require – needs to remain your number one priority if success in other countries is to remain achievable.

International customer service and experience

Recognizing you have a customer base in another country is only the first step in actually marketing and delivering your product and service to them in a way that generates meaningful sales. Many business owners approach a new customer segment as they had previous ones and this is where problems can begin, particularly when entering new countries.

Offering customers in new regions requires a different approach on many levels from understanding those particular customer’s expectations to local legislator requirements and the costs that come with this. Issues such as translation and localization cannot be underestimated and must form a key part of the strategy any business puts into place before entering a new market.

How to expand into international markets

When success has come relatively easily at home, being complacent about going global is common. For some business owners, it is an intimidating idea. In both instances, the solution is the same: plan and research to be fully aware of the requirements of the nation or nations you’re hoping to launch into.

Expanding overseas

Due diligence of customs, values, culture and language is just the beginning, all of these are just tools in trying to convince the target audience in the new region that your product or service is worthwhile. The knowledge you acquire and everything you do to prepare for the launch overseas does not necessarily translate into leads and sales.

International expansions often require the support of a local partner and experts in local regulations and legislation. Most companies seek to employ or engage people from their chosen overseas areas so they have insider support and someone who can easily and confidently work in both your home offices and in the new market area.

Some business owners opt to look at partnering with local vendors or even working on a franchise basis, first launching their business with a qualified partner who invests in the company themselves.

A key part of the decision a business makes in this area is dependent on the experience they have of the target region and the people within their company they can rely on.

Challenges Faced when Entering International Markets

Global expansion comes with a wide range of challenges, which business owners simply can’t afford to ignore. Keeping abreast of all challenges when looking to grow globally is essential to see real success. Key challenges include:

Market knowledge and language

Every market is different and not understanding or keeping this in mind will significantly hamper a business’ chances of growth in new regions. Your research means nothing if you are not able to confidently approach this new market area fully localized and of course, language-ready. International success relies highly on language skills and localization and a full commitment to the new market you’ve chosen.

Putting your customers first needs to be carried through to your new region, which can mean everything from creating a new website with SEO tailored specifically for the local market and is fully in the destination market’s language to being sure of the nuances of the language, through the employment of native speakers and those with a full grasp of the idiosyncrasies of the language. Software and tools for translation simply will not work.

Pace and cultural difference

Different countries have different approaches to the speed of business. Countries such as Germany are renowned for their productivity, while business in the USA moves at an extremely rapid pace. Approaching a new market at your preferred pace simply will not work.

Business owners and their teams must be ready to adapt. Building trust and understanding will take time and you have to be prepared for business to take longer than you may be used to.

Tariffs, fees and logistics

If your business is based on the sale of goods, then understanding the import and export laws of your chosen international markets is essential. There are many countries where a fee applies for anyone importing into their country, as well as exporting, and for businesses in the e-commerce sector, this is particularly important. Understanding the local requirements for successful sales overseas is integral to the global growth of an e-commerce firm.

A stumbling block for many companies is this cost, especially smaller and start-up businesses, so it may be important to start slowly and on a small scale. Tariffs are influenced by many things from logistics to the size of orders and working with partners in your chosen nation can help to mitigate some of this cost as their knowledge of the local requirements will be stronger, allowing them to take you through costs before any deals or agreements are set in stone.

Business owners may feel deflated when first looking into the costs of exporting and importing goods but with the right approach, there are ways to mitigate this. Alongside working closely with knowledgeable local partners, business owners can look at concierge services, where mail forwarding services can help to minimize shipping costs, especially helpful in the early days when a business is looking to become established in a new region.

Local competition

If your business is in a saturated market ask yourself why an international customer should choose you over their local option. Persuading a foreign customer that may not know your brand that your goods or services are the best bet when they have an alternative on their doorstep is not the easiest task. Unless you’re a large multinational with a recognizable brand name, it is hard to make that first good impression and impact.

More work needs to go into building trust and reliability, and proving to the market you’re a viable option, if not the best choice. This again links back to the nuances of localization and translation – ensuring your approach is at least as good as the local competition, who have the upper hand in terms of language and experience.

Global strategies that worked

Many companies, most notably the largest US brands, have made their mark on the international stage. There are many examples of companies whose approaches have been successful for different reasons including:

LEGO

LEGO logo The world’s most popular toy brand, Danish innovator LEGO utilized its incomparable company culture and impenetrable brand as tools to push it forward overseas. Its core beliefs of creativity and building easily break boundaries and are common to all children around the globe.

Trial and error quickly showed LEGO that its approach in one country didn’t work in another. It trialled its US-style gift promotions in other markets with little success and began to see the need to focus in on consumer perceptions in each region and play to these, whilst keeping true to its core values.

WWF

The Earth Hour Initiative from the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) not only touched a social issue but lifted the company’s popularity in one particular market. Prior to Earth Hour, WWF’s role in the Scandinavian market wasn’t as large as it could have been.

Earth Hour However, the Earth Hour’s voluntary requirement to have the light’s switched off for a single hour was particularly fitting for countries such as Norway. These regions, where daylight hours are longer than most other nations, were prime candidates for the Blackout campaign.

By partnering with local digital agency Mobiento, WWF was able to place the Blackout Banner across some of Norway’s top media sites. This recognition of particular market segments for their campaign allows them to reach a huge amount of customers in this particularly relevant region for their campaign.

New Relic

Sometimes succeeding in a new market is about choosing the right area to base your international operations from. Silicon Valley-based data software company New Relic saw the potential in Dublin as their first international location.

NewRelic logo

The company’s research allowed them to select the perfect location for their international operations based on similarities between the two areas, access to a young educated workforce and a country where new technology is actively sought after and required.

They also looked at it from the perspective of labour costs and real estate value, allowing them to work from a good standpoint in terms of value as well as growth.

Expanding your business overseas

Overseas expansion is something that many businesses dream of, especially after achieving success and hitting growth goals. Approaching a new market can be exciting and intimidating all at once but with the right tools and a frank understanding of the challenges you face, there is no reason expansion can’t be a success.

 

By Expert commentator

This is a post we've invited from a digital marketing specialist who has agreed to share their expertise, opinions and case studies. Their details are given at the end of the article.

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