How to Grow International Customer Relationships

The sheer scale of the Spring Fair is impressive. Taking up all 20 halls at the NEC, you certainly need a lot of energy and a good pair of shoes. I know some independent retailers that give themselves two days to get around it all!

There are the usual comments about whether trade shows are worth the time and investment. I often get mixed responses depending on which show I am attending. Some shows simply showcase products where as others, such as Spring Fair, are more about order taking. I spoke to a Sales Director who said that he expected to take around £600,000 of orders. Not bad for five days work!

As well as providing a great opportunity to meet independent retail partners, the show also showcased new products. Speaking to a number of European owned businesses, the UK market is still a big opportunity for which they often ‘adapt’ products specifically. A Managing Director I spoke to discussed the need for simplicity, especially when it comes to product ranges. He talked about reducing thousands of skus to a few hundred, ensuring that his sales team had a simpler message to sell, along with more predictable sales and margin forecasts. Simple is often best.

The Spring Fair often puts on some great seminars and talks, especially by UKTI, providing advice on how to start exporting. This is a big opportunity for UK businesses, but often something they are often scared to do. One talk that I was drawn to was given by Jeremy Corner, the Managing Director of Blue Eyed Sun, a greetings card producer. He talked about the challenges and successes his business has had with exporting in recent years. The target was to open up businesses in three countries annually. However they achieved four per year and are now trading in twenty countries.

You can see some videos of his recent talks here.

So what advice did Jeremy give at the Spring Fair?

Here are his 7 key insights to growing international customer relationships:

1. Preparation

  • Keep your targets simple and ensure to do your research upfront.
  • Understand whether it is better to go through distributors or direct.
  • Ensure you have strong financial projections, especially around cash flow.

2. Finding International Customers

  • Trade shows are a great opportunity for finding customers as well as distribution partners. Blue Eyed Sun attend five per year.
  • Make sure to pick distributors that are right for your brand. If your products are at the higher end in price and a premium product, make sure your distribution partners are doing the same.

3. Growing

  • Ensure that you or your distributors ‘test’ the market before making big order commitments.
  • Have close dialogue with your distributors to ensure that operations run smoothly.
  • Packaging may have to be bespoke for certain markets, as well as adapting the product specifications. For example, it costs more to post a square greeting card in Germany, so there is more demand for rectangle cards (a boring fact for you)!

4. Operations

  • The size of your operation will grow. So you will need to ensure you have better stock holding as well as the ability to deal with faster turn-arounds and larger orders.
  • ‘Get lean’ – remove those who aren’t adding value and get leaner on your pricing.
  • Recruit someone with international sales and operations experience, who can manage the distributor relationships as well as shipping and orders (UK based or on the ground)

Collingwood have worked with a number of businesses to headhunt International Sales Managers and Directors in the FMCG sector, as well as English speaking locals across over 30 countries worldwide.

Here is a recent case of an International Sales Director role we recruited:

International Sales Director - FMCG Small Consumables 

5. The Lingo

  • Language has not been a major issue for Blue Eyed Sun, however some things do get ‘lost in translation’, especially around product specifications. It is helpful to ensure that both you and the distributors triple check everything as well as sending samples and approval documents.
  • FX providers are key to getting a good rate when converting your money back in to £Sterling. Make sure you read their T&C’s and don’t get caught out!

6. Paperwork

  • Paperwork on VAT and tax codes is the biggest administration piece when it comes to exporting. Make sure you are crossing every ‘t’ and dotting every ‘i’.
  • When dealing with shipping providers ensure that you provide multiple delivery notes and proof of shipping to your distributors and customers.

7. Opportunities

  • Always be on the lookout for opportunities. This could be in product development and innovation.
  • Speak to your distributors. They may often pick up on things that you wouldn’t, especially around market insights and marketing ideas.

For further information on how Collingwood can help you with international expansion or on how to continue with your success on your home soil, contact Chris Barker, Collingwood’s FMCG Consultant (+44 1829 732374)

Finally, good luck with trade in 2017 and enjoy some well-deserved rest when the current trade show season comes to an end! Until next year….

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Click here to read our blog "International Sales - Maximising Opportunities for Growth"

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