A 2009 study by London Economics highlighted that even firms with considerable export experience faced difficulties in identifying relevant contacts when entering new high-growth markets.
This is consistent with separate research that found 48 per cent of firms with 2-10 years exporting experience encounter barriers finding the right contacts.
Discussions with SMEs currently operating in high-growth markets also show that the issue of contacts is not just about finding the right name or email address. Only a few SMEs had difficulties identifying initial contacts, but relationship-building and establishing trust was found to be much more difficult.
Research has also shown that those firms classed as innovative – i.e. those who devote specific resources to R&D or new product/service development – are the most likely to encounter this barrier. Indeed innovative firms are more likely to report bigger barriers with respect to contacts, both in establishing an initial dialogue and building relationships.
Making use of professional service providers to find specific contacts can pay dividends for SMEs who may not have the resources to conduct their own in-depth analysis.
UKTI’s Overseas Market Introduction Service (OMIS) provides bespoke market research and in-market assistance through UKTI staff in British Embassies, High Commissions and Consulates across the world. A study of UKTI clients found that, of all UKTI support to firms in high-growth markets providing ‘access to prospective customers or business partners’ made the greatest impact.
Local agents and distributors can also be a key bridge in ensuring SMEs are connected to the right partners and right customers for their product or service. For example, a number of SMEs in China reported that they used trading houses to generate leads and build relationships with potential customers. Other large Western firms can also offer partnership opportunities and give SMEs an opportunity to sample the market and start to build their contacts book without taking too big a risk.
“ Visit regularly, and thereby build up relationships. Really, those two are key.”
UK agricultural company
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Discovering high growth (.pdf 2.87 MB)