Now is the time to formalise your objectives and your plan for the European market for 2021
It is December and time for you to finalise your 2021 goals/objectives and plans for the European market. The European business year is from 1 January to 31 December. By early December European business people are busy completing business for 2020 and formulating planning for 2021.Sales people will concentrate on completing as much business as possible before the end of the year, making sure they reach their sales targets. Your distributors or sales channel partners will also be busy in this mode. Department managers are finalising their plans for 2021, sales managers are finalising their sales targets and purchasing managers are now finalising key budget allocations for 2021.
This is also when negotiations start between suppliers and distributors/or channel partners. Given you have to provide a 90- day notice to your customers advising them that you are changing your prices, means most suppliers have provided their new prices to customers and distributors as of 1st of October and now the negotiations start. In France, by law, these negotiations have to be finalised by the end of February.
For you small business people it’s a good time to plan for 2021, as most European decision makers already have their eyes on 2021. January is also a good month to start approaching new customers. European companies are usually open to discuss new partnerships and new investments.
I suggest you use one of the frameworks we use at Exportia to formalise your 2021 plan. As we work with our customers at Exportia, we always refer to our Seven Pillars to develop our action plans: Product, Customers, Country, Channels, Marketing, Team and Dashboards.
You will also need to take into account in your planning, the fact that several European countries will still be in and out of lockdown in the coming months. Let’s assume that you will have to have a flexible plan for the first half of 2021. Don’t assume you will be able to attend on site and in person to do face to face meetings in Europe in the next six months. Plan for more online activities for the first six months of 2021. Then if things ease in the European market, nothing prevents you from increasing your face to face activities.
Let’s now have a look at what you need to think about in your European plan, At Exportia we love using our 7 Pillars framework, it’s easy and simple to use.
Earlier while setting the scene for this article I shared with you the fact that the end of the year is the time to revisit price. If you have not adjusted your prices, remember you can do so by informing your European customers with a 90-day notice in writing.
Another point to plan for in 2021 is new product launches and how you are going to promote them. When we have to work on product launches, we are going to promote them. Two things I would like to emphasize about planning product launches is first, make sure you announce the new product to sales teams, once you are ready to sell. Otherwise, customers will have to wait for the new product and put their orders on hold. Second, in 2021, consider taking some pre-bookings/orders while promoting a new product launch. Encouraging pre-bookings is an advantageous way for small businesses to get accurate forecasts on sales, to plan for capacity and production. This is a great planning tool. I encourage you to consider it.
In the same vain, it’s a great time to contact your current European customers, to request the latest update on their forward planning for 2021.You need to have a sense of the developments that they are planning for 2021 and what impact it has on your sales and growth. It’s also a good time to ask for a sales forecast. Even if you have never requested a forecast before, I believe it is a good time to do so with European customers, and it is justified for you to try to have the best possible visibility to make sure you can service them in 2021 the best you can. You will also have to be prepared to hear that they may have little visibility for 2021. Be prepared to take this forecasting exercise as an opportunity to have a sense of how your industry will behave in 2021, you cannot expect these forecasts to be set in stone in the current climate, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The discussion will always be worthwhile though.
It’s always time to target new customers. I don’t think we should ever stop to work on growing our customer base. This should be a constant effort. I think this year it is all more important for Australian companies, as Europeans are looking at expanding the provenance of their purchases. Australia is a sound, reliable and innovative supplier of technologies for that.
If you are already exporting to Europe, you want to look at which countries you are going to focus on in 2021. It’s fine to export to several countries, but the key to scale and grow sales fast for a small business is really to focus on one or two given countries at a time. Focusing your effort on one country is often the fastest way to gain traction and create momentum in a country. This is the way to build a deep understanding of the market, to get to know the right players, build leads and brand exposure, as well as convert leads into sales efficiently in a market.
In 2021, I would not recommend targeting a particular European country over another, as your target industry should really be the prime selection criteria to go into a new European market. Most European countries have kept functioning throughout the pandemic and companies have now structured their organization to ensure continuity.
It’s a good time to reach out to your current European sales channels to evaluate how they have transformed to keep functioning throughout the COVID-19 and what they plan for 2021 for your product in their market. Traditional distribution channels have suffered during 2020, and there have been a number of distributors closing down. Therefore, it’s a good time to reassess and keep the most reliable distribution channels.
