From checking reputation to communicating terms effectively, here are the highlights of our recent discussion on finding an overseas agent
Paul Noon is the West Midlands international trade director at UKTI
Exporting agents can help drive growth: Having a good agent on the ground can drive your export growth across a number of markets at the same time. Agents are a good way of projecting your company into overseas markets, and a great agent will drive a business forward and grow markets, creating profits and turnover. Exporting will challenge the parent company to innovate and this can support growth in home markets as well.
Be careful to choose an agent who's right for you: If you select a poor agent you can damage any potential future market. Disengaging an agent can be complex and time-consuming, and all the time your product is not being sold. This underlines the importance of taking time to find the right agent from the start.
UKTI can help you find an agent: UKTI also does a lot of agent finding for companies. We can call them up and have the first conversation about the product, gauge interest and ensure they are a credible partner. This process also helps understand the wider market, competition and so on. We would then give the validated list to the company for a more detailed follow-up.
Ignaty Dyakov is a director at Russia Local Ltd
Be aware of different ways of doing things in different countries: You have to have an open mind as traditions are different across different countries, and some customs may seem strange for British businesses. However, always bear in mind certain principles you might have in terms of who you're ready to work with and what is unacceptable. When talking about Russia and some other developing markets, be ready for bureaucracy and thus longer processing times. Be patient and appreciate the job your agent does. A good agent will also be able to teach you a lot about dealing with his or her countrymen.
Adam Unsworth is sales director at Plastic Card Services
Be clear about defining your agreement: Exclusive agency agreements for specific territories can be tempting to give away based on promises of large volumes of work. This has to be based on deliverable business within defined timeframes. Otherwise overseas areas can become locked to potential new business from other sources.
Think of your agent as long-term: We've found that long-term relationships with agents work best for all parties. Ultimately, the client relationships are often formed by the agent - and given the potential language and culture differences it makes sense to maintain those relationships rather than starting again and rocking the boat.
Marie Boyer is the managing director of the exporting firm France Line International Transport Ltd
Here are the three most important things to look for in an agent:
• Who do they currently act for? What are the products they currently sell and how similar are these to yours?
• How good the agent is at communicating with you and also at marketing and selling their current products?
• What advice they can give you in terms of adapting the product to the local market taste and culture, and the development of new products.
Rosana Mirkovic is the head of SME policy at the ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants)
Make sure your agent has experience of your industry: You should look for agents who have established contacts in your field and a proven track record of helping other companies achieve sales in the same area you're after. While this does cut you out of the process to some extent, you can ensure that you remain part of some key processes and even attend important meetings in person. Recruiting an overseas agent does not mean that you just let them get on with it. You will need to stay involved and this should include building relationships with important customers over time.
Anne Murphy is a director at Innovi Business Growth Ltd
Research around before choosing your agent: It's very important to undertake due diligence before signing up an overseas agent. Exporters should get references from other UK exporters who work with the agent and also run a credit check. Other important things to take into consideration are the spread and experience of the agent's sales force and the agent's ability to provide an after sales service if required.
How can you go about finding an agent? Trade shows and trade magazines are some of the ways that agents can be found. You should also speak with trade associations, embassies and consulates as they can also be good sources of information. Speak with other companies who sell similar but not competing products through an agent.
Giles Dixon is the co-author of Exporting Made Easy
Take it one step at a time to limit risk: In order to mitigate the risks, it may be sensible to limit the initial territory for the agent and, if you have a range of different products, avoid giving the agent the right to sell all of them until they've proved themselves. And include some target sales figures in the agreement. These can be updated as time goes on.
Marianne Waters is the director of Red Dog Design, a leather accessories company
It's important that your agent loves your product: Love of the product definitely helps in all ways. I believe when you do have a product that the agent really feels is something they enjoy selling and talking about, half the job is done. My agent is simply a lady who bought a BagPod by me, loved it so much and she is now supplying more than 45 independent boutiques in Finland alone!
Mat Lashford is the export business development manager for Taylor Bins
Several agents use clients expanding into the same market and market them in bulk: A lot of agents do this for two reasons. First, costs such as trade shows can be saved by sharing stand costs with multiple brands and second, customers will be shared within a specific market. These shared customers will start to buy from the agent, who will start being known as a one-stop shop.
To read the full Q&A click here.
• Do you have any top tips about finding an overseas agent? Please comment in the thread below.
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