Should you keep selling overseas during Covid-19?

Unprecedented times.

It’s difficult to imagine how our worlds and realities have changed so drastically since we first heard whispers about this virus in a largely unheard of Chinese province just four months ago.

I’ll be honest – I didn’t take it all that seriously at that point. Brexit was still at the forefront of most people’s minds and especially those like myself involved in international trade and could see the impact and uncertainty looming of leaving the European Union.

So it was still business as usual in early 2020. Off I went on one of my usual 4 week Gulf trips at the end of January, enjoying time in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Developing business, market insights, connections for clients in those markets which I love and succeed in.

Home at end of February and then day by day the situation across Europe worsened and the usual forthcoming pre Ramadan trip to the Gulf looked more and more unlikely….and here we are today with many national borders shut, over a quarter of the global population on lockdown and export bans on certain essential products to help combat or feed those in their respective countries.

When it has come to this and in such a short space of time then how on earth do you actually keep selling and developing business in export markets?

For many who have already started on the export journey then there may have been a significant investment made either in time, resource or in exhibiting at an international trade show or a market visit recently. So how do you make sure that this does not become a wasted exercise of time and money for your businesses and brands?

Keep having the sales conversations

It’s not easy as the situation is delicate and each country and culture are interpreting and handling the virus in their own way. However, for those whom you have initiated an international sales conversation or have been developing business with in the run up to the current situation then there is no reason why this should completely grind to a halt.

Of course certain aspects of gaining market survey results or actually getting to a first order may now have an extended time frame but I would urge you to look at what can still be done to continue on the path to establishing business together.

  • Could you be pulling registration documents together for your products in the target market? (Whilst waiting for the Chambers and Ministries to reopen for certification/legalisation/submissions)
  • Bottoming out the distribution agreement between yourselves?
  • Working on a joint launch plan of the products in the market, for when this becomes viable?

There are a number of ways you can ensure progress is still being made on the future business you are seeking to have with new customers.

  • When it comes to existing partners then again could you review the current contracts and agreements you have with existing partners? Enhance them or improve them further?
  • Audit your market progress and what has worked well and less so in your live international markets?
  • Look at product or channel extensions in those markets in the future to grow your existing business in various territories?

Ultimately there is still plenty to do which can be done and above all continued communication is key. Reconnecting and communicating more than ever with your customer and prospect base has never been more important, even if the actual transacting is not possible at the moment.

Believe me – your customers, your stakeholders and your future sales revenues will thank you in the longer term for your commitment to keep going and to keep conversations flowing.

Think carefully about your new approaches

Evidently continuing the sales talk when the conversation has already started is much easier and justified than beginning a completely new cold approach to a prospect during this challenging time.

There is certainly divided opinion on this too, with a school of thought believing it would be insensitive and perceived as potentially ill placed to be still pitching products to new contacts.

Others who conversely think that provided it is done in the appropriate manner and from a place of not purely profiteering but to support and provide further mutual opportunities for customers and suppliers then it is fine to do so.

Personally, and working fortuitously in an area of largely health-oriented food, drink and supplement products where there is currently high demand for these kind of items I am more in the second camp. After thinking about this and not feeling like I could or should last week I come now from a viewpoint that my approach could benefit a new customer who may be experiencing supply issues or actively seeking a product that can be offered amongst my clients and producer networks. By not asking the question or making the tentative approach there could be missed opportunities. Moreover even if business now isn’t a possibility you have nevertheless initiated a conversation that can then be picked up quicker later down the line as a result of this initial effort.

So if you are comfortable doing so I would encourage you to positively put yourself out there, leveraging your existing network wherever possible to reach new potential customers overseas. Whether that is via Linked In or introductions from other business connections that you have, there are a number of ways to reach out. You can also tap into the resources of various support organisations who may be able to provide some valuable business connections or initial insights into your target markets.

Actually writing an export strategy and action plan

Finally when it comes to developing export business for brands then to do so it is always imperative to have a written export strategy and action plan, something which most companies through reactive opportunism with export don’t actually do (mainly because they just don’t have the time and know how in how to approach this!) A recent survey with PWC and the Chartered Institute of Marketing highlighted that approximately only a third of exporting UK companies actually had a written export strategy in place.

Channelled positively with what is happening around us at present and the opportunity to step back and reflect then this can be a great time to work on a higher strategic level on your export strategy and overall growth plan of your business.

There may still be uncertainty as to how the new future post Covid-19 is going to look and how we will need to adapt as businesses, brands and entrepreneurs. However it is clear that a planned structured approach to exporting works- as does having the ability to continue moving forward with your overseas sales pipeline, market knowledge and cultural awareness. What you do now and the ability to keep moving forward and staying positive has the potential to help define how your 2020 export revenues will ultimately end for you.

So keep having those sales conversations, keep communicating and keep believing in a brighter export future ahead.

As always for any export support or guidance then please get in touch.

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