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Choosing To Be Successful in Export Marketing

By Zak Karamally

The desire for success in any endeavor requires making choices. The reason is simple: not choosing means all alternatives are equally important. Therefore, all alternatives must be given equal resources and attention. Were we endowed with unlimited resources and unlimited time, this is not a problem. Reality is different.

But choosing is difficult for two reasons: first, choosing involves taking risks because the choice can be wrong. Second, choosing means knowing the alternatives from which to choose. Absent either one, no choice is possible. Hence, success is dependent entirely on luck. Yet, not choosing is a perennial problem among exporters. It is far simpler to do everything that comes along. Or choose a prescribed path, one that others have followed. At best, this means achieving no more than what your competitors have already achieved; at worst, achieving what you did not want in the first place. Like people, each business is different, with unique needs and desires.

To illustrate the point, lets start with the most important issue: having an objective. Consider that you may want to export for a quick profit, to rid yourself of surpluses, to counter a temporary lull in the domestic market, or even that your interest as an exporter is simply to get tax breaks for world travel. On the other hand, you may be considering export markets for the long term. Thus short-term gains are less important than permanent engagements, market-share is more important than immediate profits, and cash-flow stability is more important than a few quick deals. An objective is a matter of choice based upon the needs of the business or its proprietors. There is no wrong and right answer as long as appropriate needs are satisfied.

As with a seed that grows a tree, the objective grows all other actions. And, it is against the objective that one compares success or failure. Imagine yourself as an exporter whose primary interest is world travel. If you follow the standard path of hiring the services of an export management company who handles the entire export program, you will end up staying at home. Even if your sales increase in export markets, how will you measure your success or failure? For a more business-oriented example, consider that the intensity of competition at home means you must establish a stable customer base overseas. How will you measure success or failure if you make a one-time bonanza by unloading your warehouse to a trading company? In each case you are exporting and failing at the same time.

Assuming the case is made for setting objectives, how do we go about defining them and then selecting the right one? There are two categories of considerations: internal and external. Internal considerations are primarily vision, competency and resources; external considerations are competition, environment and institutions. Each of these will influence the objectives selected. Among these the two often misunderstood are vision and institutions. Vision is either deeply felt or clearly written for all to see. It is the highest aspiration of the organization. The export objectives must logically support this vision. If they do not, the export program is superfluous or eventually abandoned.

Institutions include the industry the company is in, the network of suppliers and customers, the governments, the protocols and rules of how business is conducted. If the environment is the terrain on which the game is played, institutions are the relationships of the players. The export objectives must account for these relationships, their strength or weakness and the relative importance of each to the export endeavor. For instance, the support from the government can be an important factor, as can the structure of the industry - whether or not it is global in nature. Exporting then can either be a matter of survival or simply easier as customers are already present overseas.

The other four considerations, competency, resources, competition and the environment (or the larger influences on business, both at home and abroad) are obvious. Each must be considered to define realistic objectives. Competency means the ability to engage in international markets, resources are the budgets and staff devoted to the export venture, the level of competition dictates the effort and sacrifices it will take to win customers, and the environment will either impede or support the export enterprise. When taken together, the right approach to serve the company for the present and the future will become apparent.

Finally, the export objectives must be holistic. They must be in harmony, or better, complementary, with other company objectives that concern the home market. Conflicts with these will hurt the company and, given the importance of bread and butter, the export program will be sacrificed before other programs.

It must be obvious, that setting of export objectives will require some thought and intelligence. That is how it should be. Export ventures are expensive and the effort demanding. Scarcity of thought given to it is akin to gambling. No entrepreneur or manager will do that if there is a way to minimize the risk while improving the opportunity for success. Like any other important project, exporting is serious business.

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