Here’s one strategy I’ve seen hundreds of North American companies employ in Europe: attend one trade show a year, stay for a week, sign up some independent sales reps, make sure they have lots of product samples and brochures, and schedule a time to meet again next year.
But that’s not an expansion plan; that’s a vacation plan.
No matter where you export your product, the most important motivator of independent sales reps is the same one that keeps you in business: making money. So, you must start by paying your reps a competitive commission. Beyond that is the “spiff,” a bonus paid for selling a specific product. You can’t afford to pay spiffs all year, but you can use them strategically, say, to boost sales at the end of a quarter or fiscal year, or to counter the launch of a competing product.
All payments being equal, there are other ways to encourage independent sales reps to push your product. Always treat your independents like you treat your in-house salespeople (which, I hope, is well). Keep them in the loop on company news and initiatives that might be of interest to them and, of course, inform them immediately of changes to product prices and specs. You cannot gain the loyalty of faraway reps by treating them as an afterthought.
Giving reps new product to sell is great, because each recently released item is something to talk about with customers. But you must remember that few products sell themselves; just because a rep is excited about the opportunity to sell a new product does not mean he or she is equipped to sell it or feels comfortable selling it. So, be sure to provide your independent sales reps with adequate training and sales materials — including any positive testimonials or reviews — for all new products.
Finally, salespeople favour products that are easy to sell. You can whet the appetite of prospects by exhibiting at the rep’s local trade show or advertising in her market, provided your pitch resonates with local buyers. Your rep can help you select the right advertising media and fine-tune your message to local tastes.