The world has never felt smaller. With the rise of ecommerce, affordable international travel and social media, today’s business leaders are just as likely to be building their customer base in Manchester, Melbourne, or Mumbai.
And advances in technology mean that it’s now possible to build a clearer picture of where new market opportunities may exist. At LinkedIn we have been analysing our members’ overseas prospecting activities to find out which countries have the most international outlook when it comes to new business development.
Given the UK’s long history as a trading nation, you might expect it to feature near the top of the list. However, we found that just 31% of UK online sales activity was focused internationally, compared to 68% in Ireland, 62% in Germany, and 41% in Belgium, for example. This placed the UK 23rd out of the 28 countries we looked at when it comes to international prospecting.
Looking at the overseas outreach that is taking place, the ‘special relationship’ with the USA clearly extends to the business world, with the market being the top prospecting target for UK salespeople. EU markets remain important, with France, Germany and the Netherlands ranking second, third and fourth respectively. Almost a third of all the UK’s international prospecting activity was with EU countries.
This data was collected before the EU referendum vote, suggesting that the UK was lagging behind its continental competitors even before the ‘Brexit’ vote. Though building a presence and contacts overseas has always been important for growth, the events of this summer arguably make this an even bigger priority. In particular, the fact that less than 7% of total prospecting activity was directed towards the emerging ‘BRIC and MINT economies suggests that UK business leaders might want to look further afield for new opportunities and start building those relationships that will help their businesses flourish in the future.
As the world becomes more globalised, international markets are presenting firms with more possibilities. Social media has made it easier than ever before to identify and build relationships with the key decision makers in the organisations you want to do business with, whether they’re at home or abroad. Here are five ways businesses of all sizes can maximise their global export opportunities without moving from their desktops:
1. Don’t forget who you - or your team - know
Collectively, organisations have a wealth of contacts that they can tap into to broaden their export network. Sales teams should expand their network by harnessing the power of their company and connect with ex-colleagues, friends and acquaintances on LinkedIn. This will open the door to new contacts who might be working in countries where you’re looking for opportunities.
2. Be focused and stay relevant
Know who you want to target? Look at their Company Page on LinkedIn and see if you have any first or second degree connections that could recommend or introduce you. See what they’re up to - and work out what the most valuable approach should be. Remember - you only have one chance to make a first impression.
Don’t just connect with people - talk to them. You should join the most relevant LinkedIn Group - your prospects are likely to be members already - use this to gain knowledge and to share your expertise in a highly targeted environment. You could end up in conversation with the person you want to do business with.
4. Fish where the fishes are
You might think you know which are your key markets but have you looked further afield? The global economy has never been more interconnected with pools of opportunity springing up everywhere. Do your research. If you want to target say the software sector, a good starting point is to look where software engineers are located. Use these cues to refine your prospecting strategy.
5. Stay flexible
Markets evolve, people move. Make sure that you adopt a flexible approach to maintaining relationships with prospects and markets. Government policies, commodity prices even referenda mean that markets evolve. Those organisations that can adapt and spot opportunities quickly will be the ones that will thrive.