| DECEMBER 30, 1999
By Karen E. Klein
Q: I am familiar with marketing in many foreign countries because of the experience I gained through my previous job. How can I find listings of small- and family-based business owners in the U.S. who have developed technology-based products? I would like to help them find export markets for their products.
---- V.S., Los Angeles
A:A: While you may indeed have valuable expertise and advice, experts say that your target market small tech exporters may be tough to crack. The number of small- and family-owned U.S. businesses interested in exporting high-tech products is not likely to be huge, especially given the size of the home market. "Tech-based products are not exactly a cottage industry," says Melody Kean Haller, president of the Antenna Group, Inc., a San Francisco-based public relations firm. "Small businesses and family-owned businesses are far more likely to offer services than products, and services are far harder to export, except of course via the Internet."
Just finding your clients will be a challenge. First, refine your search: How small are the companies you want to reach? "By some definitions, small is under 100, but others go as high as 500 employees or as low as one," says Sylvia Rose, president of Client/Member Services, a marketing firm based in Santa Monica, Calif. You also need to define very precisely what you mean by "technology-based" products, Rose says. Computer hardware? Software? Telecommunications technology? Your marketing plan should list all the reasons why you want to target this market and define what your clients will most of whom are unwilling or unable to spend money without a guaranteed return that exporting in general and your expertise in particular will greatly improve their bottom line.
Once you've defined who you want to reach, head for the places where your potential customers congregate. There are industry publications targeted to almost every business niche. There are numerous industry associations that cater to small businesses, family-owned businesses, technology businesses, and import/export businesses. Check them out on the Internet (good lists can be found at www.asaenet.org and at www.ipl.org/ref/AON), through the Small Business Administration (www.sba.gov), or in private business databases such as Standard & Poor's (www.standardpoor.com) and Dun & Bradstreet (www.dnb.com).
If you're going to start by targeting a particular geographic area perhaps close enough that you can meet with your first clients in person contact your local chamber of commerce, Rotary and Kiwanis clubs, and business associations. These groups may provide you with their membership lists as well as advertising and trade-show opportunities. Or you may be able to add your services to a roster of others that these groups offer small businesses.
The Web is a gold mine for marketers seeking direct-mail and e-mail lists, says Meg Goodman, a partner at PCG, Inc., a Naperville, Ill.-based marketing firm. "There are several good and reputable companies that have sites where initial data searches can be done to see where and how many applicable businesses there are out there," Goodman says. You'll want business-to-business data. Research thoroughly to find the right list for your time and budget. Start with www.postmasterdirect.com for opt-in e-mail campaigns. Buy your list as close to your mailing date as possible, since business-to-business lists change daily. Goodman says direct mail has a number of advantages: It "can be targeted, the message tailored to the recipient, and return-on-investment determined." It's also reasonably priced when done correctly.
Goodman says she urges her clients to think through the following before they launch their marketing campaigns: How will you respond to inquiries? How soon? (The rule of thumb is within 10 days of the response to the mailing.) What will you send someone who responds?
What are the next five steps you will take to pursue the prospect? How will you record who responded, when, their questions, and the time and costs associated with turning them into a customer? "The absolute worst thing I believe that can be done to a marketing effort is to not be prepared for its success," Goodman says.
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