Why COVID-19 has made international strategy more critical than ever before

The COVID-19 pandemic is reshaping the global business landscape and the world as we know it. For many executives, just surviving is a fight to the death and expanding internationally is the last thing on their minds.

But if you’re a business leader with big dreams, you still need an international strategy. COVID-19 has slowed the movement of goods and all but halted the movement of people, but global business isn’t going away. It’s evolving. To keep up, grow and flourish, you need to evolve too.

The death of distance

The death of distance is a key driver for international business, even as we grapple with COVID-19. Massively improved supply chain logistics, travel and technology are enabling goods, people and ideas to move around the world faster than at any other time in history. 

Activities that previously had to be done in one place have been unbundled and spread out around multiple geographies. In many industries, especially elaborate manufactures, supply chains have become truly global. New technologies let us meet people on the other side of the world, transmit our data across the globe in a heartbeat and make and receive payments in the space of a few minutes. Services including telemedicine, architecture, design, accounting, coaching, management consulting, and dozens of others can be provided from virtually anywhere, irrespective of where the customer is. 

The death of distance has implications for almost everyone in business, because we can communicate and work with customers and suppliers who were unreachable just a few short years ago. For now, global trade in goods has slowed for, but it will eventually return to historic levels, because the movement of goods is far less risky than the movement of people. That said, I believe that we’ll see a big, permanent step change in the way services are sold. 

The rise in technology-driven service delivery

The increase in technology-driven service delivery that we’ve seen in the last decade is just the tip of the iceberg. As COVID-19 forces people out of public spaces and prevents us from gathering together, the landscape is changing rapidly. Those of us who preferred face-to-face meetings and baulked at consuming business coaching, management consulting, legal advice and medical support virtually are coming to terms with the fact that for now, this is how it is. Like it or not, telehealth and Zoom socials are a reality and for many people almost the only contact that they have with others. As populations get more comfortable with the new status quo, I predict that we’ll see a rapid acceleration of the technology trends that were already taking off before the virus took hold, and a bunch of new ones as well.

What this means for services providers is that suddenly, international markets will be more accessible than ever before. Increased uptake of technology-enabled service delivery equals lower barriers to entry. In other words, if you have a great product that can be delivered without you needing to be there in person, and a powerful message that resonates with your audience, you suddenly have almost limitless potential to sell anywhere.

…and competition

The downside to limitless opportunity is a massive increase in competition.  If barriers to entry fall and you can suddenly sell anywhere, people from all over the world can suddenly sell into your home market too. And if they can create and sell a better product at less cost and market it with equal flair, that’s the end of your market share. The truth is that the dark side of borderless markets (increased competition) should be just as great a driver for a perceptive CEO as its bright side (increased opportunity).

Even if you put current global trends aside, the classic reasons for international scale – reaching more customers, spreading risks, protecting yourself against competition, controlling costs, maximising profits and innovation continue to matter. And that’s why, despite the current stormy conditions, now isn’t the time to give up on international growth. It’s time to stand back, survey the landscape and figure out how to capitalise on the opportunities that the post-COVID  world will inevitably present.

Where’s your thinking on international strategy right now?

Want to learn more about international strategy? Check out The Ultimate Guide to International Expansion.

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