The salesperson is a company’s most direct tie to the customer; in the eyes of most customers, the salesperson is the company. As presenter of company offerings and gatherer of customer information the sales representative is the final link in the culmination of a company’s marketing and sales efforts.
Growing global competition coupled with the dynamic and complex nature of international business increases both the need and the means for closer ties with both customers and suppliers. Relationship marketing, built on effective communications between the seller and buyer, focuses on building long term alliances rather than treating each sale as a one time event. Advances in information technology are allowing for increasingly higher levels of coordination across advertising, marketing research and personal selling efforts yielding new roles and functions in customer relationship management (CRM). Similarly such advances are changing the nature of personal selling and sales management, leading some to forecast substantial reduction in field efforts.
In this ever changing environment of international business, the tasks of designing, building, training, motivating and compensating an international sales group generate unique problems at every stage of management and development. There are alternatives and problems of managing sales and marketing personnel in foreign countries. Indeed, these problems are among the most difficult facing international marketers. In one survey of CEOs and other top executives the respondents identified establishing sales and distribution networks and cultural differences as major difficulties in international sales and operations.
Designing the Sales Force:
The first step in managing a sales force is its design. Based on analysis of current and potential customers, the selling environment , competition, and the firm’s resources and capabilities. Decisions must be made regarding the numbers and characteristics and assignment of sales personnel. All these design decisions are made more challenging by the wide variety of pertinent conditions and circumstances in international markets. Moreover, the globalization of markets and customers as illustrated by the IBM Ford story in crossing border makes the job of international sales manager quite interesting.
Distribution strategies will often vary from country to country. Some markets may require a direct force, whereas others may not. How customers are approached can differ as well. For example banks are placing sales representatives in Russia, appliance stores to sell credit a new concept there. The hard sell that may work in some countries can be inappropriate in others. Automobiles have been sold door to door in Japan for years, and only recently have stocks been sold over the Internet in Europe. More than 100,000 of Singapore’s 6 million inhabitants are involved in home product sales and other forms of multilevel marketing. The size of accounts certainly makes a difference as well – notice in Crossing Borders that an IBM sales representative works inside Ford. Selling high technology products may allow for greater use of American expatriates whereas selling consulting services will tend to require more participation by native sales representatives. Selling in information oriented cultures such as Germany may also allow for greater use of expatriates. However, relationship oriented countries such as Japan will require the most complete local knowledge possessed only by natives. Writing about Japan two international marketing experts agree: Personal selling as a rule has to be localized or even the most global of corporations and industries.
Once decisions have been made about how many expatriates local national or third country nationals a particular market requires then more intricate aspects of design can be undertaken, such as territory allocation and customer call plans. Many of the most advanced operations research tools developed in the United States can be applied in foreign markets, with appropriate adaptations of inputs of course .