If you are selling your products overseas, do you have a network of loyal partners you work with to achieve mutually agreed sales targets? Or are you are amassing a random collection of distributors and agents who prefer to avoid being tied down to targets? In turn, is your focus principally on shipping orders rather than building sales and your brand?

All too often, companies waste time and effort on follow-ups to ad hoc enquiries, which don’t lead to sales. Far more concerning, however, are manufacturers who supply the first person who knocks on the door without devoting any time to managing them, only to be disappointed when, after a flurry of initial activity, orders dwindle or stop.

The problem with reactive trading relationships is that you might have stumbled across the most appropriate partner in a particular country but this is highly unlikely. Anyone who approaches you is going to tell you they are “the leading” distributor in their market, but even if they are, they may want your product simply to prevent a competitor from having it.

Some companies make a conscious decision to export on a reactive basis, perhaps due to having limited resources or because domestic sales need to take short-term priority. However, this doesn’t mean basic business principles should go out of the window when you reach the English Channel. You are only as good as your local distributor or agent, and if they provide bad service or go bust, you will be associated with any failure. If you start off with the wrong one, it’s costly and difficult to change.

Distributors and agents play a pivotal role between you and your end customers in a given country or channel. Spending time seeking out the right partner can ultimately get your product to market more quickly and give you a long-term sustainable competitive advantage.

Don’t dismiss an ad hoc export enquiry altogether but do ensure you first set your strategy for that market. Then you can evaluate them against other options to verify whether they really are the best fit for you.

Nicola Thomas is MD of A La Carte Consulting and a speaker at The Grocer’s How To Build A Brand Conference on 3 October