Researching the market
Effective research comes from good preparation and planning. Recalling the principles of planning, the first step is to review the information you have and identify what gaps in your knowledge there are that you need to fill.
In assessing your export opportunities, you will have already carried out some preliminary research, which will have been sufficient to make an initial choice. However, it is extremely unlikely to have provided sufficient information to decide exactly how you are going to get into the market and precisely what approach you should take in terms of:
- tailoring the product or service to meet prospective customer needs
- setting appropriate price levels
- selling successfully against the competition
- delivering the product or service to the customer.
As you acquire market data you can start analysing it and assessing the implications for your planned market entry. At first, as you review the initial data, you may find that new questions are raised that suggest the need for additional research. Should that happen, consider whether the issue is likely to have a notable impact on the main topics under investigation. You can then decide to what extent you feel it necessary to delve deeper. For example, if you are researching competitor activity and discover that a small number of competitors appear to be changing their pricing policies, a quick but careful investigation may show it to be a minor trend in a relatively unimportant segment of the market. Thus you may feel it is best to defer action for later re-evaluation of any longer term implications once you’ve established an initial foothold in the market. Alternatively, it may be clear that the change is being initiated by the key players in your market and thus needs more detailed investigation now because it has immediate implications for the potential success of your market entry intentions.
Adopting this approach will ensure that you avoid getting side-tracked and that you keep focused on the important issues. The result is that the time and effort you spend on researching the chosen market is used more effectively.
Whilst one person’s research aims are likely to be quite different from another’s, there are some common aims which apply to all markets. Working through these should prompt you to develop a list of questions specific to your research needs.
Ultimately, your aim is to determine that there is a currently viable market that will remain so for the foreseeable future. It would be folly to enter an apparently healthy market only to find that it is killed off at a stroke by some new legislation that was in the pipeline, or some other predictable event. To avoid such problems one of your research aims should be to gather sufficient information to gain an insight into likely future developments as well as determining the current market position.
In trying to determine that a viable market exists, the main questions you need to ask are highlighted below.
||Who are the likely buyers of the product/service? What proportion will actually buy? How can you define/describe them? Where are they? How can they be contacted?|
|Customer attitudes and requirements
||Will they buy? What motivates them to buy? What benefits are they particularly looking for? How do they judge value for money? How do they want to be able to buy? How do they go about making buying decisions? Who/what plays a part in making buying decisions or can influence the decisions?|
||What is being offered at the moment and by whom? What actually sells? How are these products being sold? Where and from whom do customers buy? What do customers think of their existing suppliers and products/services? What would encourage them to switch?|
|Market size (volume and value)
||How many existing and prospective buyers are there? How often are they likely to buy? How much of each type of product is being sold? At what prices? Are prices very similar or widely different? Why? What price will buyers be willing to pay? How price sensitive is the market?|
||What is the typical supply chain like - materials suppliers; manufacturers; distribution channels; customers; end-users? Who buys what from who? How many operators are there - and who are the key players - at each stage in the supply chain? At what stage of development is the market - new, growing, well-established, declining?|
||What factors have a major influence on market development — political activity; economic trends; social issues; technological development; balance of supply and demand; market entry barriers; resource issues? How are these factors affecting the market — growth rates, trends, structure, stability, customer preferences, profitability, etc?|
||Are they any special regulations or standards to meet? What special legislation must be complied with?|
Using such a framework will enable you to compile a list of all the necessary points you want to cover. You can then use that list to produce a tabled research plan, which will help you work more efficiently, keep you focused on the key areas you have identified, and give you a basis for monitoring and reviewing progress.
Research Action Plan
|List of major competitors
||Two international companies; the rest mostly local (list and information in Competition file).|
|Quantify numbers meeting customer profile A
||Bundesamt für Statistik.
Euro Information Centre.
||750,000 - higher than expected, but need to re-check current proportion buying (see Customers file).|
|Identify most popular existing distribution channels
||DTI country desk.
|Get inflation & exchange rate forecasts
||Inflation 7% but expected to drop steadily over next three years; exchange rate expected to be stable (see Pricing file).|
Remember that the main purpose of gathering information is to enable you to make important decisions with confidence. The information you gather now is not just to help you make that first decision as to whether or not this market is an attractive proposition. It will also help when it comes to deciding what will be your overall market entry approach; what, more precisely, you will sell; what your pricing strategy will be; how you will promote and sell; and how you will deliver the products or services. In the longer term, it will also give you a basis for monitoring and measuring changes and trends in your export market.
Popular sources of export market information include:
- Trade magazines and newspapers
- Public reference libraries
- Trade associations
- Department of Trade and Industry (DTI)
- UK Trade and Investment
- British Standards Institute (BSI)
- Chamber of Commerce
- HM Revenue and Customs
- Euro Information Centres.
Making use of sources of existing information can save both time and money, but it is important to check just how up-to-date the information is. Some material can become out of date quite quickly. Also, it is unlikely that desk research alone will enable you to obtain all the information you need. At best you will obtain a good impression of what is generally happening in the market and get a feel for the overall market trends. At worst you may find there is very little information with which to work.
See it for yourself
As you gather information you will begin to build up a picture of what is happening in your chosen market. But an important question remains: What is it really like? There is only one way to find out and that is to go and take a look - a market visit.
Apart from research, there are a number of other advantages to a market visit - establishing useful contacts, the opportunity to visit potential agents or distributors, the chance to take a closer look at the competition. Some firms starting out in exporting have undertaken an initial market visit and come back with serious enquiries or sales orders. Whilst this may not be uncommon, it should be regarded as a bonus rather than the aim of a first visit. However, you do need to plan your visit to make sure you get a good return on your investment of time and money.
When you are planning a market visit, do it well in advance. Decide first what you specifically want to get out of the visit. Typically, your objectives for the market visit will stem from your research aims. The visit is an opportunity to gather first-hand information, so you should review the research to-date and pinpoint what you need to investigate while you are there. You may want to conduct interview research with representative target customers, contact possible agents or distributors, check out potential joint venture partners as well as simply getting a good feel for the business environment in the chosen country.
When you have set the objectives for the visit, draw up a list of things that you will need to do before you go and draft out a planned timetable.
Example: Visit preparation
|Obtain samples of new materials from F&P
|Make up samples in new materials
|Translation of brochures
|Translation of specification sheets
|Select target companies for research meetings
||SF & TT
|Appointments with target companies
|Appointments with Bellen & Co., Carens and Werban
|Get appointment with Commercial Dept., British Consulate
|Photography of export range
|Produce presentation kit
|Book flights, hotels, hire car
When you are planning the actual visit, produce an itinerary sheet. This will help you avoid accidentally double-booking appointments and a copy can be left with colleagues in the office while you are away in case someone needs to contact you urgently. Attention to detail is vital to the success of a visit. When setting appointments, make sure you are fully aware of the implications of travelling from one place to another. The efficiency of transport systems or the standards of roads can vary enormously from one country or region to another. Check up on public holidays in your chosen country, particularly those in the specific region which you intend to visit. Try to find out as much as you can about social and business customs - getting these wrong can create embarrassment or, worse, cause unintended offence with regrettable consequences. If you do not already speak the native language of the country/region that you will be visiting, it is worthwhile learning some - at least the common courtesies - as this will be appreciated by the people you meet.