In many parts of the world, business transactions and processes are often secondary to the personal relationships involved in order fulfillment.
The Internet enables 24-hour worldwide connectivity, and the world has "shrunk" as a result. Nevertheless, the Internet cannot replace the face-to-face contact often needed for establishing business relationships.
Your Web site may be well suited for your American audience, and yet be confusing to international customers. It could be lacking language localization and/or cultural customization, which could limit your ability to convince the customer of the sincerity of your business intentions.
So when you receive a request for a quote from an international client, you need to reach beyond your Web site to begin the process of establishing mutual respect and trust.
Do not hesitate to:
Immediately acknowledge the receipt of the inquiry by telephone, fax, or e-mail
Respond quickly to questions regarding price, quantity, etc.
Provide the client with your best knowledge of the product
These steps will reassure the customer and open doors for further communication that you will need in order to build lasting relationships with your international customers.
In order to successfully fulfill orders, it is necessary to remember the types of customers that may come to your Web site.
Usually they are customers who:
Are searching for a specific product, with specs from which they cannot deviate
Know why they need a product, but have no specific brand in mind
So part of your role is to help the customer decide which product to order.
Learn From an Example
Here is an example of how I successfully helped a customer from Singapore, who was looking for an industrial water pump for a large commercial fishing boat. He had requirements that he had to meet, but did not know exactly which model to buy, or how to get it to Singapore.
As soon as I received the request for a quote for this 500-pound industrial water pump, I realized that it could be a lucrative sale. But I had no previous experience exporting such a massive industrial water pump to a Pacific Rim country. I did know, though, that I needed to gain the potential customer's confidence, and I also knew that I had to do so ? even though I wasn't able to do it face to face.
I sent the customer an e-mail, which I followed up with a fax, confirming receipt of the inquiry, and reassuring the customer that he would have the quote within the requested time period. (It was obvious that he was shopping around for quotes.)
I then set to work. Although I did not know much about the pump, I knew it was a complex piece of equipment with very specific engineering specs. And I knew what I had to do to gain the customer's respect.
Therefore, though it was not necessary for the initial quote, I quickly studied the product, visited our vendor, and took a tour of the plant where the product was manufactured. In a short time, I learned a lot about the product, and gathered technical information that the customer might want to have.
When submitting the quote on the pump, I enclosed the main chart that showed the structure of the pump. This generated immediate interest from the customer, and he responded by calling to ask more questions about the product. This was the perfect opportunity to continue to personalize the process and build the relationship between us.
At that point, we talked about the specs of "our" product, went over some important technical charts, and learned about each other's needs.
The customer was very impressed with the professional manner in which his inquiry was handled. He was delighted that he could get answers to some of his technical concerns regarding the pump.
Soon after the submission of the quote, the pump inquiry became a large order. Ever since then, he has been a loyal customer of our company.
Obviously, not every order that you receive from abroad is going to be as technical and complex. But tailoring your services to the needs of the customer and establishing a relationship can go a long way to replace the face-to-face interaction that business transactions in many parts of the world are founded on.
Because of cultural and language differences, selling globally is difficult, even if you have a good Web site. This is especially the case, because in most cultures, due to the newness of e-commerce, people still place a high value on:
Established personal business relationships
Sincerity and integrity
Willingness to learn and help your trusted business partner
Therefore, to ensure a pleasant experience for the customer and to demonstrate the integrity of your business, it is important that your Web site:
Makes it easy for the customer to contact you
Provides needed product information to the customer
Offers value-added services important to international customers who want to buy a product
So, don't hesitate. Anticipate your customers' needs and take the initiative.