When an organization decides to take its product and or services overseas, it is a big commitment. Not just in regards to resources, like financial and human resources, but also a commitment to being open-minded and learning how to do business in a new market, in essence, a whole new way of doing business. This commitment may be the most difficult one to make and often is the biggest limiting factor to the success of the organization’s overseas business development strategy.
My experience as an Overseas Business Development GPOD has been geared mainly towards sales and marketing. This is because the previous GPOD put in a lot of time and effort in building the cultural bridge and creating positive and close relationships with our overseas clients and agents. His work opened the door for our success. But this success was not easy. There were many different barriers to overcome along the way.
Since we already had a connection with potential customers and agents, I first focused my efforts on sales and how to improve the overall process. How sales are done can be quite different from country to country, especially with Japan. Many SMEs do not have much if any overseas experience and are often stuck in their habits of using traditional business practices. Although this style of sales has created great success in Japan, the organization must be open-minded, flexible, and learn new business styles and practices to succeed overseas.
From the get-go, the organization had a long sales cycle due to slow decision making and the overall decision-making process. Many times, the person responsible for the decision was removed from the actual sales activities or the decision had to pass the approval of the board of directors (ringi). While dealing with the overseas market, decisions are expected to be made quickly and by the person heading the sales operations. To speed up the decision-making process, we worked to identify bottlenecks. We worked to loosen the issues that bogged down the process and give more decision-making responsibility to the salespeople on the front lines. Through proactiveness, proper negotiation tactics, and constant follow-up, we were able to overcome these issues.
Another obstacle that we were faced with was an inconsistent follow-up after meetings with potential clients and agents. To stay on top of client communications we established a powerful process and database of customers with a flag system that alerted us when the need to contact a potential client arose. This helped improve constant and consistent contact. The other hurdle was the team’s English language ability, or more so their confidence in using their second language. To relieve this stress and keep communications moving forward smoothly, I managed all communications with overseas entities. In doing so, I was able to handle any difficult issues in a timely manner, assign certain communications to the team, proofread emails, and other documents, as well as provide language and business communication training and lastly, coaching.
The third area where we spent time and resources was developing a competitive pricing strategy for the overseas market. The Japanese marketplace is known for its high quality at premium prices. Sometimes the level of quality is much higher than what is required for the overseas market and most overseas organizations are not willing to pay that premium price, especially if it is much higher than their local service providers. Since our major focus was on the Indian market, creating a Price Presentation strategy that incorporated discount pricing at various levels of the sales process was the first step. Without offering a discount, most Indian companies were not willing to do business.
The next major hurdle that needed to be crossed was marketing. As previously mentioned, our organization was a very traditional Japanese SME with old school marketing strategies and outdated marketing collateral. All marketing activities were outbound, push-style marketing practices. Most, if not all, sales leads were generated through attending and exhibiting at trade shows. This was an expensive and time-consuming process and generated high priced leads.
To overcome the marketing dilemma, I provided training and supported inbound or pull style marketing strategies to maximize the marketing budget, reduce the cost of each lead, and reach out to a wider market. We also created a database for relevant overseas marketing data, which allowed us to better interpret overseas marketing styles and adjust our overseas marketing strategies accordingly. This data also provided invaluable information on how to design and develop more compelling marketing collateral for the overseas market. In the end, we were able to develop a marketing strategy that maximized inbound marketing activities that assisted our outbound marketing activities.
And last, but not least, there was the area of technical support for the overseas market. Although the organization had started to execute its overseas expansion strategy, it still did not have standard operating manuals for its products and services in English. Therefore, I was delegated with the responsibility to develop, review, and proofread the standard operating manuals in English. At the same time, overseas projects did not have sufficient technical support, both from Japan and on location overseas. Again, I was delegated to negotiate onsite support with our agents and develop in-house technical support in English. It was a difficult task, but I finally achieved these goals and convinced management that overseas technical support was a major priority.
In the end, my work as a GPOD has been challenging on many fronts. However, the challenge and the reliance on my experience and skills to improve the organization’s overseas business success has been rewarding beyond what words can explain. The opportunity that GDI Communications gave me to work as an Overseas Business Development GPOD has changed my life and my family’s life, for the better. When I started this position, I did not know all the details of the job. However, through perseverance and personal and professional growth, and along with GDI’s support, I have carved out a place for me and my skills and can add value every day I go to work.