Vendor Spotlight--How to Make a Successful Match in Europe (841
Global direct marketing is complex. You need to understand numerous variables, including currency, language, legislation, lists and postal and addressing requirements. U.S. direct marketers can share the risks and rewards of global direct marketing by partnering with a local company in the target market.
When marketing within Europe, a local partner brings its experience in the local market to the relationship, acting as an ad hoc consultant. Europe is not one country. Even though the European Union offers free trade, free movement and a commonly accepted currency, there are many internal differences.
A partner can provide local market knowledge, such as which offers and creative work best, as well as how to price and collect payment. It also can help you navigate local tariffs, taxes and import rules on product regulations. For example, a U.S. cataloger advertising a gun cupboard in its catalog learned that the United Kingdom has different restrictions on firearms and firearm accessories than the United States.
So what is the main barrier between U.S. and European integration? Perhaps it can be best summed up with this example: When Europeans say football they actually mean soccer, but when Americans say football they mean NFL.
Remember, there are more than 15 languages spoken in Europe, and it is not always possible to transcend borders, markets and cultures with something that works well in another country. A local partner can tell you what works and what doesn't.
Determine Your CriteriA
Choosing a business partner in Europe is very different from selecting a partner in the United States, and there are a number of considerations to be analyzed before making a choice.
When selecting a potential business partner you need to decide on what criteria it needs to have in order to meet your company's requirements. This may consist of criteria such as minimum turnover or the availability of specific services, such as multilingual call center representatives, if yours will be a Pan-European operation.
Just as in marriage, trust plays a critical part in the success of the relationship, particularly when your partner is thousands of miles away. And when you employ a European partner you are essentially outsourcing the care of your customer. So it's more important than ever to facilitate ease of communication.
Narrow the field
Once you have selected a list of potential partners, a comparison highlighting the pros and cons of each of their businesses will help you narrow the search. As with selecting any partner, its position and relationship within the marketplace of a given country are key, and will identify potential cost savings and any opportunities to build other business relationships.
Ease of communication is a very important factor in supporting the effectiveness of business practices. Complementary competencies, cultures and other "soft" issues may prove essential to a successful partnership. For example, if you've selected a partner, and further down the road discover you don't a share common business interest and there is no "gel" in the partnership, your business will suffer.
You also will want to investigate the scalability of a potential partner. Will it grow with you? For example, if you are using the United Kingdom as a launchpad to mainland Europe, can a U.K.-based partner support a Pan-European operation?
What's more, is it keeping up with the latest technology and keeping abreast of local legislation and regulatory issues?
Trading in the United States is very different than trading in Europe. As such, it is important to visit the location of a potential partner. Seeing is believing—you need to take a look and analyze its facilities to ensure it can handle your capacity.
Get a feel for its location within Europe and the transport infrastructure it has in place. For example, is it located beside a port? Is there access to an international airport? These are important aspects you need to consider.
Above all, make sure you are compatible. Schedule time during the visit to meet the personalities you will work with and, to some extent, the infrastructure they employ. Are there language difficulties? Can the infrastructure be aligned with your own?
There is also little rationale in selecting a business partner if its economy is unstable and there is little choice of collection systems. At the moment, currencies are different across Europe; however, this will change in 2002 as countries across Europe will start trading in the Euro. Collection payments should include convertibility and ease of exchange, inflation rates and long-term trends.
It is important to evaluate, decide and then implement. You need to thoroughly examine all dynamics within your intended market. After you have assessed the criteria essential to your business, select a business partner that fulfills a good majority of those criterion. As with making any good decision, it is essential that you first consider all your options.
Stewart Oxley is associate director of business development at prolog.uk.com, a fully integrated marketing support service provider based in the United Kingdom. He can be reached at +44 1787 884429 or by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.