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Ten Tips-Improving Market Visit Productivity

By: Greg Seminara, Export Solutions

You can usually spot an export manager in the fast track lane at airport security with the Diamond level frequent flier card and bulging passport. Many of us spend half of our business lives on the road , serving as roving brand ambassadors for the brands that we represent. Our friends envy this glamorous life, little do they know how punishing it is to take red eye flights and eat mediocre airport food.  While this lifestyle appears as normal for most of us, it makes sense to review some fundamental ideas on how to obtain the most productivity from our companies investment in our business travel.

1. Define Purpose for Each Market Visit
Export Solutions identifies seven management roles for a market visit:
            Doctor:            visiting to handle a problem
            Architect:        design new plan for achieving objectives
            Coach:             trip to teach distributor about your brand
            Babysitter:       follow up on key priorities
            Gardener:        cultivate new business and relationships
            Fan:                 cheer good distributor on to great results
            Tourist:                        we enjoy the country
In reality, a productive visit encompasses parts of all of the above roles.

2. Schedule: Minimum Six Weeks Lead Time
Organize your visit with six to eight weeks lead time. This guarantees that all key people will be available during your visit. It also reminds your distributor that you are coming soon and there is time to fix problems before your arrival.

3. Agenda and Analysis
Send market visit agenda four weeks in advance. Review progress versus key initiatives and annual objectives. Obtain updated "Listing Maps", schematics, pricing, and merchandising plans.Analyze syndicated data ( Nielsen), shipment trends, and marketing spending. What has been achieved since your last visit ?

4. Serve as Category Expert
Distributors appreciate brand owners that share category expertise. What are the global and regional trends for your category? Any product innovation from your company or competition?

Are there success stories from other markets or common retailers that you can share ?

5. Store Checks: First Priority
I am a big advocate of checking stores as soon as I get to the market, before formal office meetings. This allows me to capture the rhythm of the market, category and my own brand performance in advance of philosophical meetings that may ignore "Retail Reality". Request that the retail sales manager accompany you to secure his "pulse"of the market. Visit stores in different parts of town. Always use the retailers schematic as the "official" record. Beware of stores that look "too good to be true".

6. Build Relationships with Entire Team
Frequently our visit is concentrated on meetings with the brand manager and a 15 minute chat with the distributor CEO. Visit the distributors warehouse at least once per year. Actual warehouse inventory provides an accurate snapshot of their entire business. Schedule time with the finance manager. Better to get to know him in advance of the inevitable problem. Treat the administrative team to a casual lunch to say thanks. We know who keeps the ship running ! Invite the Distributor owner or MD to dinner. The best business insights are obtained after 9:00 pm.

7. Customer Visits
Schedule an annual business review or participate in a new product launch to serve as a category  "expert." Volunteer to try to solve problems , but avoid situations where the buyer tries to extort money from you. Meet with other people at the retailer beyond your buyer.
Most retailers have Marketing, Merchandising, Internet Sales, and Supply Chain managers interested in sharing insights with overseas suppliers.

8. Brainstorm New Ideas
Allocate some time to think about new ways to achieve your business results. Too many times we get in the repetitive rut of offering the same programs year after year. What ideas have worked in other markets or for other brands that the distributor represents ? Co promotion ideas ? Charity tie in ? How can we generate positive social media buzz ?

9. Getting a Distributor to Love Your Brand
Our Spring 2013 Export Express dedicated an article to this goal. Each market visit is a valuable opportunity to cultivate a powerful relationship. We want the distributor to maintain our priorities as "top of mind" after we are dropped off at the airport to return home.

10. Trip Report - Thanks
The best trip reports are the ones that are written on the plane ride home when all issues are still fresh. Say thanks and send a balanced report of achievements and opportunities. Remember that all accomplishments and problems are a joint responsibility of both the brand owner and distributor. A detailed report with clear and measurable next steps serves as the official benchmark for your next trip !

See you in  the airport !