SELLING ABROAD: HOW TO ATTRACT A NEW DISTRIBUTOR

HOW TO FIND DISTRIBUTORS ABROAD?

Selling abroad can be an important opportunity for a company that wants to grow and go international and often the greatest difficulty is finding the right sales channel abroad for the service or product offered.

The internationalization of a company can therefore pass through the search for a foreign distributor in the target market. Of course the first step is to create a list of names. Then to contact these potential distributors by creating interest.

It is a very delicate phase because: on the one hand, the distributor today is subject to a continuous bombardment of commercial offers; on the other hand, there is a risk of burning the contact if the right approach is not used.

3 TIPS FOR SELLING ABROAD

To expand your sales in international markets, I can suggest 3 good tips.

(To learn more, I invite you to read my other article on the subject.)

1. Attend international trade fairs. This is one of the fastest ways to both find direct customers but also to find potential distributors interested in selling your products or services.

2. Analyze your competitors, see where and how they behave in foreign markets, take a cue from what they do.

3. Contact distributors of products that are complementary to yours, they may be interested in expanding their product portfolio.

In any case, to obtain results in a short time I recommend that you rely on a figure like mine, a Temporary Export Manager specialized in the creation of an efficient foreign sales network that works over time.

MY CASE AS A TEMPORARY EXPORT MANAGER

Here is a case study of distributors in Germany for a company that produces machines for the HORECA sector, which I experienced in 2021.

  1. First we identified about a hundred distributors; some with provincial coverage, others with a national and, in some cases, an international network.
  2. Then we sent them an initial contact email, simply translating the first contact email we used to approach Italian distributors into German – with a good translation of course. We were aware that some adjustments to the text would be necessary: ​​each market has its own quirks and sees new products with different eyes. Warning: writing a first contact email is by no means trivial. Read my post on how to write an effective email.
  3. The turning point came when the first dealer decided to include our machine in his e-commerce. We carefully read how he presented our machine to his customers. The bulleted list with which he highlighted the merits of our machine was different from ours. He highlighted aspects that we took for granted and he used different terms from those we used.
  4. We then revised our first contact email starting from here. Subsequently, the percentage of distributors who responded to our first email showing interest increased!

If you want to know more about these topics, read my book Exporting in 7 Steps.

HOW TO WRITE AN EFFECTIVE E-MAIL

The problem

E-mails are a widely used tool to contact new clients. Especially today, forced to stay in our offices. Many clients ask me: how do you write an effective e-mail? What should it contain? What should the tone be? Should I attach a file?

It is impossible to write an e-mail that is suitable for everyone. Much depends on the product/service you want to present as well as on the recipient. However, there are some rules that I have learned with experience.

Five Rules for an effective e-mail

  1. Subject. Let us think about how many e-mails we receive every day and how many we delete without opening them. If I have managed to create curiosity with an interesting subject line, I will have overcome the first obstacle. To create an interesting subject, let us put ourselves in our clients’ shoes. To this end, we use the “buyer persona” technique to focus on his profile.
  2. Keep it short! If our recipient has opened the e-mail, let us not abuse of his time since he does not know us. In a few short lines we must touch on just the important points; the ones that distinguish us. The purpose of the first e-mail is not to tell them everything about the product or the company. Our aim is to get “a light bulb to go off” in the receiver’s head and get a first reaction.
  3. No cliches. We run the risk of sounding too formal but also too friendly. Again, it’s important to know the recipient. Let us start with a standard e-mail that we’ve prepared – and then customize it.
  4. No attachments. In addition to the risk of ending up in their spam folder, we also overload our first attempted contact with too much content and risk annoying them. Rather, insert a link to a catalogue/brochure or to a short presentation video. If anyone is interested, they’ll go and see it. Once we have obtained an answer – it’s a bit like as if they have opened the door – then we can send some material, based on what will be asked of us.
  5. Call to action. If the purpose is to get a reply then we add a sentence or question that invites them to answer. Better to close with a question like “Would you like to receive our mini guide on how to …” rather than “we are at your disposal for anything you may need”

One last piece of advice

We can’t be discouraged if we don’t receive a reply to our e-mails! There can be many reasons behind a non-reply. They do not necessarily show a lack of interest or that we have written an ineffective e-mail. Our recipient that day may have been on vacation, busy with an unforeseen situation, or simply opened the e-mail but then received a phone call. We just try again with another e-mail in a couple of weeks or we can try contacting them with a telephone call.

