Today I have something special for you.
We are going to speak about adding an agent, business developer, sales representative, marketing partner, country manager – uhhh, so many words for pretty much the same thing… to your garment export business.
You’ve been asking for it.
I get so many questions like:
I am looking for an agent who places orders for me in Europe. How can I go about it?”
Now, the reason why I’m so excited about this is I got to create a series all about hiring an agent…
I absolutely love this model because that's exactly what I've done for 25 years.
Because I used to work as a sales representative for Indian knitwear suppliers.
So, I love talking about this topic!
I just wanted you to know that this is a special series where I set up several episodes – so I’ve got you covered from all sides about that.
I hope you enjoy it! Let’s get to it!
Download the FREE RESOURCE
I’ve created for you that'll support you to select the right agent or business developer for your garment export business.
So you'll never hear: "Cut the middleman out!"
Get ready to be scaling into multiple territories and growing fast.
Ah, by the way we can get really fancy and creative with the job title (agent, business developer, sales representative, country manager.... ).
However, for easy use, I'm just saying "agent", good?
We’re talking about hiring an agent but specifically what to do once you have a garment export business like a factory or a buying house – and you want to add a sales agent to your export business.
Well, I’m going to show you today the ONE question you want to ask her or him.
So, stay tuned if you ever thought about adding a salesperson in Europe to your marketing mix.
Likewise, if you are already working with agents on other continents.
Or if you’re thinking about it and you don’t have anybody yet – there’s still something for you here.
Or if you ARE an agent - looking to find a new partner to represent.
Then you’ll find this very valuable as well.
Now, you hear me talking a lot about how to approach buyers successfully – yes, to use this profitable knowledge for yourself.
For that people go through my course Easy Enter for Garment Exporter where they learn how to get direct garment buyers in 90 days.
Yes, this training pays off in ways you can’t predict (along with ways you can predict - like money).
And some people say:
Now we need an agent. My business is at this point.
They want to scale. They want to do bigger things.
But maybe you’re not totally sold on the idea to hire an agent just yet and kind of want to see how it might work in your business.
Exactly that’s why I want to share with you the ONE question I’d love for you to start with.
So let’s talk a little bit about that concept...
I can truthfully call this a lazy solution
And a cheap one!
Spend little money only when you get tons of money.
No living in hotels.
No 24/7 availability for your buyers.
No carrying of 8 sample suitcases.
This is what people say
Expanding, growing, (more customers-more business)
“We are scaling and expanding and having a sales agent in the EU which is our main target market will help. So, the most important reason for us to seek an agent is the expansion of our customer base into multiple territories.”
Better visible (build trust instantly)
“This will greatly help us in increasing our visibility to potential customers. Building high trust level fast between us and the customer who wants to work with us through the agent.”
Everybody has one - (me too!)
“Every big company has their own sales agent or representative. All buyers are asking whether we have any office or representative over there?“
Overcome barriers (quick approvals)
“The agent helps me to overcome the language, culture and the geographic barrier… easy to communicate in local language.”
Unfair advantage (insider market knowledge)
“They have knowledge about market, trends and good selling products. They understand the customers better. I seek the help of a person who is familiar with the market and customers. Finding the right clients for the factory, and not just any customer available.”
Safe business (prompt in payments-financially strong... no bad customers)
“Our business dealing will be safe. In terms of payment risk of buyers. Make sure that the customer we work with is financially secure. Nothing will happen like working with unstable companies or companies with a bad track record.”
Long-term relationships (and with that long-term revenue)
“I want him/her to be our face of the company in Europe and find the right clients who give sustainable long-term business. With fair business practices, who give capacity planning and feed us with orders throughout the year.”
Problem solving (plus pushing)
“An agent helps solve problems when they come up. Pushing factory to achieve higher standards in terms of compliance, product development, sustainability, p.r and csr. ethics.”
Save money (travel only for joy and not a must)
“We can save money by avoiding travel costs from here to explore EU market. We would have to travel a lot in order to build the relationship with customers and mature orders & business. An agent is good for quick action.”
New network of buyers quickly
“I need a seasoned guy of this field who can bring business from his sources quickly. We get new buyers – new business partner way faster.”
Yes, yes... I hear you, dear smart garment exporter.
All valid points.
I know what you're thinking.
