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Dec. 21, 2004

Although Simon C. Bensimon, a founding partner of the Avico Group, a Potomac, Md., consulting firm that helps small and midsized U.S. companies enter export markets, likes to look at the specifics of individual business situations, he does suggest four business principles that promise to increase the chances of success beyond U.S. borders. 1. U.S. first. Because the U.S. market is markedly different from foreign markets, manufacturing for a foreign market from day one "is seldom advisable." It's better to launch a product in the U.S. while "keeping in mind that eventually you do want to launch it overseas." 2. Enter wisely. A foreign foray can take any of several forms: direct export, a licensing agreement, a distributorship, a joint venture, a partnership, or a strategic alliance. Consider how much control of marketing you want, how much cost you're willing to bear, how much risk you're willing to take, and what local regulations will allow. For instance, some countries, eager for American technology, will insist on a licensing agreement. Other nations will designate a local distributor. 3. Focus on the customer's needs. In business-to-business marketing each customer must be treated individually. In so-called transactional sales -- such as the selling of desk lamps -- price and ease of acquisition are more important than a continuing, personal relationship. In contrast, when a customer is buying a product to solve a problem -- a so-called consultative sale -- being close and identifying the customer's unique needs are essential. 4. Don't abandon traditional market channels. While the Internet provides an intriguing, low-cost, new way to enter foreign markets, small and midsized companies should not abandon distributorships and other traditional market channels. Generally, Bensimon advises, a customer who's buying a solution to a specific problem and needs individual attention isn't best served on the 'Net.

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