Secrets of Selling Stateside

Strategic planning advice from a specialist in exporting fundamentals for entrepreneurs keen on tapping the U.S. market

Written by Susanne Baillie

Looking for rock-solid advice on how to make inroads into the U.S. market, but can’t afford a high-priced consultant? Look no further. Meet Barry Brownlow, founding partner of Brownlow & Associates Chartered Accountants. For the past 20 years his Ancaster, Ont. firm has provided business-building and strategic planning advice to entrepreneurial clients keen on tapping the U.S. market. With two decades of dispensing advice behind him, here are five of Brownlow’s exporting fundamentals:

Make the border disappear: “Americans are very aware of their border. You need to do all the paperwork to make the border disappear. Dealing with you should be as seamless as dealing with a department down their own hall,” says Brownlow. “You’ll need a PhD in shipping, customs and regulations, and not just for yourself but for anyone who has responsibility to get your product from here to there.” Besides border paperwork, don’t forget to account for U.S. regulations on your product or service, from food and drugs to consumer affairs to safety.

Go big or go home: The U.S. is an extremely competitive, productive nation, says Brownlow. “Unless you’re better than the competition in the U.S. market that you choose to compete in, your potential customer will buy what they need from someone else.” Make your selling proposition unique and innovative enough to stand up against the competition; always work to reduce your costs; and deliver the goods quicker than anyone else, he says. “If you cannot meet the competition test then just stay home.”

Target, target target: “The U.S. is a big place with a lot of really good customers,” says Brownlow. “You could easily get lost and waste a lot of money.” Instead of placing a general ad in a journal and hoping someone will call as a result, spend your money wisely on targeting first. Identify who your good customers might be, then find out what those potential clients really need from you. “You’ve got to get in front of them,” he says. For example, visit their office in person or track them down at tradeshows. “Then you’ve got an idea of who you’re trying to convert to your products and services, where they’re physically located, and what you have to do to get the order.”

Have an out with foreign reps: Good foreign reps can help you learn a new market and culture and boost export sales. But remember, “It’s much easier to run into problems in a new market that you don’t understand,” warns Brownlow. “When entering contracts with people that represent you [such as local sales reps, agents or distributors], put an expiry date in that allows you to get out of your mistakes. Also include arbitration clauses to settle disputes. You probably can’t afford to settle disputes judicially and pay for lawsuits across borders.”

Put your name on everything: Even if your firm is a household name in Canada, don’t forget marketing basics in export markets. Print your name prominently on everything — not just your package or product, but also on the wrapping paper and all printed materials that accompany it. “You are not Coca-Cola,” says Brownlow. “Not everyone knows you. So make sure that if anyone who sees your product will see what he or she needs to know to contact you. And by the way, Coca-Cola puts its name on everything.”

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