Selling directly to overseas clients

If you want to cut out the middleman, here's how to do it...

Many startups prefer to sell directly to clients, rather than use an intermediary such as an agent or distributor, and it’s easy to see why. By cutting out the middlemen, you won’t have to pay any commission, and you can build strong, personal relations with your customers. You can keep control over all aspects of the sales process, and promote the product – and your company – exactly as you want.

However, there are also several key considerations. Handling the overseas sales process in-house will demand a lot of time, and you’ll have to reorganise your company to handle the increased volume of work. There’s a host of new skills to master, and you’ll need the knowledge to communicate effectively with your target market.

If you do choose to sell directly, here are five key things you need to do:

1. Set up a new department

Set up a new department within your company devoted to overseas sales. All files relating to your overseas clients – records and receipts, correspondence, promotional literature and customer details – should be filed separately, and it’s good practice to allocate a specific amount of time to dealing solely with overseas business each week.

2. Get quality training

A good training programme will give you the skills, and the confidence, to deal effectively with overseas customers. The Institute of Export (www.export.org.uk) runs an excellent export training programme, and regional Chambers of Commerce also provide their own courses.

Several companies also run crash courses in overseas trade; Copernicus offers up to six days’ free one-to-one mentoring as part of its Passport to Export service (www.passporttoexport.co.uk).

3. Plan your visits

You may not have to visit your target market on a regular basis, but it’s vital that you do go occasionally, to meet existing clients and identify new ones. To find out about key trade events in your target market, the Federation of International Trade Associations’ list of conferences (www.fita.org/conferences.html) is a good place to start.

4. Print new literature

All the key forms of correspondence – business cards, mailshots, invoice letters, marketing brochures etc – will need to be translated into the language of your target market. This will ensure your customers understand exactly what you’re telling them, and it will create an excellent impression.

5. Check local legislation

If you’re handling overseas sales yourself, you need to understand all the legal issues surrounding your product. Is it legal in your target market? Do its size, shape, contents and appearance comply with local regulations? Are there any laws against overseas trade in your target country? It’s best to be clear on all these questions, and more, before you start selling.

6. Explore the local media

Take a look at the local print, broadcast and online media to find out how other companies market their product, and identify potential areas to exploit. Finally, and importantly, you  need to find out whether any advertising channels, or messages, are banned in your target market.

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