How to market research abroad

If you’re looking to grow your business, expanding abroad can be a very attractive option. Business publisher Crimson Business reported in 2008 that around £200bn is generated each year by exporting goods and services from the UK, so if you play your cards right, there’s success to be had. But before you head overseas, make sure to do your research to find the best markets for your business.

1. Get good advice
You’ll find comprehensive advice from the Export Marketing Research Scheme (EMRS), which is managed by the British Chambers of Commerce on behalf of UK Trade & Investment. Their advice is free, and there are government grants available of up to 50% of the cost of market research for British companies employing less than 250 people.

2. Make an informed decision
Don’t select a favourite holiday destination as a possible foreign market. This is no time for ‘gut instinct’. The EMRS advises a ‘systematic and objective’ approach. Random decision-making won’t always hit the mark and you may waste money if you don’t think carefully about which overseas market it would be most beneficial to research.

3. Get some background information
It’s also worth researching the local, regional and national newspapers, trade publications and relevant websites of the countries in which you are aiming to market your business, to get a better idea of the trading climate. You can pick out some useful facts, figures and opinions that could inform your decision. Royal Mail’s International Sales Consultants can provide free specialist advice and research to help businesses break into new markets. Call 08457 950 950 for more information.

4. Ask the experts
The EMRS advisers can help you zero in on viable markets and gather the necessary data to make a decision. This would include factors like language issues, cost of shipping and levels of development in particular countries. Use tools like the Country Desk Research Guides (Opens in a new window), which list useful research contacts in a selection of countries. Once you know where you want to expand, decide whether you want to conduct the research yourself, or commission an agency to do it for you. Getting a specialist organisation on board could work to your advantage – especially if you don’t have the time or expertise to do the work yourself.

5. Outsource the research
If you decide to go down this route, you can choose whether to appoint a UK-based agency, or one based in the country or region you’re looking to expand into. The latter could be more beneficial, as the agency might better understand your potential customers and have easier access to local information. The EMRS has agencies it can recommend to companies.

6. Write a clear brief
Maximise on an agency’s research capabilities by giving them a clear brief. This needs to include goals you’d like to achieve, levels of research, and details of the market you’re aiming to work within. This will help to iron out any discrepancies that may arise and if you’re not happy with the results, you’ll be able to point out any holes.

7. Do your own legwork
It’s worth doing some of the physical research yourself, to get a first-person perspective on the market abroad. Meeting prospective customers face to face can help give you a real sense of what you could offer and how best to do it. Use services like the EMRS to help you set up a fact-finding mission and tailor your approach and questions. There are resources on the British Chambers of Commerce website that detail a selection of foreign markets. You’ll also find contact details for people locally who might be able to help.