As with any new client we take an initial look at their sales structure and processes. What is working, more importantly, what is not working. This is the first step to building a successful overseas sales development program.
It is amazing how many people don’t take the time to really analyze why something is working in one region and the same thing does not seem to be working in another. When you actually investigate the reason(s) why, you start to see what looked the same on the surface between two regions is certainly not the same.
The following few paragraphs will outline some of the strategies we employed this past summer to help an Ontario manufacturer servicing the heavy equipment industry hit a home run on their first trip to Chile. These same strategies can be employed in virtually every sector.
A sampling of what we learned about our client:
- Very strong product value proposition and good understanding of competition
- Their product covered several sectors: any sector that uses large amounts of lubricating oil
- Have good success in mining sector
- 90% of sales in Canada, 10% overseas
- 7 distributors in Canada, 20 distributors overseas
- 4 distributors in Canada doing more that 80% of total company sales
- 2 of the overseas distributors were consistently generating new business while the rest seemed to be struggling
- Many distributors simply not moving product
It is easy to chalk it up to the old 80-20 rule and leave it at that, but it really is important to identify how you can increase the odds in your favor.
We then profiled the 6 successful distributors and several of the unsuccessful ones. Some of the questions we asked were:
- How were they found?
- Why did our client chose them?
- Why did the distributors chose this product?
- What do their businesses look like – how do they operate?
- Who is the driver in the company?
- What are their key skills, assets (for example: great door opener, closer, or well connected or all of the above)
- What do the companies who buy from them say about them?
Among several other discoveries, we found that all of the distributors were successful in their own right but many were not focusing on our clients products. It was a matter of priority. The failing distributors had very similar attributes: They all carried an over abundance of products and typically focused on the bigger ticket items. They simply had too many products to be able to give our clientâ€™s equipment the attention required to generate revenue.
On the other hand, all of the successful distributors were carrying a maximum of three product lines. One might define these individuals as agents, however they do purchase and inventory product at their cost.
Trade shows and trade commissioners:
Our clients old model for finding distributors was through trade show attendance and/or the trade commissioner service. These strategies, simply put, seldom work and are often extremely costly if not combined with a sound, detailed market analysis.
Unless you know exactly who you want to connect with in the market and why, that you will likely connect with the wrong folks at a trade show. It may take you a few years of lost time and money to figure it out, but that is often the case. After looking closely at the results of their old approach that is precisely what our client realized as well.
We have also found that many distributors will tie up distribution rights to a market simply to keep the competition from getting it. Or, you are simply the flavor of the month and will (they hope) serve to solve their existing problems. So it is always good to understand what the real motives of your new sales channel prospects really are. This is why we always say invest in knowing the lay of the land before diving in.
The other common approach is to talk to a trade commissioner who will generally invest an hour or two perhaps looking in a phone book or consulting a rolodex to see who they know. Why do people rely on this approach to build their business I will never understand. Don’t get me wrong, the trade commissioners service can be quite helpful but youâ€™d better be clear on exactly what you want.
In our clients case we now really know the key qualities required in a new distributor and it was not going to be someone we might find in a phone book. It was going to be someone that several buyers would refer to as first class, that may be looking to start a new business or carries one particular non-competitive product line.
As mentioned, our client already had their value proposition thoroughly developed, now the only difference when entering the Chilean market, was rather than just work through a trade commissioner or a trade show with little success as they had in the past, we suggested we really scrutinize the mining sector in Chile.
We started with a few simple questions:
- How many mining projects are there?
- Who owns them?
- Who manages them?
- What stages are each project in? Exploration, Construction, Production.
- How is equipment purchased by these organizations?
- What do their maintenance programs look like?
- Who do they purchase from?
- Who has a good reputation for client service, who does not?
- Who is in the industry, well known and potentially looking for something different or retiring?
This was to ensure we left nothing to chance. It also ensures that when you do find the right channel partner you have a much better idea of what you should expect from them in the market.
Prior to attending a trade show you are far better off to know everything you can about your target market; market size, competition, key players both corporately and individually as well as tax / import duties.
I put to you that finding out all of the above is far less expensive than spinning ones wheels at a trade show, because once you know who your targets are you can skip the show and endeavor to get your prospects direct attention, with none of the distractions that exist at trade shows.
When we determined the ideal qualities of the perfect distributor in Chile, we used that information to question several dozen procurement managers (all prospective customers). You see, while conducting research (independently) as we are the Canada Export Centre, it certainly did not come across as a sales call, but that is exactly what we were doing – getting these buyers intrigued about the product. The approach of inferring 3rd party credibility has proven successful for our clients.
When mining companies asked if the equipment could be purchased in Chile we would actually say no – not yet – this great Canadian company wants to be sure if they make the product available they are using the best distribution partner. â€œWho do you know, like and trust that currently sells other types of equipment to you.â€
More specifically our results:
Canada Export Centre Corp. was engaged by our client to research, identify and engage appropriate and attractive distributor prospects in Chile. Specifically, our task involved identifying suitable fleet maintenance managers and potential end buyers of the Units, with an emphasis on the heavy equipment industry. We chose to narrow the focus to the mining sector.
- Identified 200 mines and mining related companies, including mining procurement managers, importers and distributors of mining products, heavy equipment distributors.
- Emailed an overview of our clients company and products to all of these companies in spanish.
- Of the 200 companies on the list we contacted in spanish 63 mines and 31 companies involved in selling to the mining industry
- In the case of mines, either they were interested in the product or directed us to engage the maintenance or procurement manager.
- When a maintenance or procurement manager expressed interest, we explained our goal to find a distributor and asked for their help.
- Several mines referred potential distributors, one mine emailed our client directly to request further information about the product. All but 10 expressed an interest in learning more about the product.
- From the mining company interviews and the interviews with the 31 companies involved in selling to the sector we identified 13 strong distributor prospects, all of who were willing to invest in up-front stocking inventory in Chile.
- We profiled them in order of priority not by their level of excitement but against the ideal distributor parameters we laid out at the beginning.
- We then met with our client and discussed each distributor in detail. This resulted in the list of potential distributors getting narrowed down to 5 that he would meet on his trip to Chile.
- One week later our client chose the best of the 5 prospects and signed a deal including the stocking order.
Here is what he put in an email from Chile 1 week ago after choosing to go forward with one of the five companies:
Hola mi amigo…the guys are perfect and very well connected ….they have an office in the south that works with marine and forestry…….another office in Santiago that works in construction…….and a 3rd office in the north in the mining….All is signed and i will be returning for the training in October after they receive the stocking order by ocean freight. Please go forward with Colombia and Venezuela as we talked about……
Gerardo you did truly a professional job……Thank you!
In addition to making our clients more money more quickly we have consistently saved them huge amounts of time and frustration.
To assuage your concern over the cost of our service, the ROI was more than 10 fold on their first trip, and very likely to exceed 50:1 return this year.
President and CEO