Updated: Dec 25, 2020
How to enter a new international market
Why you should enter the Japanese market
How to find business partners and vendors in Japan
How to choose & work with a Japanese business agent successfully.
What is A Country Manager and How To Hire One?
Traits of a successful Country Manager
1. How to enter a new international market
When you enter a new international market, you want to gain the local insights first to determine the market opportunity. Here are things to ask yourself when you start planning to enter the new international market.
i. Define The Market
One of the greatest lesson learned from this Silicon Valley Fintech Entrepreneur was that In the beginning stage, it is all about learning the customer needs and finding the product market fit. You'll want to consider the demographics, location, and common interests or needs of your target customers. For your idea to work, the first thing you need is for other people to care about it. If you are the only potential customer for your idea, your business isn’t going to get very far. Other people need to want to buy what you’re selling. In other words, there needs to be demand for your product. This is where demand validation comes into play. Demand validation is the process of making sure that other people are willing to part with their hard-earned money to buy what you’re selling.
Here are the questions you can ask to define market demands and customers' needs.
What problem do my potential customers have? What’s the solution to that problem? Why would people pay money for my product?
Tools You can use:
1. SEO Using tools like Google’s Keyword Planner and Moz’s Keyword Explorer, you can see how many people search for specific words and phrases. You’ll want to think about what people might search for when they’re looking for solutions to the problem you’re trying to solve, so create a list of searches related to both the problem and your specific solution.
2. Create a list of places where potential customers spend their time. based on this list, come up with online communities and join the conversation. Next, take a look at online forums and other services where your potential customers might hang out and discuss problems and solutions related to what you’re doing. For example, if you’re starting a restaurant, check out Yelp and other review sites. Look for Facebook groups for foodies in your area. What are people talking about? Are they happy with the current options? If they’re not satisfied, what are they looking for?
3. Actually talk to your potential customers. Start by reaching out (phone, email, Facebook message, LinkedIn InMail, and so on) to people who are write blog posts about things related to your products/service. You can directly start conversation like:
“Hi—I really enjoyed your blog post about XXX. I especially liked [insert what you liked here].
I was wondering what you recommend to manage [insert the problem to the solution you are solving with your products/service here]. Is this a problem you have? Are there solutions that you recommend for solving this problem?
Thanks again, and keep the great blog posts coming!”
Now, not everyone will reply to you, but hopefully, you’ll get a few responses. That’s why you need to have a big list of potential contacts. If you completely strike out, you might need to go and look for new locations where your potential customers hang out, or you might need to go back and take a second look at your problem statement. It’s possible people don’t have the problem you think they have.
Of the people that do respond, you’ll get two types of responses:
“I haven’t heard of that problem and don’t have it myself.” “I know a bunch of people who have that problem. Here’s what I do to solve that problem and here’s what I tell other people to do who have that problem.” If you get a bunch of the first answer, you’re going to be headed back to the drawing board to work on your idea and come up with a new set of guesses that you need to validate.
Hopefully, you get lots of responses that fall into the second category. In that case, you’re going to want to follow up and talk more about your solution:
“Thanks for getting back to me! I’m really interested in how people manage XXX. In fact, I was thinking about building a tool for [the solution you are solving.]
I’m imagining a product where people can do x,y and z with fewer headaches.
Do you think a product like that would be interesting to you or other people in similar situations? If it cost $20 per month, do you think you might be willing to give it a try?
Thanks again for your time!
By talking to people like this, you can gain actual market insights and feedback around your product/service.
4. Finally, this can be your final test, you’ll build out a landing page for your product and buy some ads on Google and/or Facebook.Your landing page doesn’t need to be fancy, but it needs to look real.
ii. Perform Market Analysis
Expanding into new markets involves a great deal of market research in addition to target customers. You'll want to develop an in-depth understanding of market growth rates, forecasted demand, competitors, and potential barriers to entry.
Here are the questions you can ask to understand market growth rates, forecasted demand, competitors, and potential barriers to entry.
