How to Break Into New Markets

Five steps to help you prosper in an unfamiliar world.

Maybe you'd like to break into a new, rich, and growing industry. Or you're successful on the East Coast but you want to expand west. In either case, you want to gain new customers on unfamiliar territory. How can you do it?

1. Get to know the customers.
“Before you get started, you'll want to understand the ins and outs of the market you're entering,” says business journalist Sammi Caramela. “There are two groups you should focus on when conducting your research: consumers and your competition.”

Take consumers first. “Reach out to friends, acquaintances and potential prospects in your target market,” content marketer Cara Hogan has written in a blog post for sales analytics company InsightSquared. “Start learning about the difficulties and struggles they face. … Ideally, your product can solve one or more of the common problems in the industry, and you'll know your new product has a fighting chance of success.”

2. Get to know the competition.
Start with the obvious approach: a Google search like “packaging manufacturers in Canada” or “largest medical device companies in California.”

After you identify your prospective competitors, look for areas where they're weak and you're strong. For instance, a huge and famous company might be resting on its reputation rather than improving its service, pricing, and product quality. You may have a chance to take its customers.

Some way to find their weaknesses:
• Read their websites and social media pages to learn about their products and business methods.
• Use online services such as BuzzSumo and SEMrush to see how they market themselves.
• Ask your contacts in the target market if they've done business with the competitors and what the experience was like.
• Go to trade shows where the competitors are exhibitors, and chat with their employees and customers.

3. Learn the rules.
Check out the market's laws. For instance: If you want to get into chemical manufacturing, you should know that it's one of the nation's most heavily regulated industries, according to George Mason University's Mercatus Center, which studies business markets. Or if you're a Southwestern company looking to spread into the Midwest, you should know that Illinois and Ohio have more than three times as many regulations as Arizona and Utah.

4. Find partners and advocates.
As you'd imagine, breaking into new markets is risky. To reduce the risk, look for potential partners and others who've established themselves. They can provide useful knowledge and important services. For instance:
• Distributors: Instead of trying to sell into the market yourself, you might work through a company that your prospective customers already know.
• Complementary companies: You could team up with a firm that's in the same market but not a direct competitor.
• Influencers: Endorsements and testimonials can be powerful. B2B market research firm Isurus says that among IT professionals, “the opinions of analysts factor heavily into the solutions they put on their short list to evaluate and eventually select.”
Where can you find people and companies like these? They tend to gather at trade shows.

5. Adapt to change.
“You have to find a measure of flexibility when you are attempting to break into a new market,” says entrepreneur and business writer Jane Morison. “While you may have researched night and day, and you know that your idea will solve a current problem within that market, you may have overlooked something.”

Morison explains, “Let's say you have designed a product that will help people in India always have clean water to drink in their homes. The product is loved but the color is hated. They want it to be gray and not red. Sure, the gray may be more expensive, but if it achieves a huge volume of sales, the end result will be fantastic!”

Fantastic results and huge sales — good reasons to enter a new market.