Assessment? Check! Your strategy? All mapped out. You've also already determined your target market. But you've still got some way to go before you can cross borders... Some 'required stops'.
You're fully convinced of the benefits of internationalisation by now. You see it as an important lever for the growth of your business. But it's a process that doesn't happen overnight and is the result of a long decision-making process. You've carried out a preliminary assessment of your options before venturing into foreign markets. A checklist and initial indispensable considerations, so to speak, to find out whether the project was worthwhile. You then considered the choice of the most appropriate strategy for your business... You considered direct solutions such as e-commerce or commercial distribution. Or perhaps more sustainable establishment models, such as opening a branch or subsidiary, implementing synergies through a joint venture or a merger acquisition. This decision is based on a thorough analysis of the situation specific to your organisation. This approach often requires meticulous guidance. You will have also determined your target market during this process, which is a very important step. Your project's success now depends on the implementation of an action plan. And this phase inevitably brings with its new considerations and decisions...
NO SUCH THING AS ONE SIZE FITS ALL
In any case, your plan depends on your internationalisation strategy. The launch of an e-commerce platform or the choice of an intermediary imposes different requirements – in terms of due diligence obligations, financial resources or the definition of the target market, for example – than a merger acquisition. What's more, every merger-acquisition process is unique. What does this mean? That each adventure requires a tailor-made approach that considers the specific characteristics of your company, your products or services, your sector, your competitors, your added value, and more. Furthermore, the mapping of your international growth will be highly influenced by the characteristics of the target market. No magic formula then? Correct, but we do point out some common 'required stops' that deserve your attention.
1. The 'local' considerations
France is not Belgium. And Belgium is not Germany and certainly not Japan or Brazil. Each country has specific characteristics that shouldn't be taken lightly. It's more than 'folklore'! These are real 'keys' that you must assess correctly in order to make a difference. Numerous (internationally renowned) companies have come to grief while trying to do this. It's another commercial reality that can have a major impact on your action plan:
- Cultural codes and language
- Relationships with partners
- Corporate culture
- Consumer habits and expectations
- Do’s and don'ts
- Don't lose sight of the regulatory aspects: they're essential!
Note that a product that is successful in the domestic market will be perceived differently elsewhere. It will prompt you to take certain preliminary actions: call in experts from the country in question, carry out a more in-depth market study, participate in more local trade fairs, etc.
2. Adaptation of your commercial range
An important reflection that causes you to reassess a series of parameters:
From a commercial point of view: do your products and services meet the target group's specific needs? Does your range satisfy the previously identified needs? Is it sufficiently appealing? How will you position yourself? Does the quality meet the local standards? And so on.
From a legal point of view: the key question is whether you comply with the local market's regulatory or administrative requirements. Do you need special certifications? Do you have to comply with specific technical obligations? And so on.
You must answer these questions to determine whether your market access strategy is ready in all respects: marketing and communication, value proposition, distribution methods, logistics chains, payment methods, etc. Not to mention your pricing policy. It may show that you need to make some adjustments at the production, distribution or commercial level.
3. Choice of partner
This isn't an easy task. Whatever your internationalisation project, this point plays a key role. You therefore need to set very clear objectives, missions and criteria that will serve as a guide to identify, prequalify and select the best local partners. The risk – and therefore the importance – of this approach is even greater in the case of a merger acquisition. A long-lasting marriage that must not fail... You will therefore need resources and time to complete your due diligence process.
4. You still have a way to go...
The following steps are no less important. We can give you the following tips in the meantime:
- Carryout a thorough risk analysis.
- Prepare a budget for your expansion project and ensure you work out several scenarios, because you can always come up against surprises. Consider the fiscal context and the local market's specifications (infrastructure costs, employment costs, etc.).
- Plan distribution and transport circuits.
- Prepare a detailed schedule for your project's roll-out.
Internationalisation: which strategy should you apply?
Conquering international markets is an indispensable growth lever for companies. Such a project can take different forms or follow different paths: from e-commerce to mergers and acquisitions.
International expansion can be an important growth factor for your company and an undeniable source of opportunities – both commercially and in terms of innovation or resilience. After a complete assessment of your current situation, an inevitable question follows: which strategy should you apply to realise your project? There's no magic formula or mapped-out path: in reality, you often adopt a wide-ranging approach based on various strategies. Nevertheless, we do see some broad outlines. And each has its own strengths and limitations. Whatever you decide, your choice should fit into an overall thinking and be in line with the current situation and the future of your business. The objective? Increasing your chances of success and keeping the risks under control as much as possible.