I have already written on these issues in my post Exhibitions and Hyper-communication

Or read my book Exporting in 7 Steps

WILL WE HAVE TRADE FAIRS IN 2021?

A few days ago, it was announced that the trade fair Drinktec in Munich – which was supposed to take place in September 2021 – was postponed for a year. It is a fair with an international flair that takes place every 4 years. The organizers feared that it would have been subdued, with few visitors, despite three-quarters of the exhibition spaces already being booked. This one-year postponement is in addition to that of the Simei fair in Milan (for winemaking and bottling machines) which should have taken place in November. This further reduces exhibition spaces for those who, like me, work in the technical beverage industry.

At the beginning of the year, the expectation of many operators – from all sectors – was that starting from September 2021 we would be back to normal. But, unfortunately, this will not be the case. The health situation does not allow it. In the end, the trade fair and travel blackout will last 2 years. What can those in a sales position do then?

Whether we like it or not, by now we have come to understand that the arrows we have left to shoot are mainly of a digital nature. It is in these tools that we must invest in 2021 because very few trade fairs will take place this year! Many sectors have never stopped; like this same beverage industry. On the contrary – they have had a surge. And so, if we want to have visibility – to be taken into consideration by buyers who spend their time in front of the screen – we have to be online. In both quantity and quality.

I don’t want to list all the actions that could be implemented in this area here. I just think about how many videos introducing our new products we could make. (Obviously professionally made!)

We will definitely return to travel and to trade fairs, but what has happened must make us reflect. We are learning to carry out the different facets of our sales jobs in ways that were unthinkable until a year ago. I don’t believe that the new skills we are acquiring will no longer serve us when the health situation is normalized. Personal relationships are certainly irreplaceable but – especially for a small and medium-sized business – they are not always feasible, especially with regards to resources. So let’s try to “learn the skill and put it away for a rainy day” as our grandparents used to say.

If you want to delve into these issues further you can read my book Exporting in 7 Steps.

HOW TO FIND NEW CUSTOMERS

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.

PROPOSALS FOR 2021: MORE TRAINING

The more time passes, the more I realize that training is also essential to my work. Especially in these times.

These past few days I have prepared my next marketing lessons in Diskos and I was under the illusion of being able to refresh and reuse my PowerPoint presentation from last year. But the world – especially this past year – has changed, and so has marketing. We live in a liquid world – as Bauman said – which requires flexibility and continuous changes of strategy and, therefore, also of the tools to be adopted.

The term ‘lifelong learning’ clearly indicates the attitude we should have: learning for life. On the other hand, as the average life span is lengthening, this theme involves more and more people. Even those who no longer practice a profession do not want to live outside of reality. Curiosity is part of our human nature.

I also believe that learning in my profession – as a interim export manager and a consultant on export issues – is difficult to formalize. And what little you write becomes outdated faster than before. I experienced this myself with my book Exporting in 7 Steps which – although still valid in its structure – I would like to rewrite. I continually discover new and helpful practices, new marketing tools (especially digital), and new sites / portals from which to obtain useful information.

Training is often divided into the so-called ‘formal schooling’ and the non-formal learning (e.g. reading a book, learning by doing, a webinar, etc.). Very often we limit ourselves to the first and believe we have been “learned” for life. But that’s not the case at all!

All companies should include employee training as a strategic goal of their company. As a certain A. Einstein said: once you stop learning, you start dying.

By the way, if you are interested in these issues, I would like to point out the course that Claudia Zarabara and I will be holding starting from 12th March, Export Travels Online: Commercial and Digital Strategies for Export.

 

SELLING YOUR OWN PRODUCT

This year I started collaborating with some companies that have chosen to move from the production of a semi-finished product to producing their own finished product. The most frequent situation is that of those who previously produced a component, and who have now developed their own machinery. This is an important change of strategy and one which, it is my impression, many other companies in our area are about to make. This change usually arises from 3 needs:

  1. Better control over the end market and its dynamics.
  2. Not depending on a few or even just a single customer.
  3. Having more control over pricing.

Here are some reflections borne from my assistance along this path.

Most of the investments and attention are – at least initially – on the product. And rightly so. However, other problems arise which those who have always worked for third parties sometimes do not know. I am talking about: knowledge of the market and its logic, the development of a sales network and, finally, communication. This is where my skills come into play.

Another recurring situation in this change of strategy is the lack of references. Making the first sale is often more difficult than expected – and stressful. Breaking the ice is easier when the product has strong characteristics and when the unit price is low. For example, it is more difficult to sell a machine that costs a few hundred thousand euros.

