Selling to businesses (B2B) internationally
Sarah Carroll is the director of Grow Global, a consultancy that mentors and trains clients on how to improve their international communications, and one of the UK’s leading experts on how to make a web site visible in international search engines.
When it comes to selling to businesses internationally (B2B), there are several things to consider to ensure you achieve the sales figures you are hoping for.
Securing valuable contracts
International B2B selling may see you dealing in high-value contracts, so identify your most valuable accounts and ensure you check in with them regularly to find out about any new opportunities to enable efficient account mining. As well as this, it is important that you fully understand the international B2B selling processes, such as preparing tenders and proposals and securing spots on preferred supplier lists. Remember to factor in enough time to follow the process correctly, and approach any third parties whose input you may require ahead of time to give them a chance to respond.
They are people too
Just because you are trying to sell to a business, that doesn’t mean the transaction should be formal and corporate. Connecting with the right people is a key part of the international B2B sales process. Behind every organisation you are selling to a team of real people and connecting on a more personal level can help establish long-lasting professional relationships which could lead to repeat business and recommendations.
Click and connect
Once you know who you are dealing with, find out what makes them tick so that you can connect with them on a more personal level. This is even more important when you are selling internationally as most countries in the world have a relationship-based culture, rather than a transactional-based one that we are used to in the UK, the USA and Northern Europe.
Higher value contracts
Businesses generally have much larger budgets than consumers, so a single sale to a business can be equivalent to hundreds (or even thousands) of sales to consumers. While international B2B selling usually takes significantly more time and effort, it is worth nurturing these relationships for the significantly higher-value sales opportunities. Maintaining a solid relationship with your business contacts enables you to develop these accounts over time – and the more you understand about their unique business challenges, the better you are able to design or adapt to their needs, so it pays to check in with them from time to time. In some cultures, there is the concept of the courtesy call, so try adopting this approach.
Knowing your social channels
Many people assume that the most popular social channels are the ones they should be using to sell. However, this isn’t the case. Despite the fact it is the world’s most popular social network with close to 1 billion users, Facebook is not necessarily an appropriate channel for lots of B2B companies. Instead, think about where your target audience might actually spend their time online. LinkedIn and Twitter tend to be good places to start, and their excellent paid advertising options enable close targeting of the specific demographics you want to sell to and identify the key buyers within the organisation. More and more international companies and their teams are using LinkedIn, but do look out for other ones such as Viadeo, particularly popular among French speakers.
Creating a tender or proposal
It is common for businesses to expect their suppliers to complete a tender or proposal document before they agree to buy from you. Make sure you factor in plenty of time to prepare this document – it can be more time consuming than you think, especially if you need the input of third parties or multiple people within your organisation. Also think about whether or not you need to submit any samples, prototypes, graphics or mock-ups as part of your proposal – these all add extra time to the process. And, as always, read their evaluation criteria and instructions thoroughly to avoid any nasty surprises on deadline day. Many of the large government contracts internationally will be accessed this way.
Becoming a preferred supplier
In some cases, it is essential to get onto a business’ preferred suppliers list before they will consider buying from you. In other cases, even if it is not a requirement, getting onto these lists can give you priority over other vendors, meaning you could give yourself a shortcut to selling to desirable clients. This may involve participating in a shortlisting process in order to ‘win’ a place on the preferred supplier list, so ensure you collate all the information they ask for in plenty of time, and consider what gives you the edge over the other companies who also want a spot on this list. Offering franchises and licenses is a great method for selling to global corporations and selling to multiple countries.
B2B selling needn’t be intimidating, as long as you put in all the necessary preparation in advance.