A lot of pros to this concept.
This is a lesson I learned: A decision had to be made.
About market efficiency
The economic theory says the idea is, that markets are naturally efficient.
Because the free market will drive inefficiency out of the market.
This is happening organically.
Just look at Amazon.
For years manufacturers depended on retailers and brands to get their goods in front of consumers.
So manufacturers, wholesalers, importers, retailers, brands were allies.
But today, a shift in consumer behavior and the possibilities that we have with modern technology are transforming the traditional supply chain.
Like with these D2C sales.
Ready to make this practical?
Have you heard about this “cut the middleman” -thing?
I believe, there’s a risk that connectors/business developers/agents/sales representatives/country managers...
whatever name you like to call it... fall under this category.
Because they run under the risk of not adding enough efficiency to the system.
So the main question becomes:
“Does my agent add value to the chain?”
You might think: "What a question! Of course, agents bring a lot of value!"
For you as the manufacturer or buying house owner.
Heck, they bring business, right?
What could be more valuable than that?
The problem is this is not enough value for the buyer.
If the answer to the question: „Does she or he add value to the chain?“ is „no“ or „not really much“ – it might turn very quickly into:
“Cut the middleman out. Get out of the way!”
The reality is that buyers know that the agent is getting commission and all of that.
And that they pay for it.
So we need to take a close look at what value your agent is bringing directly to your customers.
How do you get around this?
I personally have struggled with this matter
Here’s the thing:
My commission was paid by my Indian knitwear exporter, that I worked with.
That is to say, we both know - and of course, all buyers knew - that my commission is somehow calculated in the price.
I had buyers saying: “No thanks, we generally don’t work with agents.”
Hold on. What?
They felt like I was making our products more expensive and with that less competitive.
And I felt the same.
Like I was a cost factor more than a value bringer.
I hate to admit
I wanted to look Indian.
Let me first say, I developed the crazy thought that I’d hit the jackpot if I looked Indian.
That would make perfect sense - representing an Indian company.
Here’s what I’m getting at… Buyers would love me, not a single point about: “... must be an agent!”
I remember that day that changed everything.
I had a customer meeting in Paris.
Next to my showroom were two Indian guys. I knew one of them, they were also from Tirupur.
Knitwear manufacturer, like us. Quick hello and we decided to go for dinner.
It goes like this.
Me (to the guy I didn’t know): “What are you doing?”
HE: “I’m an agent. Like you. But you have an unfair advantage – you are German - you can talk in mother language with the buyers!”
ME: “But YOU have the unfair advantage. You’re totally Indian – selling an Indian company. Nobody would guess that you’re an agent. “
I don’t have these thoughts anymore.
And you shouldn’t, either.
The biggest lesson I’m taking away from this is to ask smarter questions than that
And maybe you needed to hear this as well.
I’d realized that to have the kind of business and life I want, I’d have to stop being seen as an “agent” and become a star in my own right - Yes, a STAR!
I know that sounds very “who does she think she is,” - yeah-yeah.
But my dream has always been, to get paid to do proudly an outstanding job as an agent.
Getting paid to be an agent
that buyers like to work with you.
In other words, does your agent has years of experience in this fashion field?
A successful track record?
Do buyers roll the red carpet when your agent is visiting them?
Do they want to gift your agent a first-class ticket to Asia, just to be with them...
Because nobody can present the new samples like her/him.
She's/he's the first person who really ever “got” her and could have a truly smart conversation about her international retail stores, her explicit price structure, including her grown children's study plans...
If you’re adding an agent for no reason other than that you think you “expand”, or you and your agent both - don’t do a great job making it clear why they’re worth the price, then good luck finding those buyers who are happy to work with an agent.
You will annoy your existing buyers
All of them?
Of course not.
Maybe almost none of them.
But I promise you, at least someone among your existing buyers will roll their eyes when you introduce your new agent.
Or you decide that your agent is only taking care of new customers and not of your existing customers in one country.
But that wouldn't be smart.
Here are some things buyers, one or two, or lots of them, might say:
But our prices! We're not paying more!
We always worked directly!
Then you can also remember these three things:
You've calculated that carefully and know you can manage the prices while still being competitive because you'll cut down on all these travel costs. Not to mention the time you save.