In some cases, there is also the fear of competing with the company’s long-term customers. Orin any case to neglect the business that is the basis of the company’s success. This is a more difficult balance to find when the company is smaller.

Many of these companies are now second-generation run. These are not easy moments and I admire the courage of these young entrepreneurs. However, meeting new challenges is typical of our small and medium-sized enterprises. I am convinced that in 2021 we will reap the first fruits of this labour!

If you want to learn more about these issues, read my book Exporting in 7 Steps.

DIGITAL FAIRS AND OPEN HOUSES

This month I participated in two digital events: a fair and an open house. Here are some thoughts.

I “attended” the fair with a company that makes machinery for liquid foodstuffs. We should have attended the BrauBeviale fair – dedicated to the production and marketing of beer – in Nuremberg (10-12 November). Unfortunately, two weeks before we were advised that the fair had been canceled. At the same time, however, we were offered the alternative of a digital platform: MyBeviale. This virtual space was opened to coincide with the days of the fair but will remain active throughout the year. The idea is to create a sort of permanent fair through which operators from this sector can meet; be it either through chat or video conference. With this method, you can reach useful contacts in distant countries who would not have traveled this time. Unfortunately, the platform did not prove to be very functional. For example, the participants were not divided into exhibitors and visitors. Meaning that we were forced to view the over 3,000 registered users one by one to understand which side they are on (and in each profile there is no link to the company website). Perhaps it was setup a little too quickly and without experience. Even the Germans are not always efficient. However, the idea was good. The company in question is, in fact, entering a new market and it does not have a network of existing customers; on this platform it can find many.

The Open House, on the other hand, was my idea. In this case we are talking about a company that operates in the outdoor furniture contract market. 2020 was a bad year for this industry. In this case, however, the company has a rich list of existing customers who periodically receive our newsletters. Through this medium we have informed them of the possibility of a personalized meeting to attend the presentation of the new 2021 catalog. The event lasts two days and is currently in progress. We have had about 15 appointment requests; truly from all over the world. It is not a massive response, but it is an event with almost zero investment. We just made a short new video presentation of the company. These days – with no fairs and no travel – this initiative is a useful way for warming up contacts that we could otherwise only reach by email and telephone call. Besides showing that we are on top of things.

Some final thoughts on how to best deal with these events:

  • You must always have something new to present (a catalog, a product, a company anniversary, etc.), which acts as a “lure”.
  • The material presented must be of good quality (videos, data sheets, etc.).
  • It is important to know how to use the various tools for making video calls (therefore it is important to test everything before the call).
  • Finally, it is very important to have a good internet connection!

If you have just participated in a fair or digital event, share your experience with us.

 

10 YEARS OF EXPORT CONSULTING

It has been 10 years since I started working as a Temporary Export Manager (TEM) and offering consultancy on export issues. Italy was emerging from the 2008 crisis and exports were (and still are) the only way to revive sales. The idea that prompted me to take this path and offer small businesses in my area the skills to develop sales abroad was because these smaller companies could not afford to hire a full-time export manager.

In these past 10 years, I have worked with more than 50 companies, especially in the mechanical and furniture industries (despite my decades of experience in textiles!). The markets in which I have worked the most are Europe (especially Germany and Poland) and the Middle East (especially the United Arab Emirates). Here I found and initiated contacts with customers, distributors and agents. You will find references of some of the companies I have worked with at the bottom of my Linkedin profile.

Over the years, I have learned to use many digital tools that are essential when working in international markets (especially in times like those today). Tools like Statista and Export Planning, which allow me to accurately identify the markets with the highest potential (even in industries that are new to me). Or Sales Navigator that allows me to identify and then make my initial contact with potential customers.

The difficulties I encountered at the beginning were mainly twofold: 1) if you do not have a brand behind you, it is difficult to be credible when offering consultancy and, 2) many entrepreneurs wanted to work only at variable rates, as if I were an agent. However, if I have always found work it is because I owe a lot to the industrial associations of the area. Especially the Confindustria Vicenza (loosely, the local Italian Industrial Federation) and in particular the FarExport office. They put their trust in me and, together, we did a good job with the small and medium-sized businesses in the area. The first 2 assignments, however, I got thanks to a friend and to an ad on AdWords.

The experience also led me to develop an outstanding working method and good practices that, two years ago, I put down on paper in the book Exporting in 7 Steps. It is a method suitable for small businesses. Very “meat and potatoes”, but also useful for those who already export but who want to compare their method of working. In recent years I have also started to hold courses on these topics and with the lockdown only increasing the demand for (social) distance training.

