The importance of writing a marketing plan, creating a marketing strategy and doing research prior to exploring foreign markets. This article is part of the U.S. Commercial Service's "A Basic Guide to Exporting".
Last Published: 11/28/2016

Selecting Initial Export Markets

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  • Writing a marketing strategy
  • Researching foreign markets
  • Methods and sources of information
With the advent of new technology companies can now sell in many different channels such as by download from a smartphone. One company who follows this model, went through a process of looking for markets where English-language learning was in high demand and where there was sufficient cell phone penetration to deliver the instruction. Popularity of payment by credit card via phone was another researchable issue. Then came research on how to reach the demographic most likely to purchase this type of instruction and the different costs of doing so.

Other companies may prefer to delay this kind of research until they have met some prospective buyers. This buyer-finding strategy is a legitimate option and doesn’t foreclose the need to conduct research on the market independent of a focus on meeting buyers. Later in the book we explore venues and cost-effective approaches for meeting qualified buyers. But first, let’s lay out a comprehensive approach to researching markets, including the kinds of data available, where to find it, and what it can tell you about where to focus your resources.

Many foreign markets differ greatly from markets in the United States. Some differences include:
  • Climatic and environmental factors
  • Social and cultural factors
  • Local availability of raw materials or product alternatives
  • Lower wage costs
  • Varying amounts of purchasing power
  • Availability of foreign exchange
  • Government import controls
Once you’ve decided that your company is able to export and is committed to it, the next step is to populate your export plan with data and insights gleaned from available sources. Chapter 2 discusses the value of a written plan and sections of the plan that can be customized to make them a valuable strategic and operational tool for growing the export side of your business. 

This last advantage is especially important. Building an international business takes time. It often takes months, sometimes even several years, before an exporting company begins to see a return on its investment of time and money. By committing to the specifics of a written plan, you can make sure that your company will finish what it begins and that the hopes that prompted your export efforts will be fulfilled.

Market Research
To successfully export your product, you should research foreign markets. The purpose is to identify marketing opportunities and constraints abroad, as well as to identify prospective buyers and customers. Market research encompasses all methods that your company may use to determine which foreign markets have the best potential for your products. Results of this research tell you:
  • The largest markets for your product and the fastest-growing markets • Market trends and outlook
  • Market conditions and practices
  • Competing companies and products

Your company may begin to export without conducting any market research if it receives unsolicited orders from abroad. A good first step is to review your current customer list; if you are engaged in e-commerce, you probably already have customers in foreign countries or have received queries from foreign buyers. These current and prospective foreign customers can be a good barometer for developing an export marketing plan. Although this type of research is valuable, your company may discover even more promising markets by conducting a systematic search.

Primary Market Research
You may research a market by using either primary or secondary data resources. When conducting primary market research, you collect data directly from the foreign marketplace through interviews, surveys, and other direct contact with representatives and potential buyers. Primary market research has the advantage of being tailored to your company’s needs and provides answers to specific questions, but the collection of such data on your own is time consuming and expensive and may not be comprehensive. The U.S. Commercial Service can collect primary data for you and help you analyze it. This service costs, on average, several hundred dollars for each market analyzed and does not require you to travel there. The U.S. Commercial Service can also help you find intermediaries with specific market expertise. 

Secondary Market Research
When conducting secondary market research, your company collects data from various sources, such as trade statistics for a country or a product. Working with secondary sources is less expensive and helps your company focus its marketing efforts. Although secondary data sources are critical to market research, they do have limitations. The most recent statistics for some countries may be more than a few years old, or the data may be too broad to be of much value to your company.
The U.S. Commercial Service can help you collect and analyze data.  We can also help you find additional partners with specific market expertise.

More Information

Market Research Planning