You've identified a product you'd like to sell overseas. Now you've got to do the research. Who are your likely customers? How can you reach them? Whatrefinements to the product would make sense in the market you're targeting?
Last week we focused on targeting your overseas market and the importance of research. Another important kind of thinking-through that will help you focus your research is categorizing, or segmenting, your product and target market.
We'll pick up the peanut butter example from last week. What kind are you going to export? Will it be crunchy or creamy? With jelly? With something else?
Under each product segment, list the categories of likely customers until you reach the end user of your product. Once you determine who your typical customers are, what and when they buy, how often they buy, and why they buy at all, you've got a customer profile.
For example, your customers for peanut butter might include manufacturers, wholesalers, restaurants, and ice cream vendors as well as private citizens. Push your lists as far as you can; it might take anywhere from 1 to 10 categorizations before you can reach optimum segmentation.
Find Your Customers
Back in the old brick-and-mortar days, you'd trudge to the public library, the U.S. Small Business Administration, and a government bookstore, among other places, to identify international customers. Today, you don't have to leave your office. You can find all you need to know in an hour or two of surfing the Internet.
Remember, we're looking for customers in France for peanut butter. If you have done a good job using metatags to ensure search engine optimization, customers may find your site with very little further effort on your part.
But if you don't care to leave anything to chance, start with a good search engine (e.g., Google). Type in "export France." Among the results, you will find a link to the French American Chamber of Commerce. Sounds like a good place to start.
Contact the organization, describe your product, and ask for a list of likely customers. You'd be surprised how many times these people have been around the block answering requests for this type of information.
Next, do a search using the words "B2B France." This search will help you find portals that focus on B2B transactions in France. Some of the links you will find are efoodmanager, a European import/export site that claims to be the first pan-European one-stop trading and services marketplace for the food industry, and BizEurope Resource Guide, a B2B marketplace for the global food industry.
Contact these sites to see who their audiences are and what it takes to get a listing with them.
Now do a search using the words "B2B food." This time you are looking for portals anywhere that focus on B2B transactions involving food. You will find efoodcommerce, which claims it is the food marketplace of the future. Another good one is Transora, the largest B2B global marketplace for consumer packaged goods.
You can do this search repeatedly based on your specific needs. Maybe you are looking to sell individual units of your product directly to consumers in Japan. Instead of searching a B2B term, try "B2C Japan" to find the biggest and best transactional sites for your product or service. It works! The point is to bring as much awareness to your site and product as possible.
After you have become an expert in researching France and finding customers, let your site visitors know. You might have a section marked "Currently Doing Business In" that lists countries to which you are comfortable exporting. You might even put a dash after each listed country and indicate "Inquiries Welcome" to let guests know you are ready to serve them.
The Most Important Question
Now that you have completed your homework, you must ask yourself one final question: Will they buy?
Did you think I was going to gloss over the most important part of your research? It's amazing how many people forget this little detail that can make or break their global sales efforts.
For example, are the people in France Internet savvy? You might check Jupiter, the worldwide authority on Internet commerce, and Forrester, which helps businesses thrive on technology change. Both can help you assess whether your target market is technologically savvy. If not, you're in for a big surprise.
Also, ask yourself if you can adapt and adjust your offerings to the demands of your customer in France. Since Nutella, a hazelnut-and-chocolate spread, is popular in France, maybe French consumers would be interested in buying peanut butter that has chocolate in it. Can you supply it? Just because you segmented your product and market doesn't mean you have a sure-fire sale. You have to please the customer. That's the only way to make a sale.
Keep Your Search on Track
There are hundreds of additional online information resources that can help you with your research. Here are four that I recommend:
Now that you have begun learning how to find international markets and customers, let's get that buerre de cacahuhte off to France!
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Laurel Delaney runs Global TradeSource Ltd., a Chicago-based global marketing, consulting, and Web-content-provider company aimed at entrepreneurs and small businesses. She is the author of "Start and Run a Profitable Exporting Business" and teaches an M.B.A. export entrepreneurship course at Loyola University Chicago. In addition, she serves as Director of International Development for SeekingCapital.com Inc., a global funding community that facilitates education and interaction between entrepreneurs and investors.
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