7 Horrendous Sources for Export Advice & Strategy Assistance

Ed Marsh | Feb 26, 2014


But after the Feb. 5 workshop, which included a rapid-fire, dizzying array of banking terms and scenarios that exporters could one day find themselves in, he smiled reassuringly. “What you really need to know is who to talk to,” said the longtime sales executive who now serves as one of the SBDC’s coaches. “In this case, your banker.”

Cringing while reading this...it prompted a thought.  How often do well meaning "experts" doom a global sales initiative for their clients.  And which experts are perhaps least qualified to offer international sales growth advice?

Here's our list of the 7 worst sources

  1. Hair Stylist
  2. Attorney
  3. Doggie Day Care
  4. Accountant
  5. Maytag Man
  6. Banker
  7. Bartender
Notice a trend in the list?  In most cases all seven are equally qualified to offer global sales growth recommendations.  But four of them won't pretend to be.  Your hair stylist, doggie day care provider, Maytag man and bartender may be envious of your travel (the shine hasn't come off that apple for them yet) and intrigued by some of your adventures - but they won't opine on what you need to focus on for export success.  And if they did you would probably be polite but pay them little regard.  They capable professionals in their area of expertise and don't presume to "outdrive their headlights."

In contrast though, the "experts" will cause you fits. You'll assume you need to heed their advice.  DON'T!!  At least not first.

Strategy vs. Transactional details

Now don't misunderstand. This is not advice to ignore your professional advisors, or even to presumptively discount their advice.  But let's be serious about where/when it's productive.

For a global sales growth program to flourish it must be built on sensible planning, proper market selection, reasonable expectations, patience, superb channel management, effectively localized global marketing, appropriate financial infrastructure, government relations and some risk management.

Which of those will your bartender provide?  Which of those will your attorney provide?  Both are a pretty short list.

McGladrey did some great research a couple years ago around early stage export initiatives of companies.  They found that while companies that export are generally stronger and more profitable and resilient, most actually only begin to export when existing domestic customers push for global support.  And then the disproportionate focus is on "transactional" issues (FX & logistics) at the expense of strategy and broader business planning.

Those are simply details which appear complex to the uninitiated, but can be dealt with quickly and efficiently by niche experts who work in those areas routinely.

They've got hammers, but those may not be nails

All of us face the challenge of "unknown unknowns."  But we naturally assume that the blind spots are only ours - that our professional advisors, the experts, are omniscient.  News flash!  They're not.

Your corporate counsel who advises expertly on navigating a customer bankruptcy or handling an employee dismissal has gaps in her experience.  She will likely suggest a standard boilerplate distribution agreement that doesn't include FCPA stipulations or address "employee" categorizations in specific markets.  And she might not automatically explain the importance of local trademark registration.

There's more than even odds that your trusty accountant isn't familiar with the enormous tax savings you could realize with a DISC, nor savvy to potential FATCA reporting requirements or even how you can insure foreign receivables inexpensively to boost the value of that asset in negotiating lending base calculations with your commercial lender.

And that banker.....please, please, please don't ask them for export advice.  They will either be completely clueless about international transactions; focused on selling you expensive and convoluted foreign exchange solutions; or focused on convincing you to use their expensive and complicated L/C (Letter of Credit) services.  If they're really sharp and are Ex/Im and SBA lenders - and have a business management and finance background - they might provide some proactive recommendations.  But there aren't many that have those qualifications.

Should those folks be part of your business planning?  Absolutely.  You should never exclude them.  But the detailed advice that you will require will flow from business strategy and objectives - not what your accountant happens to know.  As you decide what and where your business should grow, experts with the proper niche expertise can be tapped as one resource for advice on the 'how.'  

These are business questions first

So start from a business perspective.  And find someone who has the scars and bruises from undertaking this.  Maybe it's another business owner you know through a forum like Vistage.  Perhaps your accountant has a client who has been quite successful growing globally to whom they will introduce you.  But maybe having an experienced business person who has the broad perspective of a business owner, personal experience and a track record of providing insight to other businesses is a better option.

Wondering about going global?  Check out our guide to selecting the best advisor.

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