How can Swiss SMEs successfully export to the UK?

Mature markets now account for the largest volume for Swiss exports. They offer as many opportunities for growth as emerging markets, however before attempting to enter a mature market it is important to understand the local economic climate, customer needs and expectations. These will help shape the right business model.

London as one of the economic hubs in the UK
London as one of the economic hubs in the UK

The UK is a highly saturated market, with demanding consumers and competitive pressure. There is a strong appetite for innovation and thus a fast adoption of new technologies and services. As the world’s leading country for innovation, Switzerland presents a clear advantage meeting this demand.

The UK is a market where Swiss companies have found they can easily pilot their innovations. There is a strong appetite to test new solutions, either through conventional pilots or with the support of accelerators, incubators or open innovation programs. Once the economic value or ROI (Return on Investment) is objectivised through these pilots, Swiss SMEs have solid grounds for their next fundraise or to approach other international markets.

Keyword digitization

One keyword with regard to this rapid development and the desire for continuous improvement is digitization. The British are accustomed to both B2B and B2C agile business models and they are always looking for new digital solutions. This opens business opportunities for Swiss companies in areas such as of e-commerce, Fintech, Insurtech, Digital health, Internet of Things (IoT).

New business opportunities in export are arising around the major trends of industrial IoT and digitization. With good preparation and consistent Swiss quality, SMEs can continue to benefit from the solid economic performance of the UK market.

What are the challenges for Swiss exporters in the UK?

  • Decrypting the business culture:  It can be challenging to decipher the British working culture, especially when it comes to formalities with business partners. To find out more read our fact sheet ‘How to do Business in the UK: A Cultural Guide’.
  • Adapting the business model to the nation mind-set of real-time: To stay competitive exporters need to think about the ubiquity of their products and how they can offer real-time services.
  • Personalising your product and communication strategy: Companies will need the right business model to meet high customer demands, but also one that addresses the individuality of customers. Personalisation is key to a company’s success in the UK and it is essential to invest resources into a customized marketing strategy.
  • Finding the right business partners: The UK is a country of freelancers and individual consultants. As the offer for support is very fragmented it can be difficult to identify the right partners. Find the right business partner with Switzerland Global Enterprise.
  • Developing social media awareness: Social media is of vital importance for B2B and B2C business models in the UK. Exporters require investment and skills to implement campaigns with impact.

How can Swiss SMEs successfully enter mature markets in the UK?

  1. Understand your clients’ value chains: Conduct a thorough analysis of regulatory developments in the UK and take some hindsight on how the media report on Brexit. It is crucial to assess how the UK domestic and international value chain is concretely impacted.
  2. Know your customers: Good customer service is vital for the success and competitiveness of any company in the UK. You need to combine product, evidence, and excellent customer service to ultimately reassure customers and build trust.
  3. Think digitally: Keep track of how digital marketing is changing in the UK. Embracing new digital solutions and incorporating these into your business model will drive your productivity.
  4. Adapt your business model: The UK is a fast changing market, therefore reviewing and adapting your business model to changing market conditions is fundamental to survive as a company. This often requires exporters to pivot their business model from being pure suppliers to also providing longer term support and acting as a partner to UK and Irish clients.
  5. Swiss-Made is not enough: Although Switzerland is highly associated with value and innovation, in a competitive environment like the UK Swiss quality alone will not sustain a company. Above all, your product or service needs a clear USP to be successful. Investing time and research into your core identity will keep you competitive. You should identify very precisely your clients’ pain points and subsequently sharpen your USP on this basis. This will then have to be verbalised as accurately and concisely as possible.
  6. Use non-conventional business development channels: Do not underestimate the non-conventional business development channels. Target the multipliers and prescribers as well as the end client. Networking events and meet-up groups are great means to engage with potential customers and business partners. 


Success story: BComp

BComp, founded in 2011, produces composite materials from flax, a local renewable and recyclable raw material of extreme strength. Currently the company is focused on selling their products to the automotive industry who in under pressure to reduce the weight of passenger cars. BComp offers a solution to this problem by manufacturing interior door panels made of natural fiber composites. Their application of natural fibers offers strong advantages: excellent mechanical properties, lower material consumption, lower total weight and lower costs.

In 2018 BComp came to the UK for a fact-finding mission which not only secured local business contacts, but also led the company to winning two awards. Approaching the Motorsports Valley directly allowed BComp to connect with big players in the industry, eliminating intermediaries and successfully penetrating the market. The company was able to maximize their USP to bring added value to the UK market.

Read more about BComp’s success story here

Are you interested in the UK?

Get in touch with Nadja Kolb, our consultant for UK + Ireland. We discuss your export project with you, provide market analyses or support you in finding the right business partner.



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