Building Relationships Is The Key To Entering International Markets

By Bruce Hoggard, CMC, MBA, MMIS/OS, M.C.Inst.M,
President and CEO, Hoggard and Associates Inc.

Welcome to a new forum addressing the Institute¹s international involvement and presence, while providing insight to companies and individuals considering cashing-in on the popularity of foreign markets. Many marketing professionals are discovering international opportunities as the world continues to "grow smaller" through relentless globalization of economies. Governments and businesses, worldwide, are looking at exports and international expansion as a means of creating new jobs and generating wealth. The figures quoted by the Canadian and USA governments suggest every $1 billion in new exports generate between 9,000 and 25,000 new jobs.

Companies should be actively incorporating international expansion into their business and marketing plans. Business leaders need to act and take advantage of the abundant opportunities existing in the global marketplace. This, coupled with a worldwide acceptance and desire to do business with Canadians, and our home-grown initiative and fortitude, are important ingredients for success.

Although international markets hold a legitimate appeal for many companies, it is not a path for the weak of heart or those with narrow vision. It is in fact hard, sometimes unrewarding work, demanding perseverance, patience, presence, partnership and guidance. But then, anyone in business will recognize these traits as prerequisites for success in any business venture. One stumbling block, when entering the global market, is that all these demands become amplified, and more crucial, as a result of the different and varying cultural and business practices encountered when leaving Canada.

Therefore, the global market requires an understanding and appreciation of different cultures. This empathy is very important and holds ever increasing relevance if Canadian businesses are to succeed and prosper in the future. As Edward T. Hall once observed: "The single greatest barrier to business success is the one erected by culture." Individuals worldwide are realizing that if they wish to remain competitive and flourish, they need to adapt to meet these new market forces, whether at home or in a foreign country.

Although being bi- or tri-lingual is important, an old Chinese proverb sums it up brilliantly: "We get sick from what we put in our mouths, but we get injured by what comes out of our mouths." Some 80% of a culture is found in its non-verbal communication. Therefore, being bi-or tri-cultural provides an understanding of the actions and beliefs of other cultures, enabling a person to be more sensitive, aware, and observant when it comes to effective communication.

Body language is a very powerful communication tool capable of producing disastrous results as people tend to act and react out of habit, developed in their own culture. Many people do not realize that their actions and body language, common and accepted in their culture, may be offensive to their foreign guest or future business associate. How would you feel if someone discussing business with you held up their hand with only the middle finger extended during the meeting?

This does not mean a person need be paranoid when conducting foreign business or attending social functions. It does, however, mean being prepared. Business is conducted in a different manner, and a concerted effort on your part must be made to understand those differences. With an understanding and empathy for the culture, misunderstandings can be avoided which may otherwise lead to the failure of the business venture.

No two individuals will behave in precisely the same manner, or attribute the same meanings to body gestures or body language. Senior management or business people you meet may have traveled abroad, but this will not always be the case. You may experience a "Western" greeting or other Western type hospitality. Remember, they are doing this out of respect for you and your culture; the least you can do is be familiar with their customs and extend the same courtesy. You will be surprised how quickly the atmosphere warms up, and how receptive your potential business allies become.

Are you still considering the growing international and foreign markets, or attempting to determine the international market potential for your product or service, but are unsure of where to start?

To reduce a company¹s uncertainty and stress, and provide valuable knowledge and expertise in expanding internationally, there are private sector companies that can assist. They can be involved in determining the best countries to target, the development of the strategic and tactical international business plan, the seeking of funds, market research, and country analysis, and introduction of potential partners, distributors or agents worldwide. These services are a beneficial investment, saving companies valuable time and money. If utilized correctly, these services can help you avoid the mistake that closes the door to the market.

Finally, it remains important to be prepared, and aware of the differences along the path to success. But, most of all be patient, keep your sense of humour, and remain receptive to the new culture and the manner in which they conduct business.

Bruce Hoggard, is President and CEO of Hoggard and Associates Inc., an international marketing and management consultancy. This Canadian company, with partners and offices throughout Asia and Europe, assists companies with their global pursuits. Bruce is a member of the Canadian and the Singapore Institutes of Marketing, is Canada¹s representative on the Asia Pacific Marketing Federation Board, and member of The Provincial Exporters Association, and the Institute of Certified Management Consultants.

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