Direct sales

How to enter an export market through direct sales.

Last updated 11 September 2019

Direct export sales involves contacting and selling to an overseas customer without using an agent, distributor, partner or other intermediary.

The advantage of this approach is greater control over customer relationships and price. Potential disadvantages to consider are a greater upfront commitment of time, resource and finance to find and engage with customers.

Tips from our trade advisers

  • research where to sell, and prioritise markets based on your liklihood of success
  • recruit a sales team who, if necessary, speak the language, understand the business culture and are suitably experienced to command respect from prospective clients
  • be patient and diligent when building client relationships. It may take long periods of time, and repeat visits, to convert an initial contact into a sale
  • prepare for price negotiations by understanding the market price and your margins in that market
  • set and allocate a budget for marketing and international travel
  • select and work with a freight forwarder to simplify the export documentation
  • establish a policy on acceptable payment terms in international markets
  • create an export network of support organisations, including the Department for International Trade

To get ready to export through direct sales, you will need to think about the following steps.

Step 1: Prepare the company to export

Decide which individuals or team are going to focus on the export business. Ensure your team has the right skills and experience for success in international markets. It may be essential for them to speak the language, understand the business culture and, depending on the nature of the business, be suitably experienced to command the respect from the potential client.

Exporting is an unofficial club where everyone has similar issues, and there is a willingness to share knowledge and experience. Attend local export events to build your network. You should also speak to organisations who can help such as Department for International Trade (DIT), Chambers of Commerce, Enterprise Europe, and major banks.

Training workshops and country and sector events run by DIT are usually free to attend or carry a small charge. Chambers of Commerce run useful workshops on export terms, documentation and payments. The Institute of Export also offers a wide range of courses.

Step 2: Develop a strategy

Decide what you are trying to achieve. For direct sales, it may be helpful to think about what your plan and targets are for the first year and the practical steps you will take to achieve those goals.

Research is a key element in preparing to enter overseas markets. For direct sales, it may be helpful to think about whether you have the capability in resources (staff and production) to respond to and deliver in the required time, at a competitive price.

You can find more advice on developing an export plan here.

Step 3: Visit the market

Set a travel budget, which will determine how many trips can be made in the year. You should investigate if there are any grants or subsidies available from the Department for International Trade, or other organisations.

Make a travel plan for the year which details where you are planning to go and when. Ensure that you consider the times of year to avoid certain markets due to factors such as public and religious holidays, or extreme weather conditions. For example, not travelling to the Middle East during Ramadan, and avoiding countries with very hot temperatures or monsoon rains at certain times of the year.

Think about who will visit the market and if this person has the appropriate knowledge and experience. Try to ensure that the same person visits the market on follow up trips to build the personal relationship with your clients.

Plan to make the best use of time whilst in the market. Build a programme of contacts and appointments. Research how easy it is to travel around the city or the country, which will affect how many meetings are possible. Consider joining a trade mission with other exporters, or coinciding the visit to attend an international show, exhibition or conference.

Step 4: Consider an expansion plan

Consider the additional resources required to sell to and fulfil orders in new markets. You may need to hire new staff, or increase your production capacity.

If you are successful in new markets via direct sales, you may want to consider your expansion plan long term. Consider whether the appointment of agents, distributors or other partners will provide you with better coverage and the time and capability to enter more markets.