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Export Etiquette

By Jacques Chevron

The purpose of the following rules of export etiquette is to facilitate your business dealings with your far-away clients. Their use should improve communication, impart a reassuring professionalism to the contacts you make and the image you project, and in general, provide good service to your current or prospective clients. They are valid, for the most part, independently of the type of business you conduct. These rules are in no way a substitute for a well thought-out export strategy. We encourage you to let your clients and prospects know that you follow these rules during one of your initial contacts. This will let them know what they can expect from you, and in an indirect way, informs them of what you expect from them.

  1. Communication:
    Concerns about misfires when making an expatriate hire or posting an employee abroad topped a recent survey by PwC on the international relocation responses of 270 European and U.S. firms.
    • Keep in mind that, to your prospective buyer, your company is only as good as the employees you chose to have contacts with them. The impact of rude or incompetent telephone operators increases with the distance of the caller.
    • During your initial contact with a prospective buyer, mention the name of the person in your company who will be the key contact. That person should be able to communicate in a language the buyer understands.
    • Acknowledge all correspondence within 48h at the most, even if you are unable to answer a question or request immediately. Your correspondent is far away, may not know you or your organization and may believe that letters, e-mail, faxes or other messages are lost or ignored. Prompt acknowledgment along with a target date for a full response will reassure him.
    • Have a 24h fax line (with adequate paper supply) and if possible an e-mail address. Some companies close their fax lines during non-business hours. Your correspondent may work in a different time zone and will be very frustrated if the fax line doesn't answer or worse if it picks up but is out of paper.
    • Communicate in advance the list and dates of local holidays, and, if relevant, the absences of key contacts.
    • Write the date with the month spelled out (December 3rd, 1995, not 12/3/95) which may be confusing.
    • Avoid any abbreviation, acronym, unless you explain its meaning early in your document.
  2. Selling:
    • Have some background knowledge of the market in the importing country (Size, customs, key customers, distribution systems, pricing structure, Key competitors, etc.)
    • Have your selling material and product specifications properly translated in the language of your target country. These documents will likely be the first taste a foreign customer has of your product or company; It may be the last if the translation is off. (Beware of translations done by a Summer intern who may know the vernacular but be unfamiliar with the vocabulary of your business.) Consider hiring a second translator to translate your documents back into your own language to verify the accuracy of the original translation.
    • Convert units as appropriate (Metric and U.S. equivalent).
    • Hire someone who can speak the language, who knows your product and its market, and who understands the export business.
  3. Pricing:
    • Have an Export Price List available which list your payment conditions and delivery lead-time.
    • International pricing should not include any reference to local taxes which the buyer will not have to pay, like VAT, which may confuse the buyer.
    • If appropriate, adjust your international pricing so that it not be allocated overhead or direct costs which are strictly local.
    • Use the proper INCOTERM to explain the conditions of the sale (1990 revision, available from the International Chamber of Commerce branch in your country). When in doubt about the buyer's understanding of your sales conditions and the INCOTERM, provide a short explanation about its meaning. (Note: In the US, the term 3FOB2, is frequently misused: It should only be used where you are going to deliver goods on board a ship... If the goods are to be picked up at your factory or warehouse, use EXW instead.)
    • Make sure your bank has experience with international sales transactions and has a correspondent in the buyer's country.
  4. Service and Warranty:
    • Prepare to address the service/warranty issue if it comes up during your sales negotiation. (Product over-shipment in a quantity based on your home market experience with product defects, usually does the trick.)
  5. Regulatory Issues and Required Product Adaptation:
    • You should have a thorough knowledge of regulations governing the export of your product and a basic knowledge of the regulation in the importing country. (A good international Freight Forwarder can help you.)
    • If selling electrical appliances, know the predominant voltage and frequency of the buying country; if selling cars, know which side of the road they drive on, etc. and make sure your product can be adapted accordingly.
  6. Shipping/Storage:
    • Know how your product can be shipped, the weight, dimensions and stackability of your boxes, how many can fit in a 20' container, etc. If possible, this information should be included on the sell sheet.
    • Shop around for freight deals. It could make the difference and clinch the deal.

By: Jacques Chevron, JRC&A 2016 West 55th Place La Grange, IL 60525 USA

Copyright © 1995 Jacques Chevron, La Grange, IL 60525

This document was originally written in French to counterbalance the very theoretical and stilted approach of an official document where I had an opportunity to append a document of mine. Much of the advice it gives to French small business owners is also very relevant to their US counterparts. The original French version is available.

The article was recently translated into Portuguese.


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