Routes to market

Selling direct to your customer

What you’ll learn

  • what a direct sale is
  • whether it’s a good option for your business
  • useful ways to make connections with your customers

Direct export sales

Direct export sales involve contacting and selling to an overseas customer without using an agent, distributor, partner or other intermediary. Selling direct can be a low-risk way to start exporting but will require time and effort to develop.

Pros

  • More likely to close sales quickly
  • You keep all the profits
  • You keep more control over the export process

Cons

  • High set-up costs
  • Requires significant time and effort
  • No on-location sales support

Finding your customers

If you do decide to go this route, you will need to find your own customers. Having a good website and social media presence may get potential customers contacting you, but more often than not, you will need to find them.

You should know or be able to easily identify your potential customers, their problems or needs and be able to influence them to buy your product.

Research where and who to sell to by:

  • listening to what people are saying
  • reading annual reports
  • understanding the politics of the country

Establish contact

Once you have identified a company or government department that you can sell your product to, the next step is to find and establish a connection with the right person in that organisation. Contact details can be found through social media channels such as LinkedIn or on company websites.

Establishing a connection with the right contact can take some time. Remember, your potential customer might not know they need your product. But you should be able to explain how your product can make their life easier or make them look good against a competitor or other countries.

You need to understand the local business culture, so you can establish mutual respect with potential customers.

Make effective trips to your market

If you choose to sell directly, you’ll need to maintain a personal presence in the market.

Put together a travel plan for the year, detailing when and where you are planning to go. Consider which times of year are best; avoid public and religious holidays or extreme weather conditions. For example, avoid travelling to the Middle East during Ramadan or countries with very hot temperatures or monsoon rains at certain times of the year.

Make the best use of time while 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.

Your product or service needs to be of high value to make direct sales worth the effort and time. You will need skilled people who have a good strong network and are credible in the industry, but these people can be expensive.

International trade adviser

Accelerate your learning

Sign up to Great.gov.uk and you'll be able to:

  • track your learning progress and read case studies
  • join live events from the UK Export Academy
  • compare markets using live export data
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