Where to find buyers to export my product?

Use bilateral organizations, government services and industry groups to find buyers
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It can be tricky enough to find new buyers for your products or services in Canada. But when targeting a new market for exports, the right buyer can be even harder to locate.

“Exporting businesses have an inclination to look for potential buyers in social media groups and other online resources, but this can be risky,” says Igor Chigrin, a Senior Business Advisor with BDC Advisory Services and Certified International Trade Professional, who coaches entrepreneurs on exporting.

If you have a warm introduction to a decision-maker at the potential client or partner, the likelihood of a deal is much higher.

“You can be exposed to fraud and misrepresentation. It can be difficult to know if contacts found online are legitimate. Companies often waste time pursuing contacts who are not interested in buying.”

Some entrepreneurs find it so difficult that they drop plans to expand abroad altogether.

Chigrin offers these five suggestions for where to find buyers for your exports.

1. Bilateral chambers of commerce and business councils

Start by reviewing your buyer profile. List elements that fit with your international expansion strategy, such as the buyer’s size, sector, industry code, number of employees, production volume and revenue.

With this information in hand, begin your buyer search by approaching the bilateral chamber of commerce or business council appropriate to your target country.

These non-profit organizations exist to promote bilateral trade and put businesses in contact with each other. They’re often government organizations or have significant participation from the governments of Canada and the counterparty nation.

Some examples of bilateral trade organizations:

“They’re usually the number-one source of prequalified, legitimate buyers in a target country for Canadian businesses,” Chigrin says.

“This should be the first destination to find buyers. The qualifying authority confirms that they know the contact, it is a legitimate business and they’re likely to buy Canadian goods or have already done so.”

These organizations’ services can include:

  • access to member directories of prequalified, legitimate businesses in the target country
  • trade missions and other public and member-only activities, such as virtual and in-person workshops, forums, roundtables and cultural training
  • advice and referrals for logistics, distribution, product adaptation, business opportunities, government relations and other service providers and aspects of exporting
  • access to the organization’s offices in the target country, which may include a business centre offering office space

Perhaps most valuable is the opportunity to be introduced to high-potential buyers by a trusted intermediary in their own language. Chigrin calls this a “warm introduction”—“an introduction by a person they trust because they have a business or personal relationship or are in the same line of business.”

“If you have a warm introduction to a decision-maker at the potential client or partner, the likelihood of a deal is much higher,” he says. “Your chances of a deal are usually pretty minimal if you just make a cold call and don’t have an introduction from someone they trust. It’s not the best way to begin a relationship.”

The organizations usually offer some free services, but paying to become a member may allow you to benefit more fully from their resources. The investment usually pays off through new business connections and opportunities, Chigrin says.

“It gives Canadian entrepreneurs a place to start,” Chigrin says. “Even if you don’t make a deal with someone in the member directory, you can make connections that eventually lead to the right buyer. This happens quite often.”

You may also be able to find similar resources from local boards of trade, chambers of commerce and world trade centres in Canada and the target market, some of which offer international trade promotion services, access to foreign offices and connections to partner organizations abroad.

2. Industry associations

Industry associations in the target foreign market can be another good source of prequalified, legitimate potential buyers.

For example, if your buyer profile includes aerospace businesses in a target market, you could contact the country’s aerospace industry association.

These groups exist to promote the interests of their members and are often willing to provide an introduction to businesses in their directory and contact information for company decision-makers.

As with chambers of commerce, you may need to join the association to benefit fully from its services, but the fee is usually worth it, Chigrin says.

3. Canadian trade promotion services

It can also be useful to contact the federal Trade Commissioner Service and other government departments, agencies and programs at the federal, provincial, territorial and local levels devoted to promoting international trade.

These organizations have access to extensive networks of legitimate, prequalified business contacts and can share contact information and make introductions. They also have offices in foreign countries that can work with you in your buyer search.

“We frequently ask the Trade Commissioner Service to share names of potential buyers as part of our BDC advisory services mandates,” Chigrin says.

4. Trade directories Trade directories

are paid online databases of business contacts around the world that can be useful for finding buyers. The directories are usually searchable with various criteria such as country, industry, province or state, and city.

The directories usually include legitimately constituted companies, but there may be no assurance that the company is ready to buy Canadian products. Chigrin recommends using these directories only after exhausting the other steps above.

Examples include:

5. Online trade marketplaces and social media groups

Online trade marketplaces and trade-related social media groups have flourished in recent years as places to look for buyers for exports.

Chigrin advises caution when dealing with such sites. “Lots of potential issues could arise if you don’t do due diligence to make sure you are dealing with a legitimate business. The Internet is fine to find contacts, but I’d recommend it only if you’ve exhausted all your other options.”

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