[19MM EP1] Exporting Accidentally: A counter-intuitive approach to expanding to new markets


Who is Ed Marsh ...

Founder and CEO of Consilium Global Business Advisors, working as strategy and revenue growth consultant to SMB executives and boards. Ed has become an expert on export and global expansion through his work with industrial B2B clients expand to North, South & Central America, Southeast Asia, Western Europe, South Asia and Africa.

Key take-aways

  • Start with great digital marketing for your domestic market
  • Keep an eye on what international leads find you
  • Identify market decision driver by questioning your leads
  • Take small incremental steps into the market to avoid risk

When I was living in Panama, I tried to offer expansion services to Scandinavian companies, following the standard guidelines for for finding new markets for exporting.

  1. Desktop Research: Find a lot of numbers of population size and growth, financial stability, price elasticity, competition, etc.
  2. Forecast: Based on your research, you forecast how much the company can expect to earn if they decide to expand.
  3. Diving in: Once the numbers add up, you are allocated resources, and you know send a manager to drum up sales ...

... but the manager have a hard time drumming up business due to cultural difference in conduct of business. So he asks for resources to hire some local professionals. These locals try to drum up some business as well, and a little is sold, but not nearly enough to justify the costs.

Five year pass, and when management look at the results, the expansion went no where near what was forecasted. Now, one of two things can happen.

  1. Sunk cost: The company have invested so much money already, and don't want to lose the investment. Therefore they double down to make it work.
  2. The End: The expansion market is put down for good, and the company signed it off as a lesson learned - do not export (to that specific country).

What they didn't know was their approach was all wrong and the project was doomed from the beginning. After speaking with Ed, I understand for the first time why drumming up expansion project to Latin America was such an uphill battle: too much risk, too big an investment, for a too small upside.

In Inverted Approach

Ed Marsh inverts this approach. Instead of doing hypothetical research and forecasts, Ed suggest his clients to focus on getting their domestic  digital marketing up to speed, using an international language. His theory is that if you do your digital marketing well enough, international buyers will find you. Now the only thing you have to manage is the transaction incl. payment and logistics. And what is more important, you begin to build data about where you are getting actual traction, projects, leads and sales. And once you have identified a market organically, you can incrementally localize.

Ed Marsh, Founder & CEO of Consilium Global Business Advisors

You don't have to worry about the international market finding you. In general, people want to make more, faster, of higher quality, less expensively, so there is a series of business issues that are common, regardless of country. If you address those issues really effectively in digital marketing in the US, what I found is that buyer, not only from English speaking countries, will find you,

Market Decisions Drivers

We often assume that every country will ,in some form or another, find our product or service interesting. After all, everyone drinks Coca-Cola. But before you expand, you need to consider what is on the cultural agenda of the country you decide to look more into. Are the leads coming from a actual market gap that you can fill, or are they mere coincidences? For what reasons are they buying? This is not the right time to act on assumptions. You need to know.

Assuming you can sell you product using the same drivers in different markets is one of the biggest mistakes. If you, for instance, are selling a automation tool in a developed country using the argument that they can cut labor costs, you should not assume you can use the same logic in developing countries where labor costs are not a pressing issue, as it is cheap.

A way you identify these market drivers inexpensively, is by letting the market tell you. Spend 10 minutes with the companies that found you organically via your digital marketing, asking them why they were bought from you, how they made the decision, who was involved and what drove them to purchase in the end.

Incremental Expansion

Once you begin to get leads from other countries, and talk to your customers, it is time to invest - but incrementally. Instead of plunging in and translating your whole site, all your marketing and sales material, and your product to a new language, start with the smallest possible localization step e.g. include some local keywords on your website.

If you can see that gives you some traffic, translate one of your landing pages. Perhaps you have a few blog post that give you a lot of traffic domestically, and have them translated. Eventually, you might set up a micro-site with the appropriate domain, and perhaps host the site in an IP range that matches the domain.

All steps that can be done from the comfort from where ever your are located.


More about Ed Marsh

Sebastian Hammer

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