For quite some time now, companies looking to solve modern challenges must look beyond, not just their local markets, but also beyond the traditional European markets. This is anything but easy because every market is intrinsically different - competition, business customs and environment, as well as customer expectations vary from market to market.
Despite the unprecedented informational connectedness of the modern world, everything happens "out of sight" and most of the obstacles and problems that make our lives difficult in foreign markets are still unknown. Most of us understand the importance of local representatives who manage remote markets. Nonetheless, building up your own sales network is not easy, nor cheap.
When I speak with various managers of Slovenian exporters, most of them tell me that their international path started ten or more years ago at specialized international trade fairs. There we can present and explain our products to interested potential partners. At the same time, however, leading experts have the opportunity to use a personal touch to demonstrate their competences and commitment to the business.
There is always another benefit of attending trade fairs. It gives us the opportunity to meet potential partners, agents, distributors, or other kinds of representatives that see our offering as an opportunity for business. Slovenian businesses are often appreciated for their seriousness, quality products, and relatively low prices. Sometimes, however, due to insufficient sales abilities they allow international representatives to establish business relationships in which they have a greater control of information and activities, leaving the supplier in a weaker position. Many such relationships are not a "real" own sales networks and do not fulfill expectations - well, at least not on one side.
Companies that are well off and have a larger pool of employees have established their own subsidiaries then placed their own leaders and employed local experts. Naturally, this calls for larger investments and, despite wider control, comes with a complete different set of challenges, which also require special leadership knowledge and experiences to tackle.
I also had the opportunity to get to know some companies that use internationalization models similar to those of large Multinational Corporations, that have developed such models throughout decades. Those companies have gathered experience and knowledge of international business. Thus, creating their own successful international network model by taking best practices from top corporations and adapting them to their needs.
A Succesful Sales Network
A successful own sales network can only be called that when:
Salespeople tackle the market with a constant and well-defined sales approach which reveals true opportunities, discovers and works decision-makers, and makes use of our competitive advantages;
Salespeople are well-qualified to carry out this sales approach;
It is clear what kind and under which circumstances salespeople receive central support;
A yearly sales plan and monthly/weekly operating plan are clarified;
Salespeople are regularly accompanied by their sales director, who has complete insight into their performance.
Although it is important where and how sales representatives are logistically organized, it can vary greatly from company to company depending on their particularities, activities, and markets. It is imperative to implement the aforementioned principles and there are experts who can help you with that.
Tips and Traps
People are vital, the system is even more so. Let's not perpetuate the harmful idea that it all depends on luck of getting the right person for the job. I'm telling you, it is more important that we know exactly what and how much the salesperson should be doing, as well as being able to tell whether they are successful or not. Of course, it is not always that black and white either - there are not only good and bad salespeople, but most of them are somewhere in the middle. This is where the system that helps us measure the performance and act appropriately comes in and is vital for success.
Have a clear strategy - an idea how you will conquer a single market. It doesn't have to be the right strategy, just as long as it is clear. After that, make sure to communicate it as often as possible. Only when you feel that you've been explaining the same strategy to someone for the third time, then it might be enough. Above all else, know that the strategy can be incorrect and that you have to be open to feedback. Do not forget that every success usually starts with a failure. To learn quickly and adapt is still better than wasting months or years not finding the right strategy.
Do not reinvent the wheel. Although you know most of what I wrote or you feel like everything is clear, do not waste precious energy and money on mistakes that you do not need to make. They have been done before by others. Many good practices can be brought in by specialists that have helped dozens different companies in a similar situation as yours. After all, you are not looking forward to having a good time building your sales network, but to the rewards that can already be reaped within the first half-year!