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“Exporters really need to have a website and to use social networks actively”

Gregorio Cristóbal Carle, author of Internacionalización, mercados y empresa (“Internacionalization, markets and business”)

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Gregorio Cristóbal Carle, author of Internacionalización, mercados y empresa (ESIC) (“Internationalization, markets and companies”), stresses the importance of planning the strategy before starting to sell in other markets, as well as the necessity of using tools like the internet and trade fairs, always taking into account the particularities of countries and customers. Carle has experience as a foreign trade consultant and advisor in Spain and Latin America and has assisted more than 1,500 companies in their exporting projects.

What aspects must a company take into account before entering international markets?

The process of starting to operate in foreign markets is demanding and complex, and must be the fruit of a conscious decision based on the firm’s skills and strengths that will help start the activity. It also calls for a different mentality that the one applied in business developed in the domestic market since the new context in which to develop the export is generally very different.

The key elements that will serve to achieve the objectives are planning and strategy, both based on a system of truthful information that can be used and applied in real-time (business intelligence), as well as thorough knowledge of the cultural context in which the company will manage the sales activities (cultural intelligence).

To this must we must add the innovative capacity associated with value creation, the maintenance of the existent competitive advantages, and the systematization of processes and constant feedback on the results, in order to correct any deviations.
Other elements, no less important, would be the continuous training of human capital (certainly associated with the concept of productivity) and the necessary belief in the viability of the project, as well as the perseverance in the attempt to achieve positive business results in the selected target market.

What mistakes do companies often make?
It is true that to succeed in any human activity you must learn from past mistakes. The business world is no stranger to this principle, especially when focusing the activity on a commercial and political environment, which, in the initial phases are is more or less unknown. In this sense the main and most serious mistake is to lack an international orientation, not to develop an operational strategy defining each stage of the process, and the absence of a comprehensive analysis of the different variables associated with the project.

But there are more – I would also highlight the lack of knowledge of cultural and legal differences for each country, the lack of foresight of financial resources to maintain the activity long enough, not to know the language and experiencing difficulties communicating with relevant partners, or to ignore the dynamics of commercial operations in different areas and not choosing professionals and experienced partners who can advise and indicate what is the most appropriate way forward.

Exporting requires a great investment?
If the answer was yes, it would be difficult to find small and medium enterprises that export their products and services, as they may lack financial resources. However, many have achieved reasonable and even unbeatable success in their export activities.

What going abroad really requires is the application of strategic approaches to the exporting process at all stages, including planning and constant review of the relevant actions and their results. This way the company can opt for other alternatives designed to meet the financing needs, so it can reduce costs associated with the operational management of international sales.

In this sense, we can mention finding partners in the destination country, the creation of joint ventures to participate in international projects, and establishing lines of cooperation with other companies with common interests, as in the case of export consortia. To this must we must add the numerous trade support and promotion programs provided by governments and administrations.

With increasingly homogenous markets, should we take into account regional diversities or is it preferable to treat all countries as if they were part of a single global market?
The main key to success when selling to foreign markets is to understand and manage the new activity with a mind adapted to the environment in which the company operates, thus carrying out the analysis of critical factors, both internal and exogenous, which can affect the process and the consistent application of strategic thinking.

In this sense we must not treat the global market as a whole, when what an exporting company wants is to focus its sales in a particular country, and so the firm will need to know aspects such as the countries idiosyncrasies, its business culture, the national legislation - Just so the company is able to carry out the necessary adaptation process that can be summarized in the phrase “think globally, but act locally”.

Is now a good time to export?
The current global scenario is undoubtedly complex and is also constantly changing. Any time is good for the company to take the decision to address internationalization, provided that the process is carried out taking into consideration strategic and rational criteria, adapting to the circumstances of the market, and planning the activity by overcoming the various phases in the export sequence. In fact, the current economic climate crisis has forced many companies to seek business outside the usual domestic sphere in order to ensure survival. Anyway, we must not forget that this need is not a reason enough to succeed in the difficult task of selling abroad.

What are the advantages that the internet can offer in this process?
Undoubtedly the internet can act as an open door to sell to the world, and it greatly facilitates the process of internationalization of SMEs, which can reach countries and clients that would otherwise be impossible to work with. Not only it is a useful tool to publicize the brand overseas (using it as a global showcase), but it also lowers the costs associated with the activity, facilitating contact with suppliers and buyers, and allowing real-time information on operations. Today, exporters really need to have a website and to use social networks actively.

What is the role of trade fairs when starting or maintaining this internationalization process?
The exporter has a wide range of instruments to promote the company image and sales. Fairs and other events are good tools to showcase the products and / or services, to build brand image, to know what competitors are doing, and also get to know innovations in the industry, in addition to serving as a reference for the further development of networking actions. In this regard we should keep in mind that sales are not a fundamental strategic action in fairs, as the real work begins after the event ends.

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