Going Global: Top tips for SMEs selling overseas

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been exploring the challenges, expectations and experiences of Britain’s top SME exporters as part of our Going Global series. Part four led us into a deep dive on the challenges and opportunities faced when marketing on an international scale. This week, we put together everything we’ve discussed so far to give you our top tips for selling overseas.

This information comes from our in-depth Going Global report, where you can read facts, figures and first-hand opinions on how business leaders feel the changing economic and political world will shape SME operations over the next few years. Learn from the experts; our featured interviewees come from The Sunday Times Lloyds SME Export Track 100 and are paying it forward, helping fellow British brands in these uncertain times.

Adopt Data-led thinking

At Croud, we’ve built the business with an international vision, and this has in part arisen from the fact that our data gives us a competitive advantage on the global stage. Here’s our data-focused tips for exporters:

Learn the local data

A common piece of advice that arose in our report was that local knowledge is an irreplaceable facet of international marketing. UNiDAYS CTO Andrew Bullock recommends deploying on the ground where possible, and our founder Luke Smith agrees:

“Having that local market knowledge, cultural awareness and just up-to-date information on what’s going on can make a huge difference between efficient marketing spend or throwing your money down the drain.”

Unsure how to get that local expertise? It’s a combination of local data – market data, customer data, insights and geographical information – and making sure your marketers know the region inside out. Become a data expert SME and your understanding of the global selling space will broaden.

Sort your data management

We’ve discussed the difficulties of GDPR and how to overcome these in a previous article, but it is so important to British SME success that it bears repeating. 65% of SMEs are concerned about customer data management, and some of the businesses we interviewed have completely altered or even ceased some marketing channels until they can get the post-GDPR data management under control.

It’s no surprise then that almost a fifth of the businesses we spoke to believe GDPR is one of the biggest challenges over the next three to five years. If you haven’t updated your customer management systems or are one of the one in three leaders who don’t feel they have the skills required to manage this, it is imperative that you educate yourself and your business to overcome this hurdle.

Keep innovating

Hamish Stevenson, the researcher behind The Sunday Times Fast Track, believes that innovations in tech, digital marketing and data have had a positive impact on British success overseas. The sheer volume of SMEs who work with proprietary tech echoes this: sometimes, we need to do it ourselves to get it done best. Here’s how you can keep innovating to success:

Multi-task your marketing

If you’ve followed the tips above and gained a wealth of good, local data, the next thing to do is innovate with it. Marketing across borders requires a lot of effort, but by using the data you already have, SMEs can figure out which channel works best for them and how best to optimise that.

Of course, we need to make sure we don’t rely solely on data to inform decisions. Monty Bojangles MD Andrew Newlands cautions:

“No one innovates based on historical data – the only type of data is out-of-date data… Learn from data, yes, but don’t let it control your decision-making. Data doesn’t have a soul.”

The best way to innovative marketing is to invest in it in the first place. It might seem a big, unsustainable spend to an SME, but a lean, well-trained digital marketing team can be a sounding board for how your product or service is received overall abroad.

Make it yourself

We believe that in the right cases, building bespoke tools can help you get ahead. We’ve already touched on how proprietary technology can lead to success overseas, but it is important to remember that it needs to do three things:

  1. Be an innovative solution to a problem you face
  2. Fit the needs and requirements of your product / service
  3. Be a flexible, adaptive tool in your arsenal

Bespoke technology is not a one-size-fits-all solution and might not work for your business goals; are you a trailblazer offering something unique or unusual? Proprietary tech might be a good fit for your business. Are you improving on an existing product or service, or offering something new in an established field? Take a look to see if there is an adaptive solution to your problem out there already.

Pay it forward

Perhaps most importantly of all, learn from your mistakes and successes, and if there is an opportunity to share with fellow British SMEs, then take advantage of it. There is plenty of data, analysis and best practice advice in our Going Global Report that wouldn’t be otherwise available; download it now, supercharge your efforts, and when the time comes for you to be featured on the Export Track 100, consider letting others in on your strategies for success.

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