I am satisfied with the path I have taken even if the professional satisfactions are greater than the economic ones. I like my job, it is not repetitive and I get to discover many great companies. Each company is a new challenge and this – despite my 62 years – helps keep me young… at least I hope so. 😉

 

Pier Paolo Galbusera

RED ALERT: SCHOOLS

The Morgan Stanley investment bank has recently launched a fund that, in addition to investing in the usual tech stocks, also focuses on the shares of a school based in Beijing: the TAL Education Group. A school that employs 35,000 people. This fact gave me two thoughts to reflect on: one on China and one on our schools.

In case it is not clear to everyone, China is assuming the role of the world’s leading economic power. Not only due to the size of their GDP but also thanks to its composition. As Pierantonio Gallu writes in his book Obiettivo Cina (Objective China): “the current five-year plan and the Made in China 2025 plan are driving China’s transition from a low-cost manufacturing nation to the leading nation in industry-applied technological and IT developments.” Need proof? Research by New York-based company CB Insights recently ranked the 10 most innovative start-ups. The first 2 places are held by Chinese companies (the third is SpaceX by Elon Musk). None are European.

The economic development of a country is also driven by the efficiency of its school system. Proof of this is the fact that China is in third place as a destination country for university students who decide to study abroad (the first is the US, the second is the UK).

Unfortunately, in Italy, as Gian Arturo Ferrari writes in his September 18th editorial in the Corriere della Sera, when it comes to school, Italians today worry about the desks (with or without wheels), masks, transport, etc. But forget that even a recent OECD survey certifies that our students’ preparation is below the average of OECD countries.

I’ll end with a personal anecdote. My wife, who has been teaching math for 35 years in junior high school, confirmed that every year she is forced to lower the bar. The students who come to her are less and less able to read, write or calculate. Italian and math are neglected.

If we do not become aware of the school problem and, as Ferrari says, we do not give teachers back the social prestige they deserve (they are among the lowest paid in Western Europe), we are destined to drop to the bottom of the class in terms of economic systems as well. And let us not be fooled by those few talents who flee abroad and make the news. Italy is second to last in Europe in terms of the number of university graduates: only 27.6% of young people between 30 and 34 have completed university studies compared to a EU average of 40.3%.

HOW TO NETWORK WELL

I just read the book Robots Can’t Network (For Now) by Gianfranco Minutolo from which I got confirmation of my method of working as well as some interesting ideas. I’ll highlight a few themes now and refer you to the reading of the book for a more complete picture.

Over the past few years, I have been using LinkedIn and Sales Navigator (LinkedIn’s social selling tool) a lot for my business development activities abroad. They are platforms that allow you to identify not only the companies who could become potential clients but also the name and surname of the decisionmakers; as well as being able to contact them. LinkedIn pushes you to expand your network of connections more and more, giving the impression of being able to get in touch with an infinite number of people. In fact, many users send connection requests in bursts – without personalizing their invitation to connect – as if they were collecting baseball cards.

Minutolo’s book makes us reflect on the limits of this network of digital contacts. In fact, very rarely does this lead to a follow-up meeting (Minutolo talks about meeting for coffee together) or even just an introductory meeting via telephone or video-call. Our interpersonal relationships are facilitated by digitalization, but we must avoid being totally driven by technology. True networking can start like this but then it must follow through to a truer knowledge of the other.

Besides the “collectors of contacts” there are also those who use LinkedIn as if it were a door-to-door salesman. Of course, one of the purposes of networking is also to find new customers, but experience teaches me that it is more effective if you do not use a blatantly commercial approach right away. The book talks about a more social approach: I contact you because we have things in common, then maybe we will do business together. So an attitude of openness and of curiosity without necessarily expecting something in return.

And here the theme of the so-called soft skills, increasingly important today and which the author invites not to leave to chance but to enhance; much like we do for the technical aspects of our profession. The list of soft skills is long. I will mention a few to help you understand what we are talking about: autonomy, emotional intelligence, communication skills, teamwork, etc. According to Minutolo, the common thread that unites these soft skills is precisely the ability to create, manage and maintain interpersonal relationships over time.

We live in a world where innovation in the technical field quickly makes our skills obsolete. Investing time every day in networking well certainly opens the mind and new horizons. And a meeting – more than a click of the mouse – can change your professional life.

From the same publishing house you can find my book: Exporting in 7 Steps