As the world flattens, many companies are trying to grow their business across international borders. This often entails building an international sales channel – which sounds easy, but is really hard, and requires a lot of energy and perseverance.

Here are some practices that are key to success – whether you are working with a direct sales force, a rep or a distributor.

  1. Keep your commitments – this is truly the number one rule in building a sales channel. The first time you let down your salesperson is the last time you will be trusted. Never make a commitment that you do not keep. Salespeople deal well with uncertainty, (that’s what they are paid for) but they cannot deal with missed commitments. So —deliver what you promise and only promise what you can deliver. This rules applies to everything from sending out quotes to when the product will ship.
  2. Make sure you get plenty of face time – do not think you can set up a successful sales effort unless you are willing to spend considerable time in your salesperson’s territory. There is no substitute – even in this day of Skype and WebEx and GotoMeeting – for face-to-face meetings at your agent’s location and at your own. Getting a tour of a customer’s factory (or store or laboratory) creates opportunities and insights into future requirements as well as competitive activity of which you otherwise will never be aware. Having your rep spend time at your facility will allow personal connections that will be invaluable to you all. Face time is required!
  3. Educate, educate, educate. No one is comfortable talking about something that he/she does not understand, regardless of the culture. If your sales agent is not at ease talking about you or your products – he/she will not do it. Your salesforce wants to be valuable to your customer – product knowledge is the pre-requisite to air time.
  4. Sales calls are the real sales training ground – don’t just visit your rep at a trade show or at a company headquarters. Go out and visit customers. Nothing makes a salesperson more excited about you and your line than having first rate support – and your visit gives your salesperson a reason to call on key accounts and even break through to a high level decision-maker.
  5. Communications is vital – especially when communicating across language barriers – so: repeat, clarify and repeat. There is nothing worse than a missing preposition or a nuance skipped over for creating hard feelings or lost sales opportunities. Always, yes, always, follow up a conversation with a written recap. Write in clear understandable words. Telling someone in another culture that a sales opportunity is a “slam dunk” may not mean what you intend!
  6. Create a rhythm – and keep it – if the sales cycle is months long it may just annoy everyone to have a daily reporting system. On the other hand, if time is of the essence, make sure that you follow up every day. But once you establish the rhythm of a weekly (or a monthly) conversation – or a daily text – keep it up. Salespeople work hard for the companies that show them commitment.

To be continued…

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