Dynamic Business Logo
Home Button
Bookmark Button

Your business is ready to export, and you’ve chosen a territory to sell into—it’s time to visit your market.

When you’re there, establishing relationships with clients and customers takes time, tact, and preparation. Some trade experts offer market development advice.

Market visits will round out your understanding of the culture and environment of the country or territory you’re planning to export to, and let you see how products and services are used. “If you’re committed to looking at a market, developing it, and getting the full benefit from it, you are going to have to do your homework, and you’re going have to visit more than once,” says Gerard Seeber, Austrade’s manager for NSW and ACT.

If you’re planning to visit a market, there are people who can help structure what you do and who you see. Seeber says one option is a dedicated visit program, which is worked out according to criteria you’ve established for your business. This is done in conjunction with an expert body.

Austrade is one of the most popular and prominent resources for organising a visit program, but you can also use export consultants (some consultancies will specialise in particular industries) or chambers of commerce. This sort of planning is beneficial in many ways, explains Seeber, as it gets you into the market and helps you minimise the time, risk and dollars involved.

The other option is taking part in a trade mission, or visiting and/or participating in an overseas trade exhibition. This can be either in the market you’re aiming for, where you can find potential buyers, distributors and customers; or trade exhibitions for the industry you’re in, even if it’s not located in your desired market, as there will still be players from your desired market there. The only real catch to trade missions, says Seeber, is they can require a substantial financial investment.

One of the main reasons to visit a market is to find a customer base or distributor for your product. Before heading to a market, you can get a good idea as to who to contact by consulting relevant local bodies. Ian Rogers, HSBC’s trade services manager for Australasia, says there are many ports of call to help identify potential customers before heading off. Banks, Austrade, ABL/State Chamber, chambers of commerce, relevant state government departments, can all provide assistance. “It’s important that exporters approach all of those organisations, because they will have contacts, they could have trade missions, or missions coming in from those markets,” Rogers explains.

International Services

Active ImageHSBC and other international banks often have contacts in various markets and can liaise with other clients who might be looking for a particular product or service, he adds. “We often get leads from our colleagues overseas looking for specific products, and we get asked whether we have any customers here that might sell to customers over there.” It’s not a formal service offered by the bank, he says, rather another way of facilitating their clients’ needs.

Checking with others in your industry, especially if you belong to an industry association, can also help, says Seeber. Attending relevant seminars by the representatives from your market, even if they’re not in the same sector as you, can be helpful. “It’s just a matter of plugging into those sorts of programs,” he says, naming the Australian Institute of Export and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade as other helpful organisations.

Even if you can’t attend a particular international trade fair, try to obtain lists of exhibitors who presented. Investigate your market’s version of the Yellow Pages for potential customers. Some countries will also have a trade index identifying key players in each industry.

Export Contacts

When in a market, and meeting potential customers, organisation is the key if you want to impress. “You need to know what your capacities are,” says Mark Evans, head of trade Australasia for HSBC. “You need to be confident in what your goods are, you need to have done your homework on the country, how you’re going to get goods there, shipping routes and lead times. You need to be very confident in your own business to manufacture, produce, and ship the goods.”

That kind of preparation is crucial, Seeber agrees. “So when you’re having that discussion, you’re starting from a really good base. You may still have to do some refinements, but at least you’re in a comfortable position.” The more you know about things like local licences or fees can also help you determine if a prospective customer is above board, he advises. If they are unaware of relevant regulations, it’s a good sign they may not be a worthwhile contact.

Austrade can also be a good reference point when you’re trying to establish if a client or company is reputable, and can also give you access to local businesses such as legal and accounting firms. “The most important thing, when you’re in a market, is to try and develop your own little network,” adds Seeber.

How many visits you make to your chosen market will depend on how quickly your relationships develop. It can also depend on the size of your business, and what form of presence in the market you’re planning. If you’re setting up an agent or importer there, you may need to visit a couple of times to get things going, says Seeber. “Once it’s running, you’ve got to give it a bit of time, maybe going across once a year. If it works, that’s really great, and you might go more often to really wrap it up.”

If you’re planning something a little bigger, such as developing a sales force or a joint venture for distribution or manufacture, it will require more time in the market, he says.

This depends on what sort of commitment you’ve got to the market, and whether it’s just going to be pure import/distribution you want someone else to handle, or whether you start down the value chain and get more involved in the company. “The more commitment you have, the more time you’re going to have to spend in the marketplace,” says Seeber.

Patience is a virtue in exporting. While some companies can forge a relationship within one meeting, these are the exceptions. Realistically, establishing a presence in a market may take up to two years. “It varies dramatically,” says Evans. “If it’s a new market, you should assume it will probably take twice as long as you think.”

Once you’re in the market and meeting people, it’s a good idea to know a little about the culture and business etiquette particular to that market.

“What’s right in China could be incorrect in Japan. You’ve got to understand the cultures, how they work, so you don’t offend your hosts,” Rogers warns. “Part of the planning in getting export-ready is understanding that, and how important it is. A lot of companies would miss out on doing business because, unbeknown to them, they’ve insulted somebody.”

Export Advice

Learning about the culture of your target market is important, says Ian Murray, executive director of the AIEX, but there’s more to it than good manners and etiquette like learning how to bow properly or exchange business cards. “It’s about knowing how business is done and how deals are struck and what in fact denotes a deal,” he says. “It can also mean having an understanding of the role of government and government officials and the role they play. The best way
to find out is to talk to someone who is doing business there, their knowledge and experience can be invaluable.”

Institutions such as the National Centre for Language Training in Sydney help exporters get a grasp of basic linguistic and cultural know-how for foreign markets. Bi-lateral chambers can also be a good source of information.

The key priority should be forming a relationship, says Seeber. You need to sell yourself as much as you’re selling your product or service, and having a grasp of the culture can help this. “People don’t want to talk about price and product straightaway, they want to talk to you, understand you. If you show understanding to them, that really enhances the process,” he advises. With Australians having a good reputation overseas in general, any exporter is already starting on the right foot. “We’ve already got the advantage of being from Australia, and by showing we can be sophisticated as well, that really helps a lot,” Seeber says.

Forgetting to follow up is one area that can trip up a lot of exporters. While the Australian work culture revolves around email these days, it’s not necessarily the same around the globe, and following up a meeting with an email message is often not a good enough sign of commitment, says Seeber. “It’s got to be on the phone,” he emphasises. “It’s definitely going to have to be that way.” Serious follow-up will also include another visit. “Letting people know you’re committed and you will be the face they will see, gives people a lot of confidence, especially as we are pretty far away. People overseas really don’t have a clear picture about what Australia is, and I think that’s why we have to be a bit proactive about follow-up style. It’s got to be personal.”

The key factor to visiting markets is planning and organisation. Both Seeber and Evans say many would-be exporters get swept up in the excitement and emotion of heading into the world of export. This can lead to trouble, either with the exporter making a lot of promises to customers that they just can’t keep, making quick agreements with overseas clients who may not be reliable, or launching into export without the financial backing to support them. As Evans stresses, “It’s critical that SMEs understand they still need to have a viable business, even though they’ve got a great story to tell, and even though there’s government support.” 

What do you think?

    Be the first to comment

Add a new comment

Guest Author

Guest Author

Dynamic Business has a range of highly skilled and expert guest contributors, from a wide range of businesses and industries.

View all posts