While Irish export figures to the UK remain robust in the wake of Brexit, we are fielding an increasing number of queries from established, traditionally UK focused, Irish businesses seeking to diversify into new markets beyond that of our nearest neighbour. While obvious factors such as proximity, cultural alignment and a common language have made the UK our trading partner of choice for decades, ambitious Irish exporters are in growing numbers eager to explore opportunities beyond the United Kingdom.
The reasons behind this drive are varied but alongside wanting to benefit from the Brexit grants and supports available whilst avoiding the increasing complexity of Brexit related red tape, many businesses cite an increased comfort level in developing virtual relationships with prospects overseas. Our experience is Irish businesses have taken to virtual international prospecting with gusto during the pandemic and have made significant inroads in nurturing new partnerships through optimising virtual platforms such as LinkedIn, Zoom and HubSpot. These fledgling business relationships are now primed for the next step and with travel and in person events firmly back on the agenda, Irish businesses are keen to execute their new market entry ambitions and activate new sources of revenue.
If your business finds yourself in a similar position, here are so some key pieces of advice to ensure your investment in diversifying beyond the UK pays dividends as quickly as possible.
1. Get Your House in Order at Home
Chances are if you are entering a new market, you already have a domestic business. If this is the case, it’s important that the systems, processes and people in place in Ireland can step up to support international expansion in the short to medium term.
If there are critical gaps in the domestic operation e.g. vacancies in senior positions, insufficient manufacturing capacity, lapsed regulatory certifications, legacy IT systems, we strongly recommend closing these before moving forward.
Your troubles will travel with you and will only multiply in complexity in a new market.
2. When You Think You Have Done Enough Research, Do More!
While market research isn’t glamorous, it has become easier in recent years. The internet abounds with useful sources of secondary data which will inform your market entry plan.
If you are a member of Enterprise Ireland, Bord Bia or many other industry bodies, you will have free access to excellent reports which will point to the size of the market, the competitive landscape, route to market options, regulatory considerations etc.
While secondary data of this nature is insightful, we always recommend you visit the market(s) you are intending to enter during the research phase.
A well-planned market visit where you have the opportunity to meet with possible partners, distributors, clients and/or end users is invaluable in forming a clearer insight into how your offering could be received upon entry.
3. Get Specific On What You Want To Sell
While you may offer an end-to-end solution or wide range of products to the Irish and UK markets, it often makes sense to enter a new region with a specific part of your offering targeted to a smaller sub segment of that market.
This strategy carries less risk but to be successful requires you to fully understand your sweet spot customer segment in the new market and the elements of your offering which will most likely pique their interest.
Once you have won the customer, you can upsell them on the other benefits your wider offering can bring.
4. Optimise You Online Presence and Use Your Network
As an unknown entity in a market, it can be difficult to secure in person time with potential customers or clients. It is important that when someone researches you and your business online, they find high quality content which accurately reflects your value proposition and legitimises you and your organisation.
Your company website and LinkedIn presence at a minimum should be flawless before connections are made.
Investing in exhibition space at an in-country event can also be effective.
Even with all this in place, the power of an introduction cannot be understated. Review your contact database and LinkedIn connection to determine if you there are people in your existing network who could assist you by making a well timed introduction.
5. One Market At A Time
The temptation to tackle multiple markets at the same time can be hard to resist especially if you have a strong product market fit or a pending patent expiration. It is however important to consider the payoff from focusing available resources on one market versus spreading them too thinly over multiple.
Success in one market also makes entering neighbouring markets easier e.g. Many organisations will enter the Dutch market first before expanding further into the Benelux region.
6. Think Global – Act Local
Focusing on one market also means you can dedicate time and resources towards localising your offering for that particular market (if the right opportunity exists).
For example, the offering you intend to bring to market on the West Coast of the US might be similar to what you bring to the East Coast but your marketing and pricing strategy may need to be different due to market preferences and competitor activity.
7. Don’t Let Language Be a Barrier
Many Irish companies who have successfully exported to English speaking countries are often slow to venture further into Europe and beyond as a result of limited language skills.
While translating sales, marketing and technical material and having people on your team who can converse in the local language is critical to new market entry, it is possible to affordably outsource this work.
There are industry specific translation companies as well as in country sales agents and pathfinders whose very purpose is to assist foreign companies to enter new markets. Several Irish 3rd level institutions also seek work experience placement opportunities for students with language skills.
8. Research the Supports Available
As an island nation, a healthy export function is crucial to our economic success. The Irish government have multiple international embassies, supports, programmes and grants in place for new and established exporters.
Depending on the size, type and ownership of your organisation, if you apply for support with a well thought through market entry plan, you have every chance of getting the help you need to succeed. Check out the following entities to research the supports available or view Funded Programmes we are associated with in our menu bar.
Leonie Tansey is Director of Client Services at IMS Marketing and has significant experience in working with organisations of all sizes grow their businesses through new market entry.
If you would like to discuss your market entry ambitions, reach out to our export marketing team today.