Since the earliest days of the Internet, entrepreneurs have recognized the potential to export their goods and services worldwide, or to “go global” per se.
But just how do you determine which countries to move into? Now, I’m not talking about the physical relocation of your business (although over time this may be appropriate).
Rather, I’m referring to focusing your sales, marketing and product development efforts on the needs of a specific country or region of the world to yield the best return on investment.
Here are the key elements for selecting which countries are best for business expansion.
Evaluate your current customer list. If your company has been around for even just a few years and you’re selling online, you’ve probably made some international sales. Pull a report in your financial system or customer relationship management system (CRM) to group your customers by country and then sort the list. You’ll quickly be able to identify the top countries where you’re already doing a significant amount of business. Don’t fight this trend. If you’ve got traction, run with it.
Review website analytics. If your company has not done a lot of selling in the global marketplace, tap into the vast data found in your website-analytics program. Google Analytics helps you answer the difficult questions about your visitors, their behavior on your website, and the ROI on your online-marketing efforts. By using Google Analytics (or a similar program), you’ll learn which countries are sending you the most web traffic.
Tap in-house language resources. Does your company have someone who speaks a language other than English? Your multilingual colleagues are a valuable resource that you should consider consulting. If you’ve selected a target country or two, and you have someone within your company who speaks the language of those countries, ask if they’d be interested in participating in a pilot project to help with translation, such as providing basic sales information or answering questions from foreign customers in their native tongue. Be sure to carve out enough time so that these new responsibilities are given sufficient priority.
Set up international pricing. It’s common for the default currency to be U.S. dollars in most ecommerce platforms, despite customers purchasing from locations outside of America. What can easily be overlooked is that the dollar price doesn’t always sit well with other countries.
For instance, charging $99 a month might seem reasonable to a U.S.-based customer but that could be considered out of line for business owners in some in Asia, the Middle East or Africa.
We solved this by establishing international pricing that was below the U.S. standard rate. While we kept U.S. dollars as the currency (to simplify our accounting systems more than anything) the customers received pricing more in line with their expectations.
Contemplate the legal environment. Not every country has a friendly business environment, so be prepared to say no.
One country we recently did business with required no less than six rounds of agreements, certificates, proof of signing authority, purchase orders and invoices, among other business documents. For all the hassle, it’s unlikely that we’d engage customers in that country again.
Be willing to cross some countries off your list if the legal requirements are onerous and your time is better spent elsewhere.
Make a commitment. Ideally, you should have a short list of three to five countries that are promising prospects for your global expansion. My recommendation is to start with a single country. The learning curve will be steep enough, so why make the process more difficult by expanding on multiple fronts. Start with a single country and dedicate a year to acquiring as much business as possible. When you’re ready to expand into the other countries on your list, you’ll have a few valuable lessons under your belt.