“Growing your business internationally, is all about the contacts!” No, it’s not.
Over the years, I have seen small businesses being blurred by the expression “it’s all about the contacts!”. And so they would think that they really needed to find the person who had all these contacts and by magic it would give them a lead way into a new country or a market. To be honest, it always rings alarm bells, when a customer comes to me and tells me if he/she is about to recruit a senior person based in Europe that has all the required contacts.
First of all, it should always ring alarm bells when someone comes to you and says that they have all the contacts for you. Some of them may be genuine, don’t get me wrong. But having contacts is definitively not a good enough reason to be hired ! When I evaluate a candidate during a job interview, I usually rate the criteria “has contacts” as a ‘Nice to have’ rather than a ‘Must have’.
The reason behind it is, when we are a small business we need our new sales team members based in Europe, to embrace the way we do things. The issue with people who pretend they know it all, is that they tend to be stuck in their ways. They may turn out to be incapable to focus on the direction you are asking them to focus on. A typical example in our B2B world, when a person has sold to distributors for years, whereas you really need them to focus on the end-users instead. This is a very different approach to sales. And not being able to make them focus on end-users can in this instance be detrimental to your sales and slow you down in reaching your objectives.
Another example, a few years ago, I interviewed a candidate that was really perfect ‘on paper’. He had worked for years in the European industry, he had all the contacts, he knew all the distributors and key accounts we were targeting. However, I found him to be bugged down in what he thought he needed to get started. He had been working in his comfort zone, for so many years, that I could see that working for a newcomer, my client’s small business, worried him. He did not realise that actually, it was just a matter of hard work and focus to succeed. He focussed on little details instead. Even before being recruited, he came up with a long list of things we were supposed to put in place for him to succeed. He was bugged down in low-priority details. We decided with the CEO of my customer, not to recruit him for this reason.
It’s also important to be mindful of the fact that we, small businesses, need people who are able to chase the sales and are not afraid to hunt ! Very senior professionals, with a really good network, a lot of the time may be very good to manage relationships, but very poor in generating sales from the ground up. It means having someone on-board with a lot of contacts, if they are not ready to do the work, may not always be the best option. In some instances, they might also be expensive to hire.
So when you meet a person that has a very good network in your industry, and you are considering recruiting or engaging them, what do you need to do ?
1- Give yourself the ability to test that they will really be able to adapt to your way of doing business. Don’t just take their contacts for granted. And make sure you don’t get diverted from your goals.
2- Make sure that they will be able to start from scratch, and build sales from zero, because we need this ability as a small to medium-sized business. Seniors may not always feel like it’s a job for them!
3- Use several contacts to cross-check information that you would have gathered from other sources. Never trust information about a new market that only comes from just one person, cross-check from different sources!
4- Prefer the attitude and the enthusiasm, rather than the contacts. It takes a lot of persistence to build a new market from the ground up. And most of the time, being passionate and persistent yields great results.
In summary, succeeding in the European market and more generally is not all about having the contacts, it’s rather about being focused, hunting for sales, being enthusiastic and persistent.
Good luck! And be in touch if you want to talk about generating sales in the European market : firstname.lastname@example.org
Christelle turned her back to a successful career as a sales representative in the corporate world in Europe. When she moved to Australia in 2006, she started Exportia to share the wealth of her Europe-wide sales experiences for a small business as an export manager and as a sales representative at IBM in Paris.
“Having taken dozens of Australian businesses to Europe, I personally know the difficulty for a small business to significantly grow their sales in the European market. It is a very diverse market and small businesses often don’t know where to start. Small business owners are often caught up with running their business and with their domestic market to be able to allocate enough time to the European market. Lowering the risk for small businesses and guiding them to maximise the export sales results are what drives us at Exportia.”
Christelle has also encapsulated her learning into a book called “Ready Tech Go! – A definitive guide to exporting Australian technology to Europe”. French native speaker, fluent in German and English, with Basic Italian and Hindi.