“How can I find buyer leads?” is one of the first questions any exporter asks him or herself, and it is never ending. For your business to thrive, you’ll need a steady stream of buyers. Maybe you have one or two already, but if they find another supplier or if you’re trying to expand, or both (which does happen) you’ll be back at square one, asking the same question. So for you dear reader, here are twelve ways to find viable prospects. Save this list, because you will refer to it again.
12 Ways to Find Buyer Leads (#12 is insanely effective)
Perhaps the simplest and most effective way to find leads sounds like amateur advice… but in fact, some of the best business relationships have developed because somebody knew somebody and somebody asked. What about that entrepreneur cousin of yours or that uncle who likes to travel? Take them out to lunch and ask if they know of anyone who might want to import your products. Chances are, they’ve never even thought about it, and once asked, they might surprise you with a prospect or two. If not, at least now they’ll be on the look out and you’ve got a business “matchmaker” working on the case.
Network with manufacturers.
This might sound like a waste of time: why should you talk to other
exporters when you’re trying to find importers, right? Right. Except that other manufacturers – especially established ones – have already nourished relationships with importers and likely have a head start on their leads. Why would they share their list with you? In truth, many won’t. But there are cases where a referral would make sense. Consider what would happen if they were
temporarily unable to fill some of their orders. If you have an established
relationship, they might purchase your products to save face with a client. Or
perhaps they’re not a direct competitor, but they manufacture products that work
symbiotically with yours. For example, a company that exports quartz
counter tops might be willing to refer their clients to your company for purchasing
all of the metal brackets and installation hardware. But don’t think of this as a
one-way street. Try to offer something to help their business before you ask what
they can do for yours. In business, a little kindness goes a long way, and often,
those in your network will be happy to return the favor.
In order to boost local and national economies, most governments are actively trying to support exporters in their country. But they can’t help you if they don’t know you exist. Search online for the trade administration or department of commerce in your home country and make contact – chances are, your representative will be happy to assist with free research and information on potential import countries. And they may even be able to point you to a few leads. In addition, reach out to the foreign embassy of your target import country. While embassy representatives are less likely to provide you with leads, they can be very helpful when it comes to regulations and customs information.
Become a sleuth.
If you’ve got the time, spend it researching. Dig around online and with some hard work and a little luck, you can begin compiling a list of cold contacts. Here are some search terms to try:
• Where can I find <<your product>> to import?
Type this search query in the language of your target country for best results. The goal here is find importers who are actively trying to find YOU. If they ask in an open forum type of site, respond to them there.
• <<target country>> importer <<your product>>
Try typing this search query in your own language, as well as that of your target import country. You are likely to get better results in your import country’s language – ideally, these will be links to company websites that mention importing your type of product. But your research won’t end here. Once you’ve located a company, try searching for their buyer or buyer agent on LinkedIn. A word of caution: if you do find their buyer, when you reach out to him or her, be tactful about it. Nobody likes to feel like they’ve been stalked online, even if it is for a legitimate business connection.
• <<target country>> foreign distributor <<your product>>
• <<target country>> buying agent <<your product>>
Again, for the best results, you’ll want to type your query in the language of your target import country. Foreign distributors will purchase your inventory and then resell it domestically with a markup. A buying agent works a little differently. (S)he acts as a sort of “middle man” by matching you up with a buyer. Typically, a buying agent takes a commission from the importer, but if you approach one and they have no buyer at present, they may turn the tables and agree to become your sales agent, in which case you would have to pay the commission on a sale (see #7).
Join local networking organizations and get your business card in front of as many professionals as you can. You never know when a local business owner will have a colleague overseas who is interested in making a connection. Some organizations to try:
• Import/export associations
• Your local Chamber of Commerce
• Trade-specific organizations
• International business and professional clubs
In addition to joining specific organizations, sites such as Meetup and Eventbrite list thousands of business-minded gatherings every day in many cities around the world.
Travel to trade shows, fairs and expos.
Many countries host expositions to showcase their country’s export trade. When you reach out to your government representative (see #3), be sure to ask about attending one. Likewise, some countries will host importing expos – if you can find one in your target importing country, plan a trip and come prepared. Since your target importers will be meeting with hundreds of exporters just like you, plan to have some impressive marketing materials as a leave-behind to help them remember you and your company when the event is over.
But think outside the box here; don’t just limit yourself to events that focus on
international trade (although those are an excellent place to start). Think about
where buyers of your product would normally gather and attend or set up a booth
there; for example, a trade-specific event in your target import country.
