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Mission Germany

Steinbeis experts develop export training concept for Estonian companies

Estonia is one of the most recent new members of the European Union and its economic performance is good. The Baltic nation has one of the most modern government administrations in Europe and it enjoys excellent business ties to the east of Europe, especially in Russia and the Scandinavian countries. Exports to Germany, considered a key market in the European Union, are surprisingly low. As a result, in 2016 the Estonian economic development body Enterprise Estonia (EAS) announced an initiative called Mission Germany. Its aim is to make it easier for Estonian firms to enter what is from an Estonian standpoint the most important state in the European Union. Steinbeis is coordinating and implementing the project in Germany.

The six-month initiative provides a combination of high-level international training and business consulting. The target group for the support program is business enterprises in the food, furniture, IT, electronics, and construction industries who attained export revenues of at least €800,000 in 2015 and who employ an export manager with at least three years’ experience in the industry. Up to five companies were chosen from each sector of industry. The Estonian project partner, Marketingi Instituut, was made responsible for acquisition, overall coordination, and first and foremost, attracting Estonian companies. Steinbeis assumed responsibility for recruiting suitable specialists and consultants and coordinating the program in Germany.

The project got underway with two-day training sessions in Tallinn, the Estonian capital. Four German university professors shared insights into export topics with the companies on the course. The training was arranged in blocks of two days and covered the key topics of business methods, strategic marketing, digital marketing, and sales management in Germany.

Once the theoretical fundamentals had been established, the participants were given business consulting. The consultants analyzed the market opportunities and accompanied the Estonian companies on business trips in Germany, most of which lasted several days. The Estonian firms were organized into groups and assigned a consultant who is familiar with their industry to act as a primary contact. Based on the current business model of each firm, the consultant discussed the next steps in business development. The main focus for the business trip was to enter into discussions with potential leads and partners in the market, as well as existing business partners. Time was also invested in researching the market and a benchmarking exercise.

It quickly became apparent that the biggest problem faced by firms was the small number of contacts, who were not looked after or managed properly. Without further work, it would be difficult to put the companies’ brands to effective use – if at all. The products offered were also insufficiently matched to the German market and there was no clear definition of the sales concept or the target group. As a result, demand was low and although the companies understood this, they had done nothing to rectify the situation. The Steinbeis experts gave the firms practical support in this regard by lining up specific business contacts and helping the firms get in touch with people themselves. They were also given help with formulating the business models properly and making them more precise for the German market, with a variety of practical pointers on brand development and selecting the right products or services to enter the market and build business. This proved to be tremendously important for the companies.

So what happens next for the project partners? The Estonian firms involved in the initiative have already been contacted since returning from Germany and have submitted a number of business proposals, some of which have resulted in contracts. There is also work to be done on adapting internal processes. And last but not least, each company has the possibility to participate in a follow-up project. After the current initiative ended in late 2017 with a high-profile closing ceremony, the project partner EAS has decided to extend the program for another year.