The six key tools for success in tapping export markets
What differentiates the most successful exporters from companies that splutter along, getting an odd deal here or there, but failing to build any real momentum?
Some years ago, we embarked on an exercise posing that very question. The objective was to mine 70 years of corporate memory held throughout Enterprise Ireland and its predecessors, our network of external advisers and those who have led Ireland's most successful export companies.
Through hundreds of interviews, the same factors kept cropping up, enabling us distil the enablers of export success down to six broad elements: continuous intelligence gathering; compelling customer value propositions; optimised sales process and route to market; the right people with the right skills and resources; effective communication and cultural awareness; and ambition, passion, vision and commitment.
These elements form the core of our Strategic Marketing Review (SMR), undertaken by over 100 Enterprise Ireland client companies since 2013. For many of these companies, this logical, sequential assessment of export marketing and sales capability has proved a powerful catalyst for growth.
Intelligence gathering should be prioritised at the outset and needs to be continuous. The lessons influence every other component of a winning export strategy. An underexploited source of market intelligence is within the company itself. Most good sales people tap into this on intuition, but as a company grows, the challenge is to put some structure in place either within the marketing function or a formal CRM system.
Intelligence gathering informs the second crucial step - defining your customer value proposition within the target market. Where do your company's unique set of skills, capabilities, assets and resources align with the unfulfilled needs and wants of prospective customers? Companies should involve customers in challenging internal assumptions about what the buyer truly values.
Companies need to optimise the sales process and route to market. Over the past decade, our programmes and workshops have helped hundreds of SMEs bring rigour and discipline to their sales processes. Companies using partners to reach end-customers understand the importance of using due diligence to select the right partner. These partnerships then need to be sustained with training, marketing collateral and regular communication.
Processes and plans alone reap little more than frustration, unless they are being driven by the right people armed with the critical resources of time and money.
Many Irish companies continue to spend less than their international counterparts on sales and marketing. Fortunately, with increased digitalisation, companies can accurately measure customer acquisition costs and marketing and sales spend.
Effective communication and cultural awareness is about communication with all relevant stakeholders - primarily the customer but also employees, partners and investors. To maximise opportunities beyond the English-speaking world, language skills are essential. Intelligence gathering and the value proposition provide a clear direction for messaging, yet many Irish companies fail to effectively leverage this, because their websites and digital channels are far from optimal.
The final element of the SMR is perhaps the most intangible and yet, successful exporting hinges on it - culture and mindset. Does your company export to survive or does your management team have the burning ambition, passion, vision and commitment to win in international markets? If the core motivation is there, gaps in leadership and internationalisation capability can be bridged with coaching, training and recruitment. By participating in our review, many Irish companies are implementing action plans to do precisely that.
Angela Byrne is a senior adviser with Enterprise Ireland
Sunday Indo Business