Hello smart garment exporter, I’m thrilled thrilled thrilled about today’s topic… That is a triple “thrilled” so you know I’m serious ?.
So, here’s the deal.
I’ve been working as a business developer for Indian knitwear suppliers for 25 years – I know a thing or two about what works in this setting and what doesn’t work when it comes to working with an agent.
And I want to help you get started. I want to help you get started the RIGHT WAY so you don’t make those costly mistakes - that I did by the way - with finding, hiring, and working with an agent or working as an agent.
I’m going to give you some of my best behind-the-scenes secrets – but also, I’m going to share some examples from my own experiences where I had amazing success.
Now I wanted to make sure that your kick-off questions are exactly what you need for your business.
I want you to help to decide if you are ready to add an agent to your marketing mix.
I’m going to quickly run through some of the kick-off questions with you. Plus give you a sentence or two to each of the questions to bring it to life.
And you’re replying to those questions to see if you should cooperate with a business developer for your garment export biz, good?
And if having no sales rep is best for you – if maybe you or your business are not ready to work with someone abroad – the question will help you figure it out.
It’s not a one-size-fits-all thing but it’s a kick-starter to think through it.
“Should we find a RMG business developer in Europe to grow faster?”
Questions you might want to ask:
(click to open up the explanations)
“Is our company and organization developed enough?”
Of course, you know that already – you want to have all the necessary certificates for export compliance, BSCI, SA8000 & Co. sustainability and all of that, right?
Let‘s start with thinking about what your agent wants:
“Why do agents decide to choose particularly THIS profession in the first place?”
In my opinion they decide for this job specifically, yes next to their skillset like they usually have
- excellent communication skills
- act with compassion and empathy
- they are curious people
- with a high need for achievement
- they are competitive
- with a high tolerance for rejection
and all of that- but the main thing is:
They want to earn money.
And I mean A LOT OF MONEY.
They’re self-starters, they do not require direction, and are highly self-motivated and whoever is in partnership with them will benefit from this.
Ya, they have not decided for themselves to relax in a cozy office and get a safe salary cushion each month – they decided to take risks and to be on the driver’s seat – they get to decide about their income.
So, the question for you becomes: “Can they achieve that with you to make a solid turnover and by doing that getting a lot of money in commission?”
That’s a deciding factor for them.
And it goes without saying that YOU – will make a lot of money.
So it’s helpful to think about first what THEY want so you can position yourself accordingly – because you deserve the BEST people to work with you.
It will help you attract the very best.
Let’s be real:
Finding commission sales agents is not the hard part, it’s ensuring that your sales opportunity is attractive enough to entice agents wanting to work with you.
“Is our website compelling for agents as well?”
Your website is the first place a potential sales agent will go to learn more about you. Make sure that they will get a great first impression about you.
“Is our export turnover already high enough?”
I believe you should have an export turnover of at least $3-5 million fob before you consider adding an agent to the mix. That is my personal opinion.
Because with less than that it‘ll be hard to find qualified people with a proven track record and a large network to bring you customers.
“Do we have the capacity, the space & manpower to handle the upcoming customers & orders?”
Yes, you want to be clear on what amount of business you will be able to handle. What would be perfect – what would be too much?
Think about that.
I’d love for you to get clear on that so you can pick your future agent matching to your profile.
“Can we afford working with an agent?”
This might surprise you. However, even if you go with 100% on a commission basis – and without a monthly retainer fee or cost-share model – your agent is an investment that is not free of costs at the beginning.
When you think about it lots of money is involved in the development and sending samples.
However, the ROI will come, and the agent will pay for her or himself.
That‘s the beauty of it.
Plus, you‘ll save on travel costs abroad and you‘ll save money when they will help you negotiate to avoid air-shipment or claims and this kind of good things.
However, from the start, it’s an investment.
“Do we really want an external person to represent us and be the face of our company in Europe? Can we say ‘yes’ to create that connection and bond with commitment, integrity, transparency, trust and honesty?”
Uhhh, this one is a biggy:
Yes, better to ask this question. How does the whole idea of working with an agent feels in your gut?
Can you say „yes“ wholeheartedly?
Trust your feeling here.
Because I feel like if it is not a total ‘yes’ it’s a ‘hell-no’.
That is how it is!
“Do we have a long-term vision with our agent?”
Yes, with a competent agent business can develop fast.
But you already know, it‘ll usually need 90 days … to one season or even 1 year to bring the business up to speed.
Guys -it‘s a lot of work!
Time flies by…
To build something in Europe, it takes time and patience before having your foot in the door.
You need to understand this and give the space to operate.
So if you hear 90 days, one season – even a year and think: „That‘s too long!“ Oh my gosh – are you in this for the long haul?
Are you in this to make your business fantastic – so 10 years down the road you‘re still in it and have grown substantially?
