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  January 30th, 2017 | Written by

Move to Exporting 201

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  • Exporting 201 companies identify their ideal distributors and recruit them.
  • Exporting 201 companies look for distributors that will invest in growing the business.
  • Placing blame on distributors for poor performance is unlikely to result in real improvement.

Companies that have had some export success selling though distributors often reach a point where their sales growth flattens or stalls. They wish their exports were a strategic part of their business, with predictable double digit growth quarter after quarter, but they aren’t sure how to get there from where they are.

This series will outline the key steps needed to truly move your distributor export business to the next level—one where exports become a key strategic business unit. But warning: this is not an easy process, and requires some investments that may take a little time to pay back, as well as a bit of faith. Take comfort that many companies have made this shift, and have never looked back.

In our previous article, we discussed the importance of changing your mindset. In this installment, we’ll look another key step in moving your export business to the next level: change the way you choose your distributors.

Most exporters begin by signing up distributors that approach them. They are typically so excited to find new foreign outlets for their products that they aren’t terribly picky about the partners they sign up. They figure any incremental sales are a good thing.

The likelihood of finding the best partners using this approach, however, are quite small. Sure, you may occasionally get lucky and find a gem or two, but most will likely be transactional distributors. They order your products occasionally, but never really invest in growing the market. The hard truth: you will never develop the international sales you need and deserve with those kinds of distributors.

The way Exporting 201 companies find partners is completely different. They identify their ideal distributors and recruit them. They systematically identify desired partner criteria, seek out promising partners, and evaluate each against their criteria, usually using a scorecard or other consistent scoring method. They look for distributors that will invest in growing the business, and in turn, they also invest in their distributors—becoming true partners, an aspect we’ll discuss in a later article in this series.

This process starts with data analysis, as well as corporate soul-searching. Data analysis helps tease out those parameters that your most successful distributors have in common, and an honest look at why others have been less productive.

Suppliers need to identify and accept responsibility that some of their own past behaviors have resulted in poor distributor results, another aspect we’ll discuss later in this series. Managing distributors is a two-way process, and simply placing all the blame on the distributors for poor performance is unlikely to result in real improvement. Exporting 201 suppliers identify necessary behavior changes they need to make, and implement steps to help make those adjustments.

Advanced exporters also recognize they need to make sometimes difficult decisions about terminating non-performing legacy distributors. When suppliers have been in Exporting 101 mode for several years, current personnel may not even know why or how certain distributors were signed. Personal relationships may have been developed over this time, even though sales results are poor or uneven.

There may be good reasons to keep on one or two of these poor-performing legacy distributors, but advanced exporters know the rest will need to be terminated. A few of these may be rehabilitated or brought up to your new standards, but these efforts need to be carefully targeted. And these initiatives need to be implemented with a clear go/no-go decision timeline. Too many beginning exporters waste a lot of time and energy having repeated and extended back-and-forth discussions with underperforming distributors.

Exporting 201 companies recognize that they need a completely different approach to finding distributors and interacting with them. We’ll explore how advanced exporters manage their distributor network differently in our next article.

Doris Nagel is the CEO of Globalocity, and has 25+ years of hands-on global experience, focusing on strategic partnering, indirect sales channel management, and market entry. She’s a frequent speaker and author, and is currently working on a book on international distributor networks. Join Globalocity’s upcoming webinar, where we’ll show you a step-by-step process to systematically recruit better distributors.