Choose the market you want to conquer, book the cheapest accommodation and plane ticket, and buy a ticket for a local event or conference. Establish as many contacts as possible and talk with a lot of people. Throw away all advertising material and act like a journalist – talk about the problem, not the product, ask whether the market is worth investing in, whether the idea you’re presenting has potential. And pay attention when finding local partners as they are very important for start-ups. Matt Mayfield from the CEED association, an experienced mentor for sales and marketing, took the participants of the 8th module of the Start:up Geek House accelerator through 10 crucial pieces of advice for entering markets abroad.
He started by telling the participants that sales can be an especially big obstacle to Slovenian start-ups, which seem to have an in-bred aversion to it. This is probably mostly due to the fact that Slovenia doesn’t have a sales culture, as it had never been an importing or trading country. He continued by offering 10 pieces of specific and tested advice that can help anyone who’s embarking on the path of entering markets abroad.
If you have sales problems, change the angle of perception – the purpose of sales isn’t to get someone’s money but rather to help someone be more successful or get more money, a part of which they then give to you in exchange for your product or service.
Trim your product. As Matt Mayfield says: “Smaller is better. Smaller is easier to sell, and selling is going to be your biggest barrier.”
The “Benefit Buffet” philosophy. Don’t add more functions to a product, but rather curtail it to the most important parts by exactly understanding the problem of your buyers, their needs and desires.
Extra features reduce value. If there are extra features that don’t solve customers’ specific needs and problems, this reduces its value in their eyes and they aren’t prepared to pay a certain price, since they are paying for features they don’t need.
Behave like a journalist! This way, you will get the most useful information and the most promising contacts. “So stop the website in another language, throw away all your promotional materials, don’t show the prototype and rather don’t even mention you already have a product,” says Mayfield.
Ask potential customers questions such as whether they see potential in the idea, is the market worth investing into, what are your thoughts on the problem, who else could I talk to about the problem, and so on.
The truth about ego. The main advantage of the journalistic approach is the fact that you’re asking someone for advice and their opinion or help. “All this gives a certain pleasure to a person’s ego, which makes it easier to give priceless feedback. If you add an invitation to lunch and respect towards the person into the mix, you can get advice from practically anyone in the start-up world. Don’t be ashamed to say please,” says Mayfield.
Getting advice from a local partner: when? In the discovery phase, local support is indispensable. In the phase of market education, it’s better to rely on your own efforts. As for the transaction phase, you have to find answers to the questions of where and how the customer will actually pay, and how will the product be delivered and by whom, whereby you can get either a local partner or a third-party logistics provider to do this for you.
Avoid long-term contracts. “The world has changed and the company has to educate customers, via their website, forums, social networks, and convince them that they need this product. Then you will also have a better basis for negotiation with retailers and distributers, as customers will ask about the products all on their own,” says Mayfield.
Recognise a good distributer. They are the ones personally enthusiastic and agile, who first talk about what you can do together and only then about contracts and percentages; the ones who actually want to work with you because they recognise the potential of your product and who will give you access to their customers and enable you to learn something about your new market.