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This is part 7 in a series of 12 step-by-step guide to help you succeed in today's global export market.


Creating a Marketing Plan

One of the major challenges for service exporters is to determine how to best market a service which is intangible. Clients really do not know exactly what they are buying until the service is completely delivered. Therefore, it is important that you establish credibility and confidence in your export market.

A clear and concise marketing plan is an essential element of a service firm’s export strategy. A sample 1-page Marketing Plan has been provided under the Plan icon in this module. It is important however, to first of all understand that the marketing of services is quite different from the marketing of goods. By reviewing the information contained in this module you will gain new insights into the unique approaches you should consider adopting in order to enhance your chances for success in the marketing of your services internationally.

Definition of Marketing

There are many definitions of marketing. One of the most practical ones comes from the United Kingdom (U.K.) Institute of Marketing which defines marketing as "the management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably". The term "marketing" should not be confused with advertising, sales, promotion; in fact, marketing is the strategy which drives these processes which all result in communicating a message to the target audience. It is important to fully understand customer needs, a task which is normally accomplished through in-depth market research. This module deals with suggested activities which can be undertaken by service firms to successfully market their services.

The Marketing of Services is Different

When marketing your services internationally, it is essential to differentiate your service and gain the trust of buyers. The three most important things to remember when starting to prepare your marketing plan are:

    a) Services marketing is based on the sale of intangibles; as a result, it is critical to be able to explain and describe the benefits and outcomes resulting from the use of your services.

    b) Services marketing is very much about "relationship" marketing or selling; as a result, your performance is the deliverable.

    c) You need to build credibility for yourself and your firm before foreign customers are likely to buy from you.

To be successful in any market, you must be able to quickly and effectively communicate your unique expertise and the reasons why a potential customer should buy from you.

Understanding Your Customer

Customer Identification

You may identify high potential markets and customers by:

  • Profiling Potential Customers
  • Profiling Buyers
  • Profiling End-Users

Profiling Potential Customers

In order to determine the best marketing approach, you may need to categorize your potential clients into one of the following groups; and determine how best to reach them in your target market.

    a) Service industry
    Service providers are also service users, requiring many services including accounting, advertising, legal, market research, systems integration, management consulting, etc.

    b) Manufacturing
    This sector requires services which often include environmental, production management, engineering, post-sales service, training, etc...

    c) Government
    Governments purchase services from a variety of sources, for both domestic and international markets.

    d) Public
    Many business-to-business services are being purchased by the public as well. If you have had success with mass markets locally, you may want to replicate this success in your target market?

    e) Local Enterprises
    Other local businesses from your country that are active in your target market are good potential customers. In addition, selling indirectly can be the one of the best methods of entering a foreign market for the first time.

Profiling Buyers

The following are some of the factors to consider when profiling purchasers of services:

    a) General Description:
    • Who are they (specific sub-groups, titles, departments)?
    • What is important to them?
    • How do services fit into their purchasing plans?
    • How is the purchasing decision made?
    • What are the channels and other stakeholders in the purchasing process?

    b) Resources:

    • What are disposable incomes or budgets?

    c) Spending patterns:

    • current spending priorities
    • current and proposed projects, if institutional

    d) Factors influencing buying:

    • cultural characteristics
    • level of development
    • religion
    • attitude towards foreign services/foreigners
    • level of consumerism, fashion
    • political attitudes
    • social consciousness
    • technology
    • What is the positive impact of the service purchase on day to day business?

Profiling End-Users

If the end-user is different from the buyer, you need to consider the following: a) General description

  • Who are they?
  • How does the service provide solutions to them?
  • What do they care about: features, cost, timeliness, other...

b) Factors influencing buying:

  • cultural characteristics
  • level of development
  • religion
  • attitude towards foreign services/foreigners
  • level of consumerism, fashion
  • political attitudes
  • social consciousness
  • technology
  • What is the positive impact of the service purchase on day to day business?

Positioning Your Firm

Describing Your Services

Your ability to quickly and meaningfully describe your firm, expertise and "why us" can make or break a new business encounter. You might only have an elevator ride, lasting 30 seconds, to attract attention!

