Right from the start, let me assure you that I am a believer in having positive dynamic relationships between an external consultant (like me and most of my associates) and an established in-house export team. I am on the “Peace” side of Tolstoy. Great dynamics between an export team and an external consultant can yield phenomenal results, because energy, time and skill are used wisely towards common aims. I don’t mean that there can’t be disagreements (in approach, targets and more) but the point is that efficient teams can bring together different viewpoints and contribute to business growth rather than end up in pointless arguments.
As a consultant for Latin America, it is a great relief for me when I know there is an established export team to work with. Put simply, they make my life easier. They have been through it all, even if in other markets: they’ve had the customs issues, the documentation nightmare, the shipping complaint, the language barrier, the cultural misunderstanding, the currency faux-pas, the overnight flights and the wonderful feeling of knowing that you helped to take that product or service right to the other side of the world (or the English Channel).
As a consultant, the other reason why I love working with export experts is that they know which questions to ask and they value what I do. They know how tough it is. They know they need me for them to succeed. And I know I need them. That’s what a team is all about.
I have worked with highly experienced, personable and immensely skilled export teams. Recently, I’ve been trying to work out why that export team-consultant relationship sometimes works so fantastically well. This is what I’ve come up with:
– Leadership is committed to export objectives. This means that the export team feels valued and accountable. And so do I. There’s nothing worse than working with an MD or FD who just “doesn’t get it” and who thinks export is a side issue that those few souls in that corner get up to. Exports have to be embedded within the company strategy and ethos.
– The business leaders have to be committed to exports and be able to share that commitment with every member of staff, particularly the export team.
– The consultant comes with an open mind. I personally cannot stand the “know it all” attitude of some consultants. The whole point is to listen to that export team. Where are the blockages? What makes them succeed? What are their fears?
But there’s been war. And this is generally why:
– Leadership is not committed. No-one understands the value of focusing on export markets (or in Latin America in particular). I’ve recently had to walk away from two clients because of this. Latin America is too resource-intensive for a half-hearted approached. We want passion!
– Leadership doesn’t understand the challenges involved in exporting and pushes for the wrong results, leaving the export team isolated and with targets they just can’t achieve. The team is under pressure and consultancy is seen as a waste of time.
I always say that I can tell an MD or an FD (or an export sales manager, for example) why you should be looking at Latin America, but I can’t convince you to put your business through it, especially since these markets are so resource-demanding. That is your decision as a business leader. And is a true leader the one that gets all the team involved.
What happens when I find no export team at all? I know it’s going to be hard, because Latin America requires time and skills (a 2-day visit to Chile can take a UK-based MD a good 5-7 days, and you won’t be taken seriously if you send a junior member of staff). I can be that resource, but I cannot work on my own, I need commitment from HQ to push things through.
What happens when the Export Manager sees me, the consultant, as an annoying add-on? I try talking things through (it works most of the times), but sometimes I just have to walk out. A business has to be totally committed to Latin America in order to succeed. If the leaders and managers aren’t, maybe this is not the right time. Mistakes can be hugely costly for them as a business and for me as a consultant.
And one final word for tiny businesses who cannot afford an export team (just yet, aim high!): assess your readiness to export to different markets before embarking on it. We have associates who are experts at helping you with the processes to get you going. Make sure your strategy is clear, and for more information tailored specifically to small businesses, here’s our ebook.
If there’s one thing that makes me smile when I start working with a new in-house team is this comment by any member of the export team: “I’m so glad you’re here, I was really struggling by myself. I cannot be everywhere and know everything about every market, you know. I didn’t know where to start, so can I ask you something…?”. Bring it on.