• Tapping Into The Supply Chain

    MANAGEMENT AND TRAINER BRIEF

    Interesting conversation with a government agency last week. The key problem for SME’s (small and medium size enterprises) is how to tap into the supply chain of an overseas company. The supply chain, in case you are not familiar with the term, is the process by which a product or service makes its way from supplier to client. At home, it’s a difficult enough process but how do you do it at an international level? Here are a few pointers.

    1 Target. What are you tapping into?

    It sounds silly but many companies offer services and expect the prospective client to find a use for it. Do your research. Identify which part of which company or industry your product and service fits and what point in the supply chain you want to target. Even if you are wrong, your interlocutor is in a better position to refer you to someone who might need you.

    2 Some countries discourage personal contact.

    In Northern European countries, Switzerland is one, a letter detailing your services and what you can offer with as many details as possible is the right first approach. A follow-up phone call to check receipt may be acceptable but the initial response can be quite distant. Some countries like Germany may give you an initial contract that seems hardly worth your while. Don’t turn it down. This is a test. Do the small contract well and the big one will follow. Do it badly or turn it down and you will lock yourself out of the supply chain.

    2 In most countries you need a positive referral.

    Getting a personal reference, being represented at a trade show or participating in a government sponsored trade mission are all accepted ways of building contacts and generating leads. If you are in the UK, think about the UKTI (United Kingdom Trade and Industry) sponsored OMIS service, which, for a fee, generates leads for the countries you specify and can arrange local appointments as part of trade missions. Go here for information.

    OMIS - Overseas Market Introduction Service UK Trade & Investment

    www.ukti.gov.uk › Export

    3 Get an agent.

    In many countries, especially the Middle East and China, you may wish to generate business through an agent. He or she can generate leads, make appointments and sort out all kinds of legal and other problems for you in your market. The problem is how do you know if they are any good? You need to research their contacts and their reputation. Your embassy commercial section may be able to advise.

    4 Get on a plane.

    ‘Eleven companies replied to my tender offer.’ cried a French manager. ‘You are the only one who came to see me.’ And as a result, my firm got the job. If you want to make an impression, especially in Latin countries, personal contact is vital.

    5 Be prepared for the long haul.

    Patience is essential to penetrate business in the Far East. You need time to build confidence and trust and to establish a good relationship. This means frequent contact, regular visits for months, even years before business is firmly established. However, once established, it’s there forever, as long as you don’t mess it up.

    For support and more detailed advice on how to manage your international supply chain and make contacts in your key markets, contact us for details of our MANAGING THE INTERNATIONAL SUPPLY CHAIN programme.

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