Canadian Plastics

How to find the right overseas rep

By Mark Mensing, Canada Export Centre   

Locating an effective overseas sales rep for your product is not an overnight process: Moreover, there are different routes to finding the right one, and many issues to consider.

Locating an effective overseas sales rep for your product is not an overnight process: Moreover, there are different routes to finding the right one, and many issues to consider.

First, you need to decide if finding a rep is even the right approach. To determine this, you’ll first need to have a good understanding of the target market: who is the competition, what are the barriers to entry, and where are the opportunities? This will include not only investigating the competition, but also understanding various regulatory issues, and perhaps looking at the supply chain to identify the key players. If you decide that having a rep seems like the right approach to go forward, you can begin your search.


Think about your personal network — do you know anyone in the market? Are there any associations or government agencies in the target market that you could contact? What about industry publications or journals? Instead of showing up at a trade show not knowing anything about the key players, go online and look at exhibitor lists from past trade shows. Research these lists to determine if any are potential reps that fit what you’re looking for.



A great way to identify potential reps involves calling on your target end-users or retailers in order to determine who they’re buying from and who they like to deal with. Those distributors or re-sellers who have carved out a comfortable niche with the retailers or end-users are the potential reps you want to be talking to. Interviewing the retailers or end-users will provide unique insight into your rep candidate(s): how often they visit their clients, what else they sell, how creative they are and how well-liked they are.


You may have compiled a list of companies you think fit as potential reps. Before contacting them to determine if they’re interested in partnering with you, make sure you’re prepared to ask the right questions to assess the fit. How big is this company? Have they imported before? How many people are working for them? What is their sales strategy? Can they develop a marketing plan for your products? Can they provide references? Does their current offering compliment your product or is it actually competitive?


You may have some great ideas about how to go about finding a rep, but there are challenges that require support: language, time zones, different business practices and cultural issues, to name a few. Some companies think if they’re selling in France, they can go into other French-speaking countries and sell using the same approach. Things are very different in France than in, say, Belgium, Switzerland or Quebec. The same holds true for Asia and Latin America.

One way around this is by hiring an overseas telemarketing company to do initial customer qualifications for you. You could look at hiring a salesperson in the region that could follow up on leads, or designate a salesperson at home who would travel to the area periodically. A telemarketing campaign would give customers the appearance that you’ve got a local presence, and its operators could set up appointments for your sales staff who would fly in and meet with qualified leads. If export sales continue to increase, you could look at establishing a sales rep in the region permanently.

In the end, let what you’ve learned about the market through thorough investigation help you better determine your approach. Also, it’s important to be open to alternatives: You may find that a rep is not the best route to go after all. Joint venturing, licensing, setting up manufacturing facilities, or even buying a competitor or channel partner might make more sense. Each market is unique, and you need to be flexible and open to the various options.

Mark Mensing is the president and CEO of Vancouver-based Canada Export Centre. With 11 offices around the world, the company works with clients who are looking to generate direct international sales, develop new distribution channels, and develop JV partnerships or licensing opportunities. Visit


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