Selling into export markets

Occasionally you come a cross a business that reminds you of what it takes to be successful. Here was a export business that was selling process control instrumentation into a well defined global niche market.

Selling was done by a UK-based sales engineer who had intimate knowledge of his market place, and with a market-leading technology, the company had been able to price its products to make a handsome profit.

Support costs were low and the products were made entirely in the UK. What more could a government want – a tax-paying export-led business that created employment in the UK!

Many different ways of selling into export markets

However, for most businesses, growing an export business is not going to be quite that straightforward.

A product that someone wants; selling it to them; shipping it; getting paid; low aftercare costs; and making a profit –  in principle doing business overseas is the same as doing business at home, but it is certainly more complex, and it is the complexity that adds cost and increases business risk.

How you deal with overseas clients is key

But fundamentally it is how you access and deal with the overseas clients themselves that will determine the success or failure of your export venture, and that will depend on the territory, your product, its addressable market, your target sales volume, and the level of expertise required by sales personnel etc.

Export sales channels

Thus you will be faced with a number of options for each territory you decide to exploit. Here is a brief list of some of the alternatives:

  • e-commerce: mostly for low-value commodity sales supported by web-based marketing;
  • Telephone/fax/email: for sales of low-to-medium value commodities, services and configured products;
  • UK-based Sales executives: for items such as high-value engineering products, specialist niche products and software development contracts, sold through sales visits to clients’ premises;
  • Agents: commission-based lead generators and often sales representatives, usually for low-to medium volume, high-value goods into territories where the sales are significant;
  • Distributors / re-sellers: buy and re-sell your products, usually as part of a portfolio of related products into a specific market; and
  • Overseas offices: replacing distributors, agents or UK based sales executives, where setting up a local office either reduces the cost of selling into a territory and/or enables you to manage better important key accounts along with providing a base for installation and service personnel.

And as you grow your export business, you’ll probably end up with a mix of channels in different territories depending on local factors, whilst ensuring that each one is contributing to profit.

Posted by Peter Johnson, Business Advisor with SGBA. If you would to talk to someone about your business, or your export strategy, call Peter on 07714 093406 or email him at

Sales Performance Enhanced by Persistence

Selling is difficult enough in the current climate. There is a great deal of competition and when the economy is in decline getting orders becomes more difficult with more people chasing fewer opportunities. Many leading experts will tell you all the ways in which you can improve your selling activity but most of them miss one crucial peice of advice.

Research reveals that 50% of sales people give up after one “NO” from a client. A further 25% give up after two “NOs”; still more (15%) give up after 3 “NOs”. Therefore nearly all sales people give up on a client just before they place an order! Because the facts show that 60% of all customers say no 3 times before saying yes. For sales people to be successful they need to be persistent. When a client says no they more often than not mean “not yet.”

If you need help in improving your  sales performance contact Bob Francis or call 07941426807.

What do you do when a customer makes a complaint?

What will you do if your product or service fails to meet your client’s expectations and they make a complaint?

You certainly don’t put it in your desk drawer and hope it will go away – that’s a sure way to trash your reputation.

And don’t hide behind your Terms and Conditions. We’ve all experienced being given the brush off when we thought we had a legitimate complaint – it makes you think twice about using the same company again.

Actually, you get back to them promptly and talk to them about the issue: you promise to try to resolve it within a given time-frame, and try to keep that promise.

Your client might still be unhappy with what you supplied, but they’ll be happier with you and your company as they will know you have responded to their complaint and their issue is being addressed.

Put in a Complaints Handling System

And you should do this systematically for every complaint.

Faced with this, recently, a client asked me what was meant by a Complaints Handling System that conformed to the guidelines in ISO 10002 – the client was required to do this for their accreditation.

Now, these International Standards don’t normally tell you how to do it, but amazingly there is a really good explanation in that Standard* of a complaints handling process for a small business – essentially this:

  • Devise a system to log, track and resolve complaints;
  • Set target time-scales for contacting the client and for resolving their issues;
  • Tell the client what these time-scales are, and talk to them regularly about your progress;
  • Appoint someone to administer the system – making sure these commitments are met;
  • Decide which staff will be involved in dealing directly with your clients, and get them some training if necessary – they may have to deal with frustration, anger or confrontation over the phone;
  • Take it really seriously – carry out regular audits at director level to ensure things are being done on time;
  • Use your audits to drive continual improvement; and
  • Carry your staff with you and reward them for their performance in a difficult role.

This sounds like a lot of work

Not really. If you have a culture of client satisfaction and continual improvement, you are probably carrying out most of these steps anyway.

And remember, most growing, high-performing businesses are process-led, so if you want to be like that I guess you’ll have to start putting some processes in.

Posted by Peter Johnson, Business Advisor with SGBA. If you would to talk to someone about your business, including your complaints handling system, call Peter on 07714 093406 or email him at

*ISO 100002:2004(E) Appendix A.


See our latest presentation

Customers and cash. How to get more of both! 

In difficult times most SMEs need to get more of one and conserve the other. In fact many would like to get more of both. Our latest presentation gives ideas and tips on how to do both.

Feel free to comment on the presentation and we look forward to receiving your feedback.

Appointment making tips

How do I get to meet key decision makers?

A question that I am frequently asked.

First, like all Sales people and marketeers, it is key to identify your target audience, and have a message (‘the hook’) that is likely to spark their interest. Once you have both of these clear in your strategy then you can act.

An exercise that has proved successful is to attend an exhibition. Research an exhibition that has some relevance to your business area of expertise. Check all the companies that are within your ‘geographical’ target, exhibition web sites make this quite easy to achieve before travelling. Take note of exactly where they are on the floor plan. Prepare a few words that demonstrate your knowledge of the subject, without it being a ‘sell’. It is vitally important to make sure that you are NOT selling here. In fact ‘selling’ to exhibitors is highly unethical, after all they have usually paid ‘big bucks’ to enable THEM to sell!

Only approach when all is quiet on the stand, its amazing how the most senior person pounces when all is quiet! Carefully chosen words (that contain ‘the hook’) should solicit the response, “Why dont you call in on me some time?”. Bingo! Yes, it does work.

A good tip is to practice first on two or three stands that you have NOT targeted, so, make any mistakes where it does not matter! You will be surprised how slick you will become when you come to your key targets!

Moving on to ‘telephone approaches’, the same philosophy should apply. Create a ‘guideline script’ (but create a means of expressing this without reading it parrot fashion). Approach several companies whom you regard as ‘peripheral targets’, and make your mistakes here, before you call the key targets.

How do I get past the ‘gate keeper’? This can be quite a skill! A good ‘gate keeper’ may be difficult to by pass. However, calling early in the morning, or late afternoon, when many may have gone home can prove successful. Perhaps you can inform the gate keeper of ‘what the boss is missing by not talking to you’. Another possibility is to get the e mail ID of the boss, in order to stimulate his/her interest with some well chosen words.

Networking events can also provide good opportunity. The down side is that you probably do not know who is there until after the event. But the day after, when you read the attendee list, and realise that you missed the very target you sought, drop an e mail to them. State that you wished you had met, reference something of note from the networking meeting, then state why it would be worth talking in more detail.

As a sales person, it is important to recognise you will probably never get to see every prospect you target. Some will prove impossible to track down. Accept it, do not take it personally. Learn from your approach, develop your style, and get on to the next prospect.

Want to brush up on these skills? Call Ian Thomas or Bob Francis at Southern Group Business Advisors on 0870 787 7590, or e mail /

Happy Selling!