If you shy away from creating something substantial in your business because up to 1 year feels too long – your head is not in the game the way that will allow you to be making money years from now with an agent.
That‘s just a little tough love from me. 🙂
You‘ve got to put this into perspective – we‘re not looking for a quick hit.
If you‘re willing to cooperate with your agent and do the work – you can create magic!
I know I‘m getting a little bit extra passionate – but this topic is just my thing. That’s what I love to tell you about – I just never want you to miss out on that opportunity.
I guess what I mean to say is having a long-term vision together helps to create something amazing and substantial.
"Can we provide samples and sales material?”
That‘s obvious, your agent needs samples and all of that to represent you in the most effective way.
“Do we have a person in our internal team who can support the agent?”
As things get momentum your agent will need somebody to work with in your team.
Helping her/him with
- offer prices
- confirming order sheets
- delivery date extensions
… clearing aaaalllll sorts of questions…
Can you do it yourself or do you have a person for that internally?
Yes, of course, your agent will help you make to-do‘s off your plate but still they need someone to work closely with internally.
Figure out who can fulfill that job from your internal team.
Really, embrace team-selling because this will also be the case when you work with an agent.
I was lucky to work most of the time directly with my MD- you might not be in the position that you can do that because your company is way too big.
Well, it’s not necessary that it’s the MD but a person who can make decisions quickly on their own and who can be reached 24/7.
Because sales is a 24/7 job.
Guidance from the top:
You probably have excellent sales skills and an approach that works. Tell your
- your vision of the business
- your target market
- your ideal customer profile
- your selling process
- you culture
… your personal sales philosophy that you like to run with.
You’ll need to explain it to them, so they can act on your behalf…
.. yes my friend, give them the guidance they need.
There is little need for “training” but make them familiar with your company’s procedures and processes.
“Will the type of customers we work with - will they be open to cooperating with an agent?”
Ahhh, that‘s an important question, I just recognize, these questions are not really in a perfect order here …
Will the type of customers you work with – will they be open to cooperating with an agent?
I think most of them will.
However, it‘s a valid question to be thinking about.
How would your existing customers react when you introduce your new partner? If you want your agent, she/he should take care of all of your business in one country.
And what do you think will your best prospects say – those top 10 on your list? Something to think about.
“Are we committed to make the agreed (commission) payments on time?”
Oh, I know – we have to talk about this- even it feels a little bit uncomfortable for me.
Please don’t get mad at me for this question if you are like: “Heike, what are you talking about!?”
I’m bringing this up – because this was an issue for me.
And I know especially in Europe agents will not be flexible in this point.
I used to be too flexible when I got my commission – to be honest with you – because I met my managing director at the age of 16 – it literally felt like family.
And with family – you know – you act a bit different – But it‘s not likely that you will find an agent who is 16 – nor is this in any case advisable. 🙂
Ok getting back to my point with delays of payment your cooperation could end very abruptly.
I‘ve seen that, believe me, I know this from personal experience.
In the end, you have to think about what kind of cooperation you’d want to get from someone like you.
And go with that.
“Can we at least once per year visit our customers in their headquarters?”
I think you should plan to visit your customers once a year at least in their offices.
Having an agent is fine and good but you also want to keep frequent touchpoints on a personal base with your buyers.
I used to convince my previous MD about the importance to be present at our customers offices at least once a year.
So we went together for a few days meeting after meeting, no special agenda. I know you might be thinking buyers don‘t love to make time for just hello-meetings and if you‘re thinking that you‘re right.
However, if you‘re a good supplier, they might make time for a quick hello-meeting- and there‘s always SOMETHING that needs to be discussed.
It was fun and helpful just to keep the contact alive not only with the agent – but also with the factory owner in my case. It‘s also to show that the factory and agent act as a team.
Ok. These are the questions. Pretty simple, right?
If you've made it this far you must really want to know if your business is ready to work with a sales manager in Europe.
I hope this gives you some clarity
... if you should find a sales agent for your garment export biz to grow faster at this point in time.
You likely have answered these questions already in your head as we went together through them. And I thank you for that. Plus, I hope that you loved your results.
And hopefully for years to come.
If your result was “we need an agent” then that is something I hope you want to be in year after year. Make more and more turnover and create a bigger impact. So hopefully you get to grow and experience new things while working with a business developer.
Or if your results at this point of time were “we do not need an agent” well, that is something to aspire to maybe in the future and you can focus now on other ways to keep your business moving forward.
I hope you enjoyed this mini-lesson all about the kick-off questions about the lessons I’ve learned from working as an agent for Indian knitwear supplier.
If you decide you like to get professional support to find a good business developer in Europe, I cannot wait to support you...– no wait scratch ‘good’ - we’re going to find an outstanding business developer for you.
So click this link here to get the ball rolling.
Make it a lovely day and take care
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