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How to Develop An Export Marketing Plan

It Starts With Market Research

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Businesspeople by World Map Columns
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Every successful marketing plan begins with thorough market research. As I stated here, your first market research project is usually the toughest because it's all unfamiliar terrain. But once you have collected the data you need to predict how a specific type of product will sell in a specific geographic location, you can use the information over and over again as a guideline for exports of similar products. As you build your personal information database on global markets and learn to keep yourself up-to-date on developments in international trade, it will become less of a chore to determine where to take your product. You will find that market research is a powerful tool for exploring and taking control of your global territory.

Here is a good way to get started and organized: Keep the research summary to one page, and break it into four manageable parts (see below). The purpose of this exercise is to establish a broad scope on your research market analysis but not so broad that you overwhelm yourself. Try to begin with the end in mind: Where do you want to go and how will you know that you have arrived?

1. Explore the top three overseas markets that appear to have the best potential for your product or service offering.

You can conduct market research online, meet in person with an international trade expert (don't forget the Export Assistance Centers throughout North America!) or you can test your product or service by exhibiting at a local (domestic) trade show. Trade shows provide potential customers from all over the world without you having to analyze a thing! For example, if you sell hardware tools and exhibit at a hardware show, you might get a lot of interest from attendees from a particular foreign market, such as Australia. Then you know there must be a market there, for why else would these attendees be asking for information? From there, you can address those inquiries, learn as you grow and conduct further research.

2. Analyze the market factors and conditions in each of the selected countries

Delve into each country further by reviewing cultural attributes, geographical characteristics, political stability, demographic characteristics, market size and growth rates. The goal here is to conduct a sound assessment of a foreign market.

What might the barriers be? What makes it a good market to enter? How will the local culture influence the sales of your product or service offering?

Such in-depth market research information is necessary for sound marketing decisions and it must be done with each new market entry.

3. Determine the pros/cons to conducting business in each market.

Look at potential language barriers, legal restrictions, logistical challenges and payment problems that might get in the way of doing business in a particular market. Include all relevant variables in your assessment.

Do an analysis of your own strengths and weaknesses in a selected market. Will your product or servicing offering be in the low, middle or high end pricing level? Is there a similar product or service offering currently available in the selected market? If so, who is making it? Where are they based? Can you compete? Why would you? How would you? The more pros you have for entering a new market, the better your chance for success. If you can draw on the perspective of a native (better yet, an actual prospective customer) of the country where you are keenly interested in doing business, do so. Nothing beats an on-the-ground assessment.

4. Select one market and get going!

Now you are ready to interpret your findings in light of the stated objective: Where do you want to go and how will you know that you have arrived? At this juncture, you should have enough data and experience (e.g., the trade shows) to decide which market is best for you to begin. Hold the other two country options for future market entry, and don't go there until after you have a proven success with the first overseas market. If the first selected market doesn't work right away, say after six months or a year, move on to market No. 2, and so on. Don't muddy the waters. You don't want to do too many things at once because you end up not doing any one thing right.

Final note

The most difficult aspect to developing an export plan is determining demand for a product or service offering in a foreign country. It's one thing to know a product can be sold in a market - after all, that's why you selected a particular market! - but it is a totally different ballgame when it comes to forecasting how much you can sell and over what timeframe. That is a topic I will cover later at greater length. But a quick note on that: Assume that demand for a product develops in direct proportion to economic development in each country. This might be a useful way to think about it, especially when data might be unknown.

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