14th July, 2020
Brexit V COVID-19
As we struggle with the ongoing effects of COVID-19 and begin to really get to grips with the fact that it is a global issue hitting different countries at different times with different consequences, how should the UK as a whole, and indeed any business individually, approach the future of its export sales?
This is an important issue for the UK in particular as not only is it dealing with the issues of Covid19 but also that resurrected word BREXIT! Brexit is still potentially a huge opportunity for UK businesses as it lifts the horizons far beyond the limited comfortable EU-protected environment and focusses on potentially highly profitable global markets.
In essence, the basic rules of engagement with international export have not changed if you want to trade outside the EU:
- Look for new opportunities
- New Markets
- Thorough research and due diligence
But have recent events caused the route to market to change? During COVID-19 nearly 90% of sales activity has been through videoconferencing and web sales. As a result of the impact of Coronavirus, the questions we should perhaps be asking are whether B2B or direct-to-consumer customer expectations have changed, what their future buying processes might look like – and of course, how will competitors be manipulating their own business models (if at all).
Businesses will need to look at different markets and specific sectors, and review their products rather than relying on assumptions from a pre-COVID-19 world, and review its international sales strategy accordingly.
A good example of this is that we have seen a monumental shift to e-commerce across all sectors, and, while that may abate a little as restrictions ease, it’s unlikely to be reversed.
But, along with all the other Brexit Issues in regard to the EU, UK-based manufacturers should consider whether their products can be delivered by online sales, and if not whether they can be modified.
Customer expectations are now more geared to online facilities such as Video conference meetings, video demonstrations, digital interactive brochures and interactive sales techniques.
Remote selling is either conducted directly by web sales or video conferencing – allowing the exchange of information between customer and the seller, made locally by the use of local representatives supported by direct selling techniques or through an online market place such as Amazon, itself localising transactional behaviour.
E-commerce incorporates not only the end sale but of course the route to market, the sales strategy, communication and exchange of information. It allows a direct conversation between producer/manufacturer and end consumer – in many cases, this hadn’t previously been tested. But it’s also important to remember that an eCommerce-enabled website is merely a tool in the process and not the sales strategy in itself.
Each channel has benefits and drawbacks but it’s really important to understand what direct competitors will be doing, how that will affect your ability as a business to penetrate a market and what will be the cost/profitability consequences. Also, remember to review whether the current customer trend is permanent or temporary; knee jerk reactions to short term trends can be costly.
This shift in buyer expectations may seem to be an added burden for businesses but for those that are looking to go into the global market place, it may have actually come at exactly the right time for those that are in a position to embrace those changes. Digital distribution is unlikely to be the entire solution but there is little doubt that the route to international sales has changed, along with customer expectations, and could, in turn, become more accessible to more businesses in future.
All of this, of course, emphasises the need for a strategic plan to underpin the ambitions of business that should be carefully thought through and placed within a workable and sustainable legal framework.
Stuart J Haynes
Corporate and Commercial
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