Is it easier or more difficult nowadays to sell internationally?
With all the buzz about our global economy, and the Internet closing communications gaps between countries, you might think that there are fewer challenges to selling and marketing internationally. In reality, if you are naïve to the nuances of selling to people of different cultures, your chances for success are limited.
On November 29, a panel of three experts will convene to give their insights on Selling Globally in a Borderless Society. Participating will be Mathew D. Woodlee, senior international trade specialist, U.S. Commercial Service/International Trade Administration; Mike Danielson, director, health and nutrition division, Media Relations, Inc.; and Jim Thomas, vice president of international sales, Mate Precision Tooling. Each panelist will make a brief presentation followed by a short discussion session.
“There are nuances and cultural aspects to marketing in a foreign market,” comments Woodlee, who emphasizes that companies must be ready to support their global distribution network. “You’ve got to provide marketing support and mechanisms for lead generation.”
Woodlee and his staff devote a lot of time helping companies understand that things can’t be done the same way internationally as they are domestically. “For example, face-to-face marketing is essential in some parts of the world. A lot of companies don’t budget for expensive international travel. You might be able to conduct and nurture business in Europe by email, but it will be less likely to work for you in China, Japan and Latin America.”
If you are considering doing business internationally, Woodlee advises you to assess your internal staff. “Do you know what languages are spoken by people within your own company? You may have someone on the manufacturing floor who speaks Ukrainian. Would you want that person to help write letters? Participate in conference calls?”
He adds that using outside consultants can be valuable, and not necessarily expensive. “Just know what you want that consultant to do, so that you have the right person doing the right tasks.” Thomas agrees that you should build a roadmap. “Know why you are doing this. Is there a need in that market? If so, why? Who will be your target accounts? What is your cost of getting into that market? Will you sell under your brand or someone else’s brand?” He stresses that each market is unique. “Don’t make the common mistake of not understanding what makes it different. Specifications are a good example. Are you giving our distributors information in inches and pounds when they use the metric system? You’ve got to shake the cobwebs out of your domestic mind!”
Thomas adds that marketing support will often make the difference between whether your product beccomes a high priority or low priority with your international distributors. “Buyers today have 80 percent of the information they need before they even see a sales rep. They hear things at trade shows, visit websites, talk with other people and form an opinion. Distributors will only invest in your product if it’s worth their mind share and time (a scarce resource). Channel partners want a manufacturer/business partner that brings them: profitable business, desired customers and new leads.”
He emphasizes that it’s also important to stay current in world affairs and economics. “Where we can and cannot sell changes. For instance, there might be a U.S. embargo against certain countries. Some people think if you sell to Germany and Germany sells to Iran, it’s not a problem. But that’s doing themselves and our country a disservice.
Exchange rates change daily and will affect your long-term market position. If you sell internationally, you need to have a broader understanding of what’s going on politically, culturally and economically in other countries.
International sales and marketing also includes imports. Danielson explains that marketing a newly imported product often comes with its own set of challenges. “Companies may have a great product that practically sells itself in its home country. But coming into the U.S., that same product often needs a lot of what we call reach-and-teach advertising and promotion. If there’s a low level of initial interest, you need to make it occur to buyers what it is … and that they want it. Often the parent company doesn’t understand the U.S. market. So one of your first jobs is to explain that the same promotional messages and primary value points that work so well in their country may not work here.” To create a buzz here in the U.S., Danielson advises companies to take a nationalistic marketing approach. “You gain Americans’ trust by communicating to them through their trusted experts. Ideally, your media spokespeople should be familiar to people here in the U.S.” To make those connections Danielson says, “There’s no substitute for face-to-face networking by hitting conferences and trade shows. Consider who would be your ideal distributors, retailers and spokespeople. Then don’t be shy about asking for introductions.”
Mathew D. Woodlee, Senior International Trade Specialist, U.S. Commercial Service/International Trade Administration
Mike Danielson, Director, Health and Nutrition Division, Media Relations, Inc.
