One of the most important questions that I am frequently asking my clients nowadays is “what exactly is your export strategy?” Although there are many definitions of the term “export strategy”, the answer tends to change depending on who is replying to the question.
This reminds me of an old Indian fable about the three blind men who touch an elephant and describe to each other what they think the elephant is like. The first man is holding the elephant’s leg, thinking the elephant looks like a tree; the second man holding the tail thinks the elephant resembles a rope; and the third man who grabbed a tusk thinks the animal must look like a spear. Although each of the blind men is partly right, they are missing the big picture. The reason they give a different description is because each of them is touching a different part of the elephant. In reality, the elephant has all of those features that they mentioned.
Similar kinds of faulty assumptions are made all the time about exporting plans and strategies. Many enterprises try to be all things to all markets by applying one strategy. However, the idea of “one export strategy for every market” is as misleading as thinking that an elephant looks like a tree, rope or a spear.
Exporting is a long journey that requires understanding of the market’s dynamics and one-by-one assessment of each market.
One of the hardest efforts in this matter is identifying export strategies for each target market. However, the fact remains that without the right export strategy you cannot become a prominent leader in the industry and all the rest of your market entry efforts will be wasted..
What Has to be Done to Build the Best Exporting Strategy?
Building a good exporting strategy requires several key elements, including money, time, talent, energy, focus, and commitment. A successful exporter will have the determination to discover the relevant factors that are used in specific export strategies for each target market. So, what are some of those relevant factors?
1. The Product or Service
“If you make a really good product that people want and are willing to pay for, money will come” – Forrest Mars.
An exporting strategy starts with the products or services that you offer. Some companies and organizations believe that their domestic products or services can be exported without significant changes or modifications, but the truth of matter is quite. Every market has its own unique preferences and regulations, and having knowledge of each target market’s unique characteristics is key for a company wanting to enter that market.
Doing trade and market research on foreign partners, distributors, buyers and customers can help your company get an idea of what products or services can be sold in different markets. This way, even before the sale is made, the company has time to modify a particular product or service to satisfy the customers’ needs and preferences in the target market. Trade and market research are extremely important in identifying the right strategy to pursue.
2. The Customer
Profitable international sales come from a lasting relationship with the customers: it is this relationship that always supports the business.
As an exporter, you should be prepared to spend 75% of your planning time on customers and their needs.
Customer intelligence cannot be gathered simply by following the advice in business books – you can only gather it by doing. In other words, you cannot get anywhere by sitting comfortably on a chair. You have to go out and win the customers over.
Your export strategy will depend on who your customer is. There are three main ways you can market to your customers:
- Your company may sell directly to a customer
- You may use the assistance of target market representatives, such as agents or distributors, to reach the desired user
- Or you can combine these two selling techniques.
The technique you use will determine and shape your export strategy, since each technique requires different research, sources and planning. The customers in each segment may have different tastes and preferences, and understanding those preferences is crucial for your export strategy.
3. Competition in the Market
Remember: losing money to stay competitive in the target market is not a good tactic. As an exporter, you should always look for a better partnership, one where the sales are profitable and promising.
High competition levels in today’s business environment means you need to collect and analyze every piece of information to anticipate competitive activity in your target market.
For that reason, competitive intelligence is an essential component of strategy in exporting. Through competitive intelligence research you’ll get an idea of the similar products that are already competing in your target market.
As you may have guessed, the main purposes of competitive intelligence should be to understand your rivals: their market share, pricing strategies, distribution network, promotional and marketing activities, and customer service. In addition to that, you should look at your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses to help you understand how you could differentiate your business. At the end of the day, you want even your current competitors to think that what you do is unique.
4. Regulatory & Customs Regulation and Landed Cost
Every exporter knows that there are multiple legal and regulatory constraints that can affect your exporting strategies. When entering a new market, you should look into the trade agreements and regulations prior to developing your export strategies. You may have to deal with anti-dumping legislations, price ceiling or transfer pricing, to name a few.
In addition to the legal and regulatory implications of trading with different countries and regions, exporters also need to look at the customs procedures for their export strategies.
For example, some governments may request certain records or certificates related to quality, health and/or manufacturing of the products. Knowing the potential extra costs and procedures in advance can help you build competitive pricing strategies in your export plan and prevent you from making costly errors.
Although landed cost is a concern for the importer company, as an exporter you should also know about the landed cost that the importer pays to take the possession of the product in the target market. This cost is mainly related to the customs duties and other relevant duties that define the landed cost. If you know these costs in advance, you will have a better understanding of the cost dynamics, therefore defining a more competitive price for your customers in the target market.