It was a year ago this month that the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global health emergency. Over the past year, business practices have changed forever, and none more so than those used for international trade. As we look forward to a post-COVID world, governmental agencies devoted to the promotion of international trade should consider the following:
“Some exporters are more equal than others.”
If nothing more has been learned from the business interruption caused by COVID, it is that many trade development agencies (TDA) discovered which of their existing exporters had staying power. The company that exported only occasionally soon gave up on these efforts in favor of consolidating into domestic markets. Conversely, those exporting companies that were truly committed to international business found new and creative ways to stay engaged.
Lesson Learned: In the future, TDAs might consider providing nurturing support to emerging exporters while extending more substantive support to the long-term exporter; established exporters have a greater impact than new-to-export companies.
“Virtual is the new reality.”
When vaccines are administered and international travel resumes, there will still be widespread use of virtual tools in international business development. Behavior has permanently changed for business executives who now feel comfortable with video conferencing. Indeed, export marketing professionals will have to “make the case” to their managers to conduct a $5,000 week-long business trip, when similar results can be accomplished via virtual meetings.
Lesson Learned: Going forward, TDAs would do well to maintain, and expand, their support of exporter’s virtual tools. Digital trade promotion has yet to be mastered and represents rich opportunities for the TDA that undertakes innovative approaches.
“Your 15 minutes seconds of fame.”
It now almost seems quaint to remember when the first 15 minutes of in-person meetings were devoted to getting-to-know-one-another small talk. With the compressed timeframe of scheduled videoconferences, marketing professionals need to convey their company’s value proposition in much less time. Too often, exporting companies fail to prepare, and rehearse, their marketing message for international customers.
Lesson Learned: As a service to their clients, TDAs might consider providing honest reviews of company sales pitches. Spending a little bit of time upfront preparing for international videoconferences pays long-term dividends.
“Customers don’t recognize governmental boundaries.”
When it comes to the provision of governmental services to businesses, especially during a pandemic, there is much to be said for local programs being most effective. It should not be forgotten, however, that the ultimate consumer of export development programs are international customers, and that these consumers do not pay much attention to the governmental boundary of the exporter.
Lesson Learned: TDAs that cross governmental boundaries to jointly promote a defined business solution (for example, the use of UAVs for port security) will gain more attention with international buyers and increase sales for their respective exporters.
“It isn’t what you’re selling, it’s what they’re buying.”
Sometimes, TDAs engage with companies that want to export, but that are not fully capable of exporting. COVID has altered global supply chains, and with them international business opportunities. International trade of the immediate future is keenly focused on products and services that offer real solutions, and less accommodating to “nice-to-have” products.
Lesson Learned: TDA’s should focus on market demand, not a company’s supply, to find the best international business opportunities.