How Can You Get Customers Overseas?

wegg1Global business is now a part of our daily conversations. Yet when I think about the entrepreneurs I know (in the U.S.), I’m astonished at how few of them actually do any business across borders. And the few I do know tend to focus on outsourcing or overseas production – the expense side, if you will.

I can probably count on one hand the number that go global in search of revenues.

While I have a couple theories on why that may be (I’ll save that for another day), it got me thinking…how can an entrepreneur or business owner prospect for global customers? What are some low-budget methods to source new business? How can one lower the barriers of language and cultural differences to reach people in foreign countries? How can technology be used to save on hard costs like travel, and soft costs like learning curve, in order to get to know the marketplace?

In thinking about those questions, I came up with some ideas. I’d love to hear your feedback on these, and other ideas that you have, either through experience or through simple brainstorming.

  1. Use existing customers as “listening posts” and advocates. If you already have any customers abroad, contact them and try holding personal conversations via Skype or email. Ask them how to get more customers in their region/country, and if they will help you with the process (perhaps even give them an incentive). Find out what distribution channels are used in their region
  2. Find your competitors’ customers. Google your product/service in specific countries to see who the main competitors are. On their web sites, look for customer testimonials, case studies, etc. to identify prospective buyers of your product/service.
  3. Search for a local trade association. These organizations are in existence to promote and serve their particular industries, and will often go out of their way to help companies grow. They may have marketing opportunities, access to buyer lists/groups, and networking contacts.
  4. Use eBay, Facebook, and other social networking sites used in that region. The former is better to sell product, and the others are better for services. Not only can you use conventional listings or ads, but on Facebook you can also set up your own group/company account.
  5. Post videos on YouTube to explain your company’s products/services or for “how-to” processes. Videos can help build trust among people who don’t know you, demonstrate your expertise, and put a friendly face on your company.
  6. If you’re a B2B firm, ask current customers for referrals to overseas business units. Explain to your domestic customers that you are interested in pursuing global customers and if they have contacts in the company’s offices around the globe.
  7. If your product is purchased as a gift, offer overseas shipping. Sounds like a no-brainer, but I’m still surprised at how many e-commerce sites will state that they only deliver to nearby countries. Yes, there are customs issues and higher shipping costs to deal with, but when it comes to gifts (when people often buy on emotion, not to fill a need), customers may not mind paying extra.

I would love to hear about other sales and marketing tactics to cultivate business overseas. What experiences have you had that either worked or didn’t? What ideas do you have that other entrepreneurs might want to consider?

Either comment here or email me at rchadha [at] depaul [dot] edu.

Posted by Raman Chadha – Coleman Entrepreneurship Center, DePaul University

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