Finding the Perfect Overseas Agent

Finding the Perfect Overseas Agent


Hiring the right rep is one of the most effective and least risky ways to build your presence in a foreign market.

Entrepreneurs who want to establish an international presence typically employ a limited number of ways to take that leap, says Dan O’Toole, president of PHOENIX SYSTEMS, a Newmarket, Ontario-based business systems software developer. They can create a bricks-and-mortar presence, partner with other companies, or establish a relationship with a local business agent who will represent the firm or carry out specific assignments.

Phoenix Systems chose the last approach as it expanded into China, India and the Philippines. O’Toole describes their chosen growth strategy as the one with the least associated risk.

The key was working with a top-notch representative. Here are O’Toole’s tips for finding the right agent and then establishing an effective working relationship.

  1. Research, research, research. Because Phoenix’s business is built around creating customized applications of a Microsoft enterprise software package, the company had access to a database of Microsoft-certified developers in non-domestic markets. They used the database as a list of potential candidates, and cross-referenced those names with their LinkedIn profiles. (In addition, Phoenix received numerous unsolicited approaches.)
  2. Start small. When O’Toole and his team had identified someone who seemed to have potential as an agent for Phoenix, they’d ask the individual to take on a small assignment to confirm their technical capabilities—O’Toole notes that he paid for those projects. The follow-up evaluation showed Phoenix if they should expand the relationship.
  3. Be attuned to unique cultural differences. Finding an agent in India has, so far, been difficult. O’Toole refers to the Indian market as a work-in-progress, and part of the reason has to do with the pronounced cultural differences. In English speaking countries, he says, people answer in the affirmative if they understand what’s been discussed. In India, the same response has a different meaning altogether, says O’Toole—“yes” means the person has heard the speaker’s question, but it doesn’t necessarily imply comprehension.
  4. Use technology to stay in touch. Instead of costly and time-consuming trips overseas, O’Toole organizes regular video-conferences with the company’s agents. When language is a potential obstacle to comprehension, those sessions, he says, will demonstrate clearly how well an agent understands the assignment. And for the record, he doesn’t use Skype, opting instead for large-screen simultaneous displays. “It’s more like a virtual presence.”

Advice and tactics from Canada’s fastest-growing exporters and the editors of PROFIT magazine.

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