International business after Covid-19 and alternative sales approaches

International trade aspects
Most international sales managers and export managers have experienced a lot of quality time with their partner and children at home, since in 2020 practically all of their travel has been cancelled. Some may argue that with a lot of borders still closed, international business is even impacted harder than local business. Let’s have a look at the options.

Great products, wrong distribution

If you manufacture retail products that are not seen as essential, such as furniture, apparel, household machinery or gift boxes, then you may be impacted by various lockdowns that include the closure of retail outlet. Some products may have found alternative channels in online sales, others just have to wait until shops are open again.

If you supply to industries that are severely hit, such as the travel and tourism sector, restaurants and cafés, event industry or cinemas, then you have a different problem. Here is no alternative distribution and you just have to ‘sit it out’.

This is the time you absolutely need to stay on top of the situation to understand and manage your risks, also your financial exposure with your distributors or clients.  Depending on the industry sector there may be bankruptcies, and then you’re rather not be one of the creditors.

It is also the time to look at online sales, if your product is fit for it. Preferably with your local distributors, since they can act much faster in the market. Either they can actively refer their customers to your (of course localised) website, or you can support them promoting their web shop or placing your goods on general marketplaces like Amazon. If they can’t or won’t do it, use a local agency to support you. Your distributors can continue doing the local fulfilment and service activities.

Closing new deals

Per the end of 2021 big events like conferences, trade shows or business missions are slowly picking up. But still, visiting potential clients overseas is not yet an easy option. Eating with them, drinking, doing karaoke or other ‘bonding’ activities will for a long period be out of the question.

So if you have agents or other type of partners abroad, the more reason to nurture them. Otherwise you should be looking how to extend your team with local representatives, who may not do the full sales process, but at least can serve as an effective interface. Everybody can arrange a nice background for their video meeting, but only if somebody visits your potential clients and reports back to you, you will get a better picture of how much you can ask and what the informal decision making structure is.

Finding new sales channels

Many companies use trade shows to present themselves to new clients, or to find the right agent or distributor in a new country. But bringing 1,000 or more people together in a big hall and have them shake hands already seems to be something of the past.

Depending of the size of your booth, most companies spend from 20,000 to 200,000 USD on their presence on big shows, especially if you take into account costs for travel and stay of you team. Your financial director may book this in as one of the first savings in these uncertain times, but you should make a plan on how to spend this on alternatives.

  1. A trade show with its catalogue is a sort of offline search engine, where you try to stand out with your booth. In the online version (called Google or Baidu) you stand out with the content that you provide. So use your lock-down time for creating new, high quality content on your product, whether it’s bricks, a yoghurt drink or mathematical software. Also have your website brought to this new decennium, optimised for mobile search and fast conversion. This way you can still generate leads.
  2. Another way to generate leads is with local agencies. Cold calling may look outdated, but with proper targeting it may be effective. If your target group in a country is somewhere between 500 and 50.000 companies, with easy to identify decision makers, then using a call centre is an option. If it’s less than a 100 targets, with difficult to assess decision makers, then use a specialised business development agency. Of course there will always be start-up costs, you can’t do this fully on a commission basis. But what’s the guarantee that you get if you spend your money on a booth?
  3. If you use trade shows to orient on new markets and to find local distributors or agents, then a direct search approach by a local export development agency may even be refreshingly effective. On a trade show you always have to wait who approaches you, and chances are rare that this is the most successful retail chain in the market. With a direct approach the agency that you hire will list them, find the decision maker, approach him, create interest for your offering and then bring you into contact.


The current crisis still impact on international business and restrictions or reluctance for travelling will be there for a few years. And although stock exchanges are on an all-time high end of 2021, the aftermath may even trigger a recession.

What will be the same for every company, is that we will have to adapt our way of working. This is will not always be bad. With video conferencing introduced, a face-to-face meeting with all its travel time will not be the standard any more, but a choice. And for those who adapt quickly, disruption may be an opportunity for growth.

Alliance experts is there to help you, with insights and alternatives like these, but also with practical help. We have experienced export developers on the ground in over 30 countries, who can monitor your distributors, interface in deal closing and find you new clients or distributors. See us as a temporary extension of your team, as your eyes and ears on the ground. Look here for more information and give us a call, we always have somebody in your time zone.

This entry in exports was updated on 10 February 2022 by specialist.