When you look at the opportunity of the market, you can think of it with Porter’s Five Forces. Porter’s Five Forces is a framework that examines the competitive market forces in an industry or segment. It helps you evaluate an industry or market according to five elements: new entrants, buyers, suppliers, substitutes, and competitive rivalry.
1. How easy is it for a new business to set up a shop?
2. How many competitors do you have who are doing the same thing you are doing?
3. How likely is it for customers to switch to alternatives?
***The industry is always competing with another industry producing a similar substitute product. Substitutes can take two forms – products with the same function/quality but lesser price, or products of the same price but of better quality or providing more utility. If there are too many companies producing substitutes, that could add to the cost and risk for your business
4.How much power do suppliers have - if any?
*** If the industry relies on a small number of suppliers, they enjoy a considerable amount of bargaining power. This can particularly affect small businesses because it directly influences the quality and the price of the final product.
5. How much power do customers have?
***The complete opposite happens when the bargaining power lies with the customers. If consumers/buyers enjoy market power, they are in a position to negotiate lower prices, better quality, or additional services and discounts. This is the case in an industry with more competitors but with a single buyer constituting a large share of the industry’s sales.
iii. Assess Internal Capabilities Much of your decision on how to enter a new market (build, buy, or partner) is driven by an internal capabilities assessment. During this stage, you should ask yourself questions like: How much of our core competencies can we leverage? Do we have sales channels/infrastructure/relationships in place?
iiii. Develop Market Entry Options Once you've selected an attractive market, you'll want to determine the appropriate level of organic investment vs. expanding through a series of acquisitions (or some combination of the two). If you have complementary infrastructure or sales channels in place, you might want to consider an organic approach to growth. If you are entering an entirely new market, with limited core assets to leverage, you should consider a joint venture/partnership, acquisition or even finding a service vendor to do your job, this is where your business agent can help finding the right service to connect! The most important thing here is to be very clear about your options around cost, risk and predictability of your act of entering the new market.
2. Why you should enter the Japanese market
Get a feeling for the size of Japan’s markets
world’s third largest GDP, Japan represents about 10% of the world’s economy
25% of the world’s high-tech products are made in Japan, 30% of all cars are made by Japanese brands
Japan’s top 8 electronics makers’ annual revenues are about as large as the economy of The Netherlands
Japan’s smart phone games sector is the world’s largest in terms of cash revenues
You’ll find more in Gerhard Fasol’s talk at Stanford University.
The following graph is "The number of foreign-affiliated firms operating in Japan and the year-to-year increase of these firms, Source: Teikoku Databank"
Reason One. With the happening of Olympics in 2021, Japan is expecting to have 3.5+ Trillion Yen from foreign visitors.
Reason Two. With the happening of Olympics in 2021, Japan is expecting to have 20 + million people visiting from outside of the country which is more than the numbers of people who visit England in a year in a regular year which will stimulate Japanese economy.
Reason Three. Economical goals in Japan is 1.boosting a domestic demand, increasing GDP and raising inflation. These goals can attain from foreign business integration and globalization which means Japan is supporting foreign investment, labors, and businesses to enter Japan.
Reason Four. You will also have access to 20+ millions of foreign travelers who are likely to spend more money during the visit
Reason Five. Yen is cheap
3. How to find business partners and vendors in Japan
So with all being said from the number 1, it is a smart thing to do to collect some data by remotely setting up the operations and sales in Japan before fully committing to the market. How? This is why you should hire a business agent like ForeignConnect.org who can help you find the right partner or local services who can conduct this initial operation on behalf of you.
