international trade

4 international business expansion tools to minimise luck and maximise return

4 international business expansion tools to minimise luck and maximise return 780 441 nMerge

Expanding internationally can be part timing, part lucky break, part who you know and part strategy.  Minimising luck and maximising return for international business expansion sounds like a good idea but how can this be achieved? There are multiple answers to this question which can focus around business expansion, business development, marketing, growing your networks etc but underpinning it all is the strategic thinking, analysis and planning process.

To make our life easier, there are numerous frameworks that have been written by far more intelligent people than me.  Personally speaking, in the early stages of beginning a strategy exploration for your business expansion, I believe that you should choose the one that resonates most with you and your senior team.  There isn’t a right and wrong approach but what is right is spending some time to analyse a market or a situation to try to put forethought into your approach and a framework around your actions.

Here are some of my favourites and a brief overview of which situation I have used these tools for business expansion.

  1. Business model canvas. I like this tool because it helps to cover all pockets of the business when investigating a new business model. It can be used to analyse a new company or a new direction in an existing company. When expanding internationally there may be a lot of unknowns initially but visually mapping out the canvas will help to identify these.
  2. Porter diamond model. Most will know tools like Porter’s 5 Forces by Michael Porter so here is another one for international business expansion. The premise of the Porter diamond model is to understand a nations’ competitive contribution to an industry including the dynamic relationship therein. The usefulness of the tool is demonstrable through conceptualisation of the contribution of the home countries natural and engineered endowments; the nature and structure of competition (which can differ significantly amongst industries and segments); why global businesses perform value chain activities outside of their home country; how the determinants contribute to continuous incremental innovation and how demand contributes to the perception of new market needs (Porter 1990a)
  3. Buyer persona analysis. This is useful for a new or existing business when wanting to expand into a new market or even to increase sales in an existing market.  Personas are fictitious, distinct and specific illustrations of your customers or users. Buyer personas are not a new concept.   It will also serve as a useful tool for your extended teams and supply chain who may not be directly involved with the buyer during the sales cycle but needs a greater understanding of who they are to be able to assist in creating meaningful and targeted content.
  4. Alignment mapping. What I love about this broad concept is that it is used to help to move from ‘inside out’ thinking to ‘outside in’ thinking e.g. focusing on your value from a customer perspective.  The ah-ha moment that comes with seeing your value through a customer’s eyes.  Sirius Decisions reported that 67 percent of the buyer’s journey is now performed digitally. This alone indicates that business needs to include alignment mapping in its strategic capability. This becomes even more essential when looking at this from an international expansion strategy as you can leverage your digital buyer journey to target international customers in the initial phase prior to introducing them to a local contact.

In international business the customer is remote and not as tangible as your home country customers. What I mean here is that customers and segments in one country may need to be marketed to and served differently than your home country. This diversity makes it all the more exciting. Although if you approach international expansion like the old saying, “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” you probably will fail. International business expansion can be challenging but strategy development does not have to be complicated or out of reach for the average business. However the main thing that needs to occur is to ensure you have representation from all stakeholder groups involved. This will help ensure buy in and commitment to drive through the change or initiative.  The first place to start with international business expansion is just by committing to begin.


Felicity Shade is Head of Operations at nMerge Pty Ltd, providing consulting, systems and services to Australian companies as well as partnering with marketing and sales technology vendors and thought leaders in Europe and Silicon Valley, USA.  She has broad and in-depth experience across senior management within the technology and environmental sciences sector.  This includes business development and marketing for complex technology solutions into new and existing markets.  She has significant experience in international business leading marketing and sales teams across dispersed geographies and cross-cultural markets.

Felicity has completed an MBA (International Business), Bachelor of Arts & Bachelor of Science. She is also the 2010 recipient of the future leader of export award presented by the Governor General, Dame Quentin Bryce AD CVO.