Let's think about the typical journey of an entrepreneur, who is coming into a new market for the first time. They are fresh off the plane and now need to set up a new corporate entity, they need to open a bank account, they need to build relationships with buyers, and they have a lot of legal requirements when it comes to creating their new company in the new country. All of this can be fraught with problems. It's hard to know who to trust - there are lots of vendors out there that would love to overcharge them, so how does an exporter know which companies to work with and which ones to avoid?
Luckily, there are many online tools for exporters, but in this article, we'd like to speak about how export promotion agencies (which are government agencies tasked with helping and promoting exporters to find new markets) can help exporters get up to speed and find new channels for sales quickly.
"Digital disruption" is a big word that's being used more and more by consultants, government agencies, and many others, but few people really know what it means. In the last two years, there has been more disruption caused by Covid than any other technological advances over the last decade. Covid has done more to increase the use of digital tools than any other event in the last 10-15 years.
I'd like to talk about why export promotion agencies aren't immune to digital disruption, and what it means for the agencies who are trying to help their exporters find new markets around the world.
Export promotion agencies play a vital role when it comes to helping exporters to find new markets, and that starts with connecting exporters with friendly companies who can get them set up on the ground when they reach their foreign destination. It is a challenging thing to do, but many export companies struggle with the basic understanding of who they can trust when it comes to opening a bank account, relying on a foreign lawyer to create a new corporate entity, or even building a relationship with a local recruitment firm that understands their industry. Every new company that comes into a new market has to build a lot of basic relationships before they can even begin the process of reaching out to customers. A lot of time and energy can be spent by the entrepreneur, but it's something that the local export agency can help with; they've got a vast knowledge of local markets, they've built up many relationships with service providers and vendors, and they know who the good companies are and who to avoid.
However, most of these contacts are kept in the heads of the export agency staff members, and at best they are put into a database that can be locked away. When an employee of the export agency leaves or changes jobs, these important contacts and relationships move with that person.
The next problem is that once all of these connections are made with banks, law firms, and accountants, the exporter has to start the tedious job of reaching out to new companies that they can sell to. The job of the exporter is to sell as much as possible in the least amount of time and with the least amount of effort, and of course, it's never easy to do this when it comes to a new country. The foreign export promotion agency can only do so much to help a company grow and expand, and it's a difficult and time-consuming job for that salesperson to build those new relationships.
That's why new digital tools are becoming increasingly important to help navigate new relationships, as well as new sales and new contacts in a foreign country. Rather than using online tools like Google, Yelp and G2, we suggest that export agencies use their own knowledge, contacts, and experience to recommend vendors, suppliers, and partners. Proven, our company, is a self-service platform that allows the export agency to recommend local companies that they know and trust. Each company can build its individual platform and share it with the export agency. The local export agency can then share that information with new companies coming into the market, who can then browse different profiles and choose a vendor or supplier based on their skill set or recommendations from the local export agency. This kind of tool also prevents any complications when it comes to recommending one vendor over another, as many government agencies need to be very careful about who they recommend and remain fair to all of the vendors and suppliers in their network.
Giving exporters access to these kinds of tools makes the job of the export promotion agency much simpler, as all of the information is available on an online database - everyone has access to us. If an employee leaves the export agency, the information is stored on the online platform, instead of relying on that person's relationships. In addition to this, the exporter can access the information at any time and review all of the vendor’s partners and suppliers that they can reach out to. Vendors can offer deals, discounts, and perks to entice exporters to work with them. We see many examples of banks, law firms, and accountants offering discounts and deals to new exporters to encourage them to work together.
Another nice advantage of an online vendor recommendation platform is that Proven tracks all of the interactions happening between vendors and exporters. When a conversation is initiated on the platform, the export promotion agency is alerted and can see if exporters are connecting with service providers allowing them to keep tabs on what's happening. The exporters can also leave reviews for all of the service providers, and this information can be shared with the export promotion agency to allow them to decide whether that service provider should continue to offer services to their clients.
Proven works with some of the most successful foreign export agencies in the world, including agencies in the UK, Ireland, New Zealand, and many other countries. What export agencies are beginning to understand is that as their client base has become more digitally fluent, they are demanding tools and services that are easy to use and can help them in their export journey. Proven is a platform that can manage relationships, track who is doing deals with who, and can help an export agency to build a scalable digital relationship platform for exporters.
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We crunched the numbers, and these are the tools that portfolio companies are demanding the most, across all of our VC partnerships