How to internationalize an SME? Many people ask us how we managed to reach such diverse international markets: Europe, the United States, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates… and what strategies we used. In this short article we tell you about our experience by having a chat with Laura Bertuccioli, Local Consultant and Business Developer, Marina Manfrin, Export Sales Manager and Marianna Devoto, Architect and Sales Director.
TO STUDY, TO BE PREPARED, to master the situations in order to summarize and reassure, to negotiate, to comfort with technique and feasibility, to propose solutions, to work of Value Engineering in order to agree on feasibility, budget and design intent… The decision to open to the foreign market has matured in concomitance of two important factors. First: the immobility of the domestic market in terms of the prospect of high-level design projects. And second: the birth of Devoto Design, a second-generation family business, with new business development plans and vision. (Marina Manfrin – Export Sales Manager)
From Export Sales Management to market analysis
Devoto Design has been pursuing a path of internationalization since 2013 with the aim of addressing new markets and forging business relationships. In order to achieve this challenging goal, the first action was to create an office dedicated to Export Sales Management where customers, projects and international tenders are managed.
Subsequently, we studied the most interesting markets, which would be more active and prolific in the following years and we devised new strategies that would allow us to enter them. The first important collaboration was established thanks to the synergy and the relationship between Devoto and “Obiettivo Qatar”, a local business developer in Qatar which has become the “pilot country” for our internalization process.
WE LEARNED, STUDYED AND TESTED the procedures for participation in Tenders and – let me tell you – with the far-sighted initiative that always distinguishes the brave, we were immediately involved in important and influential projects in the sector. (Marina Manfrin – Export Sales Manager).
Dealing with shop drawings, material submittal, WMS and Risk Assessment and countless other acronyms has been tiring but also challenging, and it has forced us to make a radical change towards a path of fast and, at the same time, exciting growth.
Our proactive, supportive approach, always analytical and critical at the same time, as well as our constant presence and availability every day of the week, 24 hours a day, has meant that in a relatively short time we have “configured” and “shaped” ourselves in accordance with the needs of the new market. This, of course, required the experimentation and implementation of new rhythms and working methods unknown to us until then.
Qatar: Our Guiding Country
So in 2014, we identified Qatar as a target country. A growing country that was preparing for the 2022 World Cup. A country that was focusing on cultural development through the creation of new museum centers. In Qatar we had the honor to realize some of our most prestigious projects and work with architects recognized worldwide. This has enabled us to proudly establish ourselves as a leading Made in Italy company:
- National Museum of Qatar – Ateliers Jean Nouvel >
- National Museum of Qatar gift shops – KTA >
- Banyan Tree Doha Vertigo – Jacques Garcia >
- Qatar Olympic and Sports Museum >
How to internationalize an SME: our advice
To enter a new and unfamiliar market, it is first advisable to rely on someone who lives and works there. A professional who is familiar with local dynamics and procedures. Therefore, in the second place of the strategies for “How to internationalize an SME”, the figure of a local consultant should certainly be mentioned.
In our case, we trusted Local Consultant and Business Developer Laura Bertuccioli and her company Obiettivo Qatar. The company’s mission is to help Italian companies to enter and establish themselves in the Qatari market.
So, with the guidance of Objective Qatar, Devoto Design prepared diligently to develop all the necessary preparatory aspects;
- COMMERCIAL: creating an export office and studying new channels and ways of communication typical of the culture of the country.
- ADMINISTRATIVE: studying contracts and payment methods of local companies and activating dedicated banking services.
- MANAGEMENTAL: studying the type of documents required in the project phase and the project bureaucracy.
- DESIGN: by identifying the level of detail of the drawings required.
- PURCHASING: through the study of requirements and certifications required for example for raw materials and studying a network of international partners and suppliers.
- LOGISTICS: studying the modalities and the bureaucracy necessary for the export.
- MARKETING: adopting a more international communication starting from the use of English as the first language of the company.
