Q: I watched that recent “Focus Over Hocus Pocus” webinar. It was helpful but I thought went a little too fast or had a bit too much in it. Can you go over the part again about reaching out to buyers in advance of a trade event?
A: Thanks for your input and I am glad you recognize the importance of this step. It can be crucial in being proactive, detailed, and professional which is what the webinar was about. We agree there is a lot of content in the webinars, as we would not want to waste anyone’s valuable time and much of the material is available elsewhere in Food Export’s education and training platform. For example, the webinar has been recorded for you to listen to again, and there is also a recorded video produced on the subject called (coincidentally) “How to Draft an Introductory Email to International Buyers Ahead of a Trade Event”. You are always welcome to follow up with your Food Export Liaison with any questions that you have, and they can make an appropriate referral.
Food Export participants can reach out to any prospective buyer once you have registered and made an advance appointment with them. This would most often be a Buyer’s Mission to be held virtually or in person. The fact that you have selected them hopefully meant you have reviewed their buyer profile. I say hopefully as there are instances of meetings being scheduled in advance based on which country they are from or what company they represent. Being frustrated with a buyer for not handling frozen food is unfair if the profile indicates otherwise, the profiles are designed to advise you of their interest and also what they are not interested in or unable to manage.
In the recorded webinar “How to Prepare for Meetings with Foreign Buyer’s” goes through some of the Buyer Profiles and focuses on how to segment their potential for your company’s products. Those should be studied carefully in advance of making buyer selections, primarily so you and/or the buyer are not wasting their time. You should study the company information carefully, especially the name, title and line and distribution specifics. Evaluate their website, social media, and other online activities. You would be surprised how much you can learn about them which will help your selection process.
When you are constructing your introductory message, it is important to be diplomatic but friendly although not “too” friendly – Avoid “Hey” or “Hi” or Thanks!” You should always allow the buyer to guide the process of familiarity in communications. Relationships are extremely vital to them, far more than the way the U.S. normally conducts business, and so taking time to develop the proper rapport is a key to a successful business relationship. Although most messages are emails you might consider it more of a memo – if more than 400 words. Perhaps an attached document and introduce that in a shorter email.
In the message you can introduce your company and yourself as well as your product line. Include the length, breadth, and depth if available, which are alternate flavors, sizes, and other options. Explain in detail why and how you are getting in touch with them – name the city and date of the meeting. This could also be overseas. Understand that as buyers they are constantly approached by vendors, perhaps on a global basis. The clearer you are may put them at ease and allow them to filter out other noise to your advantage.
In the message you can provide your geographic location and distance in miles and kilometers from nearest port, with an understanding that could be in land such as the case with Chicago. It is a customs port and like Detroit and Minneapolis, you can originate an ocean bill of lading from there. The U.S. is a huge landmass compared to most other countries, and the more they know about where you are may be as important as who you are. This is especially true if the consolidate containers like so many value-added food importers do.
Identify your interest in meeting them based on their interest in sourcing like products. It is important to convey why it may make sense for you to work together instead of making an “elevator pitch”. Buyers think very logically about this process, don’t get enamored with products are not easily swayed by the “Hocus Pocus” part of the presentation, thus why the webinar was named as such.
On a separate attached document, you can also include a specification sheet for the product line. Included the weights and measures in metric system, which is to say use kilos and cubic meters instead of pounds and feet. It is suggested companies become familiar with the current international terms of sale known as “Incoterms 2020”. You can begin to price your products for export in the introduction at “EXW” or Ex Works which is the place of pick up, whether or not your location. You can always indicate that other quotations can be made available upon request, customized to their specific needs.
Being importers, buyers pay close attention to duties and taxes and other customs fees once the product arrives in their ports. This is driven by the Harmonized System or “HS” codes which are a universal nomenclature of classifying products for import and export purposes. Take an opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge of the HS codes with identifying each products HS code and provide a brief tariff analysis, such as the U.S. rate of duty on the product in their country if you can confirm it, or get as close as you can with a recommendation.
If the country is one of the 20 that we have 14 Free Trade Agreements with you can also use the specific rule of origin to qualify the product as being free from duty or not, and if not perhaps when it is schedule to be. Keep in mind not all products are scheduled to become free from duty in all markets.
As a courtesy you can also offer product samples to the buyer in advance of meeting with them. Food Export’s recorded webinar “Tips & Tricks for Sample Shipments” can help guide this process, including checking with them about a preferred courier/carrier and routing if available. Having them sample products in advance can often lead to further advance dialogue and help prepare you both for the upcoming meeting.
In closing take an opportunity to express a willingness to attend to any questions and/or issues in advance that the buyer may have. Be sure to provide all contact information available including website and social media content. The more ways they can reach you and learn about your products and company the better off you both will be. Be sure to briefly remind them again of where and when you will be meeting with them.
Dear M/S, Name, Title, Company
We are the Taco Chip Canteen, a manufacturer of non-gmo tortilla chips in a variety of creative gourmet flavors. We are located in (city), less than (distance in miles and km) from the Port of (port). We have become active in exporting our product line with support from Food Export- Midwest and Food Export Northeast.
Information on your esteemed company has been made available to us via Food Export’s In-Market Representative in your country. We have noted you will be attending the upcoming Buyer’s Mission coming up on (name date) in (name location). We have duly noted your interest in Non - GMO - US Certified snack foods and listed chip/crisps including tortilla and corn chips. We have chosen the opportunity to meet with you at that event but wanted to reach out in advance and introduce ourselves.
A product specification sheet of the line is attached for your review. The pallets are weighed and measured in the metric system. They are also priced at “EXW” or Ex-Works our factory dock in (city), but alternate quotations can readily be made upon your request. The shelf life for the line is 18 months from date of manufacture, and export orders are filled directly from the manufacturing line in order to extend their freshness. The harmonized System or “HS” code for the products is 1905.90 and we note the duty in your country is (either free based on a Trade Agreement, or if so, add in the qualification according to the rule of origin) or (percent based on their tariff).
We would be happy to send you samples of the line in advance if you choose to try them prior to your trip, if interested please provide us with your preferred routing instructions including courier/carrier, if any. If we can answer any other questions or issues in advance, please feel free to let us know and we will respond in kind. Otherwise, we look forward to meeting with you in (location) on (date).
Complete contact information including office, mobile, email, fax, and website
And there you have it. Without too much effort of assembled information you should always have handy anyway you demonstrated to the prospective buyer that you are detailed, thorough and diplomatic and have knowledge of international trade that they can trust. Since the constant comment from buyers is about questioning the export readiness of the potential U.S. supplier, by taking these steps you can separate yourself from those who have not been as proactive or prepared. You can make a good impression this way and it can start a dialogue even in advance of your meetings. Naturally these steps can also be used in other ways such as responding to trade leads from the Online Product Catalog or elsewhere, or presenting them at a trade event of any kind.
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