Targeting Your First Overseas Market

Are you ready to get going and get global? A Forrester Research study, “Sizing Global Online Exports,” predicts the online export market will soar to $1.4 billion by 2004. Where in the world should you take your e-business first?

You could just wait to be deluged with emails from other countries. Better yet, your spouse speaks French — how about targeting France for your first market? Wait a minute, did you say you’re selling perfume? Do the French need yet another enticing scent to dab behind their ears? I doubt it, but at least when they tell you so, your spouse will understand.

Seriously speaking, it’s a little trickier than that to decide which overseas market is most promising for your product. Sometimes, while you’re busy servicing the domestic market, you’ll get lucky and an inquiry will come through to your site, pointing you right at an ideal new market.

For example, you might have a friend who lives in France and loves peanut butter. Because he lives in Poitiers, not Paris, he can’t find it. He contacts you and asks you to find a supplier. You now have a country (France) to export to, a potential buyer (your friend) to sell to, and a product (peanut butter) to offer. And furthermore, now that you know that peanut butter is not widely available in France, you’ve been alerted to an untapped market that you can develop on a larger scale.

But don’t take this windfall for granted. If you want to keep the orders coming in to your site from France and other parts of the world, you’re going to have to do your homework to find customers. Market research tells you where they can be found.

Absolutely, Positively When?

Before you put in the time to research a potential market, consider whether you can easily ship your product (see Stamps.com or GoCargo.com). You might be able to transport it there, but what about potential returns caused by damage, spoilage, expiration, or any other factors? Got it covered? Good. You’ll need to!

One more thing: The point of offering your product worldwide is to satisfy your customer — not you. There will be competitors aplenty, so please that customer. Now you’re ready for the research.

The Check Is in the Virtual Mail

Once your peanut butter arrives in Poitiers, how will you get paid? Hours of research on how to find the right market and customer for your product will not alleviate a payment problem (see PayPal or Planet Payment). Make your first investigation into the local financial infrastructure — anything to do with currency conversions, credit card payments, tax laws, or any other restrictions that might affect your getting paid. Once you know money can freely move in and out of a country, you can safely give customers something new to buy with it.

Your Market Research Model

Your first market research project is usually the toughest because it’s all unfamiliar terrain. But once you have searched out the data you need to predict how a specific type of product will sell in a specific geographic location, you can use the information repeatedly as a guideline for exports of similar products in the future. 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.

How to Choose a Market

When deciding where to concentrate your sales efforts, you might choose a market that intrigues you or offers a challenge, then consider products that you might want to sell there. You will be visiting this market frequently and getting to know its people intimately, so just as you should pick a product that will delight you for years to come, you should plan on exporting to a country that delights and fascinates you.

If you are enthralled with French culture and you are excited at the prospect of cracking that market, then you want to sell to France (and, yes, it can only help that your spouse speaks the language). If you have peanut butter to sell, you are going to sell peanut butter to France. It’s a place to start. But use common sense: Don’t ignore other countries that offer good prospects for your peanut butter, and don’t expend too much time and energy on your first-choice market if it turns out to be a poor prospect.

Next week, we’ll talk about focusing your research on categorizing, or segmenting, your product and target market.

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