ACCEPTING THE CHALLENGE OF DEVELOPING THE MARKET IN QATAR for Devoto Design has been a great challenge won thanks to the elective affinities that from the beginning have allowed us to work in harmony, with mutual respect and trust, thanks to the professionalism in the field. Devoto has invested with courage and determination to start the internationalization process necessary to achieve important results and has surrounded itself with a team that, with enthusiasm, commitment and great dedication, has supported all the necessary steps to bring the company to where it is now… (Laura Bertuccioli, Local consultant)
Interesting facts about the internationalization process
TO STUDY, TO BE PREPARED, to master situations in order to summarize and reassure, to negotiate, to comfort with technique and feasibility, to propose solutions, to work with Value Engineering in order to agree on feasibility, budget and design intent… I could go on and on declining attitudes and approaches that leave in the Qatari interlocutor a sign of attention and consideration not indifferent. (Marina Manfrin – Export Sales Manager)
Studying the culture of the country with which you intend to establish relations is of fundamental importance. This is – in our view – the third key point among the strategies for internationalizing an SME.
It is also important to understand the needs and attitudes of your partners. Starting, for example, with the simple structuring of the working week, which in Qatar begins on Sunday and ends on Thursday.
MY FIRST “TASK” AS AN EXPORT MANAGER? Reading the book “Don’t They Know It’s Friday?”. A gift from our Local Consultant on one of my first assignments. I devoured it in two nights! (Marina Manfrin – Export Sales Manager)
Why contact a TES – Temporary Export Specialist
Another opportunity to enter foreign markets is through a so-called Temporary Export Specialist. The TES has, in fact, the task of identifying the “interesting” markets, studying the direct competition, identifying the right channels to find customers and projects.
This, as you can imagine, is a very important backup to the export office because it seeks out and contacts new potential customers and handles the preliminary contact phase.
For about two years we have relied on the professionalism of the company Co.Mark, thanks to which we are expanding our contacts and we are reaching very interesting projects all over the world.
How to internationalize an SME: the importance of alliances
Another strong point that we have been able to develop in Qatar is the alliances with local production businesses that have achieved a significant growth in recent years, both by nurturing collaboration with international companies and by the need to structure internal production forces following the Blockade. Thanks to these proven partnerships we have been able to complete works during the Covid-19 Pandemic and continue to be present in the market operationally.
ABOUT DEVOTO FOREIGN DIVISION MANAGER, Marina Manfrin, I remember the fear during the first visits and then gaining more and more confidence acquiring almost by osmosis all the information, learning all the complex local processes with the utmost attention to all the details until becoming the best expert manager in the Arab markets I have ever met in many years of activity and following many different companies. Today we have great challenges ahead of us, such as Saudi Arabia, which has announced and started great projects on which we have already started to work together to add new successes to the already magnificent shared portfolio. (Laura Bertuccioli, Local consultant).
Internationalizing is like traveling….
In conclusion, thanks to the internationalization process, our company has started a growth process. A growth that is not only related to the increase in turnover, but also to a renewed awareness and the acquisition of new instruments because…
INTERNATIONALISING IS LIKE TRAVELLING: it is said that those who travel a lot and encounter new cultures are inwardly enriched. The same thing – in my opinion – applies to companies. By dealing with other markets and other cultures we have learned to improve ourselves, to know our limits and our strengths. We have embarked on a process of growth both on a company and individual level. (Marianna Devoto – Architect and Sales Director)
How our internationalization continues
Devoto Design‘s future includes the countries of Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, which are planning a strong infrastructural and cultural development. France, which is going through a period of infrastructural reorganization in view of the 2024 Olympics. Russia, which currently represents a particularly prolific market for Made in Italy luxury furniture. Without forgetting the United States, specifically the area of New York City and a very interesting prospect, Israel.
MARIANNA AND CECILIA DEVOTO manage the company with the vision of the new generation that has wisely collected the professional inheritance of the founder projecting the company into the future and the mutual esteem is – still today – the backbone of our relationship. From the beginning, we shared the love for the challenge that makes the work fun and gives success an incredible taste… (Laura Bertuccioli, Local consultant)
We would like to thank Laura Bertuccioli, Local Consultant and Business Developer, Marina Manfrin, Export Sales Manager and Marianna Devoto, Architect and Sales Director for the chat that led to this in-depth study on how to internationalize an SME.