There is a lot of information that is at your fingertips and that are very useful to collect and analyse when you get ready to export to Europe. Small businesses underestimate the mine of information they can already gather inside their organisation and in their local market.
This article gives three simple ways to prepare your business for the European market.
LEVERAGING YOUR CURRENT ENQUIRIES FROM EUROPE
An easy task, at this stage of your planning stage is to quickly check with your team if you had any enquiry coming from the European market and from which country do these enquiries come from? Are they recent? Have they stopped for any reason? Who are these European clients? I would recommend you to interview them: Here is a quick interview guide with a European fictive client: “I really would to thank you for buying from us. We would really value your feedback about our product and understand how we could provide you better service as we are planning to increase our presence into the European market. I have a couple of questions for you, are you happy to answer now?
“Your industry? Size of your company? How do you use our product? How did you find out about us? Why did you buy from us? What are your feedback about our product? Usually which product do you buy? Where do you buy it? If you wanted to buy our product in your own country? Whom would you like to buy it from? Which distributor would do an excellent job? Thank you very much for having taken the time to respond to me. Would that be ok if I contact you again in a few months, as we are working through our export strategy for Europe? “
You will be amazed how customers love to be interviewed. They feel that you value their feedback. They are a gold mine of information for you. Don’t only rely on them, but they are great to check information. Keep record of this information for later use, you may need to contact them again. Inform these persons of the progress of your project.
SEE HOW YOUR COMPETITION CAN HELP YOU, KNOW YOUR EDGE
The way to gain very interesting insight for a small business looking at expanding into Europe is to conduct an in-depth research about your competition in Europe. What you are looking for here are your major competitors, they may be European companies or US companies well established in Europe. As a guide, you pick your top three to five products and find equivalent in several European countries. You can focus first on the three major European economies Germany, UK, France. Of course, if you already have some market information that show you that another country has potential for your product or service, add it to the list. If you don’t know any French or German, get some external help to overcome the language barriers and have a good insight about their positioning. Again you choose several criteria that are relevant to your product or service: it could be performance, design, ease of use, warranty, price point, customer support. Usually European products have a multilingual user manual, which is available online. It is a great way to cut through their marketing message and check what the product is really like. The objective is really for you to determine your edge in the European market, by doing this research you should already have a feel on how does your products or service compare to your competitor’s. It is also interesting to check your competitors’ size.
If your company has filed a patent application, then your lawyer would already have conducted a search on patents that are filed for products that have some similarities with your product. It is useful if they can share with you names of companies that they came across. They would usually do, if not ask them to share this information.
Once you have a feel on how your product compares with competition, you should ask yourself: Do I stand any chance? Do I have plenty of competitors or only a few? Are my differentiators strong enough to create an interest in the market?
If you think at this stage that competition in Europe seems to be too intense and you are not clear on the value add your product or service has in comparison to European competitors. Then it is time to take some time to get some help from your technical team and share with them your findings. Could they take into account this market information for any future product release? Get some help from them to really qualify the current competition’s product to identify your strength. I would recommend to consider buying some of these competitor’s products. Have a look at options online. I sometimes do that for our clients through my French business.
Sometimes, differentiations may lie in the fact, that you are a new comer and the market wants novelty. It needs however to be substantiated by real differentiation to be able to sustain their interest long-term.
At the end of the day, if you find that these European competitors are well ahead of you, it is interesting for your business to conduct this competitive analysis quite thoroughly. Does that mean, that the European market has different needs to you home market? Or does that mean that you need to catch-up?
Once in the automotive market, I had a good view of the European competition and shared it with my client. He was then in a very good position to identify some of these European companies entering his own home market. That was definitively an asset when he was able to explain to his client that was offered the European solution, that he came across them in Europe and that the solution was known to be a low-end cheap solution. He could then more easily reinforce his premium and reliability positioning. See exporting also help small businesses in their home market, this is amazing!
If you think you have an edge, your product has specific features that has a real value add and clients from your home market have already validated that they are ready to buy your product over a competitors’ product for this reason. Then start preparing for export markets.
One interesting piece of information, when you have European competitors is which European country do they come from? Keep that information in mind, it will be important when it comes to choosing which export country to start with. For example, you came across a major player, who is German and extremely well established. You find out down the track that Germany is one of your major target markets. Will you start by Germany necessarily?
The other piece of information that is important to you at this stage, is to check in which European markets are your competitors the most active? And really find out where they are selling. To find this out, simply check out their website, who do they refer their clients to in Italy, Germany, Belgium, Sweden, Spain…. For some countries, they will only refer to their head office, for some other countries they will have a distributor or they will refer you to their local subsidiary. Basically, if your competition has invested in a presence in the UK, Benelux (Belgium Netherlands, Luxemburg), Scandinavia and not in Italy, Spain and France, then they are probably targeting in an industry that is important there. Maybe it is their historical geographical footprint and their neighbouring markets. This easy analysis will give you some hints on which country to start with.
Your ultimate goal is to go to a country where you have the best competitive edge and the largest opportunity.
And then you analyse their distribution channels. You need to look for information such as: have they established a company in these markets? Do they use importer or distributors? What is the profile of these distributors? Do they have agents? Do they sell directly online or not?
All of this information will prove to be useful when you are ready to get in the European market. It will give you some really good insight when it comes to assessing your chances of success in Europe.