It’s also important to diversify your distribution base and to add new distributors. If you have a limited number of distributors per country and you have not achieved any growth with them, it’s a good idea to add more distributors. It will diversify your risk and position your business for a next surge of growth. As you work on developing your reach in new industry verticals, this is a good time to identify new potential distributors that are active and well known in this industry. When you conduct a selection of distributors, make sure they have transitioned their sales team to selling remotely and to continue selling products while sales reps are in lockdown. We can realistically say that during the next six months, there is going to be some continuously imposed lockdowns in parts of Europe. So it’s wiser to work with a distributor that knows how to sell without face to face meetings!
The Trade shows organisers are back on deck. Your favourite European trade shows most probably have been canceled or rescheduled to 2021. The organisers would have contacted you to make sure you register. It is wise to check what cancellation policies they have put in place. Do they reimburse you if they cancel? Or do they give you a credit?
It’s a good idea to check what contingency plan they have in place, do they have a plan to hold the event online, if there is no possibility to hold a physical event. If you are Australian-based you may not be able to travel internationally until mid to late 2021.
As we have seen during 2020 it’s important to continue to use online marketing, this marketing media has proven to be efficient, as most professionals, in some parts of Europe, have been working and are still working from home. This has increased their time spent online.
Traditional advertising via magazines and online magazines is still relevant particularly if you are targeting a specific niche market.
My usual recommendation around hiring remains the same as usual. Unless you have created some traction in a given European country, and have been able to generate some sales, I usually discourage hiring without having traction in the market. The focus should be on generating the sales before recruiting in Europe. Once you have traction and you are able to demonstrate good growth you will be able to secure better talents.
Remember that workplace laws are fairly constraining in Europe. It is very hard to dismiss an employee for non performance and can be costly. It means that it is a risky exercise to employ in a normal scenario, but in 2021 we are also adding the fact that you may not be able to meet your candidates face to face. Employees have to work fairly independently and remotely from HQ. It means that it is a difficult start for anyone not used to working autonomously. It makes it a riskier exercise than usual. At the moment there are still ways to proceed with good recruitments in Europe, if you have traction in a market and you need to staff it to keep the growth going. We have conducted several recruitments in Europe this year on behalf of our customers. We have had a lot of success in doing so on behalf of our high-growth customers.
The way we have done it is by tapping into pockets of candidates that have been laid off in their industries such as the travel industry. We have used personal connections intensively to secure introductions to candidates. We also have multiplied the interviews and made thorough due diligence. We have also pulled the pin on some recruitments where we had a doubt, we also ended trial periods without hesitation when the candidate did not fit the bill 100%.
In 2021, it’s also important to keep monitoring the mental health of team members. It’s particularly true for the ones that live alone. Checking in regularly with staff is important, particularly if they have been through a long lockdown period.
Do not overlook the opportunity of building teams using sales agents’ networks or contracting external resources as a safe way to build sales in a given market.
Based on the above plan it is now time to define your sales target for 2021. If you are relatively new to selling in Europe, it is sometimes easier to define targets in terms of a number of leads, number of key accounts to target and be more focused on specific goals like, signing the first customer in the banking industry in Germany, building a pipeline of 100 leads by end of March. Define your targets to focus your activities as stepping stones to build sales. It’s always easier to focus a team on tasks in the initial stages, than just giving them a sales target to start with. How they should build the sales is what you have to demonstrate.
The concomitant task is to assign the budget needed to implement the plan outlined for each of the 7 pillars and to make it happen!
If you need any help to build your European sales plan for 2021, contact us and we will be happy to take you through our framework as well as implement it for you if you wish to do so. Contact us for more information to plan for your success in Europe in 2021.
Christelle Damiens is the Managing Director of Exportia, which provides an outsourced European Sales & Marketing team to Australian B2B manufacturing and technology companies. She is also an award winning author and a business speaker. Her second book “The four steps to generate your first million euros in sales’ won the Australian Business Book Award 2020 in the Communications and Sales category and was a finalist in the Entrepreneurship & Small Business Category, as well as an Amazon best seller. www.exportia.com.au