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Managing sales enquiries

International sales leads which result in good export business can come in a variety of ways.

You may receive enquiries via your website, they may come as a result of taking part in Australian trade shows overseas, or you may receive enquiries through your own networks.

The work you have done in preparing for export is most often what places you in a position to receive sales enquiries which could lead to valuable ongoing export business.

Every overseas trade enquiry is a potential export order and should be treated seriously.

Whether you can convert an enquiry into real business often depends on how you handle it.

Remember that the same enquiry may also have been sent to your competitors in Australia and other countries.

The information you send and the responses from your competitors will help the importer decide whether to buy from you or from some other source.

The buying process can be lengthy and complicated. A decision often has to be made by several people and can take a long time, especially if large sums of money are involved and if the product is expensive.

If you do not hear back from the enquirer immediately, this doesn’t mean that they are not interested or not to be trusted. Repeated efforts are often needed to win an order, so don’t ignore an enquirer simply because he or she does not buy at first – it could be a long-term business opportunity. Bear in mind that export relationships usually take longer to build than domestic relationships.

There are three key steps to consider with enquiries:

  1. Determine if the enquiry is genuine.
  2. Decide whether you want to pursue communications with the enquirer.
  3. Respond and then follow up those enquiries you have decided to pursue.

Determine if the enquiry is genuine

An unsolicited enquiry can potentially result in a new export customer for your business. 

Unfortunately, however, there are people and organisations that seek to take advantage of others, so in order to protect yourself it is important to establish the credentials of any enquirer.

You will also need to verify whether there is a potential order or business relationship in the offering so that you can prioritise your time and efforts towards those opportunities that will give the best results.

Screening enquiries takes time and effort but is a necessary exercise to determine which enquiries are legitimate and could result in business.

How to filter genuine enquiries

Most enquiries arrive by email these days, including scams. Before sending any product or service information to an enquirer, confirm that the person is who they say they are, that they have a legitimate business, and that the enquiry is genuine.

Here are some suggested tactics to help you filter genuine enquiries:

Research the company

When you receive an enquiry, search the company name on the web through a search engine such as Google. This is a good way to check any claims the enquirer may be making. If the company doesn’t have a website or you can’t find a mention of their name on other sites, this may be cause for initial concern.

Ask for details about the enquirer’s business

Here are some initial questions you can ask an enquirer by email:

  • How did you find out about our company?
  • Do you have a website or company profile?
  • Are you an agent/distributor/importer/store?
  • How long have you been in business?
  • What other suppliers do you work with? What other overseas suppliers? 
  • What are your plans for working with our company?

If a potential buyer or partner is genuine, they will expect such interest in their business.

This type of email can be pre-prepared as a template so you can quickly and easily respond without investing too much of your time.

Once you do receive a response, it is important to verify the information you receive.

Some signs things may not be what they seem

Here are some examples of situations that suggest there could be concern or that you should dig deeper to find out more about a potential customer or partner overseas:

  • The email address is a free email service such as Hotmail or Gmail. Although some legitimate businesses use such addresses, many scams do as well.
  • The enquirer has promised to place very large scale orders. For example, you may be asked to send two containers of a product you usually sell by the pallet or carton load.
  • The enquirer has requested the pricing of your whole product or service range without giving any information covering as to why they are interested.
  • The enquirer has requested your bank details to deposit money before placing an order.
  • The enquirer has asked that you to provide correspondence inviting him or her to Australia to meet you to discuss business.
  • The enquirer has promised to act as your representative without asking any firm details.

Many of these requests might be regarded as normal once you have established a business relationship, but are out of place if you don’t know the potential client.

it sounds too good to be true…

The old saying rings true here – if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.
  • Don’t send samples to anyone until you have a good understanding of their business and believe there is a strong chance that a business deal between you will go ahead.
  • If you are unsure about a particular potential client ask other exporters and business people for their opinion. They have probably had many similar approaches.

Watch out for scams

There are a number of websites that alert consumers and business people to known scams, both in Australia and overseas. Watch for scam alerts at www.scamwatch.com.au and www.scamwatch.com. If you believe you are contacted by a scam, ignore the emails and delete immediately.

