International marketing provides a host of benefits to a business, from helping to broaden the customer base to improving the reputation of the brand.
Thanks to the internet, global reach is no longer reserved for deep-pocketed brands, nor does it have to be a daunting, seemingly impossible task. In fact, a global presence is possible for any business with a creative strategy and an understanding of world markets.
If you are starting to expand your business and want to start marketing to an International audience, follow my top tips on how to find buyers to get you started.
1 . Determine your unique selling points on the basis of market research
Once you have a good product line, the most important next step is to invest time and effort in market research. First of all, use research to find out your unique selling points. You can determine your strong selling points by looking at the market, checking what other suppliers are doing and identifying what kind of product captures the attention of buyers.
First, look inside your organisation and map out your strengths and weakness. Carry out a full SWOT analysis. When engaging in sales, focus on your strengths. Next, investigate which countries and customers match your company culture, collection and production or quality standards. The fastest way to profitable business is to find a customer whose company matches yours on as many points as possible.
Top recommendations to get you started:
- Spend time looking around in European stores and on the Internet as part of your research.
- Study products, quality and price. Ask yourself which companies and products are doing well, and why.
- Look at your own company and products and ask yourself how they will match – or complement – what you see on the market.
- What makes your product and organisation stand out? Is it design, material, price, quality, functionality, production capacity or speed? Or is it that great story behind your product regarding its origins, or the traditional craft or recycling processes involved in making it?
- Contact Chambers of Commerce in different countries, for example by using the website of the Association of European Chambers of Commerce and Industry. While they do not usually offer active matchmaking services for suppliers based in developing countries, their websites and databases often offer useful market information.
- As a part of your market research, look at current trends.
- Understand where the demand lies in your particular market in order to identify your own selling points.
2 . Look beyond your own product to understand how buyers think
The global and European markets change rapidly and are under continuous economic pressure. Buyers need to differentiate in order to boost sales and beat the competition. This creates opportunities for you as a supplier. The more you understand the needs of buyers and can provide matching services, the more business you will get.
One crucial part of understanding buyers is to investigate needs and trends on the target market. Good examples are the growth of sustainable business and the need for more transparent supply chains.
Whenever you meet buyers, ask a lot of questions about their collections, strategy, communications and business attitudes. This will help you align your business with their needs and wishes. Spend time and effort in getting to know who your buyers are: having identified the right market segments, make sure you get in touch with the right businesses and the right people within those businesses.
3 . Create an attractive presentation before approaching buyers
Before approaching buyers, prepare yourself properly. Use an attractive, comfortable showroom for visitors. If you’re on the road, make sure you have a good presentation folder or iPad/tablet presentation.
In your presentation, focus strongly on all the possibilities and unique selling points of your company. Show products that are unique or that represent a specific technique.
Your presentation should include at least the following:
- A clear company profile
- Up-to-date business cards
- Handouts, such as brochures or leaflets
- Quality images of your products
- Product samples
- Up-to-date price lists, terms and conditions (in English or in the language of the country you are visiting). Do not print prices in a brochure, but have them available on a separate sheet for seriously interested buyers.
4 . Make sure you have a professionally designed website, or you may not be taken seriously
If customers cannot find you online – or if your online presentation is fragmented and shabby – it will be challenging to get a meeting planned with a new prospect. The Internet is usually the first place a prospective buyer will go to find out more about you and your offer.
Once a prospect finds you online, the first impression he gets may well determine whether he pursues contact with you or not. Treat your online presence like a digital showroom. More than that: realise that it can give your business visibility on a worldwide scale.
5 . Use social media and SEO to broaden your company’s exposure
Using social media is a good way to get your business exposed to a larger circle of potential buyers. Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, SnapChat and Twitter all offer access to new circles.
Search Engine Optimisation is another good tool for getting more attention online. Use the Internet to find out which keywords will give you a higher Google ranking.
