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NDTO News Article

Tips on Finding International Agents, Distributors or Reps

Finding buyers internationally can be a challenge for many businesses, large or small. One approach that may be useful to finding buyers in-country is engaging with a partner, foreign distributor, or agent to represent your company in an overseas market. These relationships can take on a variety of roles, including sales, relationship building, customer visits, and attending tradeshows on the company’s behalf. There are many benefits to having such a resource available in your chosen international market, but detailed vetting and trust are needed to ensure success.

Before engaging with a foreign representative, it’s good practice to do market research to identify where your product will fit and how you want to move forward. Without these essential questions answered, your approach may have less impact. Unless the products are sold directly to consumers, or easily sold online, a foreign representative, distributor, or agent may be one of the best ways to get local market access.

Doing your homework at this stage is essential. Honing in on the market and the company’s needs is a good start. Once goals are established, it can be highly beneficial to find someone who will represent the company’s products and values well, help negotiate goods deals, and serve as a cultural liaison in your chosen market. Working with domestic resources such as the US Commercial Service or the NDTO to research or be introduced to reputable contacts can be beneficial. It might even be beneficial to make a  journey to the market yourself. This way, you have the opportunity to fine-tune the companies needs and what is expected in an overseas representative. Connections may also be found by engaging with the US or the international markets’ trade associations. These organizations may help identify contacts and distributors. There are many examples of individual industry professionals with a strong presence who will make a great representative for hire throughout your target markets, and these people should not be overlooked.

The hiring process for an overseas representative will require some research. Are you hiring this person on to your team as an employee, or will they be a contracted individual? Each country has differing laws for employees and their tax codes. Often it may be beneficial to hire independent contractors, as the burdens of tax laws often fall to the contractor, not the company. Regardless, the you need to do the due diligence to understand where these burdens fall to avoid any unexpected taxes. Be sure to complete this research before entering into any agreements, so both parties have clear expectations from the beginning.

When entering into agreements, be clear and concise with what your company needs in that international market. Trust is crucial for these relationships because direct oversight is limited due to physical distance. Approach each new market with an open mind and be flexible. Different countries do business differently and the agreement you enter into with your foreign representative will often be market-dependent.. Additionally, a company may have a mix of distributors, individual sales representative or larger agency representatives depending on their needs.

When choosing an international representaibe, be sure to consider the following:

  • Asking around: there may be similar people or companies in the same industry with some advice to give, be it positive or negative.
  • Create a formal agreement: a more formal agreement allows for clear objectives, outcomes and control of your product and how it is represented.
    • Make sure it spells out conduct and termination clauses.
  • The local laws: some agreements are acceptable while others are not legally binding. This is highly dependent on the country and it is recommended to consult with legal professionals with knowledge of international law to assist with the agreement finalization.
  • Training: depending on the company and expertise of the agent/representative it might be best to bring them to the US for training. This allows the company to build a relationship and ensure products are well represented. Or, a company may visit overseas periodically, schedule calls, or jointly operate tradeshows to ensure everything is in order.
  • Maintain regular communication and oversight.

Another option is to hire someone from the US and send them to the intended market or country. With this option, be sure to understand their motivations and comfort with the  market, as there are more challenges when doing business in different cultures. Finding someone with experience in that market will help the business hit the ground running.

Whichever option best suits your international business, remember that time and dedication are needed for expansion. Patience, consistent communication, and clear expectations are pinnacles when finding a representative, agent, or distributor overseas.

Additional Resources

American Express: 5 Ways Your Business Can Find an International Distributor

Entrepreneur: How to Find an Overseas Distributor

International Trade Administration: Finding Buyers and Partners

Universal Cargo: Selling Overseas?: How to Find and Hire a Perfect Sale Rep for Your Business