Eliminate under-performance

At any stage in the growth of an international business it can happen that you don’t pay the attention you could to your overseas partners. Overseas partners left to their own devices are prone to under-performing, so if you suspect that your overseas partners could do better, now might be the time to take a pro-active stance.

So Ask Yourself Some Simple Questions

What is your expectation of your overseas partners? Are you happy to just encourage them to grow and deliver an additional revenue stream or do you expect them deliver a certain market share/certain key customers/certain market positioning over a particular time-frame?

If your UK turnover is £3M and your turnover in Germany is £150,000, why is that? There could be good reasons deriving from the acceptability of your product/service or brand. Or is it because the marketing of your product/service is mis-targeted or underpowered.

Do you expect national coverage from your overseas partner? Is this a realistic expectation of your partner? Do they actually have national coverage or are they really a regional player with lower market penetration outside of their region?

Does your Partner have penetration of all the market niches that could be buying your product/service. Maybe they are very strong in one or two vertical segments, but not so good in others?

Time to Take Some Action

Start by making sure you understand the market-place you are targeting.  What is the size of the available market for your product/service? How much of this can you reasonably expect to access, and over what period of time, taking account of entrenched competition, the relative strength of your offer (benefits and price) and  the strength of your brand. If, after ten years’ trading in the UK you have 5% of the UK market, how does this inform your expectations overseas?

Then it is time to think about your partner’s performance against your expectation. If it is falling short, what is the reason?

Have you neglected them? Overseas partners of UK businesses often report that they feel they don’t get enough attention. Maybe it is time to take a more pro-active stance in the relationship.

Is their ability to penetrate the market, either geographically or vertically, a limiting factor? Could you improve market penetration by supplementing your existing distribution with further distributors. This is always an emotive issue but, at the end of the day, you need someone who can do the job for you. Even raising this in conversation might  spur them on to prove they can reach the markets you want them to.

Are they the right fit for you? There can be all sorts of reasons why the relationship isn’t working. Maybe their culture and values don’t fit with yours. Maybe your offer isn’t important enough to them strategically or margin-wise. Maybe they simply have too many other things on their plate.

If you believe that your partner(s)  could improve their performance, or if you simply don’t know the answer to some of the above questions then it is probably time to get down to some serious communication with them about the future. If you believe the business is there, then a visit is always best.

It is both your interests to build the business to its optimum performance, so what can you both do to make it happen? And if you can’t see a way forward is it time to look for a different partner or partners for that market?

There is a superb suite of modules on ExportSavvy dealing step-by-step with the recruitment and management of overseas partners, including tips and experiences from a range of UK businesses as well as interview material with some overseas partners spelling out some of their expectations. This could be your first step, and the work you put in now will surely reap dividends in the future.


Robert Taylor