You're not feeling guilty for getting more business that feels easier than ever before.
Who likes change? Come on! They will get used to it. And, most importantly, your agent is outstanding, and they will start to experience that soon.
Back to: “How do you add value to our customers?”
O.k. I promised you’ll get value from this post if you're looking for an agent – or if you are on the other side.
If you ARE an agent yourself - looking for a new partner to represent.
So, to all of my factories and buying houses out there:
If you’re looking for an agent this is the ONE question you want to ask your potential agent: THIS is the question:
How do you add value to our customers?
And to all of my agents and business developer out there:
"... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... "
(Well, of course you want to have good answers to this question.)
What kind of value could that be?
Basically, it is: “This is what you get with me”.
Can be anything, brain, experience, network, connections, market insights, consulting work, knowing the processes, the behind the scenes...
You can divide it into segments whatever category makes sense for you.
I’m making something up here like: - season preparation - during production - after shipment -
And what buckets can you create?
What I’m not encouraging you to do is putting bullet points like “service” but go really deep into detail.
Have the why behind the what’s.
In this example why do you offer service?
Think in stories.
Literally, call it out.
Try hard to think about buckets that don’t exist. (That the customer is not even thinking of.)
- Spirit bucket - this is the spirit/philosophy through which I/we do things -
- Problem-solving bucket - this is how I solve problems coming up when this and that happens -
- Process bucket -this is how I handle our new customer's onboarding process. This is how we take customers through. What you get if you work with us -
- The unbiased bucket -not tight to a manufacturer - unbiased approach to the problem or the solution based on the problem that is presented -
- Personal story is providing a bucket like no one else on this planet has.
Can you picture your new agent in something similar?
My nature-given talent was knowing about the kind of trends our customers would sell well.
Like when a buyer handed over a new buying sample that she planned to copy
(Yahno. I can't say 'copy' publicly, please scratch that. - -- let's say "got inspiration from") for her own private label brand, I have bought this exactly - the same buying sample earlier.
Here we go - the pleased buyer got the first prototype sample already developed. Saving weeks of development time - boom.
Got the business.
This style got quicker in her store.
Know what I mean?
I’m sure the skill set of your new agent is quite different, and I love that.
There are sooo many ways where agents can add value to your customers.
Another agent I know has no idea at all about fashion.
He's just the most cooperative, helpful, charming guy on earth.... going the extra mile for his buyers... making sure that they can sleep well at night.
(With selling skills like I'd buy ANYTHING from him.)
One friend of mine is highly strategic with all his selling actions .... he knows his customers' business as intimate as his own.
He's supporting like an extra employee for them without a salary.
Naturally and easily.
He has the luxury problem of figuring out what to do with the rest of the hours of the day.
I wanted to give you some framework about how to think about all that.
And to help you even more with that I created a FREE RESOURCE.
It will not only help you to think through all of that – it will help you ask the right questions.
Organize what you’ll find out into different segments and buckets.
Also, this free resource is helping you to think about buckets that don’t exist (pssst... correct ... - that the customer is not even thinking of! :))
To say the least: Download this cheat sheet you will be so glad you did.
Here are my favorite takeaways what I’ve learned
I hope you’re inspired by all of these stories – just kind of in a nutshell before I wrap up.
If you're a garment exporter - I wanted to give you one very specific question to ask your potential agent.
And that is what they think about what value do they bring your buyers.
Not to you – obviously, you’ll speak about that also – but what value do they think they’re bringing to your customers.
What are your clients getting from having your new agent in their lives?
Is this reply convincing you? Check.
Yes or no with absolutely zero in between.
If you are an agent – well, be prepared in having thought about it very deeply and have it mapped out.
Have it in your heart and soul so you can easily and confidently rattle on about it.
If you’re feeling good about adding some agents into your marketing strategy, by all means… don't skip “this ONE question” and dive straight into finding the right fit so that you can start profiting ASAP.
But again —
If you want to work with an agent — if your business is at this point - and you’d better if you want to have a successful sustainable business on several shoulders — prepare to be defending.
And live with it.
You want to stand behind your agent and your agent behind you.
Then go and create magic!
... and meet me again on this topic next week.
Do you love working with an overseas agent?
Have one? Where?
Why yes? Why no?
Can't wait to hear from you. Here in the comments or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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