How to Manage Foreign Agents to Grow Your Business

Wavefront regularly teams up with best-in-class consultants and partners to support mobile and IoT innovation. Bryan Price of Continental Markets Group consults on export strategies, conducts market studies and trains companies looking to go global. With over fifteen years of experience in sales and product marketing, Bryan offers advice on how to find an Agent or Manufacturer rep to grow your business overseas.

One fast and cost-effective way to access foreign markets is by leveraging an agent or manufacturer to represent your business overseas. Adding an in-country “manufacturer rep” has many advantages including providing you with local support, an understanding of market needs and in-roads to local connections. While setting up foreign representation is a good strategy to gain market access, it requires active management to ensure success.

Over my channel management career I have overseen many agency channel relationships for diverse businesses supplying everything from public safety equipment to bicycle components and networking devices. No matter your business, there are a few key principles to keep in mind in order to ensure the success of your foreign agent strategy.

Here are three steps to align your agent with your market development objectives.

Finding a Qualified Agent

Finding a successful agent is a challenging task in itself as you’ll want your agent to be as knowledgeable as any prospect or potential client. A good place to start the search is by looking at your network. Also try checking out trade magazines, competitors’ websites, government consulates or trade shows where reps will seek you out.

Conduct a full assessment of your prospective agent. Ask them to complete an ISO9000 relationship management form to document their expertise. It should include the following details:

  • Agent website
  • What lines of products do they carry, do any compete with your own line?
  • Are they incorporated?
  • Market expertise and unique selling proposition
  • Organizational chart

These are basic questions to help you determine if they are a right fit. Any pushback or incomplete answer is a warning that your agent may not be as sophisticated a player as you thought, forecasting problems in the future. Ensure you know the lines of products carried by your agent so there is no conflict going forward.

In your discussions, probe the agent’s skillset to conduct, assess and close business opportunities. While an agent may have good in-country technical know-how, remember that their role is to drive sales for you. A strong sales skillset is must-have.

Formalizing the Agent Relationship

Put in clear contractual writing how your relationship is to be governed and the responsibilities of each party. If your company is ISO certified this is mandatory. If not, it is still a best practice for any exporting business.

Putting together a contract will eliminate confusion and conflict over the course of the relationship. Three key clauses to leverage in a contract are:

  • Definition of Commercialization Activities: State clearly what commercial activities are expected of the Agent. Often Agents will assume they are limited to manufacturer representation and answering questions in the local language. If you are looking for more out of the relationship, make sure you spell it out.
  • Expenses: Make sure that any and all expenses are pre-authorized and adhere to company policy. We all have different ideas of what is an acceptable expense, so ensure to adopt and state your own.
  • Payment: How much is due per sales and when. A good guideline is 15-30 days after the end of the month.

Managing the Agent Relationship

If the Agent model is a key component of your go-to-market strategy, tying them in to your sales management process is invaluable. Most cloud-based CRMs have limited access profiles for third party sales reps, so acquire an extra license to track sales opportunities and predict product delivery peaks. Make sure to set up a scheduled one-on-one funnel review with your Agent.

You may also want to invite agents to your videoconference sales meetings. This is an effective way to share client feedback, communicate product and marketing updates, deliver training and develop team camaraderie.  A word of caution: keep confidential information off the video screen with non-employees. More than once have I heard “screen shot capture camera snaps” of internal documents.

Finally, assign an aspirational quota to the representative. It’s best to agree on this beforehand since the representative should be in sync with your revenue targets.

Final Thoughts

If you are successful in finding and qualifying an agent, managing them as a part of your sales team begins with a professional engagement model that will differentiate your company from the other vendors and improve information exchange as well as partner satisfaction. The level to which you integrate the agent into your sales engine will depend on the agent’s openness to it, the value provided in sales meetings and remuneration for closed sales.

Looking to take your business international?

Read more about Wavefront’s Global Market Entry Programs, designed to help you make connections to partners and customers in foreign markets.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *