Finding the right international distributors is one of the most difficult--and crucial--steps in moving into the global marketplace.It's critical to assess how involved and productive a potential rep will be. One surprisingly simple move can help weed out atleast half of the bad candidates: send potential reps a one-page fax-back application.

Electronic Liquid Fillers (ELF), in La Porte, Ind., started using the form in 1990. Foreign reps learn about the company at tradeshows or from advertisements in trade magazines. They usually take the first step, phoning or faxing requests to represent thecompany. ELF then overnights packets of company information, including equipment spec sheets, press clips and theapplication form. Nearly 50% of the reps bow out without responding. The form, says former vice president of sales andmarketing Jeff Ake, "dictates seriousness."

ELF receives about 18 inquiries a month from reps, many of whom have job assignments already in mind. The companyscreens out people working for direct competitors and looks for small companies that will give ELF focused attention.Registered reps are granted one-year account exclusivity for their prospective clients and leads. "We have international tigersactively promoting our equipment," says Ake.

In 1990, international business made up less than 15% of ELF's sales; by 1994, it had risen to 45% of the company's$15 million revenues.