The A-Z of Exhibiting Overseas
by Susan Friedmann
Exhibiting overseas is one of the fastest and most cost effective ways to
identify the best foreign markets for your products/services. International
trade shows and fairs offer opportunities for multilateral contacts and business
deals. They allow you to test your product’s export suitability; explore the
strength and scope of your competition; and gain exposure to potential
suppliers, in-country distributors and customers before making any sizable
financial commitments. However, to effectively trade internationally, top
management must commit to developing foreign markets.
More than 2,000 shows are organized worldwide each year, and approximately 150
of these events have significant global attraction. Most are held in the major
trade show centers in the United States, Germany, France, Italy and the United
Kingdom. The following A-Z guidelines will help to take the fear and anxiety out
of your overseas exhibiting ventures:
Ask questions and thoroughly research overseas shows to find the ones that
attract your target market. A good starting point is the U.S. Foreign
Commercial Service (FSC), part of the International Trade Administration of the
Department of Commerce. Other sources of information include banks, trade
associations, foreign embassies and consulates, bi-national chambers of commerce
and the Internet.
Book space early. Allocation for space is a "first-come,
first-served" basis. Applications for space need to be submitted as early
as possible — 12-18 months prior to the event. Reservations are made with the
show organizer or their international representative. Most of the large shows,
especially the German ones, have global sales offices.
Coordinate shipping arrangements. Most international trade shows have an
officially designated freight forwarder who is familiar with all the relevant
details. They will handle the invoicing, arrange for licenses and declarations,
prepare packing list, issue bills of lading, handle insurance and prepare all
necessary documentation. A duty charge is not normally assessed on equipment,
unless it is destined to remain in the country after the show ends. An
international carnet facilitates importation and movement of samples and
professional equipment between countries.
Determine that your product complies with international technical and safety
standards. Germany, in particular, has extremely stringent laws regarding
testing products to comply with applicable specifications. Overseas companies
are allowed to exhibit products at German trade fairs before their products have
been inspected. Formal certification of required is necessary to legally sell
your products in Germany. Certain types of merchandise are also subject to
specialized safety codes and technical requirements. It is advisable to use a
local consultant to help you through the compliance process.
Establish a realistic budget. Costs of overseas shows vary widely,
depending on a host of variables, for example, location, exchange rates, time of
the year. In addition to your display, shipping, promotional and staff costs,
also take into consideration, import duties and export regulations. As a safety
net, add 25% to your budget to cover unexpected costs, tipping and exchange rate
Familiarize yourself with overseas union policies. Strong unions exist in
the U.K., France and Italy. Understand and appreciate the rules and treat
everyone with respect. Offering to buy your union labor lunch or a beer, as well
as tipping, often helps to minimize pilfering, loss and damage. When working
with contractors, always have someone who can speak the language and give
logistical instructions. Arrive at least a week prior to the show to iron out
Get to know pricing. Your company representatives should be prepared to
negotiate and agree to terms at the show. They should also be fully conversant
with tariffs, the European Community’s Value Added Tax (VAT) and other tax
implications, and importation and delivery procedures. When quoting prices, most
buyers expect prices quoted c.i.f. (cost, insurance, freight), including duties,
taxes and other charges. For a small fee, local freight forwarders will assist
and prepare c.i.f. costs.
Have arrangements for credit and payment. You should make arrangements
with a bank that has international banking affiliations to facilitate your
banking needs. Discuss arrangements for transfer of funds, letters of credit and
bills of exchange. Potential customers or representatives will expect a credit
check. Individual profiles on overseas companies can be found through the World
Trader’s Data Reports, available for a small fee from the US Commercial
Since exchange rates fluctuate daily and can affect pricing, especially when
dealing with Latin American countries, consider getting paid in U.S. dollars.
Insist on using a native-born translator. When translating copy or
business communications, always hire a local translator who has technical
knowledge of your products/industry. Embarrassing mistakes occur when a
translation is done by a non-professional with limited knowledge of a language
and little or no understanding of slang, colloquialisms and double-entendres.
Prepare product/service literature, data sheets, catalogues, etc. in the
principal languages of the major countries represented at the show. Remember
that most countries outside the U.S. use metric measurements.
Judge the context. Some cultures are more direct and explicit in their
communication. Swiss, German and Scandinavian cultures are considered low
context. Their words have specific meanings. In contrast, Japanese, Chinese and
Arabs are high context. Their language is often vague, inexact and confusing for
English-speaking cultures to understand. Reading between the lines is a must.
Keep language simple. Many of your international business contacts will
speak English. Problems occur when you use slang, colloquialisms, idioms,
jargon, buzz words, lingo, officialese, acronyms, and metaphors. These are often
difficult to translate. It is far more effective to keep communication, written
and verbal, basic and easy for anyone to understand.
Learn to speak body language. Seventy percent of our communication is
nonverbal. We communicate by the way we stand, sit, tense facial muscles, tap
fingers, etc. There are also hundreds of gestures to get across almost any
meaning, from greetings, beckonings, and farewells, to terms of endearment and
insults. Gestures and body language, with the exception of smiling, are not
universal in meaning. Be aware of the etiquette on personal space, eye contact
and when, what and how to touch.
Make sure that your top executives are available. Overseas shows,
particularly in European and Asian countries, are serious business as they focus
on sales. Top-level management attend these shows expecting to place orders.
