Few of us in our working lives will not have listened to sales people banging on about their ‘gut feeling’, that feeling of certainty from within, and we have all seen the results of the ‘gut feel ‘ both gone good and gone bad. However, it isn’t a matter of luck, but an instinct can be very strong and remarkably accurate, stronger and more reliable with years of experience.
This account of the recent appointment of a Canadian distributor for one of our clients is based on a very strong gut feeling I had, and four months on I think that feeling is being borne out. My first contact with the company followed an OMIS (Overseas Market Introduction Service) report commissioned by my client with UK Trade & Investment, Toronto, during the summer. The report provided a list of about 20 potential contacts, with about half having expressed immediate interest. Having seen large numbers of such reports over the years, and commissioned several in my own working life from the days when they were called Tailored Market Information Reports (remember the TMIR?), I generally work on the rule of thumb that it is often the companies who are too busy to show interest who are actually the ones you need to speak to.
My client’s new distributor was on the ‘Awaiting Response’ list, and after several unsuccessful attempts by the Commercial Officer to engage with them, I decided it was time for a direct approach and after a brief email exchange arranged to speak with them by telephone. It’s often the best way, and there were a couple of other pointers that led me to that decision: first they already successfully represented another UK company who is known to me; second they operated in a business area that was specific to my client’s requirement. There is also the simple point that for a company who has never heard of you to consider representing your products, they will want to know more about what the product can do than can properly be explained by an intermediary. They are likely to want to talk with someone with direct technical knowledge, experience of selling to certain customer profiles, to learn about new opportunities outside their normal business reach, and to have some knowledge of their customers’ businesses. Talking the same language, if you like.
It is also very easy in this age of the Internet and Social Media to communicate without actually talking, when a telephone conversation is both the best, and often the preferred way, through which our customers like to be approached. The warmth of a human voice, and the knowledge and experience that can support its words, has far more powerful an impact than a series of emails, chat messages, or social media postings. The OMIS did its job. It was for me and my client to make the next moves, and we contacted each of the companies on the list, speaking directly to a number of them via phone or video link, before shortlisting those we needed to know more about.
But really, in my own mind the decision was almost made after my first conversation with the distributor. Considering that they had been playing ‘hard to get’, it would normally have seemed strange for them then to ask for an exclusive deal for the whole of Canada. This sent the signal that they were not only interested, but that they recognised the potential for the new products in their market sector. After I explained that exclusivity had to be earned through performance their interest remained, and we eventually agreed a way forward. My client had no representation at all in Canada up to that point, and after a positive conversation it was agreed that we would ring fence the Province of Ontario for the new distributor to show what they could achieve over the following 12 months. At no point during our discussions did I doubt my initial gut feeling, and I was pleased that we had achieved an initial good result.
TORONTO AT DAWN APPROACHING CHRISTMAS - 2ND DECEMBER 2013
Note the word ‘initial’! I had facilitated the appointment of a distributor in an overseas country without actually having met them, without having seen their offices, without having met their customers, and without them having any kind of online presence other than email. Had my client taken that route I would probably have told them off for being rash! However, before I recommended the appointment I had spoken to their other UK principal and that gave me the confidence to move forward. I had done something similar with a company in Hong Kong for the same client some 18 months previously, and that has proven to be a good decision.
The importance of all selling is in the follow-up, and it was agreed that I should combine a visit to a major industry exhibition in Toronto in December with a few days out and about with the new distributor. They did not disappoint. In fact they car exceeded even the expectations that I had, introducing me at a high level to some of the best architectural and design practises in and around Toronto, with several agreeing to specify my client’s products before I returned to the UK.
The distributor has since placed a stock order with my client which was put on a ship during the Christmas holidays. The interest that both their direct efforts in the market, and my support for them in meeting their customers to talk about their needs, has generated a momentum on which we now need to build. It is always pleasing when you get it right, and when a gut feeling can turn out so well!