Following my previous article titled ‘advantages and disadvantages of having a sales agent to address international markets’, I have been asked to provide additional info and develop my point and address the steps in hiring sales agents.
Finding the right local agent is a very challenging and risky mission. The reason is basically because our choice is generally made out of the unknown and based on facts we accumulate in a very short time. Unfortunately, a bad choice can have negative consequences on your business and may jeopardize your opportunities in specific markets since an agent represents your company and is directly impacting your image and credibility towards your potential clients.
Many companies think that you can select an agent via Internet and/or meet with them once for contracts to follow. It most of the time, doesn’t work out that way; the choice has to be made carefully and strategically.
So, based on my experience around 4 continents and in over 30 countries, I would like to share with you a step by step methodology I use to select agents in foreign countries for my clients.
Steps in hiring agents (an agent being an individual or a corporate agency):
1- Assess your market and perform a reality check on it. Meet your clients, discuss their needs and the way they work. Then, ideally, ask them to suggest people or companies you might work with locally. One other method I use is to go through embassies; if my client is a Canadian company for example, I would ask the support of the Canadian embassy commissioners in the country. In case you have been approached by an agent or an agency, move to next step.
2- Meet with different agents. Discuss the market requirements and how they can help you address it
3- Based on your discussion, shortlist them
4- Set short term objectives for them (time depends on your products sales cycle)
5- Perform a due diligence on them, ask your embassy, ask around (other vendors, clients…). Get info on their reputation, their financial and legal situation and their business ethics. This is a key step that so many companies overlook and end up having ethic problems in these markets
6- Test them. Ask them to book meetings with clients and go with them. It will help you assess the agent relationship, engagement and capabilities.( Be careful not to go see the same client with different potential agents). If you are addressing different industries, you might need more than one agent
7- Now, you know who the right candidate is. Make your decision and start to prepare your contract. The contract should be valid for a short period (again based on your sales cycle), it should be tied to expected results and should have an exit strategy in case things go wrong; The last thing you want is to get stuck with an agent that doesn’t perform or pay double commission if you hire someone else.
Although following these steps doesn’t assure you that you picked THE right agent, it will certainly allow you to avoid mistakes with serious consequences.
Finally, I would like to leave you with 3 main ideas to keep in mind when looking for an agent:
A. SETTING THE RIGHT CRITERIA AND CONDITIONS
B. HAVING AN EXIT STRATEGY
C. THE CLIENT IS YOURS NOT THE AGENT’S