What do you have to do before fully committing to expand your business in a new country? Here are 5 things you need to take care.
i. Research competitors and market pricing ii.Identify your unique value proposition to Japanese consumer iii.Create your local online presence for digital marketing iiii.Localize your brand iiiii.Take a trip to Japan to gain direct market insight
4. How to choose & work with a Japanese business agent successfully.
When you take care of the 5 things above, it is much faster and cheaper to hire local services ( such as marketing agencies ) and consultants to get the job done. This is because the local services would have already established network and instant access to their industry resources including knowledge and experiences. You can save time and hundreds and thousands of money by hiring local services and consultants. You can ask place like Jetro, Japan External Trade Organization (日本貿易振興機構) is an Independent Administrative Institution established by Japan Export Trade Research Organization as a nonprofit corporation and later became a government backed organization that helps Japan-international business relationships of all time. They can connect outside companies to potential partners. You can also check resource at place like Digima.com ( international business portal site that introduces and connects Japanese & American businesses.) These are all good places to go, but these places are just business agents who introduce you to the potential business partners in Japan. They do not have the after-support. When you choose an agent to work with, you want to make sure few things including:
+ Your partner should have good communication skills to help you grow your business. Bilingualism is also important. + Developing relationships in Japan takes a long time. One advantage of hiring a partner is that you can utilize the breadth and depth of their business network. If you find a partner that has done extensive cross-cultural work, they should have a valuable network that you can tap into by partnering. + Your partner should have some industry track record in your area of business as well as experience working with both US and Japanese companies.
On top of all that it is 100 plus points, if the agency can give you an on-going additional support for project / vendor management between US-Japan business dynamics by managing and organizing the communications between the two parties and making reports on the work routinely like ForeignConnect does.
Now after you do the initial data collection and come to some sort of conclusion about the market, you have the decision to make between if you want to pursue the market or you shouldn't. You can decide this by asking yourself the following questions.
1. Is the solution I am providing perceived as a problem in this market? if so, how painful is the problem perceived?
2. Are they willing to pay money for the solution I am providing and how much ?
3. Is there any other angle or a way to communicate what problem I am solving for them in this country?
4. How was the growth of the online marketing? Is there big enough market for the particular product or service I am offering to begin with? etc...
Your questions should change obviously case by case and should be crafted specifically referring your business situation. When you know answers to these questions, and have some idea in how you want to further plan your expansion in Japan, it is a time to hire a country manager!
5. What is A Country Manager and How To Hire One?
The primary role of a Country Manager is to oversee the operations of a company’s affiliate in a particular country or region. Country Managers oversee logistics, develop new business and ensure profitability. They are responsible for managing overall operations, recruiting staff and creating budgets. Country Managers also develop and submit weekly, monthly or quarterly performance and progress reports to company headquarters.
Country Managers are employed in any type of industry that is experiencing global expansion. A Country Manager is essentially an executive position; according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment growth rate for all executives is 8% over the 2014-2024 period. This growth rate varies from industry to industry and is directly impacted by expansion rates and the need for operations managers and other executives to oversee expanded organizations.
Country Manager Duties and Responsibilities
Develop Operational Plans
From communications to warehousing, it is up to Country Managers to ensure that all aspects of a business operate smoothly. They ensure that a business’s in-country affiliate adheres to all country regulations and cultural guidelines. They also develop plans for company growth and improvement of sales.
Implement Brand Strategies
Country Managers are responsible for building a company’s brand in a specific country or region. They devise advertising and promotional plans and are involved in product positioning and global brand marketing development.
Generate Progress Reports
Country Managers continually assess company progress, sales and marketing successes and compile reports to submit to superiors in corporate headquarters. They present reports regarding budgets, sales growth or declines, new business leads and regulatory compliance.
Recruit and Train Staff
It is typically up to Country Managers to oversee the hiring and training of staff in a particular region. Country Managers can be involved in staff selection, training development, scheduling and ongoing professional development of employees.
Traits of a successful Country Manager
Having gone over the mistakes you should take care to avoid making when hiring a Country Manager, we can now look at some character traits you should look for when screening a candidate. It is difficult to find the absolute best person as your Country Manager, but the person you need is someone who can drive your business successfully in Japan, and the following skills and character traits are crucial to this success.