1. Direct and indirect export
This is naturally one of the most widely used strategies for conquering foreign markets. You can sell your products abroad through one or more channels:
- E-commerce: E-commerce is a fast and accessible solution to get 'far' with limited resources. Internet sales have grown very strongly in recent years but have a significant impact on the logistical workload. This includes not only technology and conformity, but also the commercial aspect. You are far from your target market and must deal with competitors from all over the world, while the internet knows no borders – and that's both an asset and an obstacle.
- A local intermediary: A gamble without too many risks, because you make use of the power of local sales – your agent delivers the customer's orders locally and you transfer them. The only thing left to do is to decide how to distribute your products. In this regard, it's important that you make full use of your knowledge of the foreign market. Think, for example, of consumers' consumption habits and expectations. Although this approach does not require major investments (payments on commission), it isn't entirely without risk. The success of your project is entirely in the hands of your local contact, leaving you to count on that partner's reliability.
- Commercial distribution: A similar approach to conquering the international market. This strategy can be implemented quickly and is the result of cooperation with independent distributors who are based in your target area. They buy the goods and then sell them, enabling you to benefit from their expertise and network. Unlike the intermediary, this distributor takes several tasks off your hands (invoicing, collection, marketing costs or import costs). Choosing the right partners and determining the terms of the contract is no easy task. After all, your project's success depends on it...
- Transfer of patents or technology: This is a way to make your know-how or technology pay off, not your products. This transfer of skills gives a foreign entity the right to use your methods or innovation within the framework of a previously established contract (geographical area, duration, etc.). An opportunity to go international where you 'outsource' production, sales and distribution. Contract preparation is one of the stumbling blocks of this approach.
2. Local establishment
Another model for internationalisation is to establish your business abroad. This means that you go local: you establish your entire value chain in another country, or you produce, distribute or sell your products there yourself. This geographical approach necessarily requires greater investment, but it also gives you more clout. This approach is also a way of reinforcing your resilience: the financial and commercial risks, as well as the pressure on your value chain, are spread over several areas. Over the years, a more flexible approach has also been introduced, allowing companies to move more flexibly in line with the international situation. Various options are also available here:
- Subsidiary or branch: In both cases, it's a matter of establishing a firm and lasting foothold in the local market. However, the project requires a solid foundation and a long-term vision. You should also think carefully about the legal status: do you opt for a subsidiary or for a branch? Consequently, when making this decision, take into account various factors: the degree of autonomy, the desired degree of decentralisation or consultation, the legal and tax implications, whether or not to produce locally (to take advantage of cheaper raw materials, for example), the financial resources that you can mobilise, and so on. In any case, a perfect lever for applying the well-known formula 'think globally, act locally'.
- International joint venture: This principle is based on the creation of synergies. Your company joins a company that already has a local presence and both companies complement each other. Each company benefits from the other's strengths while sharing the activity's risks, control and common costs. Such a joint venture or partnership often requires a customised legal structure. As you can see, a joint venture is not an easy marriage. It's therefore crucial that you find the right partner and come to an agreement with them concerning each party's input and responsibilities.
- Merger or acquisition: This growth strategy offers a few advantages. What's the greatest advantage? A merger or acquisition is a method of consolidating and diversifying your business. It's also a 'quick' way to conquer a new market by exploiting the local company's competitive advantages (technological, commercial, etc.). Such a project naturally entails not only potential benefits, but also risks. For example, you may misjudge the sources of value creation or the risks, or have difficulty integrating.
As you can see, your international project's success depends on many factors. And, first and foremost, on your own strategic choices and your ability to develop a clear vision of exactly what you want to achieve. From the development of a commercial partner network to a sustainable local presence, there are many options that deserve not only thorough consideration, but also professional guidance.
A full 'assessment' before you go abroad
We can no longer deny the benefits of internationalisation. But is your business ready for it? A thorough assessment to measure your project's success is therefore a must before you cross the border.
Just because your business is doing well in our country doesn't mean that you can just jump into the export market. An international breakthrough is an important strategic (and necessary) choice that requires extensive preparation. The first step is to take a detailed look at the state of affairs of your company. Because that way you can:
- Highlight your strengths and success factors: a specific skill, your expertise, your brand image, etc.;
- Identify your weaknesses: both internal (poor knowledge of the target market, need for funding, etc.) and external factors;
- Prepare your structure for 'new' demands: in terms of human resources and in financial, organisational, legal or commercial terms;
- Draw up your roadmap: make the necessary changes, maximise your assets and find the right solutions for your weaknesses.
