Trading overseas can have many benefits. But finding those international leads can be difficult and prohibitively expensive – so much so that many exporting businesses feel landlocked.
The key question is, where to begin? Even if you already have successful trade, the task of building up a global presence can seem insurmountable. So we ask Claire Spillane of award winning international trade business Westermans International her advice on how to successfully start trading abroad. Claire explains that if you want to sell more abroad, you’ll need to find some high quality overseas buyers. International growth is all about effectively gathering customer data.
How did you go about seeking the right customers?
Well, we certainly had to learn some new tricks. In the late 90s, we increased our turnover by 50% through a successful direct marketing campaign.
In the UK, before the digital era, business was done by scouring the Yellow Pages (remember those?) for leads and faxing businesses that met our criteria. It was a highly time-consuming process, but the results spoke for themselves. However, it’s not really possible to take such an approach on an international level.
So what was the alternative?
Well, you might feel tempted to simply buy an email list to kickstart your direct marketing campaign.
We once experimented with this technique, but it backfired. It’s a dubious practice that saw us branded “scammers”. Our domain was blocked for a while, which effectively prevented us from reaching out to even our established customers.
However, even if this technique wasn’t frowned upon, many of the emails we purchased were generic “Sales@” addresses.
If your direct marketing and your international growth is to stand any chance of success, you need to really get to know your customers and hit them with targeted content that resonates with their specific interests.
What could you suggest as a starting point?
I would say invest some time in conducting an email marketing campaign. It can be a great way to test the international waters before you invest in a costlier direct marketing or advertising campaign. So for example, I would advise businesses to spend some time analysing your current customer profile:
- Are they SMEs?
- Do most of them have a similar job title, such as MD or procurement?
- How many employees do they have
- Do you sell mainly to men, or to women?
- What sort of SIC codes are you looking at?
You can use then this data to create ideal criteria, to save wasting money on contacting companies that may never buy from you.
What about buying email lists, do they work?
I would say rather than buying an email list from a questionable third party, talk to your leading trade publications. They may be convinced to share their email lists with you – although at a price. Quality curated B2B directories such as Kompass can also be used to build your lists.
Any other useful tips from your experience:
- Start small. Don’t try to conquer the world overnight. Consider targeting one country to start with, and build your business from there.
- When targeting overseas businesses, write your email in the formality that’s appropriate to that country. If there’s a language barrier to contend with, a professional translation agency will always provide better results than Google Translate.
- Use a service like MailChimp so you can measure key metrics such as click through rate and open rate.
- Set up a dedicated landing page for your email marketing campaigns. If your analytics are correctly set up, you’ll then be able to measure the response and monitor what other pages on your site your international leads are visiting.
- International growth is a numbers game. But you can’t jump from having no international contacts to having a long list of interested buyers overnight. First, you need to find an agent or a distributor in your target country. It’s imperative.
- Conduct a few concentrated searches via the UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) services to help you to arrange meetings and trade visits.
Claire Spillane, Westermans International