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7 Ways to Build Relationships with Overseas Companies
Products, technology or price don’t buy mindshare – it’s all in the relationship. For exporters looking to nurture relationships with overseas companies, the Canons of Channel Management can transform the approach to channel management, writes Brian English of Qupact International.
A number of years ago we were helping a company in Cork to assess why its sales channels were not performing and what needed to be done to derive more revenue from them. One channel, in particular, was something of a mystery as the product fit was perfect and the customers it was dealing with were the exact targets that the Irish exporter was looking for. It was based in Norway and the deeper we probed, the greater the mystery became. Finally, we asked the obvious question – when was the last time you visited this partner? And the answer floored us – between seven and eight years ago!
If there’s one thing that 25 years of channel management has taught us, it’s that it’s all in the relationship. Products, technology or price don’t buy mindshare; this is something only a solid and enduring business relationship can capture, and the biggest challenge for the typical mono-lingual, island-dwelling exporter is cultivating and nurturing a long-term relationship with an overseas partner.
Over the years, we have honed a set of principles, which we call the Canons of Channel Management. We stick them on exporters’ walls and drill them into sales managers and CEOs up and down the country. Together, the Canons crystallise an attitude to a company’s channel partners that has to be shared by everyone in the exporting organisation. When they are fully embraced and used to inform day-to-day decisions, a company’s whole orientation towards its external sales partners – its feet on the street in overseas markets – is transformed.
1. Resources: Place your channels at the centre of your universe and organise your resources around them
An exporter needs to recognise that its channels are a legitimate part of its sales organisation and not an external add-on. Only when it embraces this philosophy will it be able to adequately resource the channel sales support organisation. This includes everyone from materials planning to after-sales service.
2. Reward: Know who in the channel is ultimately responsible for sales of your products and identify everyone who is rewarded for selling them.
In every channel partner, you need a champion. He/she is the person who has a vested interest in your products or services succeeding. His reward may be monetary or it may come in the form of kudos, peer recognition or the satisfaction of his customers.
3. Risk: Never expect the channel to take a risk with its business that you would not take with your own
Too many manufacturers expect their channels to take risks – with creditors, inventory, regulations and margins – that they would never take with their own businesses. This is a real acid test of the exporter’s level of understanding of the partner’s business.
4. Relations: Remember that the end-customer relationships are the channel’s, not yours – that’s why you’re using the channel in the first place
In the complex, global economy we live in, customers very often trust and rely upon their local suppliers on whom they have depended for many years and who have given them loyal service in good times and bad. Exporters often forget why they engaged the channel in the first place – because it owns these relationships. Continuing to remember that and respecting the channel’s value in the supply chain is vital to build long-lasting relationships.
5. Face Time: Maximise face time
Once in seven years is not enough! As an exporter, you need to plan to see your channel partners on a quarterly basis for the first year or two and after that, at least twice a year. Break bread together and make small talk, whatever it takes to build a person-to-person connection and see them whenever you can.
6. Loyalty: At all times, demonstrate unswerving loyalty and long-term commitment
We often compare channels to life partners and, when it comes to loyalty, there is no better analogy. Once trust is betrayed, it is very difficult – or impossible – to rebuild. Years of hard work can be undone with a single, bad decision driven by a lack of communication, greed or misunderstanding of a situation. In the final analysis, the relationship is not between companies, but between people, and it is therefore built on trust and loyalty.
7. Honesty: Be honest and transparent in all your dealings
It’s certainly possible to deceive all of the people some of the time or vice versa, but it’s never possible to build a lasting business relationship unless there is openness and honesty between the partners. Dealing with a channel conflict openly, with full disclosure, is more likely to strengthen a relationship than to damage it.
Qupact International is a Dutch-based consultancy with a company in Dublin, that specialised in sales channel development. Its CEO, Brian English, is Irish-born and educated and has been living in the Netherlands for more than 20 years.
Written by: Brian English, CEO, Qupact International – consultancy specialising in sales channel development
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