Today, I had the opportunity to share some of my experiences and my advice about prospecting and developing business with companies headquartered outside of the U.S. I had the privilege of participating in a three-expert panel, sponsored by Sales & Marketing Executives International of Minnesota. Joining me on the panel were Mathew Woodlee, senior international trade specialist for the U.S. Commercial Service, and Jim Thomas, vice president of international sales for Mate Precision Tooling.
While Mathew and Jim focused on export sales, I focused on what it takes to successfully market foreign products here in the U.S. Over the last 20+ years, I’ve represented health and nutrition products and ingredients from companies headquartered in Israel, Japan, England, Belgium, New Zealand, Australia and Malaysia.
Here are some tips for starting your global selling strategy:
• Ask yourself: What are you best at? And more importantly how does it bring value to a foreign company selling a product in North America. Understanding their perspective on your services is very helpful.
• Attend international trade shows and conferences – large and small – in the industries you have the most experience, personal knowledge and passion for. Passion combined with some level of experience will be your best marketing technique out of the gate.
• As you identify prospects or your first clients determine if the product requires any sort of registration, new packaging, market research, distribution etc. I find it helpful to have a basic understanding of the legal, regulatory issues along with basic sales, marketing and distribution channel requirements for the industry or category in which the client operates.
• Inventory your network of resources that complement your company’s primary products or services. For example I have built relationships with a number of experts and U.S.-based companies to bring more value to our public relations and Internet marketing services we provide including:
• Retail buyers
• Consumer products and raw materials brokerage companies
• Warehousing and fulfillment services
• Importers and shipping consultants
• Legal and regulatory firms
• Insurance agents and product liability consultants
• Contract manufacturers for U.S.-based manufacturing
• Accounting and temporary COO services
• Health, medical and scientific experts to evaluate opportunities
• Market research for consumer, B2B and retail data analysis
I have found having a strong network of service providers related to my industry specialty to bring value to both prospects and clients. It’s also a great referral source.
If you’ve never been in the front-end of selling a product new to the U.S., I’ll try to save you some anguish. Here are several mistakes that can land you on the outside looking in on a new product launch.
• Forgetting that CEOs and brand managers of successful products are typically smitten with their products. It helps when you are the one to provide perspective.
• Assuming that sales and marketing techniques used outside of the U.S. to build a brand will work in the States.
• Believing that the field of dreams “build it and they will come” approach is a good way to launch a product in the States.
• Not being the truth teller on the realities of the U.S. market, budgets, timelines, sales forecasting and most importantly the time it takes to grow a product into a brand.
• Not conducting a basic Internet search to determine how discoverable the company and product are, what the target markets will learn about them when searching prior to making the first sales call or starting the promotional campaign.
• Not attending the U.S.-based international tradeshows and conferences to identify new business and continued education opportunities quarterly.
Focus on your primary skill set. I have encountered plenty of consultants that will tell foreign companies what they want to hear, typically resulting in the client losing money and time.
Worth the Investment:
My longest client relationships have been with foreign companies with lengths ranging from 10-17 years. They have also become some of my best clients. I attribute these long-term relationships to focusing on what’s best for them and their products’ success and consistently executing on their promotional campaigns as promised.
It’s this mindset that has resulted in them asking us to expand our services and representation in ways I would have never imagined.