A COMPLETE TOOLKIT
Such an assessment is not market research in the literal sense of the word, although some elements will eventually overlap or complement one another. The assessment should also enable you to gain insight into existing opportunities (competitive advantage, commercial trends, etc.) and threats (changes in legislation, major competition, etc.). To do that, you must be able to look at your foreign target group with the necessary distance.
There are many tools for this. Examples include the SWOT analysis, Porter's five forces model, the Boston Consulting Group matrix or the PESTEL analysis to measure the influence of macro-environmental factors. So, feel free to use those tools, but also remember the importance of step-by-step guidance.
A MUCH-NEEDED SELF-ANALYSIS
Give attention to different elements. To achieve a relevant assessment, you must also find answers to a series of important questions:
- Create your 'identity card'
Take an unbiased look at your organisation. What are your values, culture, references, image, etc.? How are you perceived by others? Does your positioning match your identity? Through these questions, you'll also gain insight into the reasons for your successes and failures on the international market. It's interesting to repeat the positive points and learn from your mistakes.
- Analyze your position on the domestic market
Take stock of your commercial position. Examine the evolution of your recent results and your weighting in your segment (market share, competition, degree of dependency, etc.). Find out what stage your products and services are in (launch, growth, saturation or decline). Next, you can consider your market's prospects and future: how will it evolve? A very important question at a time where the challenges of the sustainable transition are radically changing many sectors.
- Assess your products and services
Each country has its own specific obligations and standards. So, ask yourself whether your products and services are 'compliant', both commercially and legally. Perhaps you need to adapt them? Or maybe your production or delivery method needs to change (e.g. to respect the cold chain and guarantee reasonable delivery times)? In other words, are you ready for the step from a commercial point of view?
- Lay bare your capabilities
If you want to conquer foreign markets, you must be able to cope with that growth rate on an operational level as well. Can you increase or adapt your production capacity to the new demand? Are you ready for that in terms of supply and logistics? Also take into consideration the reliability of your partners and suppliers. And don't forget that your inventory will increase, and you must also have guarantees in that regard as well.
- Examine your financial situation carefully
Going international means a big investment for your company. So, take a close look at your finances and see whether you have enough funds to bring the project to a successful conclusion. You need these resources, for example, to launch commercial initiatives locally (while waiting for the first revenues), to 'transform' your company in the necessary areas, to support your activity in your own country or to recruit additional staff.
- Carry out an analysis in the area of human resourcesTo export, you need qualified and skilled staff (production, sales teams, communication, after-sales service, R&D, etc.). You may also need to train staff or recruit new talent with international experience. Although internationalisation can be an extra motivation for your employees, it will also require additional efforts from them. So, don't lose sight of the 'human' factor either!
This complete audit of your structure gives you everything you need to make the right choices. Have you got the commercial strengths, the human and financial resources, the operational capabilities and the necessary experience to take the step? Do you need some extra support to adjust certain parameters? Or are you postponing the launch to find the right solutions for some weak spots? The adventure can begin once you're ready!
Sustainable Future Forum: Belgium as a hub for green hydrogen and the role of the EU
Belgium has strong assets as an industrial and logistics hub for green hydrogen in Western Europe. Entrepreneurs, bankers and the European Union discuss the challenges and opportunities.
At the global BNP Paribas Sustainable Future Forum on 18 October 2022, held at the auditorium of BNP Paribas Fortis' new Brussels headquarters, 5 experts discussed the European Union's contribution to the full roll-out of green hydrogen. Belgium’s strategic role as an industrial hydrogen hub for Western Europe also emerged in the debate.
Hydrogen, a link in the decarbonisation of the economy
Green hydrogen is produced by electrolysis of water with renewable energy. The EU considers green hydrogen as a key lever to providing clean, affordable and safe energy in the transition to a lower CO2-emitting economy. Harnessing the potential of sustainable H2 is both promising and complex. Nevertheless, with the situation in Ukraine, high inflation and the energy crisis, we have a momentum we can use to accelerate that transition.
The role of the EU: co-regulating and co-financing
Europe supports the roll-out of green hydrogen mainly in two areas. First of all, the European Union is working on clear market and industry regulation. For example, sustainability quotas for transport and industry can boost the market. In addition, legal certainty is very important to attracting private investors to urgently build out many high-tech infrastructures.
