In 2021, I started working as a temporary export manager for two companies that produce machinery. It is a part-time assignment that I perform besides my normal consulting and training activities. With any new assignment the first step is, as always, an analysis of the market that moves in two directions:

  • An examination of the dynamics of the market using, above all, the Export Planning
  • The observation of your competitors and those who produce complementary goods, aimed at learning the following three things: on which markets they are concentrating their efforts, with which sales network and, finally, using which strategies?

Once defined what, in jargon, are called target markets (on this topic see Choosing the Target Market in an Internationalization Process), we move on to the next phase which is precisely to find contacts in these markets. When I talk about new contacts, I mean direct customers, dealers or agents.

In these 12 years of business as an export consultant, I have developed a series of tools to discover new contacts:

  1. The names of distributors and agents are sometimes found on competitors’ websites or on the websites of those who produce complementary products (especially among foreign competitors). If there are none, they can sometimes be found by reverse searching images (using the company logo or a banner product).
  2. With a simple search on a search engine such as Google, but using the keywords in the language of the target country (for example Baumaschinen Händler, if I am looking for construction machinery dealers in Germany).
  3. Studying the companies represented by my current agents or dealers, with the same methodology as described above.
  4. Looking for trade associations to which my potential customers in target countries might belong.
  5. Through a search on the social networks Linkedin and Xing (for the countries in the DACH area); if I then use Sales Navigator – Linkedin’s paid platform – this activity is facilitated further.
  6. Through databases; there are many either free (Europages or Kompass, for example) or for a fee.

Research through social networks has the great advantage of identifying the name and surname of my potential customers.

Obviously, experience in using these tools makes the difference. If you try it for the first time, do not expect to see great results right away. The internet is a huge source of data, but if you do not use a few tricks it is like trying to drink from a fire hydrant.

If you are interested in these topics, you can read my guide Exporting in 7 Steps.