It is important to protect your investment of time, effort and money through a planned follow-up campaign. Many potential export opportunities have died an unnecessary death through lack of a simple follow-up schedule.
From the overseas customer’s point of view, it can be something of a surprise (or even a novelty) to meet someone from as far away as New Zealand. But while the fact that you have travelled so far can impress them enough to give you a first interview and reply to your emails, our remoteness from major markets can make it just as easy for them to forget you once you have walked out of their office.
Distance also puts you at a distinct disadvantage compared to closer competitors. For example, a competitor located anywhere in Europe can take advantage of cheap local flights to service European customers, whereas the flight from New Zealand is both time consuming and comparatively expensive and therefore must be carefully planned.
This makes it imperative to develop a planned follow-up campaign and implement the plan systematically.
Following up might include:
- a mixture of phone calls and emails (phone calls are better at deepening the ‘human connection’ in a relationship)
- specific follow-up on your last meeting, pitch or presentation
- visits to the market
- sending catalogues, flyers, and your latest materials
- attending trade fairs or conferences.
Agree next steps
It is important never to leave a meeting or presentation without clarifying the next step. For example:
- “Thank you for listening. I would like to send you some more information within the next week. I will contact you afterwards to see if there is anything else you need to know.”
- “I will get a quote to you in the next three days.”
- “What is the next step from here?” If the customer undertakes to get back to you, ask when you can expect a reply and note this in your diary while the customer watches. You can then add. “Thanks. That’s fine. I’ll be in contact with you around then.” The customer then knows to expect a call.
If you leave the initiative to the customer, there is less chance of developing the relationship. However interested in your products or service the customer might be, hundreds of other things over the following days are likely to distract their attention and cause them to forget your details.
Adapt and review
The most critical aspects of follow-up are keeping in contact with the market and being ready to adapt to the future or changing markets.
Part of dealing with the future will be recognising a successful formula you can transfer from one market to a new one. But you will also need new ideas and new strategies. This means reviewing, updating or generating new plans for future exporting activity.
You need to anticipate:
- the way the market and orders are likely to grow
- what else is changing
- what might go wrong and how you will put it right.
You need to be aware of new opportunities and new markets, and look at the longer term implications of how markets are growing, and what new products are going to be required.
Visit the market
Personal relationships are fostered face to face. Nothing replaces this sort of contact or gives you a better understanding of how your product will compete and how best to position it.
Visits to the market are also an opportunity to inform and train key staff to perform better and to invite distributors or key clients to New Zealand.
Continue to increase your customers’ knowledge of your products and services.
For example, send them:
- examples or links to articles of how your products have provided solutions for similar pain points for other customers (put a monetary value on this if you can)
- any media coverage you have received
- newsletters, product information leaflets or brochures
- information about new product development
- links to, or copies of relevant industry articles or information that could be of value to them. It will help in this regard to keep your website up-to-date with the latest customer feedback and evidence of projects completed.
Agent or distributor relationships
You will also need to review agent and distributor performance. You can only do this honestly and effectively if you maintain regular personal contact with them and if you both agree on sales targets. Send them the same information you send to clients. For example, stories of how your product or service has solved customer challenges elsewhere will make it easier for agents or distributors to make sales.
Encourage open discussions about why targets were not met. Perhaps you need to offer more training, or better marketing collateral. You may need to price the product differently or target different customers.
Discuss the on-going training needs of your agent or distributor and the training needs of their clients. Perhaps your agent or distributor should be brought to New Zealand to learn more about your product or service.
The time factor
It is unrealistic to go overseas and expect an export order in the first week. It can take years to crack an export market and it will almost certainly take longer than you think, so build this time factor into your export budget.
Export is a medium to long-term commitment in terms of resources, time, and effort, especially in different cultures. You need persistence, determination and continued enthusiasm despite possible setbacks – even major ones that may mean withdrawing from a particular market.
Keep your employees in the loop
Get your staff motivated to provide excellent customer service by keeping them in touch with your export programme and all the places where your product is sold internationally. Let them know how they are contributing to an international business.
As in any business venture the most important people to your company remain your customers. It should be company policy to keep them happy wherever they are. Prove yourself a reliable company and this may be more effective in helping them build up your export business than anything else.