We live in uncertain economic times. But I believe that we learn far more about how to grow stronger companies in lean times than in times of plenty.
That said, this month I am sharing some of my hard-won marketing advice that I often give to internationalizing clients in B2B markets.
1. Pick the Low Hanging Fruit
Many companies have tightened their marketing budgets, leaving fewer staff to do more with smaller budgets than just a few years ago. This means that you need to lower the costs associated with acquiring additional sales.
This may involve selling additional products and services into your current customer base. Customers who already know and trust your company will likely take less time and effort to sell than someone new.
I have a client who went back through their previous sales pipeline and by sending one final email acquired several new clients. Developing a referral program can be effective. Oftentimes companies compensate the referring customer, but this can be more profitable than signing on new customers directly.
In international markets, finding low-hanging fruit among your existing customers can take more creativity. It may come from a new incentive structure for international distributors. Companies can also look for market niches where potential customers already understand the general value of the product or service.
Whether in your home market or elsewhere, tracking the costs associated with cost of sale will help guide you towards the most profitable markets.
2. Focus on the Right Niches
For growing companies, focusing on the right market niches can mean the difference between profitable expansion and an exercise of frustration. A good place to start is by looking at your current client base.
Which clients are the most profitable? Which ones appreciate the value of your products or service the most? Which ones had the shortest sales cycle? And what do your best clients have in common?
Look for shared demographics, business structure, markets, and even psychographics of your client contacts. Your best niches will reflect those same characteristics.
3. Build and Nurture Your Competitive Advantages
Every company has a set of strengths that make it unique in its industry. These competitive advantages need to be continually developed over time. If your company has the most advanced technology in the industry, you'll want to stay ahead of the pack. If your company has a lower production cost structure, then you'll want to position as the low-cost leader.
Companies often get into trouble trying to be all things to all potential customers. The worst mistake is to price your products or services below the competition, while offering a superior product. The highest profit margins come from aligning business decisions with your competitive advantages.
4. Drop Bad Clients and Keep the Rest
Do you have a small number of clients that are high maintenance? Perhaps they require high levels of customer service at no additional cost. Or maybe they are never satisfied with your products. I have heard clients who rant over the phone bringing employees to tears and staff morale to new lows.
Periodically it may be helpful to conduct a review of current clients. Look at any additional costs that clients pose to the company and evaluate if there are any that need purging when a contract is up for renewal.
Moving away from bad clients helps to make space for new, more profitable clients to take their place. It also significantly can boost company productivity.
For more information about international marketing in B2B industries, please visit: The International Entrepreneur.
This article was first published in January 2013 and has been updated to include current information, links and formatting.