Shipping office services, helpline, consultancy and supply chain security

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

The Enquiry – Evaluating the Opportunity the Kipling Way

However much we try to plan our business, there are inevitably times when events take us in an unexpected direction. This is especially true of international trade, and particularly in an age of widely accessible digital communication.

Even the most modest business tends to have a global shop window these days. It’s called a website, and it makes the message that the company chooses to share accessible almost anywhere in the world, presenting us with opportunities as well as potentially dangerous diversions.

Naturally, we all get hit by what has become known as ‘spam’, consisting of a mixture of disguised advertising, confidence tricksters and dangerous, malicious messages that either seek to capture people’s personal details or plant a virus on the recipient’s computer. We also need to avoid the ‘get rich quick’ messages about sharing bank overpayments and similar tall stories. It’s quite frightening to read about how many apparently intelligent business leaders are taken in each year by such scams, with predictably unfortunate consequences.

But it would be a mistake to dismiss all unsolicited enquiries. Any business with aspirations to build international trade needs to develop in a planned and controlled way, but every plan needs to have sufficient flexibility to allow for surprises.  In many cases, a business can be taken by surprise by a genuine business opportunity in a market they were not targeting, and it would be a mistake to dismiss such chances out of hand.

It shouldn’t take too long to evaluate most of these enquiries. The poet and writer Rudyard Kipling had a simple rule that can be our watchword:

Instead of deleting unsolicited mail unread, it might be worth taking a moment to apply Kipling’s method to see if there are any hidden pearls.


What does the enquirer want? We are really looking for specifics here. The enquiry is unlikely to be serious unless we can see straight away that the enquirer knows about the products or services we offer, and demonstrates some genuine knowledge about them and their application. If the enquiry seems to demonstrate a genuine interest in what we have to sell, we can move to the next question.


It should be easy to decipher the place where the enquiry has come from. Be wary of anything where the sender’s email address doesn’t seem to originate in the country they claim to come from. The address might also lead to a website domain that can identify the enquirer’s business or organisation. But don’t be too perturbed if the email address turns out to be owned by an internet service provider such as Yahoo or Hotmail. In many countries, smaller businesses still tend to favour such addresses and it doesn’t necessarily mean that the enquiry is not from a bona fide business.
If we have a distributor or other representative in the enquiry’s country, our work is probably done now. We can see if it looks genuine, so we can hand it over to our contact in the market and let them take it from there.
If we have no representation in the enquirer’s country, we need to move to the next stage, and at this point we digress a little from Kipling’s list…


It seems a genuine enough enquiry, it’s from a place where we don’t currently have any distribution agreement, so the next thing we want to know is who is asking? Most serious enquiries will carry an introduction, telling us the individual’s name and the organisation they work for. They will be very likely to have included their website address (possibly at the end of the message) or it will be possible to find it from the email address. Check out who they claim to be. There’s a good chance they already sell related products to the sort of customers who would buy from us, or perhaps they are a potential end user. Check their website to look for things that are familiar, such as competitor’s products, or applications that are directly relevant to what we sell.
Then take a little time to see if they really are who they claim to be. If they are a distributor for a supplier we know, check out the supplier’s website and see if they are listed as a distributor. Search the web to see what we can find out about them. Do they appear in any customer review websites? Crucially, use a facility such as google earth to take a look at the address they have given. Is it a business address, or are we dealing with someone operating from their home? Is the given address genuine? It’s possible to take this much further, by looking for financial information about the company but at this stage we may consider we have enough information to decide if the enquiry is a genuine opportunity.

What? (Part Two)

Take care to understand exactly what the enquirer is asking for, bearing in mind the potential for confusion that language barriers may cause. Has the enquirer understood what we do? Is it purely a request for information, do they want to make a purchase or are they seeking to evaluate our products, perhaps to compare with a current supplier? It’s important to come back to this now, because experience tells me that in my efforts to ascertain who they are, I may sometimes have lost sight of what they were actually asking about.


Can we feasibly meet the request? If it’s a purchase enquiry, are there any barriers to trading with this country? Can we deliver? What Incoterms, prices, payment and delivery terms would we be offering?
The process should be quick and simple to complete. And we should not be deterred if we have to tell the enquirer we cannot supply. Genuine enquiries should receive a prompt and courteous reply, informing the enquirer who we are, what we do and what our answer is. No genuine enquiry should ever be ignored. Not only is it good manners to respond, but particularly in the case of markets where we don’t yet have any business, we can never tell where even a casual enquiry might eventually take us.