Senior management & exports: a Latin American perspective
At the recent #gotogrow launch event at the City Hall in London (which I followed from Uruguay on Twitter), Sarah Wood from Unruly mentioned one of her top advice for exporting service firms in London: send key, senior members of your team to new markets, a “founder”, preferably (that makes more sense if you’re in #tech, but you get the idea).
I couldn’t agree more.
If there’s one thing you need for exports is vision and commitment. Your senior management will have the first, and will need to show the second. Time and time again, I see foreign companies interested in Latin America sending staff that is way too junior for the task, mainly because they are not decision makers. If you’re serious enough, send at least one big gun. If not serious, avoid yourself the hassle.
I can see there could be a point in sending more junior people to “explore” the market. I don’t think this works that well, either. Most of this “exploration” can be done from home (or by a consultant like me). When it’s time to jump on a plane, and Latin America is far away and rather costly to get to (in terms of money and time), you need someone with the right set of skills and experience.
If you are exporting goods, or even services, a regional sales/business development manager, trained and equipped to make decisions, can do a great job, as long as the local partners/distributors also feel that they have a link with head-office, maybe through training days, conferences or just the odd bit of clever PR, like a greeting from the MD on a particular sales order.
However, if you are setting up a business in Latin America, finding a partner (more than a distributor who resells your products), or seeking to invest, or if you don’t have distributors and you are going to deal directly with the client, you must establish a senior to senior relationship early on. Particularly early on (you can then afford to let go a bit more).
1- Key members of staff will have a strategic vision that will enable them to see beyond the immediate and to spot long-term opportunities across the whole company.
2- They will also be able to make decisions much faster.
3- Key members of staff will have a serious commitment to export. Selling abroad is not just a task to them, it’s something intrinsic to the growth of the company. And they have a Board to directly report to…
4- Looking at it from the other side of the counter, sending a key member of staff will signal to your local counterparts in Latin America that you are serious. In return, you’ll be able to demand the same level of seniority and commitment back.
For companies that are not yet dealing with Latin America, I always find a huge advantage personally in dealing with CEOs, MDs or Directors in general. These are strategic discussions, after all, not operational ones (yet). Exports should be embraced by the whole company, but the ultimate decision makers need to roll up their sleeves and muck in. That’s the best formula.