Going global through partners
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Going global through partners

Expanding internationally is rarely easy, and is often approached on a rather opportunistic basis.

Having a good understanding of the options available will help you contribute to your organisation's strategy, and identify the critical areas where marketing can make the difference between success and failure. Let’s start at the beginning – what are the options in terms of the different routes to market (RTM)?

Routes to market

There are four main ways to sell your product or service internationally:

  • Sell through partners
  • Selling direct
  • Contractual methods, such as licensing or franchising
  • Setting up an overseas operation

To find out the best route for your business, be prepared to research and get advice on what’s already happening in your target markets. You’ll need to determine, for example, customers buying preferences, and whether your product or service will require local representation, such as a reseller or distributor. It’s also important to take steps to protect your intellectual property, regardless of which way you choose to export.

Some routes to market will need relatively higher levels of initial investment and more ongoing management, and may not be suitable if you’re new to exporting. But if you can invest more effort and resource, then you’re likely to see better rewards. It might be a good idea to test a lower cost method of selling on a smaller scale before investing heavily on a specific route.

There’s no substitute for hands-on understanding of your target market(s), but as a starting point you could see GREAT.gov.uk's guidance.  

For more information on exploiting your Intellectual Property internationally, see the information from the UK Governments Intellectual Property Office.

For the remainder of this article, we’ll focus on the first option: selling through partners.

Selling through partners

There is a multitude of business-to-business partnerships you can use as a route to market. These include familiar ones such as distributors, agents and resellers, as well as less those less common such as marketing alliances and joint ventures. The type of partnership you choose must fit both your product or service, and the market you’re aiming to enter.

The term ‘partnership’ used here is quite distinct from the UK legal use of a commercial entity, for example, a solicitors’ partnership.

Here are some key things you should consider before identifying the correct route:

  • Is a partnership an appropriate route to market compared to alternatives, such as direct selling?
  • What strategic decisions should you take before seeking partners?
  • What are your partners going to sell and/or support? You might need to modify your proposition to sell it through partners.
  • What’s the best way to attract, select and on-board partners?
  • What happens after signing up a partner; what do you need to do to make it a success?

Partners may provide market access via local sales and support, as well as complementary products and services, technology, or other expertise to meet local standards.

Partnering can provide a more effective solution compared to direct sales if:

  • you don’t have sufficient cash to make an investment in direct sales;
  • recruiting your own sales organisation and gaining market knowledge will take too long – where speed is critical; or
  • the time and resources needed to develop new markets may cause you to lack focus and lose existing business.

Partnerships are not a panacea. It’s usually impossible to create sales partnerships if you don’t have prior experience of selling your product or service, and you need resources – money, time and expertise to build partnerships.

Alistair Fox Director Expertek Consultants Ltd
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