Business management

How to market your business overseas

Get some export tips from the experts.

Regardless of Brexit worries, the scenario is booming for both large and small companies. So if you’re looking for ways to increase your marketing power overseas, here’s how to do it.

Know your customer

“You may feel you know this already, but have you researched and talked to ‘sweet spot’ customers in new markets?” asks Graham O’Rourke, CEO of Aphix Software, which has offices in the UK, Ireland and Spain. “Are they the same profile of customer as the UK? Do they have the same challenges or additional ones? Having a clear view of this is key.”

Before starting any international marketing, you need to develop a strategy, O’Rourke adds. “By that I mean challenge your assumptions.”

This includes investigating differences in the market structure. “To assume the market is the same is a common mistake,” O’Rourke warns. “Often the supply chain – how customers buy, who they buy from and who they trust to help – are all subtly yet importantly different from market to market.”

Also, talk to non-competing companies in a similar sector to the one you operate in, who have successfully entered that overseas market. “We did this when investigating the Spanish market and made a decision not to go ahead with a large launch based on our original strategy,” O’Rourke says. “The advice of peers was invaluable in this case.”

Tailor your online marketing

The simplest way to sell internationally is over the internet, but getting the balance right is essential. “Be inclusive to all markets,” says Avril Twomey, marketing manager at Glenilen Farm in Cork, Ireland. “Don’t alienate any market. Run specific bespoke campaigns by geo-targeting specific and relevant areas in the export market – and be sure to have the language skills necessary to follow up enquiries.”

Having the resources in place to manage this is key. “Prospects need a rapid and informed response. They may seek clarification, follow-up emails and telephone communications or live comms on other channels like LinkedIn, Twitter or online chat.”

Once this is sorted, it’s important to have the right tech systems in place. “How do you capture new leads? What’s the lead source [for instance, Google, Bing, Facebook], and what did the customer search for?” says O’Rourke. If you can keep sales and marketing working closely together to answer these questions, you’ll continue to refine and improve your success online – especially the last point. “What did converting customers search for? That knowledge is key,” he adds.

Set up abroad when the time is right

“You have to evaluate the pros and cons of setting up in the host country,” says marketing lecturer and art exporter Clare Ferguson-Walker. “If you’ve established a market and you know your exporting costs are at a certain level, it could end up being far more cost-effective to set up a production line in a foreign country and cut out huge shipping costs. You can also turn things round more quickly, improving your service and reducing delivery times.” This is particularly helpful if products are bulky or difficult to transport.

As a B2B company, I believe that when you’re committed to a country, you should be there. The only question is when

Graham O’Rourke, CEO, Aphix Software

Bon Bon Buddies has its main base in Blackwood, South Wales, and markets branded confectionery for the likes of Disney, Warner Bros and Universal from offices in Düsseldorf, Lille, and Łódź in Poland. “The EU market is very important to us,” says MD Justin Thomas. ”But at the same time, we’re now looking further afield to the Middle East and China, where we’ve achieved £1m of sales in a short period of time and have ambitious growth plans.”

For Thomas, stepping up incrementally is key. The company moved into its new markets one by one. The French office covers Belgium; Germany covers Austria and Switzerland; and Poland reaches Ukraine, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

For a service industry, the cost benefits of establishing yourself in the host country might seem less compelling. But, as Graham O’Rourke points out: “As a B2B company, I believe that when you’re committed to a country, you should be there. The only question is when. I’d always advocate that the CEO or head of sales is directly involved in the initial market research and that must include being in the country for a time.”

This enables you to build a personal rapport with your first customers or partners, he says. “And it’s these reference customers that’ll help you accelerate your early growth.”

Supply chains are key

As overseas exporting increases, so does the need to ensure supply chains are not only in place but agile and fit for purpose. It’s vital to study each link in the chain carefully and isolate areas that can be improved or where costs can be reduced .

“Glenilen Farm produces yogurt, which has a relatively short shelf-life,” says Avril Twomey, “so supply-chain management is one of the most important factors for our business when we consider export.

“We get no second chances when it comes to a listing with a major supermarket. You must have the right architecture in place so you can supply product on time, within the systems outlined by the respective retailer.”

Top tips for marketing internationally

  • Build your brand by being geographically distinctive. Can you highlight your locale to appeal to foreign markets – are you based in the Lake District, Cornwall, the Highlands? Do you sell something that is unique? Highlight it.
  • Understand cultural differences and adapt your approach and marketing materials appropriately.
  • Visit trade shows, both as a visitor in order to network and to have a stall yourself to display your wares.

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