Get Ready for Exporting: Create the Foundation

by Lee Benson

ExportingI remember when we first started trying to sell our products and services internationally. We identified a few customers that we thought had a need for our services, started sending them information and then went on trips to call on them directly. Looking back, we made so many mistakes and wasted a ton of money. Even though we’ve done very well, we could have grown twice as fast internationally had we asked the right questions up front and shored up our global growth foundation.

Today, our aerospace businesses — Able Engineering and Able Aerospace — provide products to 1,000 customers in 60+ countries. We have grown from our Mesa headquarters to 400 employees and are currently running at $70-million revenue a year in sales and growing fast. One-third of our business is international and we have our eyes on more than $100 million in international sales growth opportunities. 

Getting the initial questions right is important in exporting:

  • What is the worldwide market for our products and services?
  • Who are these potential customers buying from now?
  • What price are they currently buying for?
  • What are the current suppliers (our future competitors) planning regarding these products over the next couple of years?
  • What can we do to change the game and be the best value alternative to these customers we have identified in each region?
  • The three C’s: How will local customs, culture and corruption impact our ability to compete?
  • What are the regulatory, trade and tax issues to be addressed?

After the critical questions are answered, we ask if all of the foundational readiness areas of our business are solid enough to compete internationally and domestically.

In my experience, most teams within organizations, including senior leadership, waste up to 60 percent of their time in meetings talking about what amounts to be very legitimate reasons for not getting results. And rather than properly identifying and addressing the issues, they say things like, “I don’t want excuses. Stop complaining and get the results!”

Foundational readiness deals with categories such as:

  • Do we have the right talent in all the seats?
  • Do all employees know what’s expected and where they stand 100 percent of the time?
  • Are all of the base skills for getting the job done identified and communicated?
  • Is there formalized training in place?
  • Are all employees aligned to our Mission and Strategy?
  • Do we have the facilities, tools and equipment needed to get the results?
  • Are our software systems efficient scalable 3X+?
  • Is the website optimized?
  • Are our business generation processes optimized?

We look at the foundational readiness of every part of our business. We have more than 60 categories for the foundational readiness in business generation alone spread out between marketing, customer service, inside sales, outside sales and business development. Then we rank each category red, yellow or green — and only 30 percent of the categories are considered “green” today. Once all categories are turned green within the next 12 months, we believe our business generation team will produce up to 4X the sales they are producing today!

All of this has to be in balance. We would run into huge problems producing what we sold if our business generation foundational readiness is 100 percent green and operations is only 20 percent green. Looking at foundational readiness in this way would allow you to be much more strategic about where you direct your resources and the order in which you do things.

In my view, any business can compete anywhere on the planet if they work hard and smart enough for long enough. We started as a company offering only one specialized service for one customer. We have grown from that one process into thousands of products, more than a thousand customers and a thriving and fast-growing international business. Get your foundational readiness right and you will move rapidly in the same direction! 

Lee Benson is the CEO of Able Engineering, Able Aerospace and ETW.

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