Identifying the right client in the right market and targeting this client efficiently is key to a successful export strategy.

Planning Your Exports

Planning Your Exports

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Research Markets

Research Markets

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Find International Clients

Find International Clients

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Adapt to the Market

Adapt to the Market

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Get Paid

Get Paid

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Get Financed

Get Financed

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Ship Your Products

Ship Your Products

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Finding international customers is one of the major challenges of small and medium-sized companies. However, identifying the right client in the right market and targeting this client efficiently is key to a successful export strategy.

It is also important to consider the number of clients your business can handle in order not to sacrifice your domestic operations. Consider the number of international clients you have compared to your domestic clients. This section will provide you with information and strategies that will help you identify and target international clients successfully.

Build your network at home or abroad

Once you have selected a high-potential international market, identify partners both domestically and in the target market that could help you find a client. These partners can provide market intelligence and make valuable introductions to potential clients. They also keep you informed on incoming and outgoing missions and activities where you can connect with international clients.

Some domestic partners you might contact include:

The Canadian Trade Commissioner Service
The Government of Canada’s Trade Commissioner Service provides exporting advice and guidance to Canadian companies. There are 161 trade commissioner offices around the world and across Canada.

Canadian Commercial Corporation
The Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC) specializes in assisting Canadian companies to maximize export opportunities with government markets.

Government of Alberta Trade Specialists
The Government of Alberta has 12 international offices to support trade in key markets and trade officers who specialize in trade for specific regions and industries. To find a Government of Alberta trade contact, select your target market from our list of market profiles, using the link below. 

 

Go to International Market Profiles

Forms of market entry

A market entry strategy will help you identify the best way to sell into a new market. Your strategy should evaluate some of the major options for market entry, which include direct exports, indirect exports, partnerships and acquisitions/investment.

You also have to evaluate if your first client is an SME, or a larger multinational or government client and define your strategy based on the client's characteristics. In some markets, foreign governments can be high-potential clients for Canadian companies.

Forms of market entry

There are many ways to enter a foreign market aside selling directly to an international customer. These are some forms of market entry with some reasons why you might select one method over another.

  • Selling directly to foreign consumers: This method involves no intermediaries and thus has a higher potential for profits and will grant you more control over the sales product. However, this method also requires a lot of effort to adapt your product and business methods to fit an overseas consumer market, and it can be risky if you do not know the market well.
  • Selling directly to foreign businesses: Again, no intermediaries are involved with this method. It has the added benefit of simplifying the sales process as there is a smaller number of customers and they are easier to connect with. Also, business consumers can be found more easily, particularly through tradeshows.
  • Partnering with a larger Canadian exporter: Using this method will result in some loss of control over your sales, but will grant you more opportunity for sales growth. To engage in such a partnership, you will need to persuade a larger company that the arrangement is in its interest, by persuading them, for example, that you could make a valuable contribution to their supply chain or that you can offer a unique contribution to their line of products. Networking through industry associations, chambers of commerce, and boards of trade will help you find these opportunities.
  • Partnering with a foreign company: Local partners will have local knowledge and contacts, which will give you an advantage in the market. They may also be able to help you expand your sales into nearby countries.
  • Foreign direct investment (FDI): This involves creating a direct presence in a market. Some forms of FDI include:
    • Setting up a foreign sales and/or marketing office
    • Setting up a subsidiary in the market
    • Acquiring or merging with a local company
    • Licensing product or process to a local company
    • Establishing a franchise
    • Working with a contract manufacturer
    • Establishing strategic alliances or joint ventures with other companies.
  • Selling through intermediaries: You can hire an intermediary like an agent or intermediary that has specialized knowledge of your chosen international market and product. This could potentially decrease your profits but may be a good way to break into a new market if you do not have the specialized knowledge required. Two types of the most common intermediaries include: 
    • Agents: Agents are not involved in the sales transaction itself, shipping or distribution, and they are generally paid on commission and have smaller product ranges than distributors. They are generally the preferred choice if your product is expensive or complex to install or train to use, such as heavy machinery. Distributors generally will not take the risk of buying high priced, complex products to resell. Marketing and promotions are generally out of an agent’s purview, which means that if you use an agent; you will own and manage the branding, pricing and marketing strategy of the product.
    • Distributors: Distributors buy and sell directly to their customers. This means that you do not have direct control over the selling, branding, pricing or marketing strategies, but they also take care of all the financial transactions and associated risk, shipping and logistics, and after-sales service. Using a distributor lightens the amount of work you’ll have to do, and is good for dealing with unfamiliar markets, but lack of involvement in the sales will make it harder for you to gain an understanding of your market and tailor your products for that market.

Finding an intermediary: You may be able to find an intermediary through your local industry association or by speaking to a Government of Canada trade commissioner. Mission and international tradeshows are other good places to look for partners and contacts. 

Find a contact

Find a Government of Alberta contact for your target market(s) by selecting your market(s) below.  

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Resources

How to find a sales agent or distributor in foreign markets
Business Development Bank of Canada
This BDC article explains the ten questions you should ask when selecting a foreign sales agent. 

Join trade missions and attend trade shows

Business is built on trust. Personal interaction with clients is the basis of a successful business relationship.

Provincial and federal government organizations have identified key trade shows in various industry sectors to help Canadian companies find international clients. Trade shows are a global market place where buyers and sellers can connect. In addition to just visiting a trade show, trade missions include value-added activities like business briefings, market and sector presentations, networking events, B2B meetings and site visits.

Most trade missions are focused on specific industry sectors, while some missions also focus on key target groups like Women Entrepreneurs.

However, attending a trade mission should only be your first step in a comprehensive access to market strategy. Active follow-up activities and detailed plans for return visits to your market will help you build on your initial contact and conclude a sale.

Find international trade missions

Find a Government of Alberta trade mission in your target market(s) by selecting your market(s) below.  

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Go to the Events Calendar

Resources

List of trade missions and events
The Canadian Trade Commissioner Service
Use this events' calendar to find missions, trade shows and conferences happening in your target markets.  

Specific events and mission for women entrepreneurs
The Canadian Trade Commissioner Service
The Government of Canada provides web resources specific to women entrepreneurs, including a listing of women-focused trade missions and webinars. 

Build your export plan

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This information is a guide only and should not be considered or quoted as a legal authority. While best efforts are made the keep this guide up-to-date, parts of it may become obsolete at any time without notice.