The EU taking the lead with concrete actions and project financing. This does not detract from the fact that around 40% of private investment is required. These funds should be relatively easy to access, as they are actually small amounts compared to the current investments in conventional fuels. Companies such as Engie and DEME are already financing large projects and are prepared to do even more if a long-term perspective is available. Sufficient incentive is required so that demand also increases on the user side, too. Achieving all goals requires cooperation between all stakeholders, both inside and outside the Union.
Belgium's assets as a hub for sustainable molecules
In Europe, we remain dependent on countries that can produce sustainable hydrogen cheaply. It is therefore of strategic importance to diversify the supply of hydrogen and other sustainable molecules. Belgium has many assets for import and export, storage and processing of green hydrogen as a hub for Western Europe.
Belgium is centrally located in a stable region and has large ports serving the hinterland. In addition, our country already has a strong CO2 and H2 network and benefits from offshore capacity with its location in the North Sea.
Hydrogen infrastructure financing
For the financing of hydrogen, we can draw a strong parallel with the early years of offshore wind power. At that time, we also had a lot of questions, but today the framework for wind power is clear. Hydrogen will go through the same evolution. As soon as there is a level playing field, investments will follow. To this end, BNP Paribas Fortis can offer well-known financial products.
The five speakers represent the European Commission, science, an H2 producer from the maritime sector, the energy industry and finance.
Hydrogen and Innovation Policy Officer at the EU Commission (DG CLIMA: Directorate-General for Climate Action)
Professor at University of Antwerp & holder BNP Paribas Fortis Chair Transport, Logistics and Ports
General Manager Hydrogen at DEME (dredging, land reclamation, offshore energy)
Solutions and Partnerships Manager at ENGIE
Energy, Resources and Infrastructure at BNP Paribas Fortis
CO2 Value fully commits to a carbon-free economy
From sustainable footpaths to fashionable dress to sophisticated e-fuel. At their annual meeting, CO2 Value, a partner organisation of BNP Paribas Fortis, illustrated very concretely how carbon capture and utilisation can help defossilise the economy.
It’s simple, in fact. Forests and oceans can absorb CO2 that is released. But fossil fuel combustion, industry and land use create so much CO2 that nature can no longer handle that absorption. The result is global warming. So we need to reduce CO2 emissions and use more renewable energy. That solution is unfortunately less straightforward in practice, although there are already many promising technologies to accelerate decarbonisation. And that is exactly what CO2 Value Europe is working towards.
Circular carbon economy
CO2 Value Europe, a partner organisation of BNP Paribas Fortis, is an inter-professional organisation representing the Carbon Capture & Utilisation (CCU) community in Europe. It strives for a circular carbon economy. It seeks alternative ways and technologies to capture CO2 and then recycle it into usable sustainable raw materials for fuels, chemicals and building materials, among others.
Crash course in CCU
The audience at this year's sixth edition of CO2 Value's annual meeting was just a little more diverse than usual. Besides members, interested companies and clients of BNP Paribas Fortis were also able to attend the meeting. And they did so in large numbers. Carbon capture and utilisation is a hot topic. A lot of companies are facing a sustainable transition and want to decarbonise. Attendees were given a crash course in 'What is CCU?', but it was mainly the concrete applications that really appealed.
VITO, a Flemish independent research organisation in the field of cleantech and sustainable development, gave an example of how CO2 mineralisation can make the construction sector more sustainable. This technology not only leads to lower CO2 emissions, but permanently stores carbon dioxide in valuable products such as bricks and many other building materials. In Ghent, for example, there is already a footpath made of sustainable bricks.
Dress to impress
CCU can also make a difference in the fashion sector, LanzaTech proves. They convert carbon waste into sustainable fuels, fabrics, packaging and other products that people use in their daily lives. One of these is a synthetic fibre to make clothes that are sustainable without sacrificing anything in terms of comfort or style.
Fossil fuels remain a major source of CO2. With the Colombus project, Engie, Carmeuse and John Cockerill are joining forces. They are developing an alternative fuel that will help decarbonise industry and the transport sector. CO2 released during lime production is captured by Carmeuse and then combined with green hydrogen from Engie. Based on this, John Cockerill produces carbon-neutral synthetic methane or e-methane via electrolysis as an alternative to fossil fuels. This is a great example of a circular carbon economy.
As a partner from the very beginning, BNP Paribas Fortis is 100% behind CO2 Value's mission. Sustainability is in the bank's DNA, so we certainly encourage a new circular and industrial value chain. As a banker, we take our responsibility seriously and are happy to help develop innovative solutions that make our economy more resilient and sustainable.
Want to know more? Visit the CO2 Value Europe website.