LESSONS I LEARNED CONDUCTING OVERSEAS PARTNER SEARCHES

In mid-2014, I was introduced to the theory of Lean Exporting in the paper ‘The Entrepreneurs’ Guide to: Lean Exporting’ by Maria Cristina Hernandez – Global MBA.

This was a 6-step guide to exploring and entering overseas markets with the minimum of investment. Below is a very brief summary of the steps, you can read the full article on the website of Cristina’s company Managed Strategies

  1. Select your market
  2. Create a list of target sales channels
  3. Validate the target list
  4. Solicit & identify interest
  5. Identify the Export Price & Calculate the Landed Price
  6. Close the sale

When we were contracted to conduct a partner searches, in the UK I decided to see how effective these principles were. Of course, a partner search is not the entire sales process, Xport’s ‘sale’ is getting to #4 on the list above, before handing the qualified lead to our customer; nevertheless these steps should still be a good structure for our activities.

FirstView had already selected their target market and they had already had success in other countries in the Sign-making channel, using a reseller business model. It was decided that Xport would work this channel to find new UK-based partners.

Obtaining the member contact list of the relevant trade organization gave us a large target list of 125 individual companies, but there was no way to prioritise any of these other than getting on the phone and speaking to them. This is where I can offer value to my customer; contacting key decision makers in the UK is not easy.

Lesson 1: Getting a curated contact list will sharpen the focus of the search from the beginning

I followed the Lean Exporting suggestion of ‘calling and validating the correct contact information.’ Even so, very few companies list their direct contact details on the company website, and many want you to send details via an online form or via an info@ e-mail address. This is in stark contrast to Finland where even the MD might have their details listed on the company website.

Another cultural difference is getting access to those decision makers i.e. Sales Director or MD. Many of them are shielded behind a receptionist who will screen calls, and will not always connect you, often redirecting you that same info@ e-mail address. Sometimes I could not even get the MD/Sales Director’s name!

I started to use LinkedIn as an alternative ‘route to contact’, when sending an introductory e-mail to my target contact, I would also try to find them on LinkedIn. By doing so, I can learn more about them and their company, and they will be notified that I’ve looked at their profile, making my name familiar when I call again later.

I also used LinkedIn more directly, using my Premium account features and sending an InMail to selected targets, a much briefer message to catch their attention away from the office environment. This initiated a conversation on three or four occasions that kick-started an exchange of e-mails and a ‘sale’.

Lesson 2: Think laterally, and persevere, to make contact with the right person. Do not be discouraged by the first person you speak to

First View Manager

First View Manager: digital signage content management

Contrary to the Lean Exporting theory, I found I needed to call more than two or three times to assess interest. On several occasions, I called six, seven, or eight times – starting to feel like a stalker – only for the contact to say “Oh, I’m glad you called again, I wanted to learn more about this, but I’ve been busy.”

Lesson 3: Don’t be afraid to show some tenacity to keep going until you get a direct answer from the decision-maker

Once you finally have the attention of the right person, it’s important to be able to sell the concept of the service/product, on the understanding that pricing and trading terms need to be negotiated direct with Xport’s customer company.

By the time I passed the first batch of ten contacts to FirstView, they had a list of qualified, informed and interested leads to pursue. I’m pleased to say that eight agreed to meet FirstView within a month and only one went silent – well you can’t win them all.

Lesson 4: If you outsource the prospecting process, you can focus on the most important part, closing the deal with interested leads

By utilising the services of outside sources, you can focus on closing the deal with interested leads and, in the meantime, free up your own time to focus on other aspects of your business.

Click here to receive more details on Xport’s Partner Search, or visit www.xport.fi/en/services to see our complete range of services

firstview_abc

FirstView’s Digital Signage in action; ABC service station, Finland

Many thanks to FirstView Digital Signage. You can see their complete product and service offering at http://www.firstview.fi/

18.2.2015 Mark Wiltshear, Co-founder, Xport

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