Move to Exporting 201
Companies that have had some export success selling though distributors often reach a point where their sales growth flattens or stalls. This series outlines the key steps needed to truly make your export business strategic, with sustainable group.
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 this installment, we examine another key step that companies need to make to move their export business to the next level — to Exporting 201 – and that is: upgrade your tools.
When companies first start exporting, they’re not sure if it makes sense to invest much in things like tools, software platforms, or apps. Business plans consist mostly of projected sales forecasts. Sales vs. forecasts are tracked with excel spreadsheets. Outlook or Google calendar may suffice for scheduling business reviews.
But by the time you’ve signed up several distributors, the whole support process can become difficult to manage. Key pieces of information about your distributors and that your distributor need reside in different places and systems. It’s often a challenge to track down promised sales tracing reports. Keeping new personnel trained in a timely manner and even keeping on schedule with business reviews can become difficult. Providing several distributors with requested information such as product data and marketing collateral on an ad hoc basis becomes time-consuming and distracting.
To effectively manage a network of indirect sales partners, distribution managers need centralized information and automated processes.
Here are some key tools that Exporting 201 companies invest in to more effectively manage their distributor network and to make them easy for their partners to deal with:
A Customer Relationship Management (CRM ) platform with customization or a module to specifically support distributors. There are even specialized Partner Relationship Management software packages that combine some or all of the functionality below.
Learning management tools. This might include a formal Learning Management System platform, or assistance creating on-demand learning modules. A learning platform allows exporters to help train distributors and new personnel quickly and consistently, as well as track training progress, verify learning effectiveness, and ensure any certifications for installations, repairs, and upgrades are maintained.
A dedicated partner portal/central content management system. This is generally a web/cloud-based application that provides a central content management system for partners to access things like product pricing, marketing collateral, company policies and procedures, current business plan, training materials, demo videos, product information, and communications. A partner portal eliminates version control issues, and minimizes one-off requests from distributors.
Contract management software. This allows suppliers to track key contract terms, dates, and goals.
Supply chain software to improve forecasting, track shipments in transit, better manage inventory and order fulfillment, and consolidate shipments to reduce costs and improve service.
Apps, including current price and product availability, shipment status, product information, and other key information from mobile devices.
Local-language website pages to help support foreign sales; ideally, these are locally-hosted and optimized for SEO in each language.
True, it’s sometimes difficult for an export manager to convince management to make significant investments in technology platforms. However, most or many of these tools also will make the company’s direct sales force more effective, and often benefit other company functions. Even small investments in apps can help automate processes, standardize data, and make it easier for distributors to do business with you.
To truly grow your export sales, make the move to Exporting 201 by investing in better tools, platforms, and apps to simplify and enhance your distributor management.
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 how the distributor onboarding process enables your distributors sell better and faster, and stay more engaged.