Want to go global: 10 questions to ask

Published on the 19/11/2013 | Written by Abel Software


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The opportunity for New Zealand businesses to sell in a global market is immense, but it’s a little more complicated than sorting out how to ship products overseas. Mike Sullivan candidly shares his insights...

Do you have a plan?
Growing in the international market requires vision and purpose. Sometimes that vision is ethereal, sometimes it is clear, but regardless you need a plan to realise that vision. It’s clichéd, but failing to plan is planning to fail. Plus, the ‘big picture’ plan will come in handy as a great reminder of what you are trying to achieve when times get hard.

How committed are you to succeeding internationally?
There are numerous examples of New Zealand-based technology businesses that have struggled to establish distribution networks, failed to sustainably grow internationally and burned through equity and capital in the attempt. There are also examples of New Zealand punching well above its weight and achieving some fantastic things on the worldwide technology stage. So steel yourself, know your organisational capabilities, know what you can afford, and understand what you are prepared to sacrifice. Success may not come quickly and you may need to be committed to a long term strategy. Just remember, you are probably not going to succeed as a business on the world stage without committing to making that success happen.

Are you specific, tailored or unique?
New Zealand businesses are often successful domestically by doing a range of things fairly well.  When they transpose that business model to the international sector it can get lost in translation and the value proposition diluted to the point of non-existence. New Zealand markets reward broad business models, while the scale of international markets tends to reward specialisation, particularly when it comes to technology. What large markets like the USA and China love is when you can offer something that no-one else does… and usually that means specialised markets, segments of markets or in technology from the result of some wonderful ‘blue sky’ thinking that offers the creation of a new market. The great thing about a new market is that price usually won’t be the major determinant for your clients.

Can you collaborate?
The challenge remains for the New Zealand economy to become genuinely export focused. New Zealanders, for all their laconic and laidback reputation, are a fiercely competitive bunch who struggle with the idea of collaborating. You might just find that you don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle to succeed overseas and you require help and guidance from those who have been there before. You may even have to join forces with your competitors to get the right business model, scalability and precise value proposition you need to succeed.

Do you know your client?
This is bigger than having a customer service team; it’s about having empathy with those whom you wish to do business with, and understanding how to make their situations or experiences better. When it comes to exporting, you need to understand not only your current New Zealand clients, but the ones you want to have globally. A little testing can go a long way. Walk through the customer experience you give your clients and then consider how the client experience could be improved, rinse and repeat. After a few iterations you might just unearth something very powerful in identifying how to maximise the customer experience from engaging with your business.

Can you learn?
Getting international experience might broaden the horizons and you may identify some opportunities that you previously had never imagined. You may find that you make some costly mistakes on the road to export success and that is to be expected. The trick is to learn from your mistakes and make sure they aren’t repeated. If you aren’t achieving what you hoped for and you can figure out why then you can do something about it, as long as you can adapt.

Can you change?
The business model that put you in a position to be able to export might not be the right model to export successfully. You might find that to gain traction in the international market place you need to change and adjust your business. Having the skills and capabilities within your organisation to identify the required change, and then to successfully manage it, is no small feat. That said, if you are a smaller organisation then you should have greater flexibility and agility to adapt and make the most out of opportunities that you identify.

Where do you go to get help?
Forge relationships with people who have successfully built and executed strategies to grown export sales. These people can be mentors, investment angels, your employees or even your social network. Universities and business incubators are full of very capable people who will often bend over backwards to help you, and that often means giving you access to their own business networks. Heck, you could even turn to the Government for help – they get really excited when you tell them you intend to bring in foreign currency! 

Can you grow?
If you intend on being taken seriously internationally its means being able to understand the scale of the markets that you are targeting and having a structure in place that can cope with significant and sustained growth. It is not uncommon for one export order to double the size of your business. If you consider your business to be scalable you still need a plan to cope with scaling up operations. If you don’t think it is currently scalable consider how you might be able to cope with growth and set your business model to fit your aspirations. This may lead you to consider, or reconsider, your plans.

Are you prepared to move?
You might find that in trying to do business in the USA, for example, you keep finding out that they may want to meet in person. Even on the west coast of America that’s about 10000 kilometres of travel. The tyranny of distance can be hard to overcome, both from an energy standpoint, an effectiveness standpoint and, most of all, a client credibility standpoint. People like to know you have a local presence and they like to know you are committed. With that in mind, setting up an office may be key to gaining traction in a foreign market place; and doing so without breaking the bank or burning through too much cash is even more important. There are numerous ways a fledgling business can establish offices overseas, including using ‘launch pads’, collaborating with other similar businesses to get cost effective ‘hot-office- type setups, or even going the whole hog and investing in your own offices and setting up dedicated fulltime employees to run your overseas offices. If you are struggling with this, then you may want to move yourself, which takes you all the way back to is it part of the plan and just how committed you are to succeed internationally.

Michael Sullivan is the Asia Pacific Sales Manager for Abel Solutions Limited, an authorised reseller of Abel ERP software. He has spent the last eight years taking high-tech electronics and more recently a software company to international markets.

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