There has been much press about the growth in U.S. exports. And for good reason. Nearly 95 percent of the world’s consumers live outside the United States and approximately 74 percent of the global commerce now occurs abroad. In turn, American companies that become exporters often grow faster, hire more employees, and benefit the U.S. economy to a greater extent.

I have visited American manufacturing plants all across the country. In my opinion, all of them could become successful exporters if international sales were to become a corporate goal. The decision to export needs to start at the top of an organization. This ensures full participation throughout the corporate structure, as well as the commitment necessary for a long-term effort to succeed.

While opportunity drives us, the success is in the details. For a U.S. manufacturer to embark on an exporting path, help is highly suggested. Fortunately, there is an incredible array of qualified sources available for manufacturers — including local, state, and national public and private sources.

In fact, there are so many overlapping sources of help that it can be confusing. To help determine the best path, I always suggest that companies get involved with an organization where there are private sector members with exporting experience.

And since companies almost always needs an ongoing stream of quality information to grow an export business, existing exporters have and continue to prove to be a rich and fantastic source of direct experience.

To be successful in international business, it is critical to listen to your customers.

As a long-term exporter, I suggest that companies interested in successfully expanding sales abroad segregate their sales teams into two groups: those focused on exports and those focused on domestic sales. By separating the two departments, the export sales department typically will develop much faster and establish a clear link between management, sales and foreign customers.

When speaking at events across the United States on the subject of international expansion, I receive a tremendous number of questions from those wanting to become exporters. My first key point is about the rule of international relationships.

For businesses here in the United States, 75 percent of a business deal is transactional (price, quality and delivery) and 25 percent of the entire effort is relational (personal relationships, previous business experiences and length of association). This relationship rule is reversed when working with international customers.

In The Spotlight

To achieve international success over the long term, business people must follow a 75 percent relational and 25 percent transactional model. At our company, we go even further and describe the international relationships as “business marriages.” This unusual description identifies just how deep seated our relationships are — and truly need to be — with our international customers.

Exporting can also be described as an enigma for a business. The requirements, no doubt, are significant. For many, closing an international business deal seems out of reach. And in some cases, no matter how hard you try, international sales simply escape you.

For many in this category, it helps to take a step back and look at the international arena from the customer’s point of view. This can help clarify why you are not competitive in their environment.

Failure to achieve customers abroad also could be the result of poor packaging where the cultural differences simply have not been adequately assessed, and as a result, the packaging or products haven’t been changed to address different tastes. To be successful in international business, it is critical to listen to your customers.

To help overcome cultural issues and to build rapport, we regularly have our sales team personally visit customers in their countries. Nothing can replace direct contact and firsthand knowledge.

We all want corporate growth and the export market is certainly the place to find it. Building your business with exporting as a key and significant percentage of total sales will add stability, innovation and excitement to your product line.

Now is the time to be a manufacturer who exports!


Roy Paulson
About The Author Roy Paulson
Roy Paulson is the Chair of the National District Export Council and President of Paulson Manufacturing in Temecula California.

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