Export Knowhow

How digitization helps in exporting

Small and medium-sized companies in particular are faced with the question of whether going into international markets is worth it. We show you how to get started with international business and what you have to look out for.

Successfully entering and staying in the international market with digitization
Successfully entering and staying in the international market with digitization

Industry 4.0: Optimized processes and a high degree of automation

Almost 90% of all Swiss SMEs are micro-enterprises with fewer than ten employees; another 8.44% are small enterprises with fewer than fifty employees. Successful market development requires a lot of time and resources. When asked whether it is feasible and sensible for small enterprises to become internationally active, in many cases the answer is “yes”, in principle. One important reason for a “yes” to internationalization is digitization and all its associated business and product innovations, which can be summarized under “Industry 4.0” on the one hand and, the framework of digitally supported marketing, “e-commerce”, on the other.

In practice: The valve manufacturer Eugen Seitz AG in Wetzikon produces valves for the production of PET bottles, for starting gas turbines and gas filling stations. All orders are produced on customer request; with the exception of some mandatory stock parts required by the customer, no valves are kept in stock. To simplify production, many products consist of standardized modules. Thanks to lean processes, the highest degree of automation and continuous digitization, orders can therefore be delivered within a few days, even abroad. Industry 4.0 is already a reality in this SME.

E-commerce: International market access using digital channels

Digitally supported marketing is becoming increasingly important, especially in the B2B business, where companies are expanding in an international environment to secure future-focused competitive advantages. Any sale to customers from any location can be essentially described as “e-commerce”. Getting started with internationalization via digital channels does not necessarily need to follow the principle of a web shop. On the contrary, digital channels support international market access in many ways, whether it be with product communication, customer dialogue, the sales process, customer service and many other areas. Online trading also allows smaller companies access to a supraregional buyer audience, which was unthinkable ten years ago.

In practice: Zimmerli of Switzerland’s customers include Hollywood stars such as George Clooney, Sylvester Stallone or Hugh Jackman. The Swiss textile company has been producing high-quality underwear for women and men since 1871. Since the end of 2014, Zimmerli has also been successfully selling its products digitally via its own eBoutique.

“Digitization is an opportunity for smaller companies like Zimmerli. We are suddenly gaining more traction on the global market,” says CEO Marcel Hossli. Digitization and its associated 24-hour presence allow constant acquisition of new customers worldwide, Hossli explains.

For Zimmerli, creating a digital business also meant developing a new business model. The textile company worked for about ten months on the eBoutique and drew on numerous staffing resources during this time. “We had to build up the skills, because such a project requires professionalism,” says the CEO. “Only those who choose a professional approach and are willing to budget for it can be successful.”

How you can get started! Initial recommendations for action

  • Digitization is an important basis for the internationalization of SMEs. Which digital means does your company already use? Check your business processes from the customer's perspective: In which areas does digital support provide a better customer experience and access to more and new customers, also abroad?
  • How do others do it? Take a look at the international business models of other providers from comparable sectors, also those from abroad. What can be learned from this and perhaps even taken over?

The next step is to identify the appropriate business model.  Read more about it herE!

You will find specific and in-depth help as well as useful tips and practical links in our “Export Compact” handbook. Based on recognized scientific findings and the many years of practical experience of Switzerland Global Enterprise's country consultants, the handbook offers Swiss and Lichtenstein companies their first tangible assistance on the path to international business planning.

To the "Export Compact" handbook!

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