For many businesses and business owners, change can feel both exciting and challenging. For some, it feels downright daunting.
However, what is universally true is that business growth without change is very difficult to achieve and, for many businesses the most effective form of growth and change is expansion into new markets or geographies.
So, what are the seven Cs you’ll need to sail to grow your business internationally?
Our ability to deliver to deliver sustainable growth and change is founded on the first, critical step – setting ourselves an extra-ordinary challenge.
The purpose of the challenge statement is to help us set course for the journey ahead, in essence the challenge must act as our compass – providing direction without forcing a path on us.
Ultimately, the challenge statement sets out the end in mind. That is, what are you specifically trying to achieve?
This helps provide us with a clear purpose around which to focus our data and information search and around which to align the entire organisation.
Experience shows that there are three crucial characteristics of a great challenge statement. These challenges are:
- Prioritised: They focus on something that has significant implications for the people on the team and decision makers MUST care about what’s at stake if the outcomes are to come alive.
- Provocative: If the solution is easy or obvious, just do it. What we need are unreasonable challenges we can rise to and measure.
- Precise: they spell out very clearly what it is that the team need to do to create the future we want.
Once you have set your business challenge and aligned your company internally around the opportunity to internationalise your business, your attention immediately turns to this question: where to go first, second, third?
Many businesses enter international markets through direct approaches from overseas based importers, distributors or locally based consolidators and exporters.
Some businesses are taken international by their existing customers requesting supply to new markets as they grow and spread their wings across the Seven Seas.
Other businesses may be lead into international Business through the very people in their businesses, from past experience, networks and explorer mindsets. Smart businesses start by creating a strategy with “Where?” front and centre in their minds.
By using a systematic ranking process (such as PESTEL), it is easy to decide which countries are best to go to and, in which order. This is a way of proactively conducting business on your own terms and increasing your chances of success
Having decided on the country, or countries, you are going to enter, you need to understand the category from which you will source new business.
The category is the consumers’ understanding of the group of products or brands that compete with your business products or services. In other words, its competitive set.
To help define it we ask: what is our product one of? Or, what could it be a replacement for?
Categories vary significantly by geography and, although in your mind your product may be very clearly defined in its domestic market, you can be assured that it may well sit in quite a different space in a new geography.
There are several fundamental reasons for building a clear understanding of the category in which you want to play, which are:
- The category will have certain product and pack codes that will be expected and, challenging these can sometimes be disastrous
- The category you target will have a significant impact on the benefits you communicate and the competitive advantage you choose to leverage.
- In most markets, data is available around the size and growth trajectories for categories – so making choices around category can help you understand the potential for your product today and in the future.
- And finally, most categories have clearly defined barriers and drivers. Understanding what these are can provide you with both a clear point of difference and competitive advantage based on either addressing a barrier or, amplifying a driver
4. Compete or Collaborate
Competition in the new markets your business enters is likely to be different to your home market. There will be a few of the multinational companies but, there is also likely to be local or regional players to consider.
With their knowledge, networks and understanding local and regional players, the local brands will be formidable competitors.
Understanding your own external Threats and Weaknesses and your internal Strengths and Weaknesses can help you work out where to compete and where to collaborate.
SWOT analyses of the Competition will also help understand if their Weaknesses are your Threats and, whether this might throw up opportunities to collaborate or compete. Likewise similar SWOT analyses of competitors at home might highlight the opportunity to collaborate internationally.
This is commonly done in some industries like brewing, where fierce competitors in one market collaborate in other markets by brewing, marketing and selling each other’s brands under licence at another brewery abroad.
The ultimate custodian of success or failure in any geography, is the consumer of our product or service. If they don’t connect with and continue to consume our offer, then we are doomed to failure.
The importance of deeply understanding who you want to target and, why they should be interested in your offer, is a crucial stage on the journey to successful expansion.
The first thing we must establish is, who do we believe our offer will appeal?
Although this may seem obvious it is all too often left at the level of unhelpful generalities such as MGBs (Main Grocery Buyers) or Mums with young families!
As we become more globalised and categories become ever more fragmented, the need to deeply understand your target becomes ever more important. This is very difficult to do, unless we have a clear handle on who they are. For most brands and businesses, the sentiment should be target narrow, yet reach deep. The point being, that the more specific you are in your targeting, the more likely you are to build an enduring relationship with your consumers.
Having understood who we want to target, the challenge is now to dig below the surface of their behaviours to understand the beliefs and attitudes that are driving them. In others words, understand consumer insight.
Fundamental to delivering this level of understanding, is the thought that true insights are rarely found lying on the surface – they are all about what lies below.
There is a clear relationship between a human’s observable behaviour and the deep-seated belief system which has been developed over time, in both the conscious and unconscious mind. In other words, behaviours unlock potential but beliefs are often key.
Behaviours are the things we can observe, interrogate, compare, model and measure. They are also ultimately what we want to influence.
Beliefs force us not to take the obvious for granted. They allow us to link apparently different behaviours and help us find emotional and functional levers to change behaviours.
The ‘voice of the customer’ is often overlooked in the race to understand the preceding 5Cs and, get your business launched in a new region.
Rather than leave this to importers or partners in your new marketplace, our recommendation is to prepare a plan for a constructive conversation with your new potential customers (retailers) who will be the gateway to your consumers.
Without an engaged customer supporting your products, services and proposition, you cannot delight consumers of your finished goods. Customers have needs and a wealth of information and learning at their fingertips that more often than not they are only too happy to share with new market entrants.
Early conversations with customers build relationships, engage them more and empower them to share what they know to your mutual advantage.
Take note, not all customers and channels in your new market of choice will be appropriate for your product or service. One of the most important outcomes of your “Voice of Customer” excursions, will be making a choice on where to focus your effort and, where not to go initially on market entry.
The last thing you want to do is spread your effort too broadly and thinly, not satisfying any customers or engaging shoppers. Make the tough choices and focus on a key channel and customers in that channel, before your spread your efforts too broadly.
Having spent time looking at the external context in the preceding six Cs, the time has now come to start looking inwardly to identify the strengths and opportunities you can leverage to guarantee your success.
Having clearly understood the entire external context, you will be in an excellent position to understand the competencies you have that may enable you to deliver a compelling competitive advantage. The first thing to do is to start by listing all the tangible and intangible competencies you might have.
This process starts by identifying what we can excel in from a brand, product and technology / manufacturing perspective – what can we do better than anyone else.
Understanding all our tangible and intangible assets can provide platforms for opportunity and competitive advantage. Having listed our competencies we should rank them based on:
- what can we own
- what do we own
- what do we own exclusively
If we can focus on what we own exclusively, we are able to:
- play to our strengths and thereby
- reinforces brand or product credibility
- minimises risk
- provides benefit and a reason to believe for our consumers
- leverage what made us famous in the first place
Critical thinking frameworks, like the 7Cs, help you break down seemingly overwhelmingly complex challenges and business opportunities, into a sequence of manageable steps and processes that your team take heart, as they see concrete go forward actions to implement.
The 7Cs do not need to be executed in sequence and, you may find you start with one C before moving back to another or jumping forward a few steps.
We recommend alignment on the first C, Challenge, as fundamental to guiding your business through the 7Cs framework.
Our recommendation is that you also partner with independent experts to hold yourselves accountable to a project timeline, participate in the process rather than facilitate it yourself and get the benefits of continuous learning from past and future clients doing this process.
Patrick Tully is Partner @Fusion Learning consultancy. Fusion Learning is a global marketing capability consultancy that unleashes the potential of brands and businesses by unleashing the potential of the people that look after them.