The CEO says it’s time to dip your toe into some markets outside your comfort zone of the United States, Canada, and maybe the United Kingdom. You stop into Barnes & Noble to buy “Globalization for Dummies” but that particular book has been written yet. You wonder what others have done on their trek to global markets.
Unfortunately there is no list of every company with international Websites, the business plan that they used to enter new markets, and the technical roadmap on how to get there. Companies bring different levels of global experience to the table, along with the understanding of the challenges that made them push ahead or stop dead in their tracks.
Here are three types of companies I see all the time—and what to do if you’re one of them:
Globally aware but not there yet. Few executives anywhere fail to understand that the Web’s “www” means international reach. But our researchon the Fortune 500 shows that fewer than half of U.S. companies have made the online investment that can turn foreign visitation into increased business.
If your firm falls into this category and you are not happy about that, ask your IT department or Webmaster to start measuring your international traffic so that you can gauge the percentage of sales that you lost because prospects could not complete a transaction or understand your value proposition. Few firms collect as much data about Web traffic as they should, whether its about fellow citizens or foreigners visiting their sites. The data are there—collect them, analyze them, and act on them!
Easily pleased by any international activity. Some executives understand that a global market exists, but they will not go the extra kilometer to reach it. Consider a typical American company that attracts 15% of its traffic from outside the U.S. market without any translation, adaptation, or appeal to other markets. Five percent of those visitors actually succeed in buying something. Because the company invested nothing to draw global traffic and did little more than contract with United Parcel Service or FedEx to handle international deliveries, many executives would be ecstatic over the bluebird of any non-U.S. business. But no one considers how much higher the look-to-buy ratio would have been had the site been localized for other markets.
Recognizing that you are delusional is the first step in the cure; if you think that your home-market language and currency are enough today, what will you do when you saturate your domestic buyers with your offerings? What will you do when you find your major rival is mining lots of new business from countries that you ignored? Your next step is to figure out which markets will propel you to the new levels of growth. The same advice holds for U.S. companies looking to augment their top lines or improve their bottom lines.
Happy staying at home with a fine Bud Light. This contingent feels pretty justified in staying at home because there’s plenty of people to whom they can sell. And they’re right. It is hard to argue with someone who says that meeting the needs of 300 million consumers in the United States is business enough for anyone. The same holds true for other large-population markets such as Japan (127 million), Germany (82 million), and China (1.3 billion).
But think about it. No CEO at a publicly traded company has the luxury of kicking off the annual shareholder meeting with “We’re happy right where we are. Sales are about as high as we’d expect them to be, we don’t pay any attention to the competitors we know about, and we don’t care about international competitors that we haven’t seen yet.” Chances are you don’t either.
Don DePalma is the founder and president of business globalization research and consulting firm, Common Sense Advisory (www.commonsenseadvisory.com). You can e-mail him at email@example.com.