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Going Global: The Master Checklist

Date: August, 2014 -- your eCommerce site been receiving orders from South Africa and China? Are visitors from Latin America showing up on your referral tracking reports? Did your call center recently suggest you hire a service company with multi-lingual operators from 15 countries? 

If you answered ‘Yes’ to one or more of these questions, you are seeing proof of the thesis of Thomas Friedman’s best-selling book, The World is Flat...A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, which posits the global integration of economies through the Internet. And, depending on your business, you might be part of the “long tail” of businesses in unique niches who would remain local and globally invisible without the online medium. This world was posited by Chris Anderson in The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More

Maybe it’s time to think again about “going global”. Perhaps you even have a few countries or regions in sight based on some recent experience. There has never been an easier time to take the global route, but it can be an infuriating, frustrating and even dangerous experience without a tried and true checklist, and possibly even a Sherpa or two.

With the caveat that every company and every industry will have a different “expanded” checklist, here is a “generic” basic list which you can modify and enhance to cover your company’s needs:

1.    Budget for Cost of Research 

Serious overseas market research can be an expensive and time-consuming business. Travel expenses, translation and interpretation services, communications to “home base”, local consultants and advisors, legal, accounting and tax advice at home and abroad. Even online research by management and staff will have an associated time cost.

Depending on the size of your company and the number of products you sell, you should consider establishing a department within the company to undertake this research. With time, it can become a center of expertise and knowledge about foreign markets and the company’s experiences in them.

2.    Focus on Individual Countries 

Consumer and business characteristics, behaviors, customs and habits all vary by country and internal populations. For example, there is no “European Market” (or “Asian Market”) for consumer goods as far as marketers should be concerned. In Europe there are 28 countries with different languages, customs, habits, diets, educational systems, economic development, religions……whew! 

The beginning of a long list would start with determining what the real size of your target market is within the country. Remember there are “early adopters”, “experimenters” and “adventurers” everywhere and the unsought foreign orders on your website from a country may be from that “demographic”. If you sell into a specific niche or demographic, how big is it in a given country? Is the disposable income available to purchase your products/services? E.g., if your products are mostly consumed by single women 25 to 40 who have full-time jobs, how many of those are there in your selected market?

 Examine country populations, age demographics (i.e., is it a “young” country (Philippines) or “old” (Japan)), average wages, wealth distribution, rural/urban split, communications and delivery infrastructure and presence of a population (people or companies) that resembles your current, or at the very least a viable, customer base. Building a plan to move quickly into Portugal based on a few eCommerce sales might be a waste of energy if market characteristics indicate your product won't have an adequately-sized market.

3.    Competitive Analysis

Who is there and how are they doing? If they are successful, how did they get that way? Is there room in the market for you or has a big player already reached scale in the market? Have you got a unique selling proposition and will it work in that market? Will you need vendors who are captive to the competition? In some countries, TV ad space may not be available to you if the competition has market clout. Who owns that competition? If it is the government, or a relative of a senior official, in some countries that would render your entering the market a very, very difficult proposition.

4.    Your Product or Service

Is your product/service offering really suitable to the market? Selling long-johns in Sierra Leone is a non-starter. Are there product safety or health regulations or standards applicable to your products? For example, there are widely different electrical plug standards for appliances throughout the erstwhile “single market” of Europe. 

Does the market have what you need to produce or sell or will you have to import what you need? What will be the taxes, duties and/or tariffs on those imports? Will transportation from port to facility be adequate and reasonably priced?

Warning: Some countries are notoriously hard to import into. This can be an intentional government policy to protect local producers, or it can be the unintended result of culture or bureaucratic overload. Brazil is an example of the latter, and it is only slightly less difficult to export than to import. 

5.    Local Market Pricing

What will the local market bear in terms of your sales prices? Is it rich enough to afford you? Will you manufacture there or import, and what are the taxes and duties for both strategies? If leaning toward the local manufacturing route, are the skills you need available in the market?  See point 6.

6.    Indigenous Labor 

What skills will be required of the local workforce in order to produce your product or replicate your service model? What are the salary, benefits and social payment expectations for each position? Are those skills available in the country? If the skills have to be imported, from where and at what price will it come and will visas be difficult/expensive to acquire? How difficult is it to reduce headcount if necessary or to discharge poor performers? In some countries it is sometimes prohibitively expensive to fire an employee. In others, labor is unionized and extremely militant, thus reducing management’s freedom of action in many ways. 

7.    Intellectual Property Rights

If you have patents or copyrights, you’ll want to be sure to confirm they will be enforceable in your new market, or that you can at least file to protect these assets at a reasonable cost. Also, names and logos and other intellectual property should be examined by local professionals to assure they are protectable and not offensive or unsettling. One famous family magazine which entered the Polish market almost titled its local version using a word whose current popular meaning was “abortion”, a move that would not be wise in any country let alone this devout Roman Catholic one.

8.    Available Marketing Mediums

How do you usually sell? Retail? Direct? Person-to-person? You’ll need to examine whether the market has the tools you’ll need and the people with the skills to use them. For example, in most countries in Africa, direct marketing lists for any media are practically non-existent, as are the skills to create and nurture data-driven campaigns.  

9.    Helpful Resources

Do contact the U.S. Department of Commerce office near you, or in Washington. They have a department dedicated to helping US companies do business and invest internationally. They also have trained personnel in the embassies abroad, so call ahead for an appointment before you make your first study trip. 

Similarly, contact the embassies in the US of your target countries. Many of them have programs designed to help foreign companies invest in their countries.

10.  and of course… Ask Data Services, Inc.

This is only the beginning of the work leading up to what could be the most exciting thing your company ever does. It can be frustrating work, but if done in a disciplined manner it is potentially very rewarding. As you proceed, be sure to discuss with Data Services, Inc. how they may be able to assist you through their network of contacts among foreign data sources and among US companies who are active abroad. And, of course, don’t dismiss the possibility of test marketing with direct mail and email using legal mailing lists from responsible brokers. Work with Data Services, Inc. and be sure your global databases are in perfect working order for your next international campaign.