Finding partners

Sales growth often involves finding markets and partners overseas. Experienced exporters know the value of a good local partner and will put time and effort into growing their relationships. But how do you start?
Desk research, visits to trade shows, your trade association and the UKTI (UK Trade & Investment) can all help develop a long list of potential partners for any given region. 
The next step is to draw up some criteria by which you can objectively assess each potential partner. The criteria might include the ability to conduct business in English; that the company is already a distributor of complimentary product; or, that it does not represent a competitor. Inevitably your long list will shorten.
Plan a trip to the country so that you can visit as many of the potential long list partners as possible. Make sure you visit their premises. That way you will get a better feel for the way they do business, how they present themselves and their location relative to the market opportunity.
This first trip is not about making a choice. It is about finding out more about the factors that you have already identified as being important for your success.
In many countries local business culture can put great emphasis on developing personal relationships as the foundation for a business relationship. The time you put in now to visit your short list candidates is important.
In an automotive business I ran we needed to find a JV partner in Turkey. Over three trips to Istanbul we got to know some prospective partners, the country and its way of doing business.  A long list of eight was gradually whittled down to a short list of three.  By the time we came to make our selection, personal chemistry was already becoming a factor.
Of course there may only be one choice, particularly if looking for a product or technology partner. But again put in the time to get to know your prospective partner. Be open about your goals. It is important that your prospective partner understands your ambition.
Finally, embrace the experience of being in a new country. Eat the local foods, drink the local beer and find time to visit the sights. Your partner will appreciate your interest in their country and its culture.  And you will lay the foundations for a valuable long term relationship.