There comes a time in every business owner’s life when you must ask yourself the value of your time and embrace the idea of delegation. If you are too busy tackling top level business decisions and your prospect list is dwindling, perhaps it is time to hire a sales representative or team of reps (one for each of your key import markets) or reach out to a commission agent. While a sales rep might work for your company exclusively and would require a regular salary, a commission agent likely represents many different companies and would only collect payment from you when a sale is made (a percentage commission). If you go this route, be sure to factor the labor/commission costs into your budget.
Build a website and optimize it.
Thinking “if you build it, they will come,” is exactly the wrong way to think about your company website. Yes, you definitely need one, but just creating it will do very little to expose your company to the buyers you seek. Think of your website like a store that is in the middle of nowhere. Without any traffic driving by, your target buyer will never know that your company exists. So how do you help drive traffic to your website? Here are a few basic ways:
• Hire a reputable SEO specialist to make sure your site is optimized for search engines to find it. Make sure to hire a specialist that will only use ethical practices to optimize your site – if they engage in unethical practices such as keyword stuffing, or hidden links, you could get blacklisted by search engines, making your site nearly impossible for buyers to find.
• Translate your site into the languages of your target import countries and optimize it for search within those countries (this might require hiring an SEO specialist for each of those countries).
• Regularly add new, useful content to your site – search engines give preference to sites that are updated more often.
• List your site in as many directories and lists as possible – search engines will cross-reference your site for authenticity. The more links you have on other legitimate sites, the greater your chances of ranking higher in search results so buyers can find you.
• Advertise (see #9)
Ready, Aim, Advertise.
When you’re ready to amp up the amount of traffic coming to your site, a little targeted advertising can help a lot. The operative word here is, “targeted.”
Because you are looking to attract a very specific type of person, paying for
blanketed banner ads or Facebook posts will be a waste of money. Spend some
time thinking about who you want to target and which sites they would visit
online. Then reach out to the advertising departments of those sites and test a
few to see which ones deliver the most qualified leads.
Bring them in from the cold.
Sometimes you have to go back to the basics and reach out to buyers “cold.” If you do this, make sure to follow cold calling best practices in order to start the business relationship in the best way possible and enhance your chances for success. Here are some guidelines:
• Research the prospect and their business thoroughly before you make the call. There’s almost nothing worse than making them feel like they’re just a number on a list.
• Lead with compelling information on how your product can benefit them (e.g., it’s higher quality, lower cost, will increase their profit margins, etc.).
• Establish credibility. Name dropping a few of your high profile clients or referencing the amount of product you sell or years you’ve been in business can help establish a level of trust with the prospect.
• Be mindful of their time. If you sense that the prospect is too busy to talk, ask when and how you should follow up with them again. Some people like to conduct business over email, others prefer a telephone conversation.
• Follow up. Set your calendar to follow up with the prospect again based on your agreed upon time. If no follow up time is scheduled, plan to touch base again in a few days to a few months depending on the prospect’s level of interest. If they don’t seem too interested in your product, give them a little more time. Circumstances do change, and in a few months, they might be more in the market for your product.
• No when to let go. If after 3 contacts the prospect is still uninterested, or if they’ve given you a hard “no,” remove them from your list. There’s no point in wasting your time on a dead-end lead.
When it comes to sales calls and emails, there is always room for improvement. Hone your skills even more with this video tutorial that highlights the communication practices that will lead you to a sale.
Promote your site tastefully in online forums, LinkedIn, Facebook and blogs. Like others’ posts and pages too – don’t just try to sell right away. Think of social media as a conversation. In real life, you wouldn’t only talk about yourself, that would be considered rude. Take time to compliment others and show genuine interest, just like you would in person. Respond to posts that are directed at you – it will make your business seem more human and approachable. If you reach out and try to connect with prospects via sites like LinkedIn, be sure to tell them why you are reaching out, rather than making them guess. Try something like this, “I see that you sell X and would like the opportunity to tell you more about my product, Y.”
Let the leads come to you.
If you’ve made it to the end of this list and you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, don’t fret. The easiest way to find buyer leads is to list your business on go4WorldBusiness – with over 42,000 importers actively using the site, there’s a very good chance your prospects will be contacting you! With a Gold Membership, you’ll be able to directly contact an unlimited number of buyers, and they’ll have a pre-established level of trust knowing that you’ve been verified on the site. Many members have reported that a Gold listing on the site more than pays for itself – with orders in the very first month. Now that’s a return on investment.