The candidate is able to understand and apply both Japanese and Western thinking in their work Understanding both Japanese and Western cultures is very important. The candidate should be sensitive to the needs of the Japanese market but also understand the culture and beliefs of their Western counterparts. The work of a Country Manager is bridging a foreign business and making it work in the Japanese market, so the candidate needs to be in touch with both sides of the spectrum.
Self-starter This trait is more difficult to find in Japan, but it’s important to hire somebody who takes the initiative and has a vision. The candidate should be able to prioritize well and take action on their own.
Strong business and personal network in Japan Especially as a startup or at the early stages of global expansion, a strong network is a very helpful feature to have for a Country Manager.
Capable of developing business roadmaps, sales policies and strategies Since these are key responsibilities of a Country Manager, it’s important to make sure the candidate is not only capable but excels in these areas. Capable of sales, marketing and training All of these are important skills the Country Manager should have. Sales and marketing for growing the business, but also training experience for growing the team. Identifies problems and solves them A good Country Manager can identify problems and solve them. In the interview, you should ask the candidate what kind of problems he or she has encountered in their previous work and how they solved it. Team leader Being a self-starter is good, but Country Managers should also be good at sharing and delegating responsibilities effectively instead of hoarding all the work and taking credit. There’s always a lot to do and prioritizing and delegating properly is key. Good Country Managers should be able to make the right decisions on whether he or she has to delegate internally or externally.
*** Speaking of delegation, you can use "The 7 Levels of Delegation" followed by the rule below: Tell: I will tell them Sell: I will try and sell it to them Consult: I will consult and then decide Agree: We will agree together Advise: I will advise but they decide Inquire: I will inquire after they decide Delegate: I will fully delegate
Learn More at Management 3.0 (https://youtu.be/VZF-G7MCSG4)
Capable of connecting with all levels of Japanese industry associations Joining and connecting with members of Japanese industry associations can be a very effective way to support expansion into the Japanese market. This is another reason why the Country Manager needs to be someone who fits into Japanese culture and knows the market inside and out; they may not be native English speakers but as long as they’re fluent enough to communicate, knowledge of their local market has more weight.
Again, it’s very difficult to find someone who fits all of the above criteria, and if you ever meet a candidate and find that they don’t have everything stated above, do not write them off immediately. A candidate’s passion, ideas and vision may make up for the missing skills and experiences. However, because finding the right Country Manager takes time and money, and you need to build a team and scale your business in Japan quickly, finding a partner like ForeignConnect in the meantime is a great way to enter the Japanese market smoothly while you take your time to find the right candidate. ForeignConnect will help you from the start to the end of the process of testing in the Japanese market to helping the new country development with or on behalf of your Japan country manager. You can achieve your business result faster and cheaper by partnering with a local agency like ForeignConnect so you can ✔️ Have an instant access to industry network & experiences ✔️ Have an instant access to knowledgable experts about local business employee laws ✔️ Support to set up local operation smoothly ✔️ Training to learn the local communication and business culture So when you partner with us, you can do the following without a headache. Step 1: ( Entering The Market) i. Research competitors and market pricing ii. Identify your unique value proposition to Japanese consumer iii. Create your local online presence for digital marketing iiii. Localize your brand iiiii. Take a trip to Japan to gain direct market insight Step 2: ( Expanding Operation) i. Develop Operational Plans ii. Implement Brand Strategies iii. Generate Progress Reports iiii. Recruit and Train New Staff
Also See: Direct to Consumer Brands Entering in Japan
Foreign Connect Helping Japanese companies launch businesses in America & American companies to launch in Japan
🚀 Check Out ForeignConnect Podcast ( Podcast talks about digital transformation, How to start a business abroad & How to Sell abroad) 🖊️ (https://www.foreignconnect.org/podcasts)
🔗 Find out all the resources to start a business abroad 🔗 (https://www.foreignconnect.org/resources)
View The Data Center (https://www.foreignconnect.org/data-center)
Read More Blogs (https://www.foreignconnect.org/blog)