Targeting the Right International Markets

Basic principles for selecting the best countries for international market expansion

When -as a small/medium business- you start reaching saturation in your local market, it is time to plan expanding abroad to generate further growth. The alternative -further investing in R&D to expand your product into new applications- soon faces barriers of saturation, competition and complexity and it can therefore prove more costly.Going into international markets is not as difficult as it seems at first glance if you plan sensibly your entry into foreign countries and invest only when you have tested your chances of success. The three main questions you need to answer are:1. When to ‘go international’?2. Where to go?3. How to go?

[1] When?

You are ready for international once you have achieved initial success in your home market and have a proven offering with a solid differentiation; ‘happy’ clients as references; established operational processes; and tested effective sales and marketing tools.You also need commitment from your management and investors; buy-in, communication and participation at all levels; clear objectives for international team; international investment budget per department; clear roles & responsibilities for the home team.Finally, your offer needs to be properly productized, packaged, priced and localized for the target markets.

[2] Where?

Determining the ‘right’ foreign countries depends on many factors including the size of the potential market; the strength of the local competition; the distance from your home location (time zones matter); and cultural considerations such as language, business customs and openness to foreign suppliers.Neighboring countries can be a reasonable first step but you could by hampered by regional rivalries, historical bones of contention and, merely, the lack of potential growth.Large countries such as -in Europe- Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Spain represent a priori a large potential but you could face intense competition and high entry costs (e.g. translation of all documents into local language).Smaller countries such as -in Europe- Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and Austria are usually more open to international trade (by necessity) and relatively easier to penetrate. Many of them are comfortable with English and require significantly lower entry investments.Ultimately, since your business (and, hopefully, your offering) is different from all the others, the best way to select the right markets is to test different countries for a period of three to six month, refine your ‘pitch’ and invest in the ones with the best practical potential.


When in fact international business development requires a local presence, you don’t necessarily have to establish a local subsidiary with all the costs and risks that such a major commitment represents.Instead of hiring permanent local employees, you can outsource sales to well qualified representatives, starting quickly on a small basis and grow. Specialized sales outsourcing companies such as Sales Force Europe can offer you representatives with suitable experience in all major countries.If you offer complex products or services, you also need, in addition to sales representatives, local partner organizations able to perform technical tasks including installation, maintenance, support and other specialized jobs. In the high-tech sector, such organizations are local System Integrators, Service Providers, Distributors, Value-Added Resellers or similar companies. More on this in our previous article: rewards of sales outsourcing and partnering with local organizations are the creation of a productive long-term relationship and the development of solid international foundations.

More News