A December 2001 study by Forrester Research predicts that global online trade will swell to $12.8 trillion by 2006, with North America leading the charge. That's nothing to sneeze at. What if you woke up one morning and decided that you would do anything to sell your product or service in the online global marketplace? Whatever it takes. No exceptions. How far are you willing to go?

Take your cue from Madonna. Highly photogenic but not conventionally beautiful, she started out with a package of catchy dance-club pop tunes and crisp concert choreography, just like a thousand other acts. But she didn't stop there. She exposed her navel, wore underwear as outerwear, took off her clothes for the camera, and made her private life very, very public. She teased her audience with hints and rumors of scandalous affairs: with the opposite sex, with the same sex, with movie stars and rock stars. She SHOCKED HER CUSTOMERS -- and kept them coming back for more. Twenty-plus years after her debut, Madonna -- sultry entertainer, movie diva and mother of two kids -- continues to redefine herself. She is the queen of creativity and a global marketing phenomenon.

Global marketers can learn from Madonna without going to the same extremes. There are lots of little ways to shock your customers and make them take notice of you and your product, online or off. All it takes is a little spontaneity and determination.

6 Tips To Shock Your Global Customers

1. Show them your superior quality control. On the morning that my first sale to an Australian client was ready for loading, I got up early and drove to the plant, 35mm camera in tow. I took a number of digital photos of the hand-loading of the product. I thought this would be an excellent way to monitor procedures, show interest and demonstrate that everything was handled with care. I e-mailed the pictures off to the customer so that they would arrive before the goods. He immediately e-mailed back to say that he had never had a supplier go to such trouble to ensure safe handling of his merchandise. SHOCK YOUR CUSTOMER. Do something better than any of your competitors, and make sure your customer knows it.

2. Beat the odds and be there. A Japanese customer visited me in Chicago and asked me to accompany him on a tour of a supplier's facilities in Boston -- on a day's notice. It's standard procedure to accompany your customer to the supplier's plant, so I immediately got online to get tickets for myself. Lo and behold, there were no seats to be had! My customer said it was not a problem, and that he would make the trip alone. Then I checked another site and found that they had a red-eye at 4 a.m. I booked the flight, but decided not to tell the customer. I arrived at the plant much, much earlier than his appointment time. You should have seen the look on his face when he showed up! He thought I had to be too good to be true. We've been in business ever since. SHOCK YOUR CUSTOMER. Take extraordinary measures to demonstrate your commitment and professionalism, and they'll be back for more.

3. Stay cool and go with the flow. On my last visit to Japan, a prospective customer picked me up in his motorcar, a vehicle very much like a slow-moving motorcycle. It turned out that he didn't know I was a woman, and he looked a little dismayed when he saw me in my business suit and high heels. I didn't hesitate. I jumped right on and smoothed over the awkwardness by making polite chat about the weather. That man is now a regular customer, and trusts my business advice implicitly. SHOCK YOUR CUSTOMER. Be understanding and adaptable, and don't let inevitable embarrassments and misunderstandings get in the way of building a business relationship.

4. A Journey of a thousand miles begins with a good map. When leaving for an appointment with a prospective customer in China, I went to the hotel concierge for directions on how to get there by train. I took a cab to the station, took one train for awhile, changed to another, got off and walked for a mile or so before picking up a cab for the rest of the trip. It took about two and a half hours. When I finally arrived, a bit rumpled but nonetheless on time, my customer asked how I'd gotten there. I told him, and to my surprise he responded, "So you've visited China many times?" "No," I told him, "this is my first trip." He was immediately impressed. It hadn't occurred to me, but I suppose he's right: How many people let the problem of "getting around" get in the way of foreign travel, to say nothing of conducting foreign business? If you head overseas determined to carry out your business itinerary and to work out the ways and means as needed, you will demonstrate competence and sophistication. SHOCK YOUR CUSTOMER. Act with assurance wherever you go, and you'll win their confidence, too.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Laurel Delaney (LaurelDelaney.com) is the founder of GlobeTrade.com and the creator of "Borderbuster," an e-newsletter, and The Global Small Business Blog. She can be reached at ldelaney@globetrade.com.