Volume 36, Issue 12, December 2001


Shall We Dance?
        Choosing the Perfect Export Partner
by Rene Bergero

Perhaps you recall a previous column that described pros and cons of utilizing different types of business partnerships as an export development strategy. Now that you are ready to get into the export game, allow me to provide some guidelines for finding the right partner. 

First let me offer some general observations on the subject. Many agreements seem to come into being through a process based more on luck and Happenstance than on a deliberate plan. No one seems to know how or why the relationship began, or what the relationship’s goals and objectives are. The first prospect that pops up seems to be in most cases the only prospect. This is definitely not the way to proceed. How, then, does one find the best possible partner? Following are some simple, logical steps that will help you find a more viable method.

What and Who Do You Want?
Where do export sales fit in? Are these simply a spin-off from domestic sales, “icing on the cake,” so to speak? If this is all you expect, then that’s all your export sales will be. Treat exports and its business relationships with the same attention as you do domestic sales. If you tolerate mediocrity, then mediocrity is all the relationship will offer.

When agents and distributors appear from nowhere, they look good in comparison to the alternative: nothing. Resist the temptation to make a snap decision. Take the time to identify and quantify what you consider to be the essential qualities of a top-performing sales partner. Develop a list of specific questions and demand full answers. Think of it as a long-distance job interview.

Research, Research, Research
Use the local trade mission for the countries you are exploring to obtain data on all possible sales agents and distributors. Go online and use the international business yellow pages. If you purchase data, make sure it is industry-specific and easy to manipulate your search criteria. 

Good trade partners must be won. Beware of any responses that seem too eager. It may signal a “line-collecting” organization, which is usually a very small firm with limited resources who would represent your firm only passively.

Final answer
By now you should have a pool of qualified and interested prospects. Prepare one last set of questions. Based on the responses, organize a trip to meet with the best candidates, or arrange to meet with them at a mutually convenient site such as a trade show. Close the deal.

A systematic approach will lessen the chances of entering into non-productive relationships and will increase the likelihood of a successful venture into foreign markets. The steps outlined above are well-worn and proven. 


BERGERO Rene Bergero serves as export sales manager for Sommer & Maca Industries in Cicero, Ill. His column appears bimonthly.



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