This step can be further divided into two parts:
a) Making the appointment
The first is to make an appointment with the buyer. Most foreign buyers will be interested in meeting with foreign suppliers, even if only out of curiosity’s sake, but you still need to take care as to how you phrase your introduction. Your introduction will also depend on what medium you use (fax, e-mail, letter or telephone). For example, you might briefly introduce your firm as an established and competitive supplier of the product in question that is looking at expanding into the country in question. You would continue by adding that you would like to meet with the buyer to discuss your endeavours and to present your self, your firm and its products to the buyer. At this point, you may find that the buyer declines the appointment because of some or other circumstance (for example, they have their own vertical suppliers) and this may save you considerable wasted effort. At this point, you might be bold enough to ask the buyer who else he/she suggests you could approach. If the buyer agrees to meet with you, try to make a firm appointment. When you make this appointment, give yourself enough time to get to the venue. Don’t waste his/her time getting directions (you can rather use a taxi to get you there). You may want to check with the buyer if you can discuss business with him in English or whether an interpreter is necessary. If he/she suggests an interpreter, then you will need to arrange one. The value of an interpreter is that it reduces misunderstanding and makes it possible to get feedback on what is being said by the buyer to any of his/her underlings during the meeting – but you will need to ensure that the interpreter is prepared to keep track of these comments.
To save time at the time of the actual meeting, send some information before you visit, perhaps even at the time you make the appointment or sometime before you visit. Indeed, you could break this up into two parts; provide a short introduction to your firm, stating the objectives of your visit at the time of making the appointment, followed by more in-depth information about your firm and its products which you send to the buyer after you have confirmed the appointment but before the actual meeting. In this second communication, you may want to set some objectives for the sales call. What is the purpose of the call? What outcome is desirable before you leave? In so doing, you increase your company’s presence in the buyer’s mind. This information should be aimed at wetting the prospect’s appetite.
b) The appointment itself
The second part of the approach is actually calling on the buyer. This is perhaps the toughest part of the selling process. It involves introducing yourself and making a “connection” with the buyer. Here you need to be very careful, as different cultures deal with business introductions differently. Read up on how the business etiquette in the country you are visiting. Make sure that you are on time – this is very important in many cultures (even if the buyer arrives late, this does not matter).
A good firm handshake is always a good start and bow if this is appropriate in the country you are visiting. Greeting the buyer in his home language is also a sign of respect (at which point you would of course switch back to English). Thank the buyer for giving you the time to meet with him/her. A business card (preferably in the language of the country you are visiting in addition to English) is essential and this will usually be swapped early on in the meeting. Dress appropriately – (a suit and tie or jacket and tie works in most countries). Be circumspect about giving gifts and get advice about gifts beforehand. Also be careful about using humour. What is funny to you, may not be amusing to the buyer; instead, try to be sincere and friendly.
In some countries the conversation will start with non-business related issues (how is your trip going, what do you think of the buyer’s country/city, how are things in South Africa, etc.). Do not try and rush through this stage as you may put off the buyer. In other countries (such as Germany, for example), the buyer may get down to business immediately. If you are unsure what to do, do not rush into it but instead let the buyer take the lead. If the buyer talks about non-business matters, keep to this line of conversation until he/she changes the topic.
Once you get to the business issues, your challenge will be to arouse the buyer’s interest while you also learn about his/her firm’s needs and buying circumstances. At the start of your business discussion, state the purpose of your call so that time with the client is maximised and also to demonstrate to the client that you are not wasting his or her time. Be careful, however, of being prescriptive – you may offend the buyer.
During this stage you would also try and learn more about the buyer him/herself in order to establish a bond with him/her. Unfortunately, there is often very little time to do this in, while many factors may interfere with the process (e.g. the buyer may be interrupted by a phone call or he/she may be concerned about an up-coming meeting and his/her attention may wander). You, as the seller, will want to isolate key issues and will want to explore how willing the buyer is to consider your products and proposals. In a sense you will be agreeing to how the negotiations will proceed; will they be competitive or cooperative or collaborative?
Make sure that you’ve done some homework before meeting your prospect. This will show that you are committed in the eyes of your customer. Keep a set of samples at hand (where appropriate), and make sure that they are in very good condition.
Evaluating the customer’s needs and buying situation
At this point, you will want to obtain some facts and figures related to the needs of the buyer, so that you can determine whether you can satisfy these needs. You will also want to inform your buyer about your products and deal with any concerns the buyer may have about your firm and its products. With some products you may not be able to present a final proposition to the buyer because you still need to make some calculations back at your office. In these instances, tell the buyer what you plan to do and stick to this schedule.