Decide if you want to pursue the enquiry

The next step is to determine whether you will pursue the enquiry. This may sound a strange decision to make but for a variety of reasons not all export opportunities will match your business capabilities and strategy. For example:

  • Your company is not ready for this market – perhaps your Trade Marks are not yet registered in the country, or you aren’t able to provide support for the customers at this stage.
  • Order size – the order could be too big or too small. If the enquiry is for 10,000 units per month and your current production is 1,000 per month, then you have to consider whether you can produce large quantities and whether you have the cash flow to fund production costs. Or, at the opposite end of the scale, the potential order size might not be enough to qualify for your minimum order quantity.
  • The customer is not a good fit for your product or service – you may feel that your brand doesn’t suit the channel or customer type.

The information gathering process can take some time, so you may need to reassess these factors once you find out more about the potential customer.

Respond and then follow-up

Once you have decided that an enquiry is legitimate and have ascertained what type of enquiry it is – for example, from a distributor or a retail store – introduce yourself and your company by email and ask the questions you need answered in order to respond to the enquiry appropriately.

Because Australia is sometimes viewed as far away from the rest of the world, it is critical to show that distance is no barrier to effective and speedy communication.

If the enquiry looks particularly promising, phone immediately and then follow-up by email. Be mindful, however, that in some markets buyers screen their phone calls and have huge email inboxes, so it may be difficult to get through. Don’t be discouraged by the lack of response (it may be a cultural thing) especially if the enquiry is a good one – be persistent but courteous.

Make sure that your phone call is within business hours in the customer’s time zone.

Learn more about your enquirer’s background

Here are some questions which you can ask to help you learn more about your enquirer’s background and his or her intentions for working with you:

  • What other suppliers do you buy or represent? (This question will depend on whether the enquirer is an end user, store, agent, etc.)
  • How will my products or services fit into your current offering or range?
  • What quantities are you interested in?
  • Which area / province / territory do you cover? Which geographic or market segments?

See our Agents & Distributors section for more information, including tips on how to qualify or choose an agent or distributor.

You should also respond with a courtesy reply even if you are not interested in pursuing an enquiry. This is good manners as well as good business practice and may help the reputation of your company in the future.

Respond with quality products or service sales literature

Spend time to develop an email response template that can be used to save your time. Get some expert advice if necessary.

Your initial response to an enquiry should include your latest product or service sales literature and refer to your website.

Websites are one of today’s most valuable marketing tools. If you don’t have a website, now is the time to ensure you create one to represent your company and its products, services and capability.

Buyers in some markets will prefer printed material. Design your corporate and product literature so that it is available both in hard copy and electronic format so you can cater to all enquirers.

Good design is not expensive if you provide a designer with clear specifications about your requirements and do not specify expensive graphics. Ensure that your material will be easy to update when you introduce new products and services at a future date. 

Follow-up tactics

Friendly follow-up emails or calls are part of the tough process of getting new business. 

In your initial response tell your enquirer that you would like to be in touch in a week’s time to discuss whether you have provided enough information – and if you can help further. Ask for a phone number and a convenient time to call.

A polite but friendly approach will get better results than high-pressure sales tactics. Try to gain a commitment from the potential customer to receive another follow-up call, product literature or a quotation. Try to gradually build a personal relationship.

Consider the business culture in the way you follow-up as some cultures prefer more aggressive sales than others.

Don't be discouraged: remember the saying that it takes seven contacts with the same person to land a sale.

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Checklist 

Sales leads

Sales leads come from many sources but generally from the work you have done with your export adviser.

On receiving the enquiry it is critically important to qualify that lead.

Ask questions to find out all you can about the customer’s needs and suitability.

Acknowledge receiving the enquiry within 48 hours.

Determine whether it comes from a buyer or potential agent – and whether it represents on-going business.

Send good quality sales material. Ensure your website reflects your export (as well as domestic) sales capability.

Follow up within 7 days.

Seek to establish personal contact as soon as possible.

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