Before telex, fax, email, low airfares, cheap hotel accommodation, Skype, Facetime and Zoom, companies selling internationally and who had export departments employed Export Correspondents.
Their job was to liaise, often by airmail and telex and fax with clients and potential customers to whom the Export Manager, who was possibly the only person authorised to travel internationally, could offer and conclude contracts.
At a time when travel from Australia is restricted and will be for some time reverting to the practices of the Export Correspondent will be one way of generating leads, enquiries and invitations to quote when companies are unable to sit and discuss face-to-face.
Often, the position of Export Correspondent was a step up the export department ladder and a training ground for future export managers. The position enabled the company to instil export disciplines, systems and client contact skills into younger employees whilst enabling the company to deal effectively with existing clients and to expand its client base.
The internet and on-line access available today have revolutionised export management and facilitated a much faster and less costly execution of export enquiries, pricing and negotiations.
Patience and perseverance needed
Opening up this online contact or opening the door, enabling negotiations and sales action to begin needs patience and perseverance – the role of Export Correspondent is once again a skill set needed to enable the Export Manager to “to meet the client”.
I would receive six to 10 emails a week asking for an online meeting. Most are unrelated to my work and impractical commercially, but they evidence the difficulty of introducing new forms and new products to prospects whom you are unlikely to meet in the immediate future. Most are poorly written, unfocused, show no understanding of my interests and do not set out clearly and simply the services or products offered. The one chance that these companies had to get into a discussion has been lost forever.
Companies with restricted travel schedules will have both the time and budget to use these resources to build in-house strengths and in developing a correspondence base that ensures that when travel is once again possible client engagement is maximised.
Special skill set required
Now is the time to use the Export Correspondent to undertake market research and client assessment as well as reviewing market conditions and pricing. Those who are not prepared for the “re-opening” of travel will be caught out by the rush to new markets of active and ambitious competitors.
Who might have thought six months ago that the skillset of the Export Correspondent, so essential 40 years ago might be required to kick-start exporting work again in the 2020s?
Once work of the Export Correspondent was described as “desk work” or preparatory work prior to export travel being undertaken, but what if you can’t travel?
A special skill set is required to open the client’s mind to the opportunities an exporter is offering.
The skills of the Export Correspondent have never ceased to be of value, but the position and job specification may well be once again valued.
Michael Young is the principal of Isowall Consulting, an export advisory and coaching service, specialising in the international fields of trademark use and licensing.