• Starting Your Export Business - Step 9: The Search for Buyers

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    Your product is only as good as the sales it generates. While setting up your export business and finalizing the product you will ship, you have surely already considered the problem of availability of buyers and how to reach out to them. The easiest way would be to have loyal clientele to begin with, or to export a product so good that it will surely sell itself. However, for many new businesses, this is extremely difficult, if not downright impossible. So how do you go about finding buyers?

    One assumes that by now you may have selected the market for your product(s). The target market and its consumers will – to a large extent – determine your buyer-search efforts. Digital marketing may work in some markets, while others might need a bit of personal touch. You can also seek assistance and support from organisations like FIEO and your Export Promotion Council (EPC). Let’s look at these possible ways in a little detail:

    Online Solutions

    There’s an umbrella of activities that you can take up under your online efforts:

    • You must build an attractive and professional website for your business. Investing in techniques like Search Engine Marketing will also take you and your product closer to the people who are looking for the same products in your target country. Search Engine Optimization will help your website pop up in relevant Google searches. You can also use tools like Google Ads (see Fig. 1 below) to discover the search queries that are likely to lead prospective buyers to your website/product.

    Google Ads Fig. 1: Google Ads

    • Another great idea is to optimize your website visibility using Google Search Console. Using the Console, you can not only manage your website’s structure (Fig. 2 below), but also get deeper understanding of the kind of traffic you’re getting on your domain. Over time, you can use this data to get a better understanding of whether your website is visible to your target buyer demographic or not and optimize it accordingly.

    Google Search Console Fig. 2: Google Search Console

    • You should also consider developing a social media strategy to reach out to your global customer base. Platforms like YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Reddit, Pinterest, Quora, etc. are widely used to build a business’s social media presence. Note, however, that all social media channels might not be a perfect fit for your business; clearly define the purpose of your social media presence and accordingly select a channel that best suits your buyer acquisition requirements.

    Also Read: How to select what to export?

    Facebook Page Fig. 3: A typical Facebook page of an Import/Export business interactive group

    • Apart from social media, another great way to gain online visibility is to sign up on Business-to-Business (B2B) websites and buyer-seller platforms like Alibaba, DHGate, Indiamart, Global Sources, Made in China, etc. Make sure you link to your website in your profiles in these platforms, as they will not only help you sell your product directly but are also a great way to gain visibility with buyers.

    Alibaba Profile Fig. 4: An example of an Indian exporter’s profile on Alibaba

    Whatever online solution(s) you choose, make sure you regularly moderate and manage your profile and curate content on it so that prospective buyers find it reliable and useful to reach out to you.

    Trade fairs and exhibitions

    Trade fairs and exhibitions are a more direct platform where Indian exporters, small and big, get the opportunity to meet and interact with visiting foreign buyers as well as export-import companies. Apart from such events organized in India, you can also participate in fairs and exhibitions held by various trade organizations across the world. These fairs can be general or specific to an industry.

    These events see buyers, sellers and other stakeholders of the trade ecosystem come under a common room in large numbers and are the perfect venue for networking and outreach to potential customers. You can show demos/examples of your product, field questions, and even confirm orders at these events. Information about upcoming fairs and exhibitions is available with FIEO and/or your respective EPC.

    FIEO Events Fig. 5: An example list of FIEO’s events in Macedonia

    Government bodies

    Government bodies like Commodity Boards and Export Promotion Councils, and even Ministries, can be a great source of information when it comes to finding a buyer. These organisations are tasked with increasing the country’s exports and helping exporters, and will be more than happy to provide details like names of potential buyers, venues where you can meet them, etc. You can also access trade information and statistics on various products in your sector, apart from information on existing buyers. As mentioned earlier, events and delegations organized by these bodies are the best way to meet prospective buyers and sign them on, so keep an eye out for upcoming events, and be sure to sign up for them!

    Also Read: How to get an RCMC

    AEPC Example Fig. 6: An example of the kind of assistance available to exporters from the Apparel Export Promotion Council (AEPC)

    Embassies

    While not typically trade-centric establishments, embassies nevertheless can be a good source for trade-related information. India has embassies and consulates in many countries, with close to 200 diplomatic missions worldwide. They have access to local news and market trends, and you can approach them to ask for names of reliable buyers in that particular country in your sector. FIEO and your EPC can also reach out to these missions on your behalf to seek information on buyers and pass it on to you. However, it must be noted that in all such cases, the onus of due diligence about the credibility of the buyer lies with the exporter and not the EPC or the embassies.

    Third-Party Agencies

    These can be of different forms, depending on the initiative taken:

    • Foreign Agencies are state-sponsored or controlled agencies that deal with bulk purchases to meet their countries demands.

    • Buying Agents can be bulk buyers looking to purchase from your country. You can learn about the presence of foreign buying agents in India through sources like embassies and export authorities.

    • Foreign Wholesalers are middlemen who will eventually resell products imported from overseas in their own country. Like the name suggests, they tend to purchase in bulk quantities.

    • Commission agents are foreign agents who enable contact between buyers and sellers and coordinate a deal between the two in exchange for a commission.

    • You can also hire your own sales commission agent or employee to represent your business and product to buyers and finalize sale deals.

    Market Research Companies

    Plenty of companies offer trade-related professional services to exporters and traders, including international directories of importers in various countries, market research and studies, shipment-related information, etc. You can purchase information specific to your product and sector from these companies; however, do note that the cost may sometimes be quite steep.

    Ultimately, building your personal network of buyers and stakeholders in your sector will be crucial to sustain the success of your export business. These connections will eventually form the bedrock of your export business’s continued operations. Once you’ve successfully built a list of buyers and importers using the methods mentioned here, start reaching out to them, expressing interest in building trade relationships, and your export business will be ready to commence operations.

    Pro-Tips

    • Invest in the content and layout of your website to give it a professional look and appeal, as potential buyers will often judge you based on your website.

    • Certain online platforms like social media face restrictions in some countries or have minimal presence there. Choose the right platform for your market – for example, the top social marketing channels for China are very different from those for the US.

    • Unless they generate high volumes of leads and relationships, intermediaries may not be feasible for most fresh exporters as they eat into your margins.

    Warnings

    • Know your product and its consumption patterns. Online solutions can help you reach buyers in different markets around the world, but if your product is a poor fit for the buyer’s market, you are unlikely to get any business there.

    • Be careful with your business’s social media presence. Understand local customs, traditions and cultures to avoid accidentally causing offense to your buyers.

    Raghav Khajuria
    Raghav Khajuria
    Leads Marketing activities for Drip Capital.
    7 min read