"How can we sell and market our product to six billion people on the planet?" asked Jeff Dzuira, Director of International Sales at Ferris Manufacturing Corporation.
In 1996, 97% of the company's annual revenues were being generated from local sales. He knew the company had a good product, PolyMem, a pink dressing used to improve healing of wounds. He also knew that the product could be used around the world. Five years and a lot of work later, foreign sales account for 25% of total company earnings.
"International sales have certainly contributed greatly to the overall growth of Ferris," said Dzuira. The Burr Ridge, Illinois-based company, founded in 1977, employs about 30 people and posts annual sales of $10 million.
Federal officials involved in promoting international trade are urging other business owners to enter the global game, especially as the U.S. economy has slowed down.
Having a product or service that works at home and abroad is the first step towards global success. Medical products, like PolyMem, are among the products finding eager customers overseas.
In 1988, founder and CEO, Robert W. Sessions, patented a formula for his drug-free and irritant-free wound therapy treatment that stimulates healing and reduces painful wound dressing changes. Now, it's known worldwide as "The Pink Dressing."
But, going global wasn't always part of Ferris' vision. It began its sales and marketing efforts, as most small businesses do, with a strictly domestic focus. But Dzuira said he visualized the world as a single market. He researched and contacted every government office that he could. Working with the resources of state and federal agencies helped him secure the Illinois Governor's Export Award two years in a row.
"I learned of a subsidy available to us through the federal and state governments that would help fund our participation in "Medica 96," the world's largest annual medical device exhibition held in Dusseldorf, Germany," said Dzuira. "That venue launched our global sales and marketing campaign. The first Medica show yielded us over 140 qualified leads worldwide and secured us our first large block of distributors."
He acknowledges going global requires a serious investment of time and money. And, companies without financial resources cannot make international deals.
"Our packaging needed to be redesigned with multilingual text and accompanying instructions for use," he said, adding that he often relied on suggestions from his local distributors.
It takes effort to build a business into a world-class operation. Regulations have to be followed and payment methods have to be put in place. It took Ferris three months to secure an international distributor and sales didn't materialize instantly. Due to the complexities involved in marketing medical products abroad, the company had to seek approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Despite the delays, the effort was worth it. "It's truly rewarding knowing that at the end of the day, not only have international sales been spectacular, but people worldwide have benefited from a very remarkable medical product," says Dziura. "The lessons I learned have not come from seminars, textbooks or advice; rather, they have come from practice in the global playing field which hones the necessary skills to succeed in the marketplace."
Jeff Dzuira's 10 Tips To Marketing The Planet
1. Get company-wide commitment. "Every employee at Ferris is a vital member of the international team, from customer service through engineering, purchasing, production, and shipping."
2. Research and map out your export journey. "Do your homework."
3. Know where you want to go and go there. "Know your destination."
4. Take that decisive step and follow it up with sensible judgment. "Jump in with both feet first but keep them firmly planted on the ground."
5. Keep your ego in check. "Don't let the prospect of 'going global' inflate your ego and cause misjudgments."
6. If it smells, looks, or feels bad, don't try to rationalize otherwise. "Trust your instincts."
7. Treat people as you yourself want to be treated. "People are basically the same worldwide; it doesn't matter where you are. Awareness and respect of cultural protocol demonstrates honesty and goodwill, and this leads to trust, which in turn leads to mutually profitable relationships."
8. Make personal contact with attentiveness, courtesy, professionalism, and consistency. "In-person visits are vital to building a relationship with rapport."
9. Factor in a three-year lead-time for world market penetration. "It takes time and patience."
10. In a global marketplace, welcome the unknown. "Don't let the prospect of the unknown frighten you. Rather, learn to welcome it, take it apart piece by piece, and then slowly digest it all. The rewards can be great."