Jim Thomas, Vice President of International Sales, Mate Precision Tooling
Mathew D. Woodlee
Mathew D. Woodlee currently serves as a Senior International Trade Specialist for the U.S. Commercial Service (USCS)/International Trade Administration (ITA) in Minneapolis, Minnesota, having returned to federal service in October 2010. Mathew first became affiliated with the USCS as an undergraduate in 1995 when he received the Ron Brown Fellowship administered by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation. After graduate school, Woodlee served with the USCS in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland from 2002 through 2006. During that time, he served within the E-Business Development Unit, part of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Commerce/Director General of the U.S. Commercial Service. In Baltimore, Woodlee served as an International Trade Specialist, focusing on the aerospace, defense, security, IT and telecom industries.
In 2005, he was the Aerospace & Defense Global Team Leader for the USCS/ITA. In May 2006, Mr. Woodlee was appointed by Governor Bill Richardson as the Director of International Trade for the State of New Mexico. In that position, he led the efforts of the New Mexico Economic Development Department’s services that enhance New Mexico’s international economic competitiveness. In addition to his international responsibilities, Mathew led the Department’s efforts on Legislative Affairs and served as an advisor to the New Mexico Office of Recovery and Reinvestment.
Mr. Woodlee has held other positions in his career, including Fiscal Analyst for the New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee (1998-2002) and as a Managing Director for WG Scorpion LLC, a private consulting firm (2009-10).
Mathew received the Ronald H. Brown Commercial Service Fellowship in 1995, through which he completed a Summer Institute for Public and International Affairs at Princeton University in 1996. Mathew earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science (Economics Minor) and an MBA in International Management from the University of New Mexico.
Mr. Woodlee has been active in the community in a variety of ways, including serving on the Board of Directors for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central New Mexico, a contributor and volunteer with the United Way and a member of Social Lodge No. 1, F.&A.M., PHA, District of Columbia. He is currently a member of Minneapolis Rotary Club #9. He currently lives in the Twin Cities area with his wife and son.
Mike has been the driving force behind the health and nutrition division since its inception in 1988. From business-to-business and healthcare professionals to the consumers who desire our clients’ products, Mike knows how to make incredible things happen within each market segment. Mike’s connections and personal networks are critical to our clients’ success. He’ll tell you: “I see it as my job to serve everyone I come into contact with. Some become clients. Many become friends.” Because of these close relationships, Mike has a knack for finding and brokering true win/win opportunities. He’s created countless opportunities for clients where none existed before they signed on with us.
Over the years, Mike has been involved with hundreds of the most successful consumer and business-to-business promotional campaigns within the health and nutrition industry. He feels most energized when he’s helping clients translate their big-picture goals into detailed and effective marketing programs. If there’s an attention-grabbing angle to try, or a connection to be made that can make a product even more marketable, Mike will find it.
Jim Thomas has been Vice President of International Sales at Mate Precision Tooling since February 2008. He is responsible for >$30MM in annual revenues. At Mate, Jim has started sales operations in Poland, China, India and Mexico. Jim was President of Colder Products Company (CPC) International through its high growth phase from 1998-2006 when sales leapt from $2MM to $15MM and from 11% of sales to 30% of overall corporate sales. Jim restructured CPC’s GmbH subsidiary to profitability in 2000 after 10 years of operating losses and successfully opened CPC offices in Belgium, Hong Kong, the Netherlands and Japan.
Jim has been a member of the US Dept. of Commerce Export Council, SMEI and served as an advisor to the 2006-2011 Minnesota Cup participants. He went on Gov. Ventura’s China Trade mission in 2002. Jim graduated from Notre Dame, BBA and Thunderbird, MBA. Jim also completed the EPSC at Stanford (EMBA). He completed the General Electric FMP training program. Jim speaks French and regularly logs more than 150,000 miles annually.
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