Global Business Article – What Business Are We In When We Do International Business?


We have many firms engaging in international business that say they are in the shoe business, the oil business, the call center business, the dress business.My contention is that they are also in show business.

Take the case of a dress designer selling dresses in overseas markets. That’s an easy leap to see that the firm is in show business. After all, dresses are demonstrated in fashion shows, trunk shows and the like.

But what about a luggage company selling its luggage in Asia? They are also in show business. This involves much more than demonstrating luggage, it involves selling the Americanism or the Western-ism of your product. There is a certain prestige for firms to be involved with overseas partners and the same holds true for Asian firms.

Let’s take the case of an oil company wishing to enter China. While fracking is an interesting issue in the United States, the Chinese have embraced it. Something is interesting though. As much as the press whines on and on about the horrors of fracking, one thing is clear and backed by evidence: Americans know how to frack safely and the Chinese don’t.This gives American oil companies a great thing to sell in China; their know-how. While a U.S. oil company may not sell a drop of oil in China, it can certainly be in the “show me” business and teach the Chinese how to do it effectively and safety.
Another great example of show business is the beer and wine industry. In wine tastings, tasters spit out the wine so their pallets don’t get numb. It’s safe to say that very few can have a sophisticated pallet after drinking a few glasses of wine. So why is there brand and style loyalty? It has to do with the show business aspect of wine; how it is priced, poured, tasted and by whom.

All of these lessons point to an important point. Firms are in “show” business, “show me” business and lastly, “show up” business.

Whenever a U.S. company tells me that Asians can’t sell their product or Europeans are lazy my questions are: “How often do you go there? How well does your European partner know you?”

Since overseas business is done by relationship, it makes sense to continuously work on those relationships. Too many American CEOs have thought that “beating up their distributors” would actually help sales.

And when a U.S. firm says something like: “we are leaving all of the marketing to the Koreans,” one must ask why they aren’t helping the Koreans? If it’s fun to have an American partner and part of the sale is the American exoticness of the offering, then by not having an ongoing, continued visiting presence will deprive the Koreans of their motivators. It’s also a bit of a slap in the face to the Koreans.

For the Korean company (whom you may have abdicated marketing functions to) it would be a perk to come over to the United States and see our nature, meet our people and taste our culture.

In sticking to the example, a good Korean distributor (and you don’t want a bad one) has clients, and demand already in his pocket. Because of that he can sell a great many products, so why will he sell yours?

If you remember “show” business, “show me” business and “show up” business you will win. Otherwise, you could be a “no show.”

All of my articles can be found in my International Business Book

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