Realise that the end consumer can have a lot of influence on your business, even though you do not sell to the end consumer directly. Make sure your company name is branded and your company ideas and mission are known, even to end consumers. This will add value to your business. Do not underestimate the influence of the Internet in the buying behaviour of the end consumer.
If you have a good copywriter who can write an editorial on your company or product, try to get it published in trade magazines. Have excellent (high-resolution) photographs made of your products and facilities and send them to magazines or websites that match your profile.
6 . Make use of online trade platforms
Finding buyers and being found is not something you have to do on your own. There are many tools and websites available online that have been designed especially to connect buyers and sellers.
There are general search engines like Google, of course, but there are also trade and e-commerce platforms, such as http://www.alibaba.com, http://www.ebay.com and http://www.decofinder.co.uk. There are also sector-specific online trade platforms, such as Etsy.com or http://www.ethicalfashionforum.com. All you have to do is create an account, present your company and let the website present you to the rest of the world.
7 . Exhibit at international trade fairs
International trade fairs are a good way of showing buyers that you are serious about exporting. Again, preparation is the key to success here: getting the most out of a trade fair involves a lot more than just ‘signing up and showing up’. Here are some preparatory steps that will improve your chances of generating business when you get to the fair – and when you go back home afterwards:
- Make a rough cost estimate of exhibiting at a fair.
- Identify what you think may be your key selling point in the eyes of trade fair visitors.
- Look for what might be trendy about your products: recycled materials (‘green’ is hot), innovative applications et cetera.
- Visualise your stand in the form of a model or drawing to make sure it is as attractive as possible for people passing by at the fair.
- Before the fair, invite companies to your booth.
- Find the right balance in offering buyers value for money – avoid under-pricing as well as overpricing.
- Think of a good ‘attention grabber’, for instance a strong visual eye-catcher, a giveaway, or an event. Remember, trade fair visitors will only have a couple of seconds to be attracted as they walk past your stand.
- Once visitors have decided to take a closer look at your stand, give them some freedom and let them look around before approaching them – but don’t let them walk in and walk right back out again without making contact: the art of selling is all about choosing the right moment.
- When you have made contact, exchange business cards, if possible, and take notes of the information you have gathered about your prospect so that you can reconnect after the fair.
- Make sure your business cards and handouts are accurate, attractive and contain up-to-date information, so that your company will be (correctly) remembered after the trade show.
- Whether you are an exhibitor at the fair or a visitor (see the next point), make sure you are polite and pleasant in your dealings with the people you meet. Remember, even a random contact may become a customer or may put you in touch with future customers.
- Prepare a basic questionnaire to ask new customers questions about things you need to know about, for example: payment conditions, minimum order quantity (MOQ), the scale of their business.
- Offer visitors a small gift related to your company to help them remember you favourably.
- Make sure visitors see that you understand their requirements.
- Make sure that by the end of the fair you have a list of leads you can follow up on after you go back home: most business generated by trade fairs occurs in the follow-up stage.
- Make sure your follow-up includes basic communication, such as a ‘thank you’ mail or letter and confirmations and status updates on orders or inquiries. Also, keep the promises you made at the fair.
- Always answer your e-mail, even if you do not have a full answer or time to compose a full answer: let your client know he has your attention.
- Consider sending out a newsletter to prospects, but always ask them to sign up first, as they will take unrequested newsletters as ‘spam’.
8 . Visit international trade fairs without exhibiting
If exhibiting is too expensive for you, attending international trade fairs as a visitor rather than as an exhibitor is also a great way of finding buyers.
The best way to make use of this option is by pre-arranging to meet up with prospects during the fair. The advantage of this approach is that you can meet multiple prospects at one and the same location, reducing travel cost, and combining your meetings with catching up on the latest trends at the trade fair.
International marketing holds many potential benefits for the small-business owner. From the expansion of your customer base to the image of your company within the industry and among your customers, to the formation of new supplier and sales relationships. International marketing is a gateway to opportunities you may otherwise miss out on that could really, really make your company!