They expect, and want, to deal with their counterparts in your company. They
expect to spend time discussing technical details and will often want to close
major deals on the show floor. Technical staff, sales people and in-country
representatives will help form a complete team.
Nail negotiating. Negotiating in international business is extremely
complex. Socializing is often considered essential to the negotiating process.
Learn the cultural rules, especially as they relate to timing and how business
is conducted. Patience is often a real virtue.
Offer quality and uniqueness. High quality products and services are
expected, particularly when dealing with the Japanese and South Koreans. The
packaging is as important as the product. If your products and services compete
directly with native companies, there needs to be something unique in the
technology, innovation, design, styling or image to gain acceptance in the Asian
Plan on having a third-party contact. Many Asian and Latin American
cultures prefer to do business with people they know. Meeting the right people
often depends on having the right introduction. If the person you wish to meet
respects your intermediary, then chances are you too will be respected.
Question whether "no" really means "no." Much
confusion, frustration and irritation can occur when different cultures
communicate real meaning. In some countries, such as France, "no" can
often mean "maybe’ and "maybe" can mean "no." In many
Asian cultures, individuals will not say "no" outright. Rather, they
use subtle clues, for example, saying "It’s very difficult," or
"I’ll consider it." A "yes" or a nod of the head may very
well mean "maybe" or "I understand," instead of it being the
affirmative response you might interpret. To avoid saying "no,"
Koreans in particular will often give you the answer they think you want to
hear. Learn to listen to the subtleties by asking open-ended questions. It is at
times like these that a cultural mentor can be particularly helpful.
Recognize the role of women in business. Research the customs of the
country you are visiting as they apply to women. Although female business
travelers account for one of the fastest growing segments of the travel
industry, problems still exist. Be prepared to prove yourself as you may not be
taken as seriously as your male counterparts. Familiarize yourself with local
and regional attitudes and cultural differences about women in business. This
will help to define your approach and avoid potential problems and embarrassing
situations. However, business overseas is based on trust and relationships. And
women, like men, are responsible for creating the necessary rapport to
accomplish their goals.
Supply all your company representatives with bi-lingual business cards.
In Europe and Asian societies, business cards are essential. They act like a
business passport. For countries where English is not widely spoken, have cards
printed on the reverse side in the local language. This is best done in the
country you are visiting. Also be aware of the specific etiquette that exists,
particularly in Asian countries, for presenting cards. For example, in Japan,
business cards are exchanged ceremoniously using both hands and a bow. Both
parties will read and study the card. It is extremely impolite to write notes on
the card or shove it in your pocket.
Train your people. Make sure that the people who represent your company
at overseas shows are well trained and know and understand the cultural
differences of the people with whom they will interact. They should know how to
greet and address visitors. Formality is the norm in Europe, whereas a more
casual and friendly style is acceptable in the U.S. Understanding different
business negotiating styles, conversation sensitivities, and how women are
treated in business, is essential, in addition to knowing eye contact,
handshakes, body posture and spatial distance differences. The key is to develop
relationships of trust and sincerity as they are critical for successful
Use ATM’s (Automated Teller Machines) to get local currency. They give
you the wholesale exchange rate of 5-10%, which is a far better rate than you
would get at hotels or currency exchanges. Always try to purchase enough local
currency before leaving home to pay your transportation from your destination
airport to your hotel, plus a little extra for tips.
Value different decision-making processes. The key is not to sell but
rather to build relationships. Decision-making differs around the world. For
example, in Asian cultures, it starts from the lower levels in the organization,
and works its way up the ladder. Many times, lower level employees will visit a
trade show to gather information, which they will include in a report to a
higher manager. Don’t expect a decision from an initial meeting. Decisions are
usually made collectively, and the process is often slow and thorough. However,
once a decision is made, especially in Japan, a quick execution is expected. The
key, once again, is to do your research.
Watch out for cultural differences. Know and understand the cultural
differences of the people with whom you will interact. Be sensitive to color and
symbols and their meanings in different countries. For example, mourning is
symbolized by white in Asia, purple in Brazil and yellow in Mexico. If your
product, packaging and literature are in the wrong color, you will lose sales.
Red and yellow are lucky colors in China — conversely, never use red printing
in South Korea. In many of the Asian countries, the number four denotes death
and should be totally avoided, including products packaged in fours. If
possible, avoid the number nine, as it has connotations of suffering. Seven and
eight are considered lucky. Be safe and always do your research!
Expect to follow-up personally. Personal contact and immediate follow-up
after the show is the best way to establish foreign buyer/seller relationships
to produce future orders.
Yield to a time investment. Building relationships is a key component to
doing business overseas. Behavioral differences are real. It is wise to
recognize them and to make allowances when doing business. Willingness to
cultivate business contacts through personal visits plays a major role in export
success. Plan regular visits to your major buyers, agents, or distributors. Be
available, interested and quick to react to problems or complaints.
Zero in on the fact that doing business overseas demands time and patience.
It may take several appearances at trade shows before your company is taken
seriously. Foreigners want to feel confident that you are sincere and totally
committed to your involvement in their country.
Written by Susan A. Friedmann,CSP, The Tradeshow Coach, Lake Placid, NY, author:
“Meeting & Event Planning for Dummies,” working with companies to
improve their meeting and event success through coaching, consulting and
training. Go to http://www.thetradeshowcoach.com
to sign up for a free copy of ExhibitSmart Tips of the Week.