Can you answer each of these key questions in 25 words or less, or in the time it takes to go up an elevator with a potential client? Can you pass the elevator test?

    a) What service does your company provide?
    b) Why should I buy from you?
    c) What distinguishes you from your competitors?

Differentiating Your Firm and Its Services

Establishing unique positioning is an important success factor. Consider using some of the following as you develop your firm’s unique selling points:

  • your experience in delivering quality service quickly·400
  • international projects and experience that might be complementary to potential partners or customers
  • free trials, service guarantees and other features that may distinguish you from your competitors
  • your multilingual capability, which may interest potential partners who themselves may be targeting other countries
  • how your service can save potential partners or customers time and/or money or make their job easier

Your Experience Counts

Past and present customers are crucial in establishing your profile and credibility by:

  • being quoted in your literature or acting as references
  • furnishing referrals to a parent company, subsidiary or affiliate firms in the target markets
  • introducing you to their customers and contacts in the target market
  • acting as a joint venture partner to explore further market opportunities

      Building Awareness

      Building awareness about your services is critical for establishing a presence in new markets. Look for ways to gain media exposure and/or to take advantage of publicity opportunities. Consider the following:

      • Visibility at events

        Profiling your capabilities locally is important! Position yourself as an expert. Ask to be part of a panel at conferences and trade shows. Develop short workshops that you could deliver on various aspects of your specialty.

      • Association Membership

        By joining foreign industry associations, you will be exposed to networking and partnering opportunities through their events, newsletters and membership directories.

      • Company Promotion Activities

        A positive portrayal of your company in the press can yield important results, such as investor interest, endorsement of your service and gains in market share.

      • Company News and Company Profile

        Company News:

        • Distinct from specific product or service news, usually of interest to journalists and writers who follow specific industries, it can include information on business deals, financial performance and personnel.

        Company Profile:

        • Trade publications often cover companies that are industry leaders.
        • To sell writers and editors on the idea of profiling your company, approach them with their publications’ audience and editorialapproach clearly in mind. In particular, promote a story idea with a compelling angle that fits the publication’s editorial mission.

      • Feature Articles

        To get feature article coverage, make sure that journalists know the relevance of your company’s service to their readers. Demonstrate your understanding of their readership. You may want to ask for an audience profile.

        Note that there are many types of feature articles, dealing with case studies or some type of trend stories dealing with such topics as: end user; industry; society; technology; or miscellaneous publicity.

      Knowing Your Audience and Clients

      Tailor your message for different types of contacts. Ask yourself:

      • What does each particular audience really need to know?
      • What is important to them?
      • What do you want from them?

      Examples of how to tailor your message if you are an architectural services firm:


      Contact provides

      Example of Statement

      Professional association

      Credibility and networking

      All our architects are licensed in at least two provinces, and our major clients are x and y.


      Coverage and credibility

      We have developed innovative approaches to providing fully-accessible housing at a moderate cost. For example...



      We won the --- award in 19— and we are looking for a strategic partner in x region.

      Government buyers

      Potential customers

      We have done two contracts for the Government of --- and have completed contracts in Spain and Jamaica.

      Architectural firms

      Potential partners

      We have 10 architects on staff specializing in --- and we won the --- award in 19--.

      Engineering firms

      Potential partners or clients or referrals

      We are experienced in joint ventures and our major clients are ...

      Universities/research firms

      Potential partners or suppliers

      Our strengths are in the --- field, and we are looking for partners to complement our offerings in the area of ----

      --- trade commissioners and trade officers at posts

      Major link with the target market

      We are experienced in joint ventures and seek strategic partners in x region.

      • Access to importers worldwide and RFQ
      • Free professional web site with showcase
      • Communicate with buyers directly online
      • Explore new business opportunities and much more...
      • Be where your customers are!
      • Promote and market your services
      • Receive direct quote requests
      • Back office support, set up regional offices and much more...
      If your business is Trade Shows, Customs, Trade Finance, Inspection, Insurance, Trade Laws, Trade Solutions, Translation or involves in foreign trade supply chain, you will